More Dirty Laundry

Slumping on the hidden stairs last weekend I asked God to prepare my heart for our public worship. Little did I realize the sludge from which that request came. Exposed before me was the disparity between my private and public life. This affliction is not exclusive to pastors; although, pastors do engage in a unique public ministry that exacerbates the tension.

It was obvious to me that I was asking God to do something in my public ministry what was not regular in my private ministry. In public ministry the words are careful, the prayers well-crafted, the singing robust, the affections displayed. I wanted it to look like I’d communed in Zion all week and had descended to excite the masses with God’s word. In other words, I prayed that God not expose me in the pulpit who he knows me to be in the closet.

I want to know better (at least I want to want to). Would that I rejoiced to see God’s public blessing according to his private ministry with me. At this point I would be embarassed should that be the case. Would that I could honestly ask God to continue publicly what he has already been doing in me privately. But, it seems my neverending prayer is precisely the opposite. I want the passion and energy reflected in the public arena to spill over into the private closet. God is infinitely gracious to sanctify His people despite me. But, I’ve gotten things reversed and the church is none the healthier for it.

Perhaps an illustration is in order. There is a healthy debate raging in Texas concerning the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test. It is like the old achievement tests we took to gauge the effectiveness of public education. However, the TAKS test is the main indicator of whether or not a child advances to the next grade. Do well on the test you advance. Do not-so-well and you’re held back. Given the human tendency to cut corners and shirk responsibility, many teachers simply “teach to the test.” That is, they teach only what is necessary to pass the TAKS test. And a child’s TAKS test score is taken as a reflection of his knowledge and competence.

I’m afraid I am often guilty of “studying to the sermon.” I translate, exegete, consult and configure just so I can crank out a Sunday homily, not to commune with the Living God. It may look like I’m competent, but am I? I may have prepared a meal, but do I “smell of its spices” (Spurgeon)? It may appear that I’ve come down from Zion, but am I really trying to find the stairs?

As egotistical and selfish as I am, I’m confident this is a pastoral pandemic. There are too many pastoral theologies addressing this tension to assume otherwise. I am particularly drawn to Thomas Murphy’s Pastoral Theology, from which I draw a few quotes from the chapter entitled “In The Closet”:

“. . . the piety of the church will generally rise about as high as that of its minister” (p48).

“. . . the measure of devotedness in any particular church may be gauged by that of the pastor’s heart” (p48).

“Blessings for thousands are impending when the minister is on his knees pleading for more and more grace” (p49).

Enough of my whining, I’d better burn this load of laundry and get back to those stairs.

4 thoughts on “More Dirty Laundry

  1. Barry,

    Your post accurately reflects my own circumstances. I often feel so hypocritical when preaching because I realize that I teach and preach much better than I really live. I shudder to think of preaching on the family because of my own feelings of inadequacy as a father and husband. I am ashamed to preach on the priority of prayer because of my own weakness in prayer.

    May God help us by His grace to a deeper walk with Him that will enable honest boldness for Him from our pulpits.

  2. Thanks for your honest and soul searching posts. They are both convicting and encouraging.

    On another note, how about posting your sermons on the church’s website. MP3/IPODs are a wonderful things.

  3. Well, funny you should mention that, Scott. We’ve just purchased the ability to post sermons as mp3s on our website ( We’ve had a few guys deployed to Iraq so we hustled to make sure they can listen to the sermons. Due to webspace we only post the most recent one, but any sermon can be e-mailed as an mp3. There is a list of available sermons for that purpose.

    So, we are single-handedly curing insomnia and defeating sleep apnea across the globe. Only after you’ve listened to every other possible sermon on the web should you try ours.

  4. Dear Brother Barry,

    The fact that you can publicly admit and describe this weakness in your life shows that you are open to God working on you in this area. Thank you for what you wrote, and the quotes you shared.

    I’ve read some of your posts on this blog, and have found your writing very edifying. Please keep it up!

    Love in Christ,


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