Pastoral Priorities: Watching your life and ministry

Forewarning: The following is not a blurb summary of what CJ Mahaney gave his talk on. Consider this notes from the talk. It is pretty detailed…Enjoy.

Aware of the time he has, CJ tells us to quickly turn in our Bibles to 1Tim 4. I am not sure how to take this. What is a Mahaney talk without 20 minutes of anecdotes and putting down the Yankees – especially when he is in New York City?!? Verse 16: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” If Spurgeon were here to address us, he would more than likely address us with this passage. In his first lecture (“The Pastor’s Self-Watch”) in his Lecture to My Students, reveals his care for his students.


“This morning wants to address each of you.” Interrupt your preoccupation with church planting, the coming sermon, and ministry responsibilities. The Savior wants to care for you and your wives so that you are discernibly different upon your return home.


We have a sobering reminder of the eternal consequences of our ministries: you will save both yourself and your hearers. Here’s what’s at stake: 1) the preservation of yourself and 2) your hearers by you’re a) life and b) doctrine. Pastoral ministry could not be more important.


1) Watch your life

As an expression of God’s wisdom we are commended to give full attention to both life and doctrine. We cannot study doctrine without applying it to our life. We cannot watch our life to the neglect of doctrine (and vice-versa). Both must be watched closely (not casually).


I find the easier command to neglect, that of the command to watch my life. Studying doctrine if easier and more desirable than studying my life. It is easy to study hard, but little attention to heart evaluation. We study our congregation and public ministry more than ourselves and personal piety.


Skillfulness and fruitfulness in public ministry is not a substitute for personal piety. Clearly in Scripture it is a man’s character that is the utmost criteria in the minister’s life. There is doctrinal discernment, but the pastor is meant to provide for the congregation a godly example. “Our character must be more persuasive than our speech” (CH Spurgeon). The absence of these godly characteristics in our lives will show that we have neglected to watch our life (and doctrine). Over the past 34 years, Mahaney has observed men who have served with fervency but no longer serve in pastoral ministry because they neglected this command to watch their lives.


What has Mahaney learned from this passage?

a)    The limitations of sound doctrine. Please don’t misunderstand; this is not optional to the ministry. It is not sufficient apart from grace-motivated obedience (being hearers only and not do-ers). If we assume that merely being present at this conference is sufficient, then we have already begun the process of self-deception – that right doctrine is all there is to pastoral ministry. Owen reminds us: “As we learn all to practice, so we learn much by practice.” Unitl you practice the truth, you have not learned the truth. It’s possible to teach and counsel without paying attention to our own souls. In fact, the mere busy-ness of pastoral ministry can keep us from doing this vigilance. We must be intentional in our self-evaluation.


b)    The war within never ends. Galatians 5:17 reminds that there is an on-going battle  with the old man. Being in pastoral ministry is not an exemption from being in a battle. “If you don’t watch, you will weaken…Heart-work is hard work.” Are you watching closely? Are you watching daily? Are you watching persistently?”


c)    You cannot watch yourself by yourself. We need others to help us discern our lives and hearts. Left to myself there will be a sufficient deficiency in my self-evaluation. He shares the cream-cheese story. And then he shares the story of being in the staff meeting where he was probed further regarding his sin that he had previously confessed. Something to take away from this: we need to be surrounded by those who are not intimidated or afraid of pointing out issues in our lives. By divine design, the illumination of our sin oftentimes comes in the context of relationships – and not merely on our knees in the morning devotional. Quoting Paul David Tripp, he tells us that everyone has a pocket of spiritual blindness. We even get angry and offended when people think they see us and our hearts better than we do ourselves (speaking of the deceitfulness of sin in Heb 3:13). Our vision of ourselves is like a carnival mirror.


a.    We need to ask others to describe what they see. We need to humbly and aggressively pursue the insight of others. More than likely people have observations but are timid about sharing them. You can say, “If you knew that I would not become angry, what would you tell me about myself?”

b.    Give your wife this gift: Provide a moment of un-hurried time to evaluate. Initially CJ was not excited about the correction that Carolyn gave him before he came to the conference. He began to think that the evaluation wasn’t accurate. But over time God gave him the gift to get cream cheese off his face:

                                               i.     Do I continually and specifically confess my sin?

                                             ii.     Do I specifically confess my sin at particular times and places?

c.     Do others know secret temptations and sin in your life

d.    Are you easy to correct? Are you presenting to others a carefully edited and flattering presentation of your sin?


Table Talk

  1. Godly character is unquestionably the preeminent qualification for a pastor or church planter, although its cultivation is usually more difficult than learning doctrine, setting strategy, etc. How does a pastor identify and put to death his sinful desires, motives, and patterns?
    1. Surrounding yourself with others. A wife is a great gift for this. Ask her and listen. Do not interrupt and justify your actions.
    2. You need to have a personal devotion life, reflecting and listening to God’s Word.
    3. Have an unhurried time. Even our devotional times should be unhurried. Those pastoral meetings should be ample enough to have good, solid, organic time to talk about life and issues. It takes time to run out of your pastoral mode and façade so that you can (over time) speak about issues.
    4. Try to identify secret sins in your life and work to confess those to others in your pastoral team.
    5. We need to confess specific sins in specific situations. Invite others to ask those questions.
    6. It is easy as a pastor to look to the sins of others and comparing yourself with others so that you don’t think that you are as bad as that person.


  1. What are the Scripture’s clear teaching on the deceptiveness of sin and our need for others in the process of sanctification (Heb. 3:12; 10:24-25; James 5:16)? What practices in our life reflect that conviction? What concrete steps can a pastor take to involve others in his pursuit of godliness, making them aware of temptations, and inviting their observations?


Closing Words:

We have to apply the doctrines of grace in the shadow of the cross.

The practice Covenant Life has implemented:

  1. Pastors and their wives have been in a monthly, small group setting together – about two-three hours with . Watching is what pasturing is all about. There is a monthly meeting for couples, men, and then women (three meetings a month). These are meetings for the ministering of the soul of each other. Attention to our souls is the best thing we can do for our churches. We are talking about our lives and not strategic planning or budget or ministerial helps.
  2. Once a year, all the couples will pull away for a retreat for three days – geographically separated from where they are ministering.
  3. Watch your doctrine. In watching our doctine-watching wemust never lose sight of the cross. A Quest for Godliness: The preacher’s commission is declaring the counsel of God, but his center is Calvary in that declaration. In the midst of all counseling and preaching, Calvary must be lifted high.

Watch the Savior work. See the end of 1Tim 4:16. Paul accents human agency in Christ’s work. Although salvation is God’s gift alone, it is given by means of man (John Calvin). There is one mediator (who Paul has already referred to in 1Tim 2:5) and he stands behind our watching of our life and our doctrine. Save for the Savior, this work would be too much to bear. Because of the Savior, we have hope that our watching will have effect. 

1 Comment

Filed under Books & Media, Current Events, Dwell Conference, Pastoral

One response to “Pastoral Priorities: Watching your life and ministry

  1. Pingback: Dwell Conference Summary « Off The Wire

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