We pastors are constantly looking at things through the lenses of shepherding. We think about how certain events or happenings will affect our congregants. The longer we pastor the more ingrained this becomes in us. This is a good, even necessary, thing in order for us to be good pastors to our people.
However, as the apostle Paul is speaking to a group of pastors and elders from Ephesus, in what will probably be his last time to communicate with them or see them, he begins with another emphasis. In addition to having them focus on the flock God has given them to shepherd, he tells them one more group to keep watch on: themselves. In Acts 20:28 Paul tells them,
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
Notice what precedes the call to watch the flock. He pleads with them to pay careful attention to themselves. They are called to keep a close eye out on their own hearts and lives. In order for shepherds of God’s flock to faithfully shepherd they must first keep a close eye on themselves.
What does it mean to pay careful attention to yourselves? It certainly entails the importance of walking with the Lord daily in personal devotions. It includes keeping a close watch on our doctrine and theology. It means we seek to be obedient to the Lord and His commands in all we do. But I have discovered two areas of my own heart where I need to pay careful attention to myself. I doubt that I am alone in these two areas. I want to be completely transparent in hopes it will help other pastors as well. I must pay careful attention to myself in the areas of 1. being in the inner-ring and 2. platform envy.
1. The Inner-Ring
As pastors we are often the most recognized and sought after person in our congregations. But when it comes to pecking order in our vocation, we all know who the big, sought after names are. Most of us have all heard of Stanley, Piper, MacArthur, Batterson, Chandler, Groeschel, Dever, Platt, and the list could on. We have heard them speak at conferences, listen to their podcasts, and read their books. We also know there are other tiers of people whose names we recognize because of their books, blogs, speaking, or social media status.
When we see these individuals and others interacting with each other at conferences or on blogs or social media, we can envy being in that inner-ring. If they do not respond to us on social media or they don’t follow us, we can feel outside the circle. This is dangerous for our hearts. We must pay careful attention to ourselves to not find our identity in being known or approved of by other men/women. We must root our identity in being known by Christ. We must fight the idol of the inner-ring—which is the age-old sin of coveting.
2. Platform Envy
This one is likely a no-brainer requiring less argument than my previous point. As pastors, we see other people in our same vocation receiving opportunities to do things we would like to do. We look at other people speaking at events, releasing books, having their articles shared across the internet and think, “Why don’t I have these opportunities?” We can even begin to compare ourselves to them and fall into the trap of tearing down their worthiness and elevating ours. We can give multiple reasons why they don’t deserve that platform and give you twice as many for why we do. This is sin. It is idolatry and covetousness. It is God has given to each man and woman what He desires. He has given us the platform we have, be it large or small. We are to be faithful stewards of what He has given us to manage and leave the increase or decrease of our platform to Him. We should rejoice in other people’s successes and fruits of their labor.
These are two areas I have had to pay careful attention to myself. My conversations with other pastors have confirmed to me that I am not alone in this. Rather than letting these two things fester in my heart and cause me to sin, I need to heed Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian elders. I need to watch my own heart, even as I seek to shepherd the hearts of others.
Social media can fuel this problem. We see others posting their highlights of accomplishments and we are tempted to envy. We watch as people like or share other people’s posts while something similar from ourselves gets no traffic. Social media can throw gas on these two issues. So keep a close watch over yourselves, resting in the approval of Christ, and faithfully stewarding what He has entrusted you to manage.