Why do people go into a life of ministry? Noble motivation, right? Some years ago I read this line in a book for ministry students by Charles Spurgeon: “Don’t preach the gospel in order to save your soul.” I was in my twenties at the time, and I remember thinking, “What kind of idiot would try to save his soul by preaching the gospel?”
But after a few years in the ministry, you start to realize that if your church does well and grows and people like you, you feel disproportionately good—and if your church doesn’t do well and people don’t really like you, you feel disproportionately bad. You’re working outside in. You had assumed, “If people like me and say, ‘Oh, how much you help me,’ then God will like me and I will like myself, and then that sense of inconsequentiality, that sense of uncleanness, will go away.’
But it doesn’t.
Many years ago I was reading a critical study that rendered Romans 1:17 in the following way: “He who through faith is righteous shall live,” and I almost heard a voice saying, “Yes, and he who through preaching is righteous shall die every Sunday.”
From King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (New York: Dutton, 2011), 79–80.