I’ll never forget my first trip to the mountains. My adolescent eyes were filled with awe. The mountains rose high above our car. Occasionally there was a waterfall that sprung from the mountainside. Wonder was not the only emotion I experienced. My über-observant eyes caught a road sign that warned of unforeseen danger. What was this panic-inducing message? “Watch Out For Falling Rocks.” It was shocking that among such beauty, there was also a great danger. In many ways, the ministry is like a trip through the mountains. It is filled with wonders and joys imaginable. Yet, it too has hidden and unexpected dangers.
One of the greatest dangers for a pastor is the area of applicational hypocrisy. The English word hypocrite originates from a Greek theatre term. It described an actor who was a mask wearer or a pretender. Applicational hypocrisy occurs when a preacher or Bible teacher urges that his audience apply a passage of scripture to their lives without first applying it to his own life. Paul was concerned that his young protege in the ministry was mindful of avoiding hypocrisy in his ministry when he reminded him to “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching: persevere in these, for in doing so, you will save both your self and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:16). If this was a vital exhortation for Timothy, certainly pastors today ought to be mindful of those mandates as well. Pastors who want to serve well must be sure that their life and teaching match up. Failure to do so will render one guilty of applicational hypocrisy. While a sermon and ministry may look pretty and pristine to the passerby, much like the mountains, there are several dangers one must beware of that are produced by applicational hypocrisy.
Danger for the Pastor’s Family
The pastor’s family are the members of his congregation that know him the best. Therefore they are most susceptible to the danger of applicational hypocrisy. In both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, it is explicit that the pastor’s home life is an essential part of his qualifications for ministry. Of all the individuals he is charged to care for, these are most likely to know him the best. They can compare the husband/dad of the pulpit to the husband/dad of the patio. Pastors can portray themselves to a congregation in a particular way, but it is difficult to hide their true selves from those closest to them. Failure to match the public persona to the private man may damage the faith of those he cares the most for or cause them to believe every Christian they know is a mask wearer.
Danger for the Pastor’s Flock
Stories are legion of pastors who did not practice what they preached and invariably fell. While casualties of his family are the most tangible, the fallout in the church is no less dangerous. In my thirteen years of pastoral ministry, I’ve heard countless church members express difficulty trusting any minister because of ministerial malpractice or applicational hypocrisy. These men didn’t practice what they preached from their pulpits. Their failures were not immediately apparent, but when the hypocrisy was exposed, it caused immeasurable collateral damage.
Danger for the Fallen World
The pastor who persists in applicational hypocrisy is destined for a fall. When this happens, it is not only the family and the flock that are endangered but also the fallen world. Christians are called to live as salt and light to the world. The very nature of our calling means that our lives are on display for the lost to see. Pastors are held to a higher standard. As mentioned above, those aspiring to the overseer’s office are to be above reproach in 1 Timothy 3:1, but just a few verses later, it says that he must have “a good reputation with unbelievers so that he will not fall into disgrace” (1 Tim 3:7). When a pastor falls, the world looks and says one of two things: either “there is no hope for me” or just like I thought. A pastor who is a hypocrite in how he handles the text is more likely an instrument to turn men and women away from Christ than he is to be a luminary pointing the way to the true Light of the World.
Brothers, don’t be guilty of applicational hypocrisy, but rather be found, “holding fast to the faithful message as taught, so that [you] will be able to both encourage with sound teaching and refute those contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
Clint Ellis is the Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida.