Born2Serve Ministries O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. Ps 107:1


Bible Discussion on Zello


God Centered or Man Centered

For nearly fourteen centuries men thought that the earth was the center of the solar system.  In fact, there was never any documented debate in the matter until a book entitled “On the Revolution of Celestial Spheres” was written in 1450 AD.  The author, Nicolas Copernicus, concluded that there had to be a simpler explanation for the heavenly bodies, their placement, their movement, and their effect on the earth’s seasons.  His presentation of the heliocentric model shattered the geocentric theory which had for so long captivated men’s minds.  Though it sparked a very volatile argument, it changed the face and the perspective of astronomy for good and forever.  

In every generation of preachers, there have been several somewhat differing philosophies offered as the central focus for serving the Lord.  Various Christian leaders, churches, authors, and institutions have all had their own take on what a basic “operating system” of ministry should be.  Among these ministry mind-sets are two very contrary philosophies: a man-centered focus vs. a Christ-centered focus.  The one places man at the middle of a ministries “solar system.”  The other fixes the Son in His proper place, front and center.  While the former is fraught with theological problems, the latter is in fact the only alternative for a genuine servant of God.

This truth was especially driven home to my heart some time ago while holding meetings in the Mid-west.  When I arrived, the pastor began to share some of the burdens on his own heart concerning the subject at hand.  He was actually cleaning up some of the carnage that the former pastor had left behind.  Much of the mess was due to a faulty ministry philosophy.  According to the present pastor, his predecessor had displayed much arrogance while leading the flock.  He had readily barked orders to all of his “subjects” but was unwilling to dirty his hands with menial tasks, (not something he learned from the One who stooped to wash His disciple’s feet.)  He viewed very capable people as a threat instead of wisely utilizing their gifts in the service of the King.  He maintained one image in the pulpit and another image outside of the pulpit.  Perhaps most damaging of all, he encouraged people to serve so that they might please the pastor instead of serving so that they might please Christ.  In case you haven’t guessed, his ministry philosophy was man-centered.

Several problems lie ahead for anyone in God’s service that adopts the above mentioned ministry guide.  First, it will Affect One’s Practice in Leadership.  Those who tolerate and promote a man-centered approach will create a lord and vassal mentality.  Many in God’s flock languish under the bondage of this type of “leadership.”  As preachers, we must recognize that we are stewards not masters!  That is why God inspired Peter to write, “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (I Peter 5:3).

The cowards who choose this base method of ministry will often show great insecurity towards and mistrust of very reliable and godly people. When the daughters of Israel sang, “Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands,” Saul asked, “What can he have more but the kingdom?” (I Samuel 18:7-8).  If Saul had shown a God-centered focus he would have admired the chorus, and would have noted that his choice to set David “over the men of war” was a mark of good leadership.  However, he suffered, and many others with him, from his wretched insecurity.

When leaders refuse to set Christ at the center of their philosophical solar system, they tend to lose the essential quality of serving others.  Their motto becomes “Others, Lord, yes others! Let others serve only me!”  Was this not the sin of Diotrophes who loved “to have the preeminence” (III John 9)?

Perhaps most dangerous of all, man-centered leadership leads to no accountability.  Subtly the leader obtains a Messiah-like status that can never be questioned.  He reigns with great arrogance, intimidates any that refuse to be his yes-men, and discourages his followers from thinking biblically.  In doing so he joins the ranks of Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, and Hussein and fails to submit to a system of checks and balances.  This man-centered approach to ministry was certainly not in the manual of the apostle Paul who said, “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe” (I Thessalonians 2:10).

A second very clear pitfall on the road to a man-focused ministry is that it will Affect One’s Perspective towards People.  The individuals who promote this errant philosophy will lead their flock to be man followers instead of Christ followers.  While the Scriptures on occasion reference the need to follow an apostle (I Corinthians 11:1; II Thessalonians 3:7-9) or a pastor (Hebrews 13:7), the emphasis is always upon their godly example, their faith, or their own dedication to Christ.  The Bible does not encourage the sheep to blindly follow the under shepherd anywhere his fleshly whims may lead.  It is astounding that any preacher who claims to adhere to the Bible would steer his flock in this downward direction.  His man-centered approach is most definitely an offense to the One who said “follow me” (Luke 5:27).  The goal of God’s man should be to challenge his people to be “followers of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:4).

Another subtle and damaging result, when man replaces Christ as the hub, is that the flock seeks to please man instead of God.  The service in the church, i.e. teaching a Sunday school class, working on a bus route, serving as a deacon, tending to the junior church, cleaning the auditorium, soulwinnning, etc., is deemed successful if the pastor alone is pleased.  Where is the pleasure of Christ?  Is His smile sought?  Not within this framework.  Plainly the Savior taught otherwise.  He declared, “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth His trust in the Lord shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25).  Paul stated, “If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).  The admonishment to believers in Colosse was simple.  “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23).  The words of Scripture soundly divert attention away from man and onto the Savior.

Within this facade of service, otherwise known as man worship, lies the grave danger that it will Affect One’s Position of Theology.  First is the issue of authority.  When a man is the focus in a ministry, the tendency is to make his word the final authority instead of God’s Word.  The church at Pergamos was guilty of this very error because of their toleration of those who held the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.  These heretics ultimately taught that their word was to be accepted above God’s.  God said concerning this teaching that it was the very “thing which I hate” (Rev. 2:15).  When a preacher begins to demand an unquestioning following of his own words, how different is he from the Pope?  He, in fact, is shamefully similar.

Among other tragic effects upon one’s theology, this evil focus away from Christ and onto man causes an adverse reaction.  A man who has been exposed to this type of philosophy has the potential of swinging the theological pendulum away from that which is orthodox and true.  It is human nature, albeit wrong, to do so.  Here is a man training for the ministry within the boundary of an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church.  The doctrinal position is, or at least ought to be, correct and Biblical.  However, the leader or leaders within his church promote man worship, demand blind loyalty, have no accountability, live according to the dictates of the flesh, and boast in their arrogant ways.  He sees the fallacy of this practice and longs to be involved in a ministry where none of the above is existent amongst the leadership.  So he takes a long look at the New Evangelical movement and at famous radio preachers and authors within this vein.  On the surface it glitters and seems so appealing.  He thinks, “That must be the place where I should stand.  There doesn’t seem to be any fighting in that crowd.  Perhaps from that ministerial vantage point, none of the leaders seek vainglory.  I think that I’ll become like them.”  Then either with great gusto or little by little, he begins to shed the orthodox positions of Scripture and the Bible moorings of Fundamental Baptists.  Whether he ever finds perfect leadership or not is irrelevant, because he has forsaken basic Scriptural truth and compromised.  Where did this saga begin?  It all started when he was exposed to a power hungry, egotistical leader who stood in the pulpit as an independent Baptist.

The last and most sobering impact that a man-centered ministry will have is that it Affects One’s Place in the Judgment.    The believer’s focus ought to be upon the Bema Seat so as to motivate him presently to live for eternity.  When anyone in the ministry diverts this attention away from that day of great accounting, the quality of the building material digresses from gold, silver, and precious stones to wood, hay, and stubble.  What an awesome responsibility to realize that the preacher’s philosophy not only will affect his standing but those whom he has influenced as well.  “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (II Corinthians 5:10).  Paul cited this as a great motivator for his own life when he said, “knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (II Corinthians 5:11).  Any preacher that adopts a man-centered mindset will suffer loss at the Judgment Seat of Christ.  Likewise, any preacher that exalts the Savior in every aspect of ministry will receive a reward.

Also revealed at the Judgment Seat will be the impact our philosophy of ministry had upon the over all advancement or hindrance of the cause of Christ.  The context of I Corinthians 3 is that we are laborers together with God.  Paul declared, “I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.  But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” (I Corinthians 3:10).  The Lord is highlighting our individual responsibilities in the entire building of God.  He may say to one preacher, “Your ministry involved building the walls,” and to another, “Yours was to erect the roof.”  To someone else he may say, “I expected you to lay the carpet” or “You were to install the electrical wiring in the building of God.”  Then, on that day, each of us will see how our ministry either hindered or advanced the Savior’s cause.  Certainly if one’s ministry has been centered on Christ, there will be reason for great rejoicing.  However, should a lifetime or even a moment of ministry be fixed upon the fleeting glory of man, great sorrow will ensue.  This is motivation enough to keep one’s focus within the framework of a Christ-centered ideal.

It would be foolish and ignorant for any scientist or astronomer to slip back into the geocentric theory of space, and it is ignorant and rebellious for any servant of God to place someone other than the Son at the center of His ministerial “solar system.”  John the Baptist made clear his servants mind-set when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  Paul set the sails for the direction of his ministry when he said, “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).  Indeed, to have the proper practice in leadership, the right perspective towards people, the correct position of theology and a solid place in the judgment, God’s servants must diligently maintain a Christ-centered philosophy of ministry.  My prayer is that every alumnus of Ambassador Baptist College who labors in the Lord’s vineyard will always manifest this focus in service.

Evangelist Dwight Smith

This article was first published in the Volume VII Issue 1 of The Exhorter Newsletter of Evangelist Dwight M. Smith