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Integrity a necessary ingredient for fruitful ministry, Graham says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The primary need of ministers living in a cynical world is character, Prestonwood Baptist Church’s Jack Graham said at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary March 21.

Graham, pastor of the 16,000-member Dallas church since 1989, said churchgoers are looking for ministers who live with integrity in both their public and private lives.

“People today are very suspicious,” he said. “They are suspicious of political leaders. They are suspicious of pastoral leaders. I know when I stand up in our pulpit, there’s a certain segment who listen and are thinking to themselves, ‘I wonder, I just wonder what this guy’s got going on. Is this guy real?'”

Such attitudes are a reflection of the nation’s attitude as a whole, Graham said.

“People are cynical,” he said. “People are skeptical. They’ve seen the phonies. Trust and integrity is an endangered species. People are looking for reality and authenticity among us, among those who serve and shepherd the people of God. … People are not looking for perfect but they are looking for real. Above all else, be real.”

Graham, preaching from Psalm 78:70-72 in a chapel message, pointed out that King David fell to temptation — despite the fact that Scripture says he fed Israel according to the “integrity of his heart.”

“Isn’t it amazing that he fell not at the point of a weakness, but at the point of a strength?”

Graham asked. “David loved God. Read the Psalms, and you see his heart, you hear his heart. And yet when the temptation and the seduction of Bathsheba overwhelmed him … he fell at the point of a strength.

“I believe we are most vulnerable to the attack of the enemy at the point of our strengths, not our weaknesses.”

But Graham said a loss of integrity can lead to more than a loss of a congregation’s trust.

It can also lead to ministerial burnout.

“Let me say there’s nothing that will burn us out more quickly than having to fake it in ministry — faking in the pulpit, faking it in the pew, faking it in the service of Jesus Christ,” Graham said. “If you have to fake it in ministry, you will either be found out ultimately, or you will be burned out. But either way, you’re out. That’s why we pay attention to the integrity of the heart.”

Graham said a minister with integrity can lead his members with the same care that David displayed for his sheep.

“We are called for the sheepfolds,” Graham said. “We are called as shepherds to minister to the flock of God. That’s the distinctiveness of our call.”

Graham said it is important for ministers to view their congregations as individuals, and not simply as one unit. He cited the parable of the lost sheep as a model.

“The good shepherd leaves the flock, and he searches until he finds that one lost lamb,” Graham said. “And he pursues and he persists. He could have figured, ‘It’s just one. It’s just one dumb animal. We’ve got 99 left.’ But it’s the heart of the shepherd to see the flock not as herds or flocks but as individuals.

“One of the challenges of being a minister of a church of any size is not to see people as crowds or congregations. It’s quite possible to gather a crowd and never grow a church. But ultimately it’s possible in the ministry that we [can] become cold professionals rather than caring pastors and shepherds. That’s why it’s so vital that we keep our hearts aflame — that if even one [person] is missing, we’re willing to do whatever it takes.”

Sheep are written about throughout the Bible for a reason, Graham said. He noted that in today’s society, sports teams use mascots such as bears and lions, but never use sheep.

“Not one team I know of is known of as the sheep — [there’s] a Ram or two — but not a sheep,” he said. “Why? Because sheep are so weak and defenseless. Sheep are so easily led astray. One little sheep can lead the flock, and just wander and wander and find himself looking over a cliff.

“Serving the people of God and sharing the gospel of God with a world like sheep gone astray is not always easy.”

Ministers should follow the example of Christ, Graham said.

“Our first responsibility as the men and women of God is to do what Jesus did — not petting the sheep or just pandering [to] the sheep — but to pursue sheep who are lost, [and] to feel and be moved with compassion,” he said. “We are shepherds of the flock of God.”

Graham said those who are called to be ministers are truly blessed.

“I say the ministry is the worst career, but it’s the highest calling,” he said. “If you’re looking for a career, the ministry is not for you. But if God has called you, it is the most joyous thing to know that God’s hand has led us to a place of service in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust