Mutual Stroking and the Minister

by Joseph Franks

Being a minister can be an extremely pleasurable and rewarding vocation. One’s duty is to study God’s Word and meet with God’s people; who would hate this? The hours are often long, but they are often flexible, and this is a benefit that many parishioners do not have. In addition, there is no greater joy in heaven and on earth than seeing a Christian brother born again, or a Christian sister brought back to the fold. It is a wonderful privilege to be a part of God’s salvific plan.

In addition, being a minister can be an extremely popular calling. Pastors are often given honorary titles such as Pastor, Elder, Father, or Reverend. Regularly they are invited over to the houses of their parishioners to eat a meal or share a piece of pie. In many churches, the shepherd loves his people, and they love him back. In many nations, being a pastor is still an incredibly honorable calling.

And in some circles, being a minister can be a profitable endeavor. A minister’s job is fairly secure. In the United States an average pastor receives a very reasonable income. Oft times, friends in the church perform nice deeds for their minister; some give him discounts on products and services. Then there are some tax advantages regarding his living arrangement and his possibly opting out of Social Security. In our current culture, many can even find themselves incredibly wealthy through the writing of books and hosting of seminars. And in my particular case there is always free coffee at the office.

However, there is one great temptation for all in the ministry. One might call it “Mutual Stroking.” Congregations grow the quickest when one preaches “happy, happy, happy” sermons. In addition, congregations grow the largest when one avoids the doctrines of “depravity, sin, judgment, hell, and moral absolutes.” One helps his attendance if he gives his listeners a steady dosage of prosperity principles. And ultimately, congregations are willing to keep their minister happy, well-fed, and prosperous as long as he, in return, gives them what they long to hear. His duty is to “tickle their ears,” and as long as he continues to stroke them, they will stroke him in return. Most times, in order to keep the relationship soft, easy, and pleasurable, the minister must forsake preaching the whole counsel of God to those in his congregation who most need reform.

And what does God say to ministers and congregations who engage in “Mutual Stroking?” 

Then I said: “Ah, Lord God, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’ ” And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them.     (Jeremiah 14:13-16)

God promises judgment on ministers and congregations who prefer “Mutual Stroking” over “Thus says the Lord.”

And while being a professional minister can be unbelievably rewarding and pleasurable, what is the reality?

Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me. The Lord said, “Have I not set you free for their good? Have I not pleaded for you before the enemy in the time of trouble and in the time of distress? Can one break iron, iron from the north, and bronze? “Your wealth and your treasures I will give as spoil, without price, for all your sins, throughout all your territory. I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.”     (Jeremiah 15:10-14)

But what does God say to the minister who values the “Thus says the Lord” over “Mutual Stroking?” What does God say to the man who “bears reproach” for the unaltered message? (vs. 15)  What does God say to the preacher who “finds, eats, and enjoys” the words of God and experiences “unceasing pain” due to his faithful proclamation of God’s will? (vs. 16, 18)

Therefore thus says the Lord: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them. And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord.     (Jeremiah 15:19-20)

Therefore ministerial students and elders in training, come into the sacred ministry with eyes wide open. There will be days of sweetness. There will be seasons which are sour. Do not enter the battle thinking it to be a vacation. You might be really happy; you might be really popular; and you might become very rich. And as you serve the Lord, you might also find yourself maligned, sad, poor, or dead.

And a word to my friends currently engaged in ministry — Let us forsake “Mutual Stroking” in order to hear the “Well done” from our Lord and Savior. Enjoy the good times given us by the Lord, but never let us sacrifice the whole counsel of God for good times, good growth, good friends, or a good paycheck.

And finally, to those in the congregation who pay the bill through their attendance, tithes and offerings. Find the man and support him well who loves God more than himself and you. Expect to be pleasured by God’s Word. Expect to be pained. But check yourselves and make sure you are not harming your minister and your children. God honors the man who values “Thus says the Lord” over “Mutual Stroking.” May you honor such a man as well, and encourage your minister to “man up” in the pulpit.

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