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I have frequently heard preachers express their gratitude for the influence older preachers had on them when they were young, and how their lives and ministries were impacted for good because of their relationships with with these older ministers. I myself am ever so grateful for the influence some godly older preachers have had on my life.

But not all preachers have such good memories relative to their relationship with an older preacher. They would confess that, instead of profiting from them, they and their ministries have barely survived the negative impact of relationships they had with older preacher/mentors when they were young and just starting out in the ministry.

Not long ago a preacher, now in his sixties, told me of some disappointing, hurtful experiences he’d had early in his ministry due to an older preacher/mentor; one whom he allowed to have an inordinate and unscriptural influence over him and one who “through covetousness and feigned words” made “merchandise” of him (2 Pet. 2:3). He related all this with the good spirit of one who regretted his bad decisions, but appreciated the lessons he’d learned and the grace of God that brought him through some pretty hard times he’d had to endure as a result of his own lack of discernment and his bad decisions.

It’s too bad that many so-called and self-thought "leaders," heroes" and "great" preachers in certain circles and camps seem to have either missed, or dismissed, the importance of Christ-likeness in their own lives. They ignore the plain injunction of Scripture like Micah 6:8 which says, "He hath shewed thee O man what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." Men who claim to be called to places of spiritual leadership should especially take this to heart, and demonstrate humility and a spirit of servanthood in their lives. But to many such, all this seems to mean little or nothing.

These are those who think of themselves, and are thought of, as “great men” in the churches, camps and circles with which they are associated. But may if not most are really only "big ducks" on the “little puddles” of the churches, camps and circles in which they swim. These men usually fail to meet the criteria for “bigness” in ministry that Jesus set forth for ministers in Mark 10:42-45 where it is written: “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."

First Peter 5:2-4 presents a perfectly plain pattern for preachers to follow in terms of how they should approach the ministry, think of themselves, and treat other people: “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”

These “big ducks” in the little puddles and ponds of the churches, camps and circles in which they swim can, if allowed to do so, exert an inordinate and unhealthy influence over, and demand an inappropriate subservience from, those around them. When this happens, these big ducks make the waters in which they swim increasingly toxic, and create a spiritually dangerous environment for all concerned.

“Big ducks in little puddles,” prideful, egomaniacal and self-serving preachers, often take advantage of church members whom they pastor or young preachers who look up to them as mentors. And the more God fearing, humble and desirous to serve the Lord these people are, the more vulnerable they will be to “Big Duck” preachers who will use them to stroke their own egos and serve their agendas, until the “great preacher” finds it expedient to, as they say, throw them under the bus.

Pastors need to be held as accountable to Scripture as any other believer. They should be respected and honoured, but not in ways or to a degree that is inordinately inappropriate. People should follow their spiritual leaders, but only as their spiritual leaders demonstrate that they themselves are endeavouring to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

Young preachers especially need to be careful not to open themselves up to experiences such as we have described. If they do, they may be negatively impacted by them in ways that they never could have imagined and cause a diversity of collateral damage in terms of their family and others — damage that they'll have to deal with for a long time. Young preachers need to cultivate a discipline that will prevent their becoming overly impressed with, and taken captive by, ministerial “big ducks on little ponds." This is possible when truth such as the following is constantly kept in mind:

“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”

—1 Cor. 11:1

“He must increase, but I must decrease”

—John 3:30

I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”

—1 Cor. 3:6

“For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.”

—Gal. 1:10

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