Volume 21 Issue 11
Most of the students sitting in the corner of the local McDonalds already had in hand their all-American breakfast. They were waiting for me to get situated among them and start the class. Today I would entertain questions and lead a discussion about ministry. Over the past twenty years these talks have run along the same lines, usually centering around the students’ desires and frustrations about getting started in the ministry. They are sincere. They feel they have a “calling from God,” but they don’t know what to do next. Many question the process or believe there is no process, and others say that the doors are hard to open. And in truth, there is nothing that guarantees their success apart from the anointing and touch of God. I enjoy these sessions, and I think the students enjoy them. Although we don’t solve any of the world’s serious problems, the talks are pleasant and it is a relaxing time together. Privately, I have called this class “the aspirations of restless hearts” (poet unknown).
Reflecting on these talks over the years, I cannot remember much specific detail about the things I have said. But today I’m thinking about what I wish I had said and what I would say if I had all those times to do over again. I suppose I cover some of the big matters (I sure hope so), but I know that among all the questions there have been few, perhaps none, that dealt with the core issues of ministry. There is the usual stuff: What should I read? How do I book meetings? How do I get noticed? Do I promote myself? Should I write my sermons? Should I read my sermons? Should I become a youth pastor somewhere? How do I manage my time? What are the best methods for this or that? and so on. These are the common topics. My ears listen in vain for the one great inquiry about what more than anything determines the success or failure of our work.
What these students may not understand at this point is that true leadership must move people. Preaching must move people. For ministry to be anointed of the Holy Spirit, it must correspond to God’s purposes. God’s prophet must lead people into God’s kingdom and into God’s holiness. Therefore, the prophet’s self-interest must be laid aside. The servant of Christ is crucified with Christ. He must speak of God and speak for God; he may have no vested interest other than this. The preacher must move people toward God. He must make known to the world the prophetic invitation from God: to be born again (Acts 2:17). People can be moved. Holiness is possible. Living a Spirit-filled life is possible. This is God’s story, and this must be the preacher’s story. The preacher pulls upon the hearts of men to join the body, the Church. He is about making disciples for Christ and resisting at all cost the temptation to make disciples unto himself.
Let the preacher come trembling to the task. And may he note that all sincere movement toward God arises from a certain conflict. When people discover the discrepancy between what they had hoped life would be and what it has actually become to them, it is at this point that they are ready to make a change, to move. This conflict arises when disappointment has overwhelmed the soul, sin has failed to deliver its promise, life lays tangled hopelessly in lies, and the pursuit of pleasure has destroyed one’s morals. But when this disparity meets the witness — the preacher — he must not merely put forth a sermonic dissertation. He must “shew forth the praises of Him” (1 Peter 2:9). He must show that God has given us a solution and has called us “out of darkness into his marvelous light.” And the preacher must do this in the light of his own personal integrity. He cannot live apart from his own advocacy.
Ultimately, I believe, ministry becomes mostly unproductive when we do not demonstrate in our own lives God’s power to deliver us from ungodliness and from ungodly behavior. Sadly, here is where today’s generation has too often chosen to differentiate itself. Integrity, morals, truthfulness, ethics, and brotherly love play a role in the advancement of revival, and the lack of these shuts it down. Take note of some powerful mega-churches that are presently shaking apart at the revelations of the preacher’s immorality. Thankfully, these are not Apostolic churches; nevertheless, the principles still apply. The world is on edge. It seems that there are more secular thinkers who are aware of the pressing dangers than the mainstream Christian church.
When was the last sermon you heard on the radio about the moral decay and the greed and the ruthless politicians of this nation? You hear this dialogue from a talk show host, but from a preacher? Not so much. The question I wait for is this: What is really the most important thing in my ministry? The answer: honesty, love, realness, fairness, ethics, morals, love for God, love for truth, self-sacrifice, love for God’s people, respect for the old paths, charity and the fruit of the Spirit.
At my next McDonalds get-together I will start with these questions: What kind of church deemphasizes moral leadership? What kind of church tolerates misinformation? What kind of church would contend that the world is not in need of reformation? What kind of church would say in the face of a raging storm of lust and worldliness, “let’s wait and see if things get better”? What kind of church would mock its members who obey righteousness and holiness yet glorify and promote those who disobey? What kind of church sets aside unity for the interest of schisms? What kind of church prefers human talent over moral and righteous integrity? What kind of church markets political correctness and forgoes the responsibility of defending the Scripture? What kind of church betrays its own convictions? What kind of church refuses to lead the fight in the midst of a demonic, bloody war against righteousness? What kind of church leaves its youth exposed to an advancing political totalitarianism without placing the trump to the lips and blowing a certain sound? I will listen closely to the answers, because therein hangs the future.