One of the parts of my job that God has to continue to remind me that I love is that of shepherd. Being amongst the sheep, walking through life, listening to their hearts are all things that I enjoy doing the most. The problem is that I don’t spend nearly enough time doing it. I get caught up in sermon prep, meeting agendas, budgeting, vision casting, and almost anything else that comes through the door. What I don’t spend enough of my time doing is loving on my people.
Calvin Miller has written a book called “O Shepherd Where Art Thou.” It is done in story format and talks about the struggles of a Pastor who pastors a medium sized church. He is really good at shepherding his people but he struggles with the success factor, he feels his church should be bigger. Interwoven in the story is the relationship he has with two other pastors, one from a mega-church and the other from a Mainline denomination. Through their lunches together the main pastors problem is exacerbated even more. The mega-church pastor is all about appearances and speaking in catch phrases. He is always pounding the main pastor about vision and growth. The Mainline pastor is all about meditation and tradition, and is on the pastor about rejecting anything to do with growth. As the story progresses the main pastor comes to grips with how God has gifted him. He learns how to be comfortable in his role and not beat himself up over lacking in other areas.
This book really convicted me because I am a pastor at heart. I have beaten myself up for not being a dynamic enough leader or a deep enough teacher. The fact is I love going on pastor’s calls and praying for people. Although counseling isn’t my forte I enjoy when people come into my office for biblical advice. I wish my people let me do it more. If I could choose anything it would to be amongst the people of my church. The fact is that I am a recovering guilt addict. I was always feeling guilty for not spending enough time studying, not having a big enough vision, or being driven enough. What I need to remind myself is that God has equipped with a shepherds heart.
In reality the role of shepherd is diminishing in churches. With churches emphasizing leadership, getting out into the community, and a whole host of other activities our people are starting to be left behind. Just the other day I was reading a blog from a pastor about being relevant. He said pastors become irrelevant if they all they have is Christian friends, don’t do ministry in the community, and don’t mow their neighbors lawn. If that is what it takes to be relevant then I am okay with being irrelevant. God called me to my church to minister to the people first and foremost.
I really feel that some pastors need to reconsider their calling if they bristle at the thought of having deal with the people in their church. If you would rather be around non-Christians than the people in your church then go work for a non-profit. Don’t get me wrong outreach, teaching, and discipleship are important, and I spend most of my time on those, but they can be a lot easier than having to sit in the living room of a family who have just lost a loved one.
There isn’t a formula to better shepherd your people. Heck you can’t even schedule it. Last week I had ten counseling appointments and most of them were at the crisis stage. It left me on Saturday evening, after a city-wide outreach we had been planning for five months, finishing my message for Sunday. These are the moments that teach you the sufficiency of Christ. Please don’t take this as me pounding you if you aren’t strong in the area of shepherding. Work in your strengths and let God be strong in where you are weak. If you are strong in shepherding don’t beat yourself up for it and don’t let the guilt overwhelm you when you struggle in other areas. Go and minister to your people they need and most of all will thank you for it.
If you haven’t done it, you’ve seen it. Mom or dad can’t get one year old Billy to eat what’s good for him (strained carrots/baby cereal, etc.) and so they have to fake him out – they have to make him think that what he really hates is really good. And, of course, it is good for him – except it’s not good (at least on his palate – which is all he cares about). If he could talk, he would say it’s pooh-pooh.
To make little Billy open up and do what’s good for him we have developed some pretty impressive delivery methods. My specialty was the airplane buzz move where the lips were the runway which I would buzz a couple of times until my Billys would laugh and then I would shove in the offensive stuff. But my little Billys got wise pretty quick and developed immunities to my delivery methods which just forced me to be even more creative. I developed the itsy-bitsy-spider, the charging bull, and the hide-and-seek delivery method. (I was working on my black-belt in baby feeding.) Moms and dads sometimes have to fake out their little ones so that they will receive what is good for them. A lot of energy and imagination goes into the delivery systems which, if little Billy knew what was good for him, could be dispensed with.
You can take Billy out of toddlerhood, but sometimes toddlerhood doesn’t come out of Billy. Fast forward 25 years. Billy is exiting church on a Sunday morning and a friend going into the 2nd service asks, “How was the worship, Billy?” Billy replies, “Ah, not that good. They had no drummer and the bass was too loud and the keyboardist stayed on that mournful organ voice too long and they sang ‘Blessed be Your Name’ way too slow. Finally, I just gave up and stood there waiting for it to be over.”
Fast forward to the following Sunday. Billy emerges from the 1st service and the same friend says, “Hey, Billy, how was the worship today?” Billy responds, “It was an acoustic set w/ a percussionist. It didn’t rock. Too mellow for me. They said a couple of the songs were Maranatha choruses that were really big in their day. Whatever. I really wasn’t into it.”
Fast forward to the following Sunday. “Hey, Billy, how was the worship?” Billy, with excitement, “It was great! The lead guitarist was laying down some cool riffs and overlays. They set a floor mic right next to the bass drum – it was sick (meaning: good ). They only did Tomlin and Hillsong. Oh man, I was so into it – I just closed my eyes and raised my hands. It’s so great to worship Jesus.”
OK, let’s analyze this. (I already know what your objections will be to my analysis. But we can’t analyze the analysis until we know the analysis – so the analysis first.)
Billy is a spiritual toddler. He has to be ‘faked out’ to worship God. He has to be coaxed into doing that which is healthy for his soul. Music poorly done and music not his liking leaves a bad taste in his mouth and he won’t open his mouth to worship Jesus unless the music is sweet to his palate. Unless worship, and all that accompanies it, is delivered in a package that suits him, he will stand there and cross his arms and close his mouth and Jesus won’t hear one peep of thanks from him. But if Billy gets his bass drum and electric guitar and his driving beat – he’s all about God. Billy is a spiritual toddler. (Please note – this is a multi-generational phenomena. If Sam and Peggy don’t get their piano and organ music and Fanny Crosby hymns and have to listen to those dab-nabbit guitars, they won’t worship God. “No, God, I will not worship You unless I can worship in a way that conforms to my preference and tastes.” This, too, is toddler worship.)
Yes, yes, I know – music poorly done can be (not necessarily is), but can be very distracting. And music not performed in the way that you have come to enjoy and therefore prefer can be (not necessarily is), but can be a dynamic that would keep you from fully participating in the worship of God.
OK, why am I so hard on Billy? Because I used to be Billy! Unless the music and the songs and the way they were performed fit my niche preferences, I would spend most of the time in a critical spirit toward those who were leading. I was at the place where if I had to listen to, let alone sing, “Open the Eyes of My Heart” or “Lord I Lift Your Name of High” one more time, I wouldn’t be responsible for what my actions. I was Billy.
Here’s where I am today. “Tim, how was the worship?” “Ah, the worship was awesome!” Even though the band was not hitting on all cylinders that day, even though the absence of the drummer threw off the bass and rhythm guitars, even though the melodies and harmonies of the singers were more maladies and harm-on-me, I worshipped God. I have purposed that wherever I go, whoever is leading, however it is led, I will lift my heart and voice (and maybe my hands) and worship God. My worship of God is independent of the music that is supposed to aid my worship.
When the question is asked, “How was the worship?”, I think what is meant is, “How was the worship band? Did they bring it? Were they hot? Did the music get you revved up and passionate and cause you to lose yourself in the experience of worship?” I don’t think I’m too far off the mark there. And, please don’t get me wrong – I want the music to be spot on. (A possible future blog is how performance music has manipulated the emotions and diluted the worship of the church.)
What I have done in order to keep my sanity in the worship service is to separate the music from the worship. I can say, “The music did not help me to worship, but I worshipped nonetheless.” I don’t want to participate in toddler worship. Even though the music, style, beat, and songs don’t please me, I am not going to stand there with arms folded, mouth closed, enduring the duration of this mediocre performance. My attitude now is, “It is what it is.” I am going to use this occasion to worship the mighty God who created and redeemed me. God is worthy of my worship wherever I am. If, in the middle of a mediocre musical presentation I open my mouth and worship my God, worship has taken place. God is glorified. My soul is open to that which is healthy and good and right and righteous. You don’t have to coax me or fake me out or pamper me to get me to worship God. The worship of God flows from me even though nothing may be flowing from the platform except noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. Though the instruments are out of tune, the singers are off key, the melody line is wrong – I will worship. (As a pastor, this doesn’t mean I won’t speak with the leader of the worship band about improvement. It means that, in the moment, it is what it is, God is who He is, and I will worship.)
“But, Tim, if we are going to reach the (fill in the blank) generation we have to reach them where they are.” I get that, I really do. Be the best, strive for the best, put on the best you can. But let’s make sure we’re not creating little Billys who won’t worship our awesome God unless the context, style, song selection, instruments, melody, mood, and beat are exactly to their preference.
Yes, music greases the wheels of worship and when the wheels are turning and there is no grease, things can screech. I have purposed to worship when things screech. Instead of coaxing Billy,
Come on, Billy – here’s a Tomlin song, will you worship now? Come on Billy – here’s a class A lead guitar riff, will you worship God now? Come one Billy – here are people you think are cool, wearing stressed jeans and untucked shirts, playing music the way you like it, will you worship now? If I throw in a power point presentation with a dynamic moving background showing scenes of creation care, will you worship?
Instead, I want to teach all the Billys that worship music is important and it should be done well. But more important than the worship music is the God we are worshipping. When worship music overshadows worship, we are in danger of toddler worship.
God is worthy even when the music is not. The motive to worship has to be greater than the music of worship. It is easy to get to the place where we depend on the music to supply the motive of worship. Music is to be a handmaiden to worship, but for many, she has become queen and worship is the handmaiden. Music should be the grease on the wheels of worship. (Yes, I know, music is worship, too – at least for those who make it.) But I wonder if we are depending on the music to be the motor that turns the wheels. My love for God should be my motive to worship God. Music should assist my worship, not be the motor that drives it. When all is said and done, if I am depending on the music to get Billy to worship, to get Billy to open his mouth and do the healthy thing, I am aiding and abetting toddler worship.
But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more” (2 Cor. 7:6-7 NASB).
On June 25, 2007 I had been the pastor of Valley Baptist Church for about one month. We had grown from about 12 to 20 people at this point, when I invited young missionary family that was heading out to Mongolia to share at the church. Being married to an “MK” (i.e. Missionary Kid) world missions have become very important me and I want to build world missions in to the DNA of the church. At the end of the service I made a bold proclamation, “I can’t wait until VBC sends a team to Mongolia in five years!” I didn’t really know what I was saying, or if this little church would even survive five more years, but the proclamation would ultimately transform my understanding of my role in missions as a pastor.
Fast forward two years. This statement stuck in my heart. It kept me up at night. Would we send a team? How would this happen? I didn’t have the first clue. I started to think, “Man, ‘five years’ is approaching quickly. Maybe I need to go to Mongolia to take a ‘vision trip.’ I think that is what people do.” This thought scared me. As a former Navy SEAL I wasn’t too comfortable with a trip to a formerly control communist country that lies between Russia and China. This thought was crazy. I thought I would run it by my wife for her to shoot the idea down and to finally do away with this crazy thought. To my surprise, she replied, “That is a GREAT idea! I support you 100%!” Oh no, I was in trouble.
I prayed. I Skyped the missionary family to discuss this idea with them. All the doors were opening all together to fast for my comfort. Within a matter of months I booked my ticket to Ulan Batar, Mongolia via and over night stop in Beijing–a place where the church has some “friends” serving also. I ended up taking a man from the church with me on this journey. As we prayed and prayed about the purpose of trip, it became crystal clear that our purpose was for the sole purpose of encouraging the family who was serving overseas.
The goal of encouraging seemed a bit strange to me. I do not have the gift of encouragement and wasn’t sure that this goal was legitimate or valued in the eyes of the pastoral establishment. The idea of a senior pastor flying overseas is normally for the sake of evaluation–if one ever goes. But the more I prayed and the closer we came to the departure date, the more I realized I was going only to encourage.
I departed for Mongolia on April 19 and stayed there until May 5, 2010. In my mind the missionary family was encouraged already, but my purpose was to take them up a notch or two. I wasn’t ready to face the amount of discouragement they were facing. I spent the two weeks with their family experiencing Mongolian culture and enjoying some American treats that we brought with us–like tortillas, taco seasoning, pancakes, and a variety of other things Americans miss when they are away. We had a sweet time of fellowship and enjoying time together during my stay. At one point, the missionary told me, “Last night my wife said, ‘This is the first time I remember seeing you laugh in almost three years.'” This statement revealed to me how harsh missionary living is on the spirit.
Upon my return the thoughts to the trip lingered. I wrestled with the thought of missions today in the church in light of Scripture. It seems today we are about sending people out, giving money (which is great), praying for them (maybe, if we remember), and sending teams overseas a few times a year, but something just seems amiss to me.
Through this experience the Lord has shaped my understanding as a senior pastor concerning my role with world missions. Maybe these are just new thoughts for me? I hope they convict and encourage you. Here are a few things I have learned:
1. The missionaries we support are a part of my flock and I have a responsibility toward them as a shepherd. They are not staff that I am keeping accountable, but are saints doing the work of the ministry that God has called them to. My ministry is to help them on their journey even when they are gone (Ephesians 4:11-13).
2. Discouragement is real for missionaries. Look to the top of this post and read the verse. Seriously, read it. Paul the apostle was DEPRESSED and how did he get undeppressed? Titus came to him and spent time with him! Pastor, I encourage you to make an annual trip to visit a missionary. Encourage them by visiting, Skyping, email, and by any means that you can! I am so thankful that my church is on board with me visiting and encouraging our missionaries. My next stop is Florence Italy next month…
3. Missionaries are not forgotten if the pastor is in relationship with them. I can’t tell you how often our missionaries come up in my sermons, or in my prayers on any given Sunday. They are important to me and so I talk about them. By being involved with them, I can communicated to the church who they are and what they are doing. These are seeds that God will use.
4. God will stretch you through your going, thereby making the church healthier. I strongly believe the best way to keep you church healthy is by allowing God to stretch your faith. By going overseas and getting a shot of world missions, you will grow in your relationship with Him. When you grow spiritually your people will grow spiritually.
I strongly encourage you pastor to get your passport and go overseas and stay with one of your missionaries in the field (if you don’t have one, get one…I can help you). I guarantee that you and your church will benefit from this!
An honest mistake.
If you’ve ever spoken in public, my guess is that you have never had this happen.
Just a misplaced ‘n’
[dropcap3]A[/dropcap3]s I’ve studied church history, I think it no stretch to conclude that local churches, over the last 2 millennia, have experienced an average attendance of about 75 adults. Enter, 20th century American Christianity. Or, as I like to call it, Consumeranity.
The average church size in America at present hovers at a little more than 180 adult members, roughly 2.5x larger than historical averages. While nearly 60% of American churches are 100 or less, and around 90% are under 400; more than half of all churchgoers in America attend a church of 400 or more adults.(1) Most congregations are small but most people are apart of large congregations. Such large [Consumeranity] congregations skew the numbers, and [unfortunately] this abnormality is normal for the majority of American Christians.
This anomaly is a relatively recent phenomena (the last 50 years or less), and I believe that the cultural shift taking place in America today will – in the next generation – bring the church back to normal in terms of congregational size and makeup. But what happens when abnormal, which has become normal, reverts back to true normal?
As a result of this shift, some will feel real pain. Many (especially the “movers and shakers” of mega-church evangelicalism) will fight against it. We tend to oppose change, as change is painful. But change is an essential part of life. Alistair Begg once said, “Where there’s life, there’s change. You want no change, live in a cemetery. [There’s no change there], accept for decay.” Therefore, if the church is to experience vitality and life, it will be faced with regular change, or it will decay.
What then does normal Christianity look like in the context of 21st century America? I think it looks like church has for 2,000 years. The gatherings of believers are smaller in size, community oriented, or people-group centered fellowships. For lack of a better word, they are tribal. This being the case, I’m not necessarily sure that multi-cultural, multi-ethnic churches are the norm. That’s not to say that there are not beautiful things that take place in such settings, they’re just not the norm.
Frontline missions has sought for generations to establish self-replicating, indigenous church planting movements. But in our own backyard we constantly seek for an American (or western) multiculturalism within the local body. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not advocating segregation, only setting forth for consideration the idea that congregations have an established cultural identity from which they worship and express Christian love and character in a way that is relevant to the cultural makeup of the gathered believers.
What then does it practically look like? In all honesty it is quite hard to say, as I have no rhyme or reason for my belief, other than a hunch. I do however think that over the next 30 years the larger congregations in America will fracture along tribal fault-lines as the charismatic executive leaders move on. The churches will become multifarious. They would therefore do well to be proactive in their planning now, if they are to have influence then. I suggest that the best thing the larger traditional church can do is not to scrap it all in favor of a “home church movement” (as one home church movement leader once exhorted me to do) or fight against the shift to prop up the establishment, but to embrace the reality of a smaller community church model by taking what I believe is an Antioch approach.
The Church of Antioch was the first thriving “uttermost parts” church mentioned in the book of Acts. It was the first Gentile church, and the first at which the followers of Christ were referred to as “Christians.” Little is said in the book of Acts about the makeup of the Antioch church, but my gut tells me that it was a fairly large fellowship with multiple meeting places throughout the region. They were one church, composed of many congregations, superintend by a plurality of overseers (I have purposefully chosen not to use “plurality of elders,” as it means something more than what I’m saying here). The core leadership of Antioch consisted of five apostolic, teaching leaders; Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, Saul (Paul). Antioch thrived for several centuries and was known as a charitable, missional and evangelical church.
As large western churches navigate the current cultural shift, and more and more church planters step forth to birth new works; I propose (as possible first steps) that they/we maintain established church structures to raise up a multiplicity of lay pastors to oversee small community fellowships throughout a city, county or region. Furthermore, churches ought to establish an apostolic core of leadership dedicated to discipleship, for equipping an ever increasing population of overseeing pastors and missionaries.
Ideally, for our fellowship (Calvary Escondido), I’d love to see us get to a point where we have 30+ lay pastors, overseeing small gatherings (under 75) in homes, community centers and other well-suited venues throughout our city and the surrounding region. I would expect we would maintain the structure we currently have for regular corporate worship gatherings as well as a central meeting place for equipping and training. Such a body incorporates the strengths of smaller fellowships (self-care of benevolence, discipline, counsel and other pastoral care needs) as well as the accountability and enabling resources of a larger congregation.
I am quite sure that I’ve overlooked several blind-spots in my consideration of where ecclesiology is headed in 21st century western culture, but as I’m certain it is experiencing a course correction, I want to be at least hypothesizing what that may look like. At the end of the day, I know one thing for sure… God builds his church, I tend to be just “along for the ride.”
I often try and think about the things that I wish someone would have spoken to me about before I made a ton of mistakes. Yes, I grew from these mistakes and the Lord always brings beauty out of ashes, but if only someone would have told me certain things. Now that I think about it, it would be better aptly titled, ‘Things I Really Took to Heart Before Church Planting” as I’m sure some of these concepts I had heard about before planting.
These will be in no particular order. But here goes…
1. God is more concerned with the Minister than the Ministry.
I was shocked to realize that God was more concerned with the state of my heart than He was with the perceived success of the plant. I know a pastor who told me that the first five years was for the pastor’s growth, the next five years is for the fellowship’s growth. He even went so far to call his first church plant’s people ‘the poor practice sheep’. When God calls a man to go and plant a church, He loves that man enough to kill him. It often takes some time for us to realize, but God is more concerned with making the church planter like Jesus than He is in blessing the work. Don’t get me wrong, He’ll do an amazing work in the fellowship. But He’s more concerned with your growth, than the church’s growth.
2. Visit the Local Pastors, not the Local Churches.
It is important for a church planter to visit and meet the pastors in the area that he is moving into. I’ll speak in point 3 about the major pitfall of most church planters in this regard. But relationships with local pastors are invaluable. Those who have been in the area for awhile will have a unique perspective, an experiential perspective, about an area. You can learn from them. But don’t visit their churches. I would say even if they invite you, don’t go. Why? Because if you have a heart for people, you will build relationships with them and when they hear that you are going to plant in the area, some will want to come. And then the ‘sheep stealing’ discussion starts. Church planting is hard enough and the last thing you want is to get off on the wrong foot with people that you want to be close to. I made this mistake personally, so I know.
3. Don’t let your Calling Drive a Wedge between You and Other Pastors.
Almost all first time church planters make this mistake. I made a reference to this in my second point. Here’s how it happens… You sense God’s call to an area and you are rightfully excited. Upon your arrival, you are filled with ideas and vision. You meet with another local pastor and as you speak of your ideas, you make them feel as if they are in God’s doghouse. They will automatically resent you. An example of this is when a planter says something like, ‘God has called me here because He wants to see a Bible Church here’. That says to most people, ‘You are not a Bible teaching church.’ Humility is not learned, it is a consequence from being broken. Because He has broken you, you will be humble. So although you are just getting started, and you probably haven’t been broken much yet, try and respect your brothers who have been plowing the field that you are going to work in. Remember this, ‘You are not God’s gift to the area that you are called to! Jesus is. You are just an unprofitable servant doing what you were asked to do.’
4. Don’t even Think about Quitting for at Least 4 Years.
They say that 80% of church plants fail. Why? They fail for numerous reasons, I’m sure. I think one of the main reasons is that guys quit too soon. Before you even step out, you should be prepared to commit 5 years of your life to it. If God is calling you, what is 5 years anyway? As I said, you should not even think about throwing the towel in until you’ve been laboring for 4 years. It takes time for a church to get established (most people will say that a church is still a baby at 10 years old). God will work in His timing so be patient. I don’t have statistics to back it up, but I imagine of the 80% that fail, most of them shut the doors within the first few years.
5. The Attacks Will Come so Don’t Freak Out When They Do.
When the children of Israel left Egypt did they just coast to the Promised Land? Nope. They had attacks from the outside (the Egyptians and the Amalekites). They had attacks from the inside (Korah, the Golden Calf, the 10 scared spies, etc). The same holds true for the ministry of our Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul. The attacks will come. If you sign up for the front lines of a battle, don’t freak out when bullets start flying. When you are called to plant a church, you just signed up to be on the front lines, expect there to be issues. They will come from people on the outside and they will come from people on the inside. Expect them and when they arrive, don’t think it’s strange.
6. Before You Become the Senior (or Lead) Pastor, Be An Assistant Pastor.
I believe that this is so crucial and I am soo grateful for my training as an assistant pastor. In every field, you have to learn the ropes before you take the reins. As a doctor, you don’t just jump from Medical School into the Operating Room. First you do your residency. Same is true of business. The guy from the mail room never gets hired as the CEO. Never. Why? Because they first need to learn the ropes of business. I have found that the ministry is caught (much like a cold). I learned soo much from catching the ministry from my pastor. I learned things to avoid, ways to handle situations, how to gracefully let someone leave the church, how to handle a wounded sheep, etc. Most pastors who have never been Assistant Pastors normally hurt a lot of people because they need caught the ministry from another pastor. My advice would be, “If you want to be plant a church, get on staff at a church first.”
7. Get a Mentor, You’ll Need Him.
My pastor, John Henry Corcoran, told me before I left to plant the first church, that the next set of lessons that I need to learn can only be learned as the pastor. But once you step on out, you are in uncharted territory. You want and need someone who you can bounce ideas off of. You want to have someone who can say to you, ‘Whatever you do, don’t do that.’ I did that once and …’ You’ll also need someone who can support you personally. Once you step on out, the enemy will be gunning for you like never before. You need accountability as most church planters feel isolated from people. Make sure that you have someone who will ask you the hard questions and keep your struggles and issues before the Lord.
8. The Key to Church Planting – Discipleship
There are a small percentage of church plants that take off like wildfire. Most of them are slow going. Like Jesus, discipleship is the key to building the kingdom. Discipleship involves relationship and relationship takes time and energy. You need to pour into the people that God has brought to you. You need to be available and open with them. You need, like the apostle Paul, to be a poured out offering. Discipleship builds solid churches.
9. Beware of Friends and Family Who Want to Help with the Church Plant.
I know, this statement is a bit shocking. I have found from my own experiences and in talking with many other pastors that one of the biggest hindrances to a pastor’s joy is the well meaning friends and family members (extended) who want to be involved. I often tell men to discourage their close buddies and families members from being there at all in the early stages.
10. Make Sure That You Keep Feeding Your Soul.
For most church planters, they are used to going to church. Even if you are in service at the church, you are often hearing the Word taught a few times a week. Once you step out, you need to make sure that you are still sitting under the teaching of the Word. I have found that the best way to do this is to pick a ‘Pastor’ for the next three months. It can be anyone you want. But listen to a few Bible studies a week from a certain pastor. Maybe study through a book or sermon series with a certain pastor. As I am writing this, I am presently studying through the book of Colossians with Pastor Tim Brown of Calvary Chapel Fremont and am being absolutely blessed and convicted. If you let this lapse, you will sense the leanness of your soul.
“Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.”
And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time.
And he said, “Do it the third time.” And they did it the third time.
And the water ran about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
1 Kings 18
Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”
One of the snares of ministry that I find myself entangled in occasionally is the thinking that I am somehow helping God by what I am doing…as if He needed my help with anything.
“If I were hungry I would not tell you , for the world is Mine, and all its fullness.” Psalm 50
Elijah wanted to show God’s people that he wasn’t going to try to help God out. He actually went out of his way to prove that he didn’t have any smoldering charcoal briquettes up his sleeve that he shook out into the altar as he repaired it. He wasn’t putting on a religious show as he re-stacked the stones, laid the wood in order and placed the sacrifice for the burnt offering upon the wood.
He then proceeded to dig a trench around the altar with the prophets of Baal looking on, king Ahab, and the people of Israel. Now that was different. That wasn’t normal. Probably took a while ti dig since it hadn’t rained for a few years.
He then asked for four pots or barrels to be taken down the hill, presumably, filled with water, brought back up and poured over the whole altar. Now maybe some of you have stood on Carmel like I have…and the only thought I could muster was, “Where in the world did these guys go and get the water from? How long did that take?”He does it a second time…and a third time.
This guy is going out of his way to do something people had never seen before. He was removing himself from the equation, as much as he possibly could. In my mind, he was utterly convinced that God was going to show up. And the people were in need of being utterly convinced themselves that God is who Elijah says he is.
What is Elijah doing? He wasn’t apologizing or arguing or defending God. He simply afforded God an opportunity to show up.
There is a specific way in which God desires to be approached and worshipped. There is a responsibility on our part to repair the altar by “stacking the stones, and laying the wood in order, to lay the sacrifice in order upon the altar in plain view for all to see.” But even this is nothing, in and of itself, if there is no fire sent from heaven to consume it all, beyond all logical belief and to the amazement of the people we are repairing altars in front of on a regular basis.
In the absence of fire, we are simply doing what the false prophets do…stack the stones, throw on the wood, lay on the sacrifice, and proceed to exert ourselves in vain, putting on one heck of a show to entertain those who are in rebellion against the God who created them and loves them, entertaining them for a brief morning or afternoon, while they continue to falter between two opinions and are destined to be cast into hell.
Am I exerting myself in vain, putting on a show to entertain the starving and the dying, dancing, screaming, and cutting myself to prove just how much I really love God?
Am I defying all logic and stepping outside the box, doing things that aren’t “normal” by pouring water on the altar of my ministry, the altar of my calling, the altar I have been given to repair in the generation I have been born into so that God may be glorified when He proves He is by that manifesting Presence of His holy fire?
“But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)
The Corinthian church gave Paul the apostle grief in certain areas … seems like there was a small but rebellious group within the fellowship that thought it necessary to challenge him regarding his style and his approach to ministry. Therefore, Paul the apostle took the time to biblically explain and defend his actions. In doing so, he set the tone for all future ministers of the gospel.
Their issue with Paul centered around his rights as a minister. Among other things, they claimed that he (and Barnabas) should not be allowed to refrain from working (to wholly dedicate themselves to preaching and teaching). In other words (so they said), ministers of the gospel have no right to full-time financial support.
Paul’s response presented a masterful scriptural case that paves the way for preachers of the gospel to receive material support in their ministries (see 1 Corinthians 9:1-14).
But this privilege is accompanied by responsibility (1 Corinthians 9:15-23). Even though the minister can and may receive a salary, it’s not a given that he do so. In Paul’s case, he refused financial support so he could offer the gospel free of charge. He reasoned that because this was his calling from God and the stewardship he’d received from Him, he should approach things this way. Woe to him if he didn’t preach the gospel! In fact, his ministry required him to radically adjust to each group he sought to reach. He would become all things to all men, that he might save some.
Paul’s approach to ministry is an example to all who minister in Christ’s name. And, Paul’s example requires a great deal of self discipline. A minister who develops a love for the world’s flavors will have a hard time avoiding self-indulgent attitudes. A minister who fails to see his calling as a mandate and stewardship will think that his service is optional, and that he is free to live for himself.
As a pastor of many years, I have observed a lot just by watching (quote from Yogi Berra). In some cases, I have seen leaders devolve into having the wrong vision for their service. They start to focus on the development of the organization, instead of the development of the people. As the organization grows, so does the capacity for them to draw a nice salary, live in a nice home, drive nice cars, and have a very comfortable lifestyle. If they’re not careful, this becomes their new treasure, and their heart will most surely follow (Matthew 6:21). Instead of valuing God’s kingdom and the fulfillment of the Great Commission, they value the “growth” of the church, which usually means growth in numbers and budgets and buildings and programs.
It requires self-discipline to maintain the correct vision and goals in life. After all, what are we here for?
Paul compares his own personal approach to self-discipline with that of a high-level athlete (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). The athlete runs to win; the athlete is temperate (has self-control) in all things. The athlete competes for the crown at the end of the race. In other words, the athlete will do whatever it takes to compete and win.
So it is with us. First, we assess the goal of our life. Should not that be to hear these blessed words: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21)? Should not our goal be to discover the Divine purpose for our lives, our calling, and our stewardship?
If we maintain the correct goal (i.e. treasure), we must then give ourselves wholly to the fulfillment of it.
Thus, the need for self-discipline.
Thanks for reading.