Saturday, August 23, 2014

Measuring Your Ministry

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me,
because He considered me faithful, putting me into service.
I Timothy 1:12
(italics mine)

As pastors, our desire should be to be faithful, not successful!  Too much, pardon me...way too much... emphasis is put on a pastor being successful.  Pastors grade themselves, and are graded by others, on the success of their ministry, instead of the faithfulness of their ministry.  There are conferences, seminars, magazines (Leadership), blogs, articles, and websites that are devoted to the pastor's success. There are secular standards of measure that are used such as numbers, growth, baptisms, budget, missions involvement, influence, twitter followers, website or blog hits, and the like.  And, yes, the more 'spiritual' will talk about how true success in ministry is measured in spiritual terms, or how you can't measure success because it is spiritual; but the problem is that the emphasis is still on being successful.

I cannot find one scripture in the entire Bible that refers to a pastor being successful.  In fact, the Bible never stresses the success of the pastor, but stresses the faithfulness of the pastor.  For example see I Timothy 1:12 above and listen to I Corinthians 4:1-2 "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  In this case moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found (pistos) faithful/trustworthy.  

This is why we never find any Scriptures where the Lord is measuring our success, but we see where He is always measuring our faithfulness, our trustworthiness.  For example:
Luke 16:10 He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing will be unrighteous in much. For us as pastors we see this principle in Luke played out in Matthew.

Matthew 24:45-46 "Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time?  Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes."  And we see this illustrated vividly for us in a parable of the kingdom, Christ's kingdom, in Matthew 25:14-30. In this parable we see the Master leaving and entrusting his possessions to his slaves, and in verses 21 and 23 we see His commendation upon His return, "His master said to him, "Well done good and faithful slave, You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your Master." Christ has left this earth for a while, and has given us pastors charge over His possessions (His people, see I Peter 2:9, Titus 2:14). His concern, as so wonderfully illustrated in the Scriptures above, is for us to be faithful with what Has given us, and He has not entrusted everyone with the same amount.

You see, when you try to measure success, the only true way to measure is if everyone is given the exact same ministry, the exact same gifting, the exact same set of circumstances, and so on.  But the Lord has not seen fit for it to work in that way.  In addition to the verses listed above in Matthew consider this in Romans 12:3-6 "For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.  For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly; if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith." So there is no standard by which we can all be measured, except our faithfulness.  So as we have seen in Matthew (and also in Luke 19) when the Lord measures "success," He measures it by faithfulness.

What we are concerned about in our ministry will be what we emphasize in our ministry. When our concern is our success, then success, in whatever way we measure it, will be the emphasis; and if success in ministry is our goal, then our ministry automatically becomes about us and our goal(s) and not about the Lord and the accomplishment of His purpose(s).  

As indicated above, the Lord is using us (talking to pastors in particular here), to accomplish His purpose(s). We are the tools, the means, the vessels that He has chosen to use, but it is Him that is accomplishing His purpose(s) through us.  When we put the emphasis on our success, it then becomes us achieving our goals with the Lord's "help."  When the emphasis is on our success, the Lord becomes our means in accomplishing our goals instead of us being the means of the accomplishment of His eternal purpose; and, in effect, the Lord becomes our servant and we cease to be His; and thus, the glory is no longer the Lord's but ours. This is very subtle, but it is rampant in the ministry here in the states, as we have corrupted the ministry with the American success syndrome. In considering this, let us look at a few Scriptures that can give us the right perspective on this:

Psalm 127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keep awake in vain.
II Corinthians 3:4-6 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit...
I Corinthians 12:4...the Spirit gives the gifts
I Corinthians 12:5...the Lord gives the ministries
I Corinthians 12:6...our God causes the effects
II Timothy 2:21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor; sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared (made fit) for every good work.
II Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

How these verses work together in a gospel ministry is illustrated in these mysteries:
Mark 4:26-28 And He was saying, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself does not know. The soil produces the crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.
I Corinthians 15:10 By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove in vain (because Paul was faithful), but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I but the grace of God with me.

Brother pastors and fellow Christian workers.  Let us no longer be slaves to the secular success syndrome that has crept into the church and try to measure our ministries by artificial and arbitrary standards. Let our concern not be for our success, but for our faithfulness; and therefore let us seek to be faithful in the task, the great and noble task, of expanding the kingdom which was begun in Christ and will be culminated in Christ when He returns and rules.  Let our success be found in our faithfulness to the Lord and to the ministry to which He has called us and has equipped us and gifted us to perform; and let us keep our hands firmly on the plow as we follow His path and pray for His will to be done and not our own.

Friday, August 08, 2014

God's Perpetual Care

There was a popular song a few years back by Third Day, the foundation of which was Psalm 36:5-6.  I wish whoever had written the lyrics had gone ahead written about the rest of that section so that we could see more of the beauty and perpetuity of God's care for us.  The following are the verses 5-9 of Psalm 36, with the heading of each verse giving us an area of God's care that is highlighted in that verse.

In God we have:

35:5 Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

36:6a Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Your judgments are like a great deep.

36:6b O Lord, You preserve man and beast.

36:7 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.

Spiritual Satisfaction
36:8 They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; and You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.

Spiritual Sustenance 
36:9a For with You is the fountain of life;

Spiritual Sight
36:9a In Your light we see light.

And Father, we pause now, and give You thanks for Your wonderful and marvelous provision.  We thank you that You are able to do abundantly more than we ask or think, and that You do just that in the lives of Your children.  Thank you for our daily bread, the cleansing from sin, and the availability of Your ear.  Bless Your name now and forever.  Amen.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Persuasive Preaching or Powerful Preaching?

The word persuade is defined as causing someone to do or believe something. There are many who believe that preaching must be persuasive, and to a degree it must be. However, there is a fine line between persuasion and manipulation.  There is much preaching that goes on that is nothing but rank manipulation, and I am not talking about only the religious hucksters, the religious profiteers, and the televangelists, for they are the most obvious ones; but I am also referring here to the regular pastor/preacher types.

There is tendency, indeed a temptation, that for a sermon to be successful it must elicit some type of visceral response, cause some type of emotional reaction, or cause the congregants to tell the pastor how good the sermon was or how moved they were.  There is also the temptation to "move" the congregation to get behind a particular issue or event or project that is important to the pastor.

Honestly, the need to have these kind of responses reveal a great deal about the pastor...his ego and his insecurity.  To be frank, all of us who preach want to know if our sermons are hitting the mark, if they are effective, if they are doing anyone any good; but a preoccupation with the effect of the sermon or the response to the sermon, can cause the pastor to incorporate manipulation into his sermon (its production and presentation) so as to get the response he desires.  There is also the desire to come alongside certain issues or projects that particularly appeal to us that fits in here as well.

So, should sermons be persuasive?  Of course, they should!  But they should be spiritually persuasive because they are spiritually powerful.  A spiritually powerful sermon is always persuasive, but in order to be spiritually powerful, they must be based on Scripture, kept in context, accurately handled, and, might I add, soaked in Scripture.

The Lord tells us in Jeremiah 1:12 that He stands over His word to perform it. In Isaiah 55:11 the Lord states that His word will not return to Him empty without accomplishing His desire for it.  In I Thessalonians 2:13 He tells us that His word performs its work in those who believe.  In I Peter 2:2 we learn that it is His word that causes us to grow in respect to our salvation. Notice that it is His word He stands over, not the preacher's; it is His word that does not return empty, not the preacher's; it is His word that performs its work in the heart of the believer, not the preacher's; and it is His word that causes spiritual growth, not the preacher's. So for us to be spiritually persuasive, and, therefore spiritually effective, we must use more of His word and less of our own.  It is only sermons that are spiritually persuasive that have a lasting effect.

As preachers we preach to the heart through the mind in order to bend the will.  The will once bent will remain that way, but the bending of the will comes incrementally, much like watching a blacksmith forge an iron tool as he gradually conforms it to the shape he desires.  True change that is the result of true persuasion, is change that is permanent in nature.  Only the word of God attended by the Spirit of God can effect such a lasting change.

So if you want your sermons to be truly persuasive, then base them on the word of God, having accurately handled it to get its message (not your own) out of the text. And, be patient, trusting the Lord and His word to do what only they can do.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Trials-Faith Tested, Faith Proven

When I was young boy, one of my favorite books was The Red Badge of Courage.  This was a novel set in the Civil War about a teenager who went to war as a drummer.  He often wondered if he had real courage, courage enough not to run in the thick of the battle.  Sure enough he would find out.  In the heat of a fierce battle he sustained a head wound.  His head was bandaged, and the bandage was soon soaked with his blood. Wounded and hurting, he grabbed the flag from a fallen comrade and led the charge.  The red bloody bandage became the red badge of his courage for all to see.  A great story, one that still gives me a thrill to think about.

Faith untested is faith unproven.  So have you ever wondered about the proof of your faith?  Have you ever wondered what you would have to show the Lord to prove the reality of your faith when you stand before Him on that final day?  You can't hold faith, you can't touch and feel faith, you can't see faith itself, faith is not a physically tangible object.  So how do you know it is real?  Well, God in His goodness to us has provided us for a way to know our faith is real, to stand before him with something tangible in our hand, to have that definitive proof of the reality of our faith.  We see this in I Peter 1:6-7, "In this you greatly rejoice, even though for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ." 

Think about it!  Your enduring trials, your being faithful to God when under duress, your being wounded in some way as you remain godly in your circumstances, your paying a price because of your love for the Savior become the red badge of your faith. Just as the young boy in the story could look at that bloody bandage and rejoice because his courage had been proven, so we too can look at the trials that have proved our faith and rejoice in the knowledge that our faith has stood the test, and that we will stand before the Lord when He comes with tangible evidence of our faith in Him and love for Him.  Yes, we will quote the Psalm that God is good and does good, but have you ever considered the goodness of the Lord in using trials to give us not only the confidence that our faith is real and has substance to it; but also that He is good by giving us trials to hold in our hand, that prove our faith, on that great day when we appear before Him?

In Genesis 22:12 God has this to say to Abraham after He stopped Abraham from plunging the knife into the breast of the son, who was not only the son of promise, but the son in whom all the promises of God were to be fulfilled, "...for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."  Yes, Peter was correct, the proof of our faith is truly more precious than gold.  Gold perishes, but the proof of our faith does not, and we will always wear its red badge, not only before men, but more importantly, before God.

Lord, we want to close in thanking You for using trials in this way.  Thank You for the proof of our faith that trials give us, and for the confidence that our faith is real that trials give us.  May each one who is reading this post have that red badge of faith, so we will not shrink back from You at Your coming. Amen.


Saturday, August 02, 2014

Preparing Ourselves for Sunday

As we prepare for Sunday, let us remember
that what we do is important, not because we
are doing it, or because it is our ministry.
It is not important because of the size, or
lack thereof, but it is important because
 it is His work He has called us to do.
Keeping that in mind is part of 
preparing ourselves for Sunday.