I spend a good portion of my week in dialogue with other pastors from different denominations and different generations (though most are young), and our conversations range from theology to philosophy, from church growth to how to lead a staff. I enjoy these talks because I love robust discussions about things that matter. These conversations feed my soul.
But I have to confess that I have been somewhat disturbed by something I hear “underneath” many of the questions I’m asked in these conversations. When I exited itinerant ministry to become a pastor, I left behind crowds numbering in the thousands and a financial situation that more than provided for my family to enter a small (160 member) church that cut my annual salary in half. There wasn't one person who thought that taking the position at The Village was a smart move. In fact, several people actually sat me down and told me they thought I was being disobedient and a bad steward of the gifts that God had imparted to me. I sense this same kind of logic at work in a lot of ministry conversations, and I think it is extremely dangerous.
The truth is, I didn't become the pastor of a church in the suburbs of Dallas because I had a grand vision for growing a dynamic, life-transforming, church-planting, gospel-preaching, God-centered church. I took the position because, after a great deal of conversation, after much prayer and fasting, my wife and I believed it was the direction the Holy Spirit was leading us. I came to The Village because I thought that by doing so I would get to see more of God, experience more of God, know more of God, and consequently to see more of me die. In the end, He is the great end that I am after.
In 1 Timothy 4:10 Paul writes, "For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." I love that verse. We toil, yes. We strive, yes. But where is our hope? What—or rather, who—is the goal? I love preaching the gospel, and I love planting churches, but I do those things because in them I feel the unbearable weight of His presence. In ministry that is focused beyond me, I feel this crushing majesty that makes me want to cry, sing, and scream all at the same time.
It seems that the goal for far too many ministers is something else altogether. The goal is growing our churches to a certain size or our platforms (pulpits, blogs, books) to a certain fame. I mean, how hollow is that? And how scary. Just because people love Jesus and follow Him doesn't mean that they get to grow or reach a certain level of "success" (I use that word loosely). Here are a few people who loved our great God and King and were obedient beyond the expectation of success:
- Moses spends his whole life with grumbling whiners and dies without getting to walk into the Promise Land.
- David's son Amnon rapes his own sister, leading to a rebellion against David, dethroning him for a season.
- Jeremiah ends up in exile with the rest of Israel after repeatedly getting beaten for preaching what God commanded him to preach.
- John the Baptist is beheaded by a pervert.
- Peter is martyred, reportedly crucified upside down.
- Paul is killed in Rome but only after he spends his life (with thorn stuck in his flesh) being beaten, rejected, lost at sea, and consistently dealing with people coming in behind him and destroying what he built.
Look, if your hope is set on anything other than Him, how will you survive when it goes bad? How will you remain passionate and vibrant when attendance falters or the baptismal waters are unstirred for long stretches? How will you maintain doctrinal integrity or teach hard things if He isn't the treasure? How will you worship when your wife gets sick or your son goes for a ride in an ambulance? If He is the goal, the treasure, and the pursuit, then His glory alone willl be the fuel that presses you into His goodness and grace all the more. I am not saying any of these difficult things are pleasant or enjoyable, only that if He is your goal, you will find your faith sustained.
May God bless you and keep you. May you see that He is the one true treasure worth striving for. And may you press on toward the goal for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.