Summary: A Pre-Pentecost Sermon
(Title Slide Up)
This time twenty six years ago I was engaged in a search for a youth pastor position because I had a desire to spend a few years of my life serving God full-time. I did not realize or even expect to be a pastor 26 years later. I thought that I would be doing something else.
Now, I have done other things in the past 26 years. I spent four of the past 26 being a student earning two master’s degrees. I spent another 2 years working in some different occupations. But when all is said and done the ministry has been my life for most of the past 26 years.
I have done everything that there is to do in ministry. I have married and buried. I have baptized and help others come to Christ. I have preached and I have taught. I have led and I have served. I have led groups large and small and taken teenagers across the county.
I have been faithful to God and I have been unfaithful to God. I have walked ever so closely with Him and I have walked at a distance from Him.
I have learned some lessons in that time that I seem to keep relearning over and over again.
(1) One lesson is that being faithful is more important than being successful. I confess to you there have been days when I look at some of my colleagues both within the Church of God and outside of it and ask, ‘What do they have that I don’t have?’ ‘Why is their church or their ministry getting bigger and bigger and mine seems to stay the same?’
But I have also seen some of those same colleagues leave the ministry, one in the past year, and make the decision to pursue other occupations. Such situations have made me do a gut check. But as I have done so, a very clear clarity, has come to me and reminded me that I am doing what God wants me to do where He wants me to do it and I am at peace with that. That to me is the Holy Spirit.
A book that I read 20 years ago and still look at from time to time is entitled ‘Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.’ In it, Kent Hughes shares the story of a church planting experience early in his ministerial career that did not succeed and forced him to reconsider his calling.
His rock bottom moment came when he said to his wife, ‘God has called me to do something he hasn’t given me the gifts to accomplish. Therefore God is not good.’ Her response was ‘hang on to my faith.’
Out of that dark moment in his life, Hughes began to realize that his beliefs and values regarding ministry had been shaped by things that were often at odds with what scripture expected. They both came to the conclusion that based on passages such as 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, success is really being faithful. So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God’s secrets. Now, a person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful.
The church at Corinth was doing too much comparison and not enough growing. They were looking at who was more successful as their spiritual leader rather than who was being faithful in their life and service. Paul attempted to bring perspective to this situation when he remarked in I Corinthians 3, ‘we’re only servants. Through us God caused you to believe. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. My job was to plant the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God, not we, who made it grow.’
One of the Holy Spirit’s purposes then is to help us be faithful to the life and calling God has given to us as His children.
(2) A second lesson is that character is very important and that over the long haul it counts for more than skill and ability. Every time I hear about a pastor who has to leave the ministry because of moral issues, I grieve and I cringe. And I do so because it is another ‘I told you so’ the Devil uses to get people to give up on Christianity and the church.
Such failure hit close to home for me several years ago when Susan and I received a Christmas card from a former seminary classmate’s wife informing us that they were no longer together and he was no longer in the ministry because she had discovered a secret life he had been living. Never in a million years did I think that it would happen to him. But it did.