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Tuesday, November 12th 2013

8:08 AM

Risking Your Ministry to Follow Jesus

By Pastor Bruce Sikes

Hello! It’s been far too long since the last VOTR article was posted.  The voices of the Remnant have not been silent, not in my neighborhood and not among the Church worldwide. God continues to call out to His people! Thank you for your emails and messages. They have encouraged and sustained me over these past few months. I have been teaching weekly Bible studies, a bit of preaching, and a few Armor of God presentations. As always, the messages were laden with words for the Remnant. I will be sharing some of those words with you in forthcoming articles.

As bi-vocational ministries sometimes go, I found myself in a period of intense “tent-making” work for which I am very thankful to God.  However, I am also very thankful for the opportunities He has provided me to have even more personal contacts with unchurched people. This is something more ministers need to do more often - walk among them. Early on in my ministry, I witnessed the dangers of pastors becoming disconnected and isolated from the people they serve, not to mention those who are lost.

As in any occupation, the higher one rises in their field, the further above they are to those on the ground below. That’s where tried and true sayings come into play, such as, “Make sure you keep your head out of the clouds and feet on the ground!”

I remember having to travel to a different city for work a couple years ago. I took the opportunity to worship at a well-known and popular preacher’s mega church in that city. It was not near my hotel, so I had to take a bus and a taxi to reach the church. I figured it would be easy to reserve the process and return to my hotel the same way. However, during the service some bad weather moved in the area and created the proverbial transportation nightmare. Nearly two hours after the service I found myself virtually alone in a shopping mall sized church building waiting by an exit door for the taxi.

The next thing I saw was a large new four door automobile drive up to the door with what looked like black suited secret service agents wearing ear phones scurrying about the place. A couple minutes later I heard voices down the hallway coming my way. There were about six men walking briskly towards the door. In the middle was a face I recognized as that of the popular preacher. He was about to pass within handshake distance from me so I began to smile and reach out to him. I wanted to say thank you for the service, but I didn’t. I was stopped dead in my tracks by the unwelcoming looks I received from those surrounding him. The pastor and his entourage blew right by me and out the door to the waiting vehicles which sped away.

In hindsight, maybe I should have yelled out, “Hey! Can I have a ride?” Now, I served as a police officer years ago so I certainly understand the security concerns. Still, I couldn’t help but think how insulated and unapproachable the pastor was to an average “Joe” like me.

It reminded me of why I chose to do bi-vocational ministry rather than go the full-time paid church staff route. Bi-vocational literally means working two jobs simultaneously. The phrase comes from Acts Chapter 18 where it shows that both Aquila & the Apostle Paul worked from time to time as tent makers while continuing in ministry. Although tent making provided them income, their first vocation was ministry. For them, as well as me, doing the Lord’s work is my heart, soul and reason for living.

In reality, all believers, whether holding a ministerial “title” or not, should have the same view on secular work and ministry as those of the Apostles. Even when they spent more time preaching and teaching, none of them sought to cloister themselves away from people in the clerical chambers of a church compound much less a “gated community”. Quite the contrary; they walked among the them, spending time with them, sharing their meals, seeing their struggles first hand, ministering to the people and sharing the word of God with them. Jesus the Carpenter is our greatest example.

Is it easy balancing secular and ministry work at the same time? No, but we have not been called to do the “easy” thing. We actually make it more difficult when we try to put them in separate boxes so to speak. This is where I think the Puritans got it right when they viewed all manner of work as an opportunity to serve and work for God.

"This is a wonderful thing, that the Savior of the world and the king above all kings was not ashamed to labor, and to use so simple an occupation. Here He did sanctify all manner of occupations" (Hugh Latimer 1670-1555).

Let me share a brief snippet from my own bi-vocational ministry situation. Unlike Paul, my “tent making” vocation is as the owner and instructor of a modest sized sports organization. Each week I direct and instruct several classes with dozens of athletes of various levels. Many of my athletes are highly educated, very well-traveled, and some have a fair amount of wealth. They range from elementary, high school and college students, to professors, physicians and lawyers. A few are believers, most are not. I enjoy the diversity of people in my organization and the challenge of instructing and motivating them to do better each week.

However, one of the people I look forward to seeing and talking with the most every week is not one of my athletes, but the janitor at the gym. He is a huge intimidating looking man weighing more than 300 pounds. Because of his physical appearance and job position he is easily someone whom many would not take notice of, or if they did, they would likely try to avoid him. Yet he is a Spirit filled, born again believer who walks in humility and holiness. In him I have found a brother in Christ whom I take strength and wisdom from each time we talk. His honest and sincere street level walk with Christ has served as an example to me of how we should all meet and speak to people about the things of God while working in secular environments. I would never have come to know him if it weren’t for my tent making times.

Now, I’m not saying of course that all ministers should be bi-vocational. There are many advantages in full-time paid ministry, but it is full of many pitfalls as well. I’ve seen too many cookie cutter ministers going through the motions of ministry. Some surround themselves with church “yes” men and “yes” women who act as a buffer between themselves and the outside world, and worse yet even as a buffer to the people inside the church! These preachers meet all the popular expectations of a proper pastor, yet they lack the passion, the anointing and the fire burning in the belly over concern for the church and for lost souls! To them it's become merely a job title in the institution of church rather than a calling to the living breathing body of Christ.

It's no wonder so many have come to accept that health and wealth and popular acceptance are the ultimate measures of a successful Christian ministry. If that is so, how is that definition any different than the lost World’s view of success? I remember when I was in seminary and even years later when I attended various group meetings for ministers, there was always someone present who announced he had been "called" to a "better" ministry position in a "bigger" church. I never once heard anyone say God had called them to leave their "good" ministry position and accept a lower paid job in a poorer more difficult church situation. No doubt missionaries do that all the time, but not the overwhelming majority of mainstream ministers. We could all do with a good dose of missionary zeal!

Sadly though, by today’s definition of a successful ministry career path, Jesus and the apostles were failures. They had little or no possessions. They suffered greatly for God’s work being harassed and tortured and in the end they were murdered and died poor. Now, I’m sure some will be quick to say, “But, that was God’s plan for them! In our case, God loves us and has a wonderful plan for us to live a happy and peaceful life being blessed with health and wealth!”

Oh...is that so? Did God not love Paul? Did He not love Peter and John and the rest of the apostles? Was it His original plan that these men, whom, by the way, were better examples of Christians than we could ever hope to be, were they to have had happy, peaceful, and financially blessed lives but then something went horribly wrong? Was the devil too strong for them? Did these men not have enough faith? Did God’s plan for them fail? Where did they go wrong?

The answer is they didn’t go wrong, we’ve gone wrong. Here we are centuries later and now the Church is full of pretentious pastors providing programmed preaching to please the populace. The prophet Jeremiah was right when he said,

“The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.”  (Jeremiah 5:31)

I have heard more sermons lately from popular preachers defending wealthy people. “It’s not a sin to be rich!” they proclaim and no wonder, many of these “preachers” are wealthy themselves and those that aren’t can’t wait to be! They are like the rich ruler in Luke 18, quick to professes keeping the commandments but unwilling to part with the possessions and prestige they have amassed.

"All these {the commandments} I have kept since I was a boy," the rich ruler said.  When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.  Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  (Luke 18-21-25)

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus says. He also says in Matthew 7:14 “…narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it…”

As if the path we must walk to eternal life isn’t narrow enough, these warnings of Jesus do not stop many professing Christians from making the road smaller and smaller by pursuing more and more wealth. It’s no wonder, since so many preachers are more than willing to help us to shove the camel through the eye of the needle. 

Whatever happened to God-given, simple, and humble messages to believers for the way we should live our lives? Consider the following:

“Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.” (Proverbs 30:8 NIV)

I suppose it doesn’t play well to today’s church audience. It doesn’t have mass appeal. It doesn’t draw the crowds in like the milk and honey messages of the health and wealth preachers. No! They can’t bring themselves to preach something they do not practice themselves, lest they be accused of being a hypocrite and of course, they can’t have that!

They have become Laodicean preachers; “rich…acquired wealth…and do not need a thing”.  But they “do not realize” they “are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” as it says in Revelation Chapter 2. These are the ones the Lord counsels to acquire what has been “refined in fire” so they may become truly rich.

In reality, the more glory, honor and possessions we receive here in this life, the less we will have in heaven. As Matthew says:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…” (Mt 6: 19-21)

Truly, the heavenly mansions of humble, spirit-filled janitors, Godly laborers, born-again factory and office workers, Christ centered homemakers and all the poor nameless believers suffering for the name of Christ all over the world will be far greater than what the mega ministry multi-million dollar ministers enjoy now.

But the issue isn’t how much prosperity and prestige a minister of God possesses, it’s about how much they are willing to give up. How much they are willing to test through fire, only a little of it or all of it? How much does the Lord desire? How much of what they have belongs to Him?

The problem is they are trapped by their own "success". Pride and fear, mainly pride, prevents them from “risking” all they have amassed to truly follow Jesus the way He asks. Even if they wanted to change their ministry and put all their projects, finances and prestige on the line, they would no doubt question themselves like the rich ruler surely did, “What would people think if I ventured it all? Where would I even begin?”

Killing pride and selfish ambition would be a good beginning, and then, who cares what others think! Remember, Jesus’ own family thought He had lost His mind and likewise Apostle Paul suffered from that accusation. More often than not the accusation came from their closest supporters and "peers". When Paul was defending his ministry in 2nd Corinthians 5 he said;

"If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ's love compels us..."

There is such freedom and power in losing one's world pleasing, peer prestige pursuing minds and being restored into the God pleasing mind of Christ. 

We have new found freedom to walk among them and minister and proclaim the Gospel to people to the way Jesus did. Jesus' ministry model was to go and meet the people where they were. Nowadays we want the people to come and meet us where we are!

As a student of history, I have always admired military commanders who led from the front. Those who would leave their headquarters and walk among their men, eating what they ate, bearing the hardships they bear, and even taking up arms to fight alongside them. These leaders were always greatly respected and trusted by their men and much feared by the enemy. They were battle worn and sometimes suffered wounds. They were often persecuted and criticized by peers, and a few even gave their very lives for the cause. They were courageous, risking all they possessed, including rank and privilege, for the sake of the mission. They eschewed lives of comfort and conformity and chose instead to become what the Bible calls “Living Sacrifices”.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:1-3)

That last verse bears repeating, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:1-3)

This should be front and center on the desk of every minister’s office. We have too many drunken church leaders and preachers today, drunk on self, drunk on the adulation of others, drunk on prestige, power and wealth. It’s all about them and their ministries and their status among their fellow celebrity preachers. And it’s not just pastors, but entire churches have become intoxicated. “Our church has the best preacher! Our church has the best worship team! Our church has the biggest youth ministry! Our church is building another bigger building! The Lord has blessed us with more and more, bigger and bigger.”

Oh! The arrogance! Where is the call from the pulpit today saying, “Enough Is Enough!”? Who has the courage to say, “No thank you Lord, we have enough, in fact, we have too much. Here, take from us and give to those who need it.”

I just spoke to some believers last week who said they were significantly downsizing their home and possessions so they will be better prepared to live, work and serve in an uncertain economy and future. What if some churches started doing that?

Can you imagine? “No thank you Lord, we don’t need another new and bigger church building. The old one is just fine. We’ll make it work. Instead, we’ll use the half million dollars or more we were raising for the building fund and use it for evangelism and ministry among the poor.” That would be a fun committee meeting to sit on in, wouldn’t it? Crazy talk! Weeping and gnashing of teeth!

We need more "crazy talk" like that in our churches. Why? Because, make no mistake about it, sooner or later your church building will be taken away. Let's consider these verses; 

"As He was leaving the temple, one of His disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"  "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." (Signs of the End of the Age from Mark 13:1-2)

For the Jews living at that time, the collapse came about 35 years or so after Jesus said those words. For us it will come, when? I don’t know, but I do know that if we don’t start ministering, worshipping and evangelizing as though we have no church building at all, we’ll find ourselves being buried in them.

If it’s your church building that identifies and unifies your church, then you have no church at all. It is the person of Christ and His Spirit alone that identifies and unifies His Church. If you want to see a true picture of your church, then take all the bells and whistles away and see who’s still there. If you want an even clearer picture, take the building away and in the remnant that remains, you’ll see the true body of Christ.

The body of Christ cannot be contained in a church building. It yearns to take the Gospel of Christ into the world, in health or sickness, in wealth or poverty, with or without a building. It doesn’t matter. What matters is taking the message of eternal life to lost and dying people. Keep your riches, keep your comfort. We are free! The Spirit of God and His word are enough for the body of Christ. Our only prayer is that in the short time we have left in this world, the Lord give us strength to resist temptation, to confront wickedness, to expose deception and to stand firm for Him as we share the saving love of Jesus with those who so desperately need Him. 

It is as always,

For Christ and His Remnant,

Pastor Bruce


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