I want more!
I want more than surface, more than artsy, and more than self promotion wrapped in “ministry”.
I want more than book deals, recording contracts, Dove Awards, the CBA, and Jesus used to push a product.
I want more than Christian culture, trite blog posts, music recommendations, and to stop being told whats “relevant” because it’s not!
I want more than an impotent, powerless American church that measures success by numbers and name recognition.
I want more than cloning dressed up like discipleship and concerts dressed up like worship.
I want more than rock stars, more than celebri-preachers and all of those who want to be like them.
I want more than green rooms, name dropping, and reserved seating.
I want more than a slick communicator in hundred dollar jeans telling me how to live a balanced life because I don’t want to live a balanced life!
I want to be totally sold out and spent for Jesus.
I want to live in humility and servanthood.
I want to see God’s power healing the sick, saving the lost, and delivering the oppressed.
I want to see a generation on their faces, worshiping a holy God, even when there is no music, no lights, and no stage.
I want the church to be a lighthouse where the lost, abused, broken, and bound can find mercy, freedom, and forgiveness.
I want to swim in the deep end. I want to be provoked to give more, pray more, discover more, and experience beautiful intimacy with our Savior.
I want to see our resources poured into things that will have eternal significance, to be Roaring Lambs, salt and light, and agents of change.
I want something real.
I want more!
I started in full time ministry 15 years ago. It was a really exciting time for me. I remember setting up my first office. The church I worked in was very small and couldn’t afford a decent desk for me so I refinished an old oak army desk a friend gave me. I loved the fact that I got paid to do what I love but I wasn’t prepared to face some of the difficulties that come along with the occupation. In fact, six people left the church in my first month there because they didn’t like me. Here are a few things I wish I would have been told. Maybe they’ll help you if your in the beginning phases of your ministry.
You’re going to fail. Not every idea you have is going to be a success. You’re going to fall on your butt. Get used to it.
Not everyone is going to like you. It’s true, you’re going to rub some people the wrong way. Some people won’t be able to stand looking at you. You’re working with people now and not every personality meshes well with every other personality.
You’re going to struggle with pride. I’m not sure what it is, but it only takes a little bit of momentum before many ministers are drinking their own cool aid and taking on a rock star attitude. Pride will be one of your worst enemies.
You’re going to make some big sacrifices. As hard as you try to protect your family, there will be seasons when you miss having dinner with them. If you have dreams of owning a big house and a boat, don’t count on it. You might as well get used to feeling lonely a lot too. Believe me, there will be times when you YEARN for a “normal life”.
Your ministry will have a profound impact on people. Testimonies are going to come out of the times you allowed God to pour you out and lives are going to change.
You’re going to develop some incredible relationships. As you work to develop your leadership team, you’ll become like family as you pray, plan, work, and bleed together.
You’ll experience God’s mercy as He humbles you time after time. You will learn that, without God’s help, your ministry is useless and it will draw you into a beautiful relationship with Him.
You will love what you do. Seriously, you’re going to have the time of your life! You’ll find that it charges you. Your passion will grow as you see lives changed. The fruit produced from your labor will be worth it!
What are some things you wish you would have been told when starting in ministry?
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America is obsessed. We’ve become so enamored with celebrities that an entire industry has been built around providing cosmetics, weight-loss products, and clothing lines to help the common person “look like a star”. We pay film actors the GNP of a small country, and like that’s not enough we hold awards ceremonies that take great effort to sit through without aging several years. Meanwhile, the names of the award winners are reported with the urgency of a presidential election. Why do we worship these people and why do we care so much about how they decorate their homes, take their vacations, or behave while having a night out?
The really troubling thing to me is not that the entertainment industry keeps churning out the “next big star” while incessantly celebrating itself. After all, it’s a business built on vanity. There’s no hidden agenda there. It’s to entertain us while making obscene amounts of money doing it. The thing that troubles me is the spilling over of the celebrity culture into christian ministry. We put on conferences and think hard about which “big name” to bring in, otherwise people might not come. We put up with demanding riders and pay large sums so that “the word can go out”. Young people line up for autographs after their favorite christian band has played and we even attaboy our favorite singers with their own awards show. Something doesn’t feel right about handing someone a trophy for a song they supposedly wrote for an Audience of One.
The disturbing thing about this trend is that it distorts the expectations of those called to christian service. Success in ministry stops being equated with obedience and fruit bearing and begins to mean getting your picture on a conference flier or landing a record contract. In other countries, stepping into ministry rarely means a paycheck and can often lead to losing your family or even your life. What have we done to the next generation of preachers, pastors, and minstrels by choosing to show favoritism, special recognition, and “star treatment” to this generation of celebri-ministers? I think we’ve unintentionally communicated that, unless your ministry is broadcasted, recorded, or performed in front of a large audience, it’s insignificant.
Occasionally I receive an invitation to step back into the “green room” at a conference or concert. The atmosphere is generally the same in each one. Friends and hangers-on of the various musicians and speakers all camped out, laptops open, cell phones texting. The band members and guest preachers are usually friendly and upbeat, but the aforementioned “support players” generally carry an air of self-importance that can’t be ignored. It’s a tangible arrogance that should be foreign among believers. I’m not alone in this perception either. A good friend of mine spent some time traveling with a well known Christian band and could hardly tolerate being in the green room.
In sharp contrast to the green rooms of christian conferences and concerts, I’ve had the privilege of being on the set of a couple of major Hollywood motion pictures. I stood next to some of the most well known actors and directors in the world. The difference? Everyone was so nice! With the exception of a few grumpy assistant directors, there was a general sense of comradeship. I vividly remember some great conversations and a genuine sense of caring as we swapped stories, sunscreen, and shared umbrellas. We were all working together to invest in something bigger than ourselves.
I think that’s where we in christian ministry fall short and succumb to a celebrity mentality. We’re building our ministry aren’t we? Fame means a bigger paycheck so we can keep doing our ministry so we can get another paycheck and keep doing our ministry and… you get the picture. Instead of humbly coming together and uniting under the greatest vision of all, we’re comparing units sold and venues played. Instead of seeing ourselves as blessed to receive the love and favor of God, we classify and rank ourselves by public recognition. It’s funny how we can borrow from the Hollywood way but not even get it right.
John chapter 13 tells a story about Jesus, the most famous and influential man who ever lived (not to mention almighty savior of the world). In this story He tied a towel around his waste and, one by one, he washed his disciples feet. It was a chore reserved for the lowliest of servants. When he was done he said, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” I think maybe, just maybe, if we took His example and served instead of seperated, humbled ourselves instead of expected special treatment, we might just produce an epic together that’s greater than any story ever told through a Hollywood film camera.
Something tells me it’s not just me. I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of the American church lately. I’ve heard more than once from different sources that America is the only country in the world where the church is shrinking instead of growing. In fact, I’ve heard predictions that evangelicalism as we know it is coming to an end. You can read the article that was published in the Christian Science Monitor here.
I was talking with a friend who pastors a church in Ireland and even he had something to say about the western church. His words echoed in my ears for a while. “In the next ten years the American church is going to look much like the church in Europe. A post-Christian environment will emerge where very few churches have full-time paid staff members. We’re ministering to more people here with less money than we ever have before.”
Here’s the thing that my fellow church and ministry staffers may not like me saying. I don’t necessarily believe that the things I mentioned above are bad things. We’ve spent so many years building our own kingdoms with bigger buildings, slicker marketing, and a $4 billion-a-year Christian entertainment industry. During a recent drive through Dallas, I saw mega-churches sprinkled all along the interstate. They looked like shopping malls with massive structures and expansive parking lots. How is it that we can have so much, but bear so little fruit? I spoke with a pastor recently who had no idea how to share his faith and has never led a soul to The Lord. He shared that, growing up, no one ever taught him how to witness. It’s no wonder the American church is weak when we’re better at putting on a show than we are at giving away the greatest hope there is!
So why do I believe that the things mentioned in the first two paragraphs aren’t necessarily bad things? First of all, the church has always had a way of flourishing during hard times. Excessive prosperity has a way of making us lazy and stupid (not to mention greedy for more). Hard times make us prioritize and focus on what’s important. “Hmmm… should I spend these resources on reaching the lost, hungry, and sick, or should I bring the latest rock star in for a concert?” Also, when things take a down-turn, we pray more. Jesus said that the House of God is a house of prayer. There are very few churches that I know of that have a line in the budget for prayer. In fact, there are very few churches that I know of that have regular prayer meetings! God has a way of bringing his bride back to the things that matter most. A good shaking once in a while is a positive thing!
The important thing to remember is what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “… and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” God’s church will stand and continue to march forward. Nothing can stop it! So if we find the church as we know it changing and things disapearing, then maybe those things weren’t The Church after all.
Thanks for checking out my new blog. A while ago, I felt The Lord nudging me to communicate about the power of the invisible church.
So often, in our Western church culture, we look to the platform ministers, the professionals, the staffers, and the rock stars and think, “If only I could do something great for Christ the way they do.” We mistakenly believe that greatness equals recognition, credential, or even fame (why the word “fame” is even used in ministry is beyond me!)
Don’t misunderstand me, I am NOT against platform ministry, Christian recording artists, or conference speakers (I’m a licensed minister, public speaker, and conference goer myself). It’s just that I’m convinced that, when we all arrive in eternity and our eyes are opened, we’ll find that the greatest works were done by people we never heard of. That the greatest impact was made by the Average Joes, the Nobodies, and the sea of nameless, faceless faithful ones who gave what they had because they were crazy enough to believe they could make a difference even if they never took up any space under the spotlight.
My hope is that this little blog might inspire Everyday Saints to write history with their prayers, their passion, and their partnering with God’s activity on the planet. Please don’t get upset with me if I go off topic, post pictures of my kids, or just rant about something really random. After all, I’m just a regular person like you.
Just don’t forget, we’re regular people who happen to reflect the Glory of The God of the Ages!
At the foot of the cross.