One of the greatest privileges of my early ministry was to become acquainted with a man named Jim Petersen. Through his capable leadership and sterling character, the ministry of the Navigators expanded greatly in São Paulo, Brazil, where he and his wife, Marge, served for more than twenty years.
Cynthia and I first met Jim and Marge at Glen Eyrie, the Navigators’ headquarters in Colorado Springs. I was new to ministry at the time—and far too naive—and I was looking for some type of formula for success in God’s service.
“How do you do it, Jim?” I asked him. “Tell me the secret of ministering to people.” I expected him to say, “Always set the pace,” or, “Be strong no matter what,” or, “Model the truth, and stand against the adversary as he attacks you.” I got none of that.
Jim just smiled in his inimitable, casual way and answered, “Chuck, let people see the cracks in your life, and you’ll be able to minister to them.”
That’s it. That’s the distilled essence of all he told me.
As we left their cabin that cool evening, I felt somewhat like the deflated, rich young ruler, who had just asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17). Like Jesus’s surprising answer to the ruler, Jim’s reply was not what I expected. Frankly, it convicted me. I was looking to minister from my strengths. Jim challenged me to serve in weakness.
He made that statement to me over fifty years ago, and it remains one of the greatest lessons I have learned in ministry. I have never forgotten it.
I never will.
Ministers of excellence are those who see through the lies of the clutching greed of our times. They are pastors who have declared their undivided allegiance to Christ’s message, those who have humbled themselves to Christ’s sovereign authority . . . and to His control. That’s a mighty tough assignment!
If you are greatly gifted, you may be able to do marvelous things that would cause the public to be swept up by your skills and because of your abilities. In the process of your ministry, you will find great temptation to make a name for yourself, to make a big splash, to gain attention, to get the glory, to strut around, to increase your fees, to demand your rights, and to expect kid-glove treatment. You’re in authority now! People are talking about you! Please.
Let me remind you that if you’re in ministry only for yourself, you’ll have no endurance. On that precarious top of the ladder, you’ll always have to maintain your balance by maneuvering and manipulating, lying, deceiving, and scheming. But if you’re committed to kingdom-related excellence, when you go through times of testing, you can count on kingdom endurance to get you through.
If you’re the kind of pastor who really wants the whole purpose of God, then you dare not leave out kingdom commitment. That means your motives must be investigated. For example, every time you make plans to accept a speaking engagement with a handsome honorarium, or to write a book, or to build a new sanctuary—and such things as these—you must deal with it before God. Specifically ask: Is this Your will? Would this honor Christ? Does this represent a kingdom commitment?
Very often the actions we perform do not need to change . . . but our reasons for doing them definitely do!
We’re living in a day when most people are focused on one thing: economic survival. While that is certainly an important pursuit, it’s easy for that single objective to make us ignore something far more valuable.
Hard times often lead to lonely times—when we bear down on simply making ends meet . . . at the expense of no longer spending meaningful times with others. What good is simply surviving if it leads us into the barren flats of isolationism? Furthermore, by keeping the goal of getting more money in the crosshairs of our scope, what often gets shot down are those we once enjoyed as our close friends. It’s time we openly admitted that such collateral damage is too great a price to pay.
My words today are meant to sound an alarm. As important as it is for us to endure these uncertain times, we dare not diminish the value of cultivating enduring companions. No matter how bad the times may get, we need friends. Close friends. Enduring companions. They are the secret of our making it through dark and desperate times without our becoming dark and desperate people.
Are you cultivating some close friends? Even one?
For this post, I want to share with you why I’ve written my book, The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal. Truth be told, part of the reason I wrote the book is because of you, my fellow pastors.
Ours is a whole new world, and nothing has been more adversely affected by postmodernism than the church and its relationship to God’s Word. When the Bible loses its central place in the church’s worship—even if good things replace it—the fallout is biblical ignorance. The longer substitutes replace the preaching of the Word as the centerpiece of Christian worship, the more we will witness the intensifying drift into ignorance. Over time, a congregation that is distant from the Word of God seeks more entertainment and less biblical truth.
The slumbering evangelical church has now bought into this way of thinking. I have worked hard to explain why and how in this book. But let me add that I have not written this volume just to point out all that’s wrong. That is not my intention. My writing has always had an emphasis on grace, which is God’s emphasis in the Bible. Each chapter addresses solutions—not just problems—and points to the hope that God offers in His Word.
I have written The Church Awakening primarily to two groups of people. First, to serious-thinking churchgoers, who know there is a better way. In the Bible there was a group of clear-thinking, tough-minded men called the “sons of Issachar” (1 Chron. 12:32). They were those who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” We need that same clear-headed discernment today in the church. And along with discernment, we need an equal supply of courage. My aim is to ignite that passion within those who are willing to think seriously.
I am also writing to you pastors, especially to those who are on the fence, who need a voice of permission to buck the tide and to put the preaching of the Word of God back in its central place of the church’s worship.
In my over fifty years in ministry, I have never been more passionate, or hopeful, for The Church Awakening—that is, for the church to wake up, to see how far it has drifted, to begin walking with God, and to engage the culture for Jesus Christ.
It is my hope that God will use this volume in a powerful way to contribute to the master plan Jesus is building. He was the One who promised: “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18).
P. S. If you want to pick up a copy of the book, it’s available in The Book Shoppe. You might also enjoy watching the video below.
When I served overseas in the Marines many years ago, I had a bunkmate named Eddie. When he found out I was a Christian, he told me in no uncertain terms:
“Hey, I want to tell you something, Swindle. I didn’t come over here to Okinawa to be evangelized. So just back off, okay?”
“Sure, that’s no problem,” I answered. So, I’d lie up on my top bunk and I’d try to figure out how I could get Eddie interested in the Lord Jesus. One day I said, “Hey Eddie, can you help me with some of these words?” I dropped down about forty of my verse cards, and I said, “Let’s see if I can do these.” They were verses like John 3:16 and other verses on salvation. So I began: “For God, uh . . .”
“SO,” Eddie added impatiently.
“Oh, okay,” I’d reply, “For God so . . . uh . . .”
“Yes, yes, that’s it. For God so loved the world.” We went through dozens of verses just like that.
Fast-forward thirty years . . . and the phone rings one day in my study.
I said, “This can only be a guy named Eddie.”
“Yeah,” Eddie answered, “Hey, you know that trick you played on me in Okinawa? Well, it worked! I’m loving Jesus now.”
Isn’t God good? The power of the Word of God never fails to amaze me. It’s just as the prophet Isaiah recorded:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10–11)
God’s Word will never return empty. It will always serve a purpose—primarily in the lives of those of us who digest it, who apply it, who memorize it, who meditate on it, who ponder it, who declare it, and by God’s grace, who live it out.
That’s our calling. God’s Word will never return void.
“Elijah was a man just like us,” James reminds us (James 5:17 NIV). Not only was Elijah like us in that God can powerfully use our prayers, but Elijah was also like us in that we can get very discouraged. Because of an enemy’s threats to his life, Elijah, this great man of God, was reduced to a heap of self-pity (1 Kings 19).
Ever been discouraged in ministry? Of course you have! Most pastors—if not all—have. Maybe you’re there even now. Believe me; I understand those lonely, desperate places.
This week, let me share with you a message I gave in a Dallas Theological Seminary chapel service to those about to enter ministry. My hope is that you will find encouragement, as I have, to persevere when you never thought you could. There is hope, my friend.
While preparing the Twelve for a lifetime of serving others, Christ promised an eternal reward even for giving someone a cup of cool water.
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“He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:41–42)
Those words tell us that “improving our serve” begins with little things.
It begins with thoughtful things—an understanding embrace of one who is hurting, a brief note to one who is lonely and feeling unappreciated and forgotten, a cup of cool water for one whose lips are parched from the hot blast of a barren desert when all seems futile and worthless.
God takes special notice of all these efforts.
These words take on a new shade of significance when we read that familiar account in Matthew 25. Jesus said:
I’ll be candid with you. I have never read anywhere else in the Bible what God revealed to me in the latter half of 2 Corinthians 4:10–11 . . . let’s take a look!
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We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Corinthians 4:10–11 NIV)
Do you observe the temporal reward woven into the lines of those verses?
It is this: the quiet awareness that the life of Christ is being modeled.
My word to those of us engaged in ministry is, keep a healthy balance. Here are ten tips I’ve found helpful . . .
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- Because you teach, also remain a good student. Stay teachable.
- Read more.
- Listen better (especially to your spouse).
- Be ready to change. And change!
- Admit wrong where you are wrong.
- Stand firm when you know you are right (but be nice).
- Because you are called to be a leader, follow well.
- You cannot do it all, so delegate.
- You have a big job to do, so let others help you do it. And when they do it well, make sure they get the credit.
- The ministry is serious work, so keep a good sense of humor.
Here’s a bonus tip: take God seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously.
Hebrews 6:10 is my all-time favorite verse about how God faithfully takes special note of those who serve Him.
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For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.
Consider that verse! God is not unjust to forget our service to Him. He is faithful. The verse goes on to tell two things God faithfully remembers about His servants: