Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

   by Jeannette Haley

          It all begins when a person concludes that he or she wants to be “in the ministry.” This decision can be based on a number of things, whether noble or ignoble, depending on one’s personal agenda. A desire to “be in the ministry” can spring from a moment of spiritual ecstasy, sympathy for the plight of the lost, pressure from Christian family or friends, expectation from church affiliation, or possibly from strong emotional response to any number of situations or things. While these may serve as a point of awakening that stirs a person up to want to fling him or herself into religious exploits, such an awakening can also rapidly dissipate into an emotional fog that fades into obscurity if the cost is not counted, the price (of experience, and self-denial) is not paid, or when life itself flattens the zealot like a pancake left on a railroad track when the midnight special roars through.

          It is no secret that some decide to go into ministry for strictly mercenary reasons in order to benefit themselves either financially, or politically, or perhaps to gain position, and power, in high places. Such is the case with certain men throughout church history who chose to become a clergyman for the security of a position in society with financial benefits. Take, for example, Robert Mueller, who set out to make a secure living for himself in such a position, but God had other plans for Mueller, and after he was truly converted to Christ he became the great man of faith who proved not only to England, but to the entire world that God answers prayers of faith. Mueller had many accomplishments, but he is best known for the five large orphanages he built, and the 10,024 orphans he cared for.

          Reading biographies (such as that of the life of George Mueller, and others) the testimonies of missionaries, as well as documented accounts of Christian martyrs, and other faithful workers for the Lord who have gone on before us is encouraging, faith-building, challenging, and inspiring. “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” Hebrews 12:1, 2. (Emphasis added.) The lives and testimonies of these overcomers in Christ can be a powerful means to bring sobriety into our hearts which causes us to become “fixed” (rooted and grounded); thereby, forever abolishing foolish fantasies, and illusions of what true ministry really is.

          The Bible makes it crystal clear that the Christian life is not about being “saved to sit.” We are all called to daily follow Christ, and that entails much more than the nominal “once saved, always saved” person who has never been properly discipled thinks. Thoughtfully consider Luke 9:23-26, “And he [Jesus] said to them all, if any man [that is, any person] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.” (Emphasis added.) Following Christ is a command for every Christian, not just for a select few, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that every soul that is committed to Christ has a calling to serve as a pastor, apostle, prophet, teacher, or evangelist. (See Ephesians 4:11, 12.) However, every born again believer is part of the Body of Christ, or a member of the universal Church, and is called to be the salt and the light in this dark world, following Jesus daily as the Spirit leads. Romans 12:1, 2 is for every Christian, not just for those who are called into full-time, ministerial service. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

          Having said that, let us go on to the subject of “being in the ministry.” So often people have an unrealistic idea of what “the ministry” is. There seems to be an aura of “mystique” about it, or the idea that it is “glamorous”—especially so in the minds of the young, the inexperienced, the religious novices, and the naive. I think back to a time when I was young, inexperienced, immature, and full of zeal for the Lord. After reading a little book about the ministry of Kathryn Kuhlman, I decided that I wanted to be just like her, standing up on the platform under the lights, preaching fiery sermons, experiencing the power of God coming down, and scores of people being healed. God in His wisdom didn’t make me into another Kathryn Kuhlman, of course, but in His grace and mercy He did give me a taste of preaching, healing, deliverances, the gifts of the Spirit, and the power of God for a rather “action-packed,” exciting season that eventually “spread and leveled out” much like a breaking wave on the beach. Through it all I learned that true ministry, or service, is a high calling that carries with it a huge responsibility, which is not to be taken lightly. James 3:1 warns, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” That “greater damnation” is a warning to those who would lead God’s sheep astray by teaching error or heresy by adding to, or taking away from the Word of God. (See 2 Corinthians 11:2-4; 12-15; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 4:3, 4; Titus 1:11; 2 Peter 2:1-3.)

          I also learned that while serving the Lord may have its short-lived glorious high points, and exciting moments, most true ministry is a behind-the-scenes effort, which generally stretches from days, weeks, and months into years of the most basically mundane, and often thankless work. In Matthew 25:21 Jesus lays out a fundamental principle for God’s servants, “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” The Lord tests us to reveal where our hearts really are, and whom we are really trying to serve. If it is not for God’s glory, and for Him alone, our work, sacrifices, and offerings will go unrewarded no matter how impressive they appear to be.

          Through the years we have met many people with very high opinions of themselves concerning “the ministry.” Many years ago a compassionate friend introduced us to an older, unsaved couple who were quite desperate for help. They owned a Marina on Puget Sound, and had always been private, self-sufficient people. However, the husband had taken to his bed in weakness and despair when his wife was diagnosed with diabetes, and subsequent kidney failure due to an overdose of insulin. She needed transportation to and from her dialyses appointments, and their home was in terrible disarray. At the time, we could provide help once a week with household chores, and transportation for the wife to her dialyses. We began to consider finding help from other Christians we knew who were eager to be in ministry. A certain widowed woman who had the time, and means, came to mind. We approached her with this opportunity to be a witness to the wife by providing transportation for her, thinking she would jump at the chance to serve the Lord. You can imagine our shock and dismay when she snapped, “That is not what I am called to do!” As far as we know, her high opinion of herself, and her “calling,” left her right where she was.

          To be in any type of ministry, we must always keep in mind that God resists the proud, the Holy Spirit will not empower, and anoint the proud, and lost sheep will avoid the proud, viewing them as self-serving hypocrites. “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” 2 Peter 5:5, 6.

          We learn from the greatest Prophet, John the Baptist, another important principle in the Kingdom of God. It is called digression. John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” John 3:30. The Lord Jesus Christ must be exalted and glorified in and through any Christian worker regardless of the particular calling or area of service he or she works in. Any minister, or leader in the church who becomes puffed up in his or her position, lording it over others while demanding them to conform to his or her dictates, or who causes people to tippy toe around a touchy disposition, has no business leading the flock of God in any capacity. Jesus told Peter once, “feed my lambs” and twice, “feed my sheep.” (See John 21:15-18.) A true minister, in obedience to the great commission to make disciples, will faithfully feed the unadulterated Word of God to the Lord’s sheep so that they will fall more in love with Jesus, establishing a firm foundation, that they may be “Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving” Colossians 2:7.  

          God always prepares His workers beforehand for any service, which generally involves getting into the trenches with lost, and hurting people. This is where you will find many, if not most, of His servants, quietly laying down their lives for the Gospel, faithfully making disciples in the harvest fields of humanity either through direct, personal involvement, or through financial support, and prayer.

          We all start out with our own ideas of what “the ministry” is all about, usually acquired from generations of established ideas, practices and traditions of men. Like the young George Muller, prideful wannabe ministers think they have it all figured out how to best go about being a “somebody” in “the ministry.” They assume with TV personalities, and mega church millionaires in abundance to mimic what they deem to be “successful ministry”, just how hard can it be? Another route to becoming a “somebody” in “the ministry” is to write a far-out book that grabs people’s attention. It has to be a book that is easy reading, and not something that requires a person to actually have to engage his or her brain. Thinking can be hard work sometimes, plus thinking just might (God forbid) wake a person up to the difference between truth and error, right Spirit or wrong spirit. Therefore, in order to make a big splash in the “Christian pool” it is better to write a literary “high dive” of off-the-wall, unscriptural, heretical sensational nonsense such as, The Shack, or Jesus Calling, even if it is outright heresy or even blasphemous. But, not to worry—you’ll be an overnight sensation, and better yet, rich and famous. Never mind that unless you truly repent, and become converted to righteousness, you’ll face the wrath of God and end up in hell. (“Greater damnation,” remember?)

          In order to be a very popular and successful, but also a very hypocritical, false, and phony “Christian” prophet, teacher, preacher, evangelist, author, or worship leader, who makes it to the summit of what I call “Christian Rock Candy Mountain,” a person needs to possess, or be possessed by, certain spirits that oppose all that consists of Spirit and truth. Discerning believers will be quick to discern, either in the person of the false worker, or in his or her fair speeches, writings, music, or other religious works the presence of any of the following: pride, religious spirits, mocking spirits, familiar spirits, lying spirits, beguiling spirits, self-pity spirits, unclean (perverted) spirits, a spirit of lust, a spirit of anger, or a spirit of fear, or any other form of perversion that exalts itself against the knowledge of the Holy. We have encountered all of these spirits through the years, not so much in the world, but in churches. Some of the open doors for such spirits are pride, sin (such as fornication, pornography, adultery), unbelief, and rebellion, idolatry, unforgiveness, dabbling in the supernatural, and occult, the wrong laying on of hands, sorcery (drugs), and so forth.

          Contrary to the dearly held idea of zealous novices, real ministry is not a paid vacation for life aboard the good ship lollipop bound for fantasy island where all the “little people” worship and adore them. Real Christianity, and real ministry means giving up your right to yourself (your personal agendas). It means hard work, it means unfeigned love and commitment to God’s sheep. This is summed up, in part, by the Apostle Paul, who declared, “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake…And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day” 1 Corinthians 4:9, 10a, 12, 13. To the Hebrews, “But call to remembrance the former days, in which after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used” Hebrews 10:32, 33. Psalms 119:141 exclaims, “I am small and despised: yet do not I forget thy precepts.” The question is, how many who have “a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” Romans 10:2b, are truly willing to be a “fool for Christ?”

          Another pitfall a zealous believer can easily fall into is the “Who does God call” trap. Once upon a time, (back in my “Kathryn Kuhlman” days) I spent over three years reading, and studying, a particularly large, fully “packed” with information, annotated, study Bible. It was a genuine biblical knowledge “full meal deal” so I was under the impression that my spiritual muscles were rather impressive. One day while reading in 1 Corinthians, chapter 1 about our calling, certain Scriptures hit me square between the eyes. “But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence” verses 24-29. The part that about caused me to pass out was “not many wise men.” Lacking understanding of what I was reading, (pride does that, you know) and thinking that God was going to use me for sure now that I had spent all that time “learning” and becoming “wise,” but here I was, reading God doesn’t use many “wise,” but the foolish, weak, base, and despised. It was as if somebody took a big hat pin and popped my balloon, leaving me deflated and depressed. How could God ever use me since I prided myself as being oh-so-wise?

          I chuckle at it now, and thankfully, the truth is, God has used me through the years, not according to my ideas or plans, but according to His plan, and will, for I definitely qualified (and still do) as foolish, weak, base, and yes, sometimes despised. Praise the Lord for His longsuffering, goodness, mercy, and grace “That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” 1 Corinthians 1:29-31. As Christians, we would do well to remember (whether we are in ministry or not) that God does not see people as we see them. God is no respecter of persons, which means those things that we find attractive in people, things we deem as worthy, or useful, or productive, or beneficial, or admirable, and so forth, is not necessarily the way the Lord sees them, for He looks on the heart. The outward appearance can be very deceptive as can a flattering tongue, a person’s social or economic standing, education, experience, talents, or ability to influence. While the Lord can use anything, or anyone to accomplish His purposes for His glory, as Christian workers we are not to overlook the weaker vessels, the despised, the base and the foolish. It is easy to ignore people, both young or old, who seem to linger around the “fringes,” waiting for a friendly smile, a hug, a word of encouragement, an invitation to participate in something, or who need prayer. We need to ask the Lord to help us see through His eyes, and feel with His heart.

          Back in the early 80’s I attended one of the best teaching churches on the West Coast. This church also opened its doors to Spirit-filled evangelists who left a lasting impression on the people. I will never forget one powerful evangelist from John Day, Oregon, Zelma Kirkpatrick, who was perhaps in her late fifties or early sixties at the time. There was a young woman in attendance who had begun showing up at the church on several occasions. It was obvious to most of us that she was promoting and pushing her agenda to be a “big somebody” in “the ministry” in any way she could. Even the pastor, who could be skeptical of religious “eager beavers,” was beginning to fall for her blarney. Thank God He protects His sheep! After Zelma delivered her message, she opened it up for people to come forward for prayer ministry. The first person to pop up and scramble to the front was the young woman. I knew that she was laying out her desire to be a great one in “the ministry,” and then watched with appreciation as the wise evangelist put her hands on the woman’s shoulders, looked her in the eyes, and gently advised her along the line of servant hood, “If you want to be great in God’s kingdom,” she said, “then what you need to do you is look around you, and when you see a sister over here, or over there who needs help, you go and offer to enter in with them and help them.” It was no surprise when the young woman suddenly stiffened, whirled around, and stomped back down the aisle. As she passed by, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “You will never see her again.” And, I didn’t. Jesus said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” Matthew 23:11, 12.

          Truly, if our LORD got on his knees and washed the disciples’ feet, and taught them that the servant is not greater than his master, then what makes us think that somehow we are an exception, and deserve to be served rather than serve? The woman who broke the alabaster box with the precious ointment of spikenard and poured it on Jesus’ head was greatly scorned by some who saw it, yet it was an act of humble, sacrificial service to the Lord of lords, and Jesus commended her. Think of the seven men of good reputation who were full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom as recorded in Acts 6. You would think that such a wonderful man as Stephen, who was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost” and “full of faith and power, [and who] did great wonders and miracles among the people” should be placed in one of the highest positions, or offices in the church. Isn’t that the way we think? Yet, where was he asked to serve? According to Acts 6, he was appointed to serve tables for the widows. Yet, so powerful was his witness of the risen Christ that he suffered slander, false accusation, stoning and death. Stephen bears the title of the first Christian martyr. Let’s face it—if for one nanosecond any of us thought Got would fill us so full of the Holy Ghost, faith and power that we could do great wonders and miracles, don’t you think we’d jump at the chance? But, how many who desire to be “great in God’s kingdom” would walk away when appointed to lowly table service, slander and death? Jesus taught, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” Matthew 23:12.

          Leave it to an innocent child to sum things up in a profound way. When we had our fellowship in Nampa, two little incidents we’ll never forget is when Stevie, about three years of age at the time, was overheard telling the other little kids that Jesus is the only way to heaven; and, another Sunday, after learning about Balaam’s ass, he announced, “I want to be a donkey for Jesus.” Oh! that those aspiring to be a “somebody” in “the ministry” could have such a humble and open heart. After all, what does it spiritually profit anyone if, after a picture-perfect church is packed out, the worship team is perfectly “professional,” the perfect programs and church activities fill the calendar, the perfect sermons are ear-tingling, but nevertheless, the move, and anointing of the Holy Spirit, and the presence of Jesus are missing? To put it another way, how will the man-centered, rather than Christ-centered, nominal Christian churches in this day and age give an answer to Jesus for their failure to obey Him in making disciples, and worshipping Him in Spirit and in truth? Better by far it is to be a faithful servant who has learned, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” Galatians 2:20.

          In conclusion, if you truly want to serve the Lord, the question is, are you willing to humble yourself and be a fool for Christ—or a donkey for Jesus?