Switching the price tags of ministry

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Switching the price tags of ministry

May 30, 2023 -

A price tag shows three dollar signs. © By MarekPhotoDesign.com/stock.adobe.com

A price tag shows three dollar signs. © By MarekPhotoDesign.com/stock.adobe.com

A price tag shows three dollar signs. © By MarekPhotoDesign.com/stock.adobe.com

One of the failings of our age is that the things that matter most are the things we value least.

The late Paul Powell was one of the great pastors and statesmen of my lifetime. The longtime pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, he also served as president of the Texas Baptist Convention and as the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annuity Board (now GuideStone). I read a devotional produced by his “Legacy Library” each day with great profit and recommend it to you.

In a recent posting, Dr. Powell told the story of a group of teenagers who broke into a department store one night. Their purpose wasn’t to steal anything but to pull a prank by switching the price tags. The next morning, customers found fur coats selling for $5 and lotion at $100. A silver service was marked at $1.75 while a pair of socks was $390. You could buy diamond rings for $2, but an umbrella would cost you $1,000.

Dr. Powell comments: “I don’t know whether this story is true or not, but it really doesn’t matter, for something like this can happen in the lives of people. They get the price tags of life, and thus the real values of life, all mixed up.”

When a house is on fire

Dr. Powell’s story came to mind for me when I read Paul’s exhortation:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Corinthians 12:7–11).

Looking over his list, it seems to me that the capacities necessary for pastoral ministry are included, from prophecy (which I take to be proclamation or preaching) to wisdom to knowledge, discernment, and personal ministry. And every one of them is “given [by] the manifestation of the Spirit.” None of them is produced by a seminary education, licensing and ordination, hard work, or any other ministerial function within human capacity.

I’ve told you nothing you didn’t already know, but here’s the point that gripped me: since the capacities I need to fulfill my calling come first and foremost from the empowering of the Holy Spirit, my highest priority must be to be right with the Spirit. I must refuse any and all temptations since so-called “private” sins hinder and grieve the Spirit as much as public failings. I must prioritize intimacy with God as my first ministerial responsibility.

When a house is on fire, a fireman’s first job is to connect his hose to the fire hydrant and to be sure water continually flows through it to the place it is needed. Nothing else matters unless this matters.

How to have the boldness of Peter and John

I offer this simple observation for this reason: our congregations seldom value our souls as we should. I have been engaged in public ministry for nearly fifty years; not one time in all those decades has a single church member said to me something like, “You need to take more time for your soul. You should do whatever it takes to walk more intimately with Jesus.” Not one trustee or deacon has ever evaluated my ministry or our church along these lines.

The reason is obvious: our ministries are evaluated in the context of our materialistic, secularized culture, and our culture values what it can see and measure. We can count people in chairs and offerings in plates. Pastors can measure popularity and performance in the same way other professions measure them.

People don’t know what they don’t know. They think they are serving God by bringing their business expertise to bear in leading and evaluating their churches. While such expertise is often valuable, it cannot and does not count what counts most.

This means it’s up to us to put the price tags where they belong.

Like Jesus, we need to begin our days with our Father (Mark 1:35). Like him, we need to pray alone (Luke 5:16) and with others (Luke 9:28), when facing challenges and opportunities (Luke 6:12) and as a regular lifestyle and discipline (Luke 5:16). Before we can stand for him in public ministry, we need to sit at his feet in personal worship (cf. Luke 10:42).

Our members are unlikely to applaud or even recognize such spiritual discipline, but they will benefit immeasurably from its consequences in our lives and ministries. We will be empowered to resist temptations that would destroy our lives and work. We will be anointed to preach and teach words from God, not just words about him. We will be led to lead our churches with divine insight and wisdom.

And it will be said of us, “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John . . . . they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

A life lesson from Doc Severinsen

I played the trumpet from fifth grade through college and considered playing professionally before I was called into vocational ministry. As a result, Doc Severinsen was one of my heroes. The bandleader of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, he was also one of the greatest jazz trumpet players of my generation.

Something Severinsen once said about practice stuck with me: “If you miss one day of practice, you’ll notice. If you miss two days of practice, the band will notice. And if you miss three days of practice, the audience will notice.”

To breathe out, we must first breathe in. To give, we must first receive. To draw water from the well, we must first fill the well.

How full is your well today?

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