Topical Scripture: Matthew 10:1-10
This past Tuesday, amid much ceremony and tradition, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI. I wish my experiences in church work could be so dignified.
I should have known pastoral ministry was not all pomp and circumstance in my first pastorate, on the Sunday when a scorpion which crawled inside my wading boots as I was preparing to baptize. And the time the baptism waters were freezing cold, but the 6’7″ candidate insisted on being baptized anyway; I got his face under water, then he grabbed me and dragged me under with him. We counted two baptisms that night.
There was the staff member in First Baptist Church in Midland who wore his lapel microphone into the restroom, and the entire sound system was on. He was the same beloved friend who dressed for Sunday morning, checked on his horses, then walked through the church building making sure all was ready. Only when he reached the platform for the service to begin did we realize that he had brought his horses with him. The carpets were cleaned that week.
And of course, there was the infamous Saturday afternoon at Park Cities when I climbed up to the fifth-floor bell tower room to see if it would work as a prayer room, without my cell phone; the door locked behind me, with no keyhole on my side. I finally used a two-by-four to break out the window in the door, and carefully reached my key through and let myself out. Otherwise I’d still be up there. I was so grateful to the staff member who heard the story the next week and asked, “Who left the two-by-four in the room?”
Some mistakes in church work are worse than others. Today we’re going to examine the worst mistake in all of Christian history, and the most subtle. This mistake has robbed millions of Christians of the joy Jesus gives, the direction his Father provides, the purpose and power of his Spirit. Let’s see if it has affected your life:
Do you feel that you are accomplishing all you were made to do in life, or is something missing?
Do you consistently seek opportunities to serve the Lord and his people, or do you more typically wait to be asked to serve?
Who was the last person you led to faith in Christ? The last person whose faith was strengthened significantly because of your direct influence on his or her life?
Do you experience each day the satisfaction of knowing that you are walking in the Spirit’s power and purpose?
The mistake we’ll discuss today has kept millions of Christians on the sidelines of significance. It has kept many of you from the life God wants you to live, from the direction and purpose he made you to experience. If you don’t understand the tragedy of this mistake, that’s all the more evidence for its damage.
My goal today is simple, and ambitious: I want us to repent of this sin, this tragic mistake, once and for all. I want us to put it to rest, now and for the rest of our lives. I want us to settle the matter this morning.
Why members don’t minister
Jesus’ last words before his ascension are familiar to us all: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). “You” is plural, commissioning them all.
These first Christians took his word seriously: at Pentecost, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4).
At this early point, everybody knew that ministry was for all members, that every one of us is equally called by God to serve and grow his Kingdom.
But over the coming generations, things changed.
As their movement grew beyond its Jewish boundaries, pagan heresies began infiltrating its theology. So the church decided to confine theology to the theologians, ministry to the ministers. Around AD 250, Cyprian of Carthage coined the word “clergy,” meaning the “called-out.” He separated them from the “laity,” from the Greek word laos for “people.” When Constantine legalized the church in the next century, a massive building campaign ensued. Now the clergy had a place to work and do their ministry. Over time they moved into those buildings and made them monasteries.
From then till now there’s the unstated supposition in the church: if you don’t work here, you’re not a real minister. I can work on old cars, but since I don’t work at a mechanic’s shop I’m not a real mechanic. You’re not a real football player unless you play on the team–throwing the ball in the street doesn’t count. You’re not a real economist unless that’s your living. Ministry is the work of ministers.
So it’s your job to support those of us who do this for a living. Come to church, give financially, do what we ask you to do, but leave the real ministry to the ministers. Leave surgery to the surgeons, law to the lawyers, and ministry to the ministers. Ministry is not your job.
The second fact explains the first: you don’t know how.
As “clergy” grew, so did vocational training for their work, now called “seminaries.” Doctors read medical books, but the rest of us don’t. I didn’t study before my knee surgery, and learn to do the procedure. I trust those who know more than me.
If you’re in a court of law, it’s best that you let the lawyers talk. If someone here today stops breathing, it’s best that you find someone who knows CPR to help. Otherwise you might make things worse.
You don’t know Greek and Hebrew; you haven’t been to seminary; you’re not called to do this as your vocational work. This is what you pay us for. You do what volunteers do–teach Sunday school, sing in the choir, work on committees. But leave the heavy lifting of ministry to the ministers. That’s the “clergy lie.”
When we buy into the clergy lie, what are the results for the church? About what you’d expect.
Imagine a Baylor Health Care System where Joel Allison, the CEO, is the only person allowed to treat a patient. Imagine a government where President Bush is the only person permitted to negotiate legislation. Imagine a Baylor women’s basketball team where Kim Mulkey-Robertson is the only person allowed to touch a basketball.
Is it any wonder that 85 percent of America’s churches are plateaued or declining, that only one percent of church growth is by conversion? That Islam is America’s fastest-growing religion? That 114,000 people living within three miles of our church are in no worship service this morning?
What are the personal results for you? The purpose Jesus assigned every Christian remains unfulfilled in your life. Your spiritual gifts lie dormant. You miss the thrill of being used for eternity. You lose reward in that eternity. And the Church is kept from reaching the world.
The clergy lie keeps your salt in the saltshaker, where it can do no good. It keeps your light under the basket, where it cannot threaten the darkness. The clergy lie is the enemy’s greatest single strategy against the Great Commission, and his most effective.
How are we to respond?
A theology of member ministry
Let’s ask some questions of Matthew 10. First, are you called? Does God intend you to be involved in changing lives for his glory? (v. 1).
The same Holy Spirit indwells us all–he does the work of life change, not us. And he can work as fully through you as through me. You belong to him just as much as I do. Any qualified citizen can run for office. Any of you with resources can invest in the stock market. Any of you can serve the Lord, as he gifts and leads you.
Second, are you sent? “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (vs. 5-6).
Not because Jesus did not care for Gentiles–God so loved the “world” that he gave his only begotten Son for us all (John 3:16). The reason is that these men were not yet equipped for such work themselves. Not until Peter’s vision in Acts 10 did the Jewish Christians understand that contact with the Gentile world was acceptable and even desired by their Lord.
He has set you up for success, not failure. There is no place he will send you, no work to which he will call you, except that for which he has prepared you. Does he have a place for you?
Third, do you have a message? “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near'” (v. 7). Announce that the King has come, and invite people into his kingdom. Find your own way to tell people that truth. Tell them how you came to follow him, and invite them to join you. And they will.
Study his word, listen to his Spirit, and then know that he will give you what to say. I love it when people thank me for truth I don’t remember saying.
Fourth, do you have a ministry? “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (v. 8). If you are faithful, God will use you to change lives. He will show you what to do, if you will do anything he asks.
Last, will he take care of you? “Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep” (vs. 9-10). In other words, the Lord will provide for your needs, as you follow him by faith. He didn’t bring you this far to leave you. His will never leads where his grace cannot sustain.
We are focusing this spring on being committed daily to the Holy Spirit’s leading and power. This morning’s discussion is crucial to that larger theme. If you won’t breathe out, you cannot breathe in. If you won’t give, your hand cannot receive. If you won’t serve, you cannot know the Spirit’s power, since that power is given for service.
The key to your spiritual joy is giving joy to others.
Two stories prove my point, and I’m done.
I have recently become good friends with a man who’s been attending our Men’s Bible Study. My dear friend last week went through a horrible surgery for tongue cancer. Before his surgery, we talked and prayed together. He told me that he wanted God to use his life and even this trauma for his glory, to make his life significant.
I saw him after the surgery, and we talked about all the people who knew his story, who were telling others what God was doing through his life, his illness, and his faith. My friend could not yet speak, so he pointed to letters on a poster held by his wife. They spelled out, “I’ve started my significance.” And he gave me a thumbs-up. He was right.
A group of our men went to Cuba recently to expand our ongoing ministry on the island. The night before they returned, they met with a house church in Havana, twelve or so believers crammed into a very small room. Jeff Byrd, our associate pastor for missions, told the Cubans that we come to their island because we have left a part of our hearts with them and must return often to retrieve it. Then Jeff asked one of the men on the trip to share his testimony. The man’s eyes filled with tears as he told the assembled Cuban Christians, “Jeff may have left his heart in Cuba, but I have found mine here.”
Have you found your heart yet?