A Miletus Moment
Dear Shepherds, First, I want to thank you for all you do to serve Jesus and his church. In my opinion, yours is the hardest job in church work; preachers get to stand at the door and shake everyone out, and they hear many compliments in the process. You, however, can go for months or years without a sincere pat on the back. Few understand the challenges you face, and in many places, your predecessors did an inadequate job of properly training you for those challenges. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
That said, I’d like to have a Miletus Moment with you—a heart to heart talk about what really matters as you lead and guide your congregations. In Acts 20, Paul summoned the Ephesian elders to Miletus and had a similar conversation with them. He challenged and encouraged them. He warned them of dangers and threats. Give me a few moments to do the same.
It is really easy to lose site of what ultimately matters. Even in church work, we can neglect the most important thing. In our eagerness to do good things, it’s possible to forget the great thing: making much of Jesus. This is never so great a temptation than when conflict and challenges face us.
Do you feel your church is stagnant? Not growing spiritually? Numerically? Financially? Sometimes, elders believe that hiring a new preacher will fix their problems. They ask the old one to leave, and they bring in an exciting young gun, thinking that more people will come for the new guy. More people might come—but for a while, and only out of curiosity. They never stay for very long if they came for the preacher. They will only stay if you make much of Jesus. Jesus is our one and only savior. He alone can fix what’s wrong with us, not a new preacher. I’m not saying it’s always wrong to change preachers, but any success the church ever has should be credited to Jesus, not the new preacher. I’m a preacher, and I can tell you plainly that our success comes through prayer and Jesus’ blessing and little else.
Are you toying with the idea of making changes to your worship services? That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But what and why you’re changing is important. Violating the teachings of Jesus and his apostles in an effort to attract more people to our worship services (where we should be making much of Jesus) is, frankly, an atrocious idea (cf. Rom. 3:8). Disobeying Jesus isn’t making much of Jesus. And the church should always be in the business of making much of Jesus.
Are you concerned about the financial stability of your congregation? Has the economy hit you hard? It’s important to be responsible stewards of what God has given us. But read what Jesus had to say about money (which is a lot, by the way), and you’ll discover a principle: The more generous we are as a people, the more God provides for our needs (Luke 6:38). It goes against every sound financial principle the world knows. The church that I preach for is known in the community for being generous in our benevolent work. But as much as we give away out of our own bank account, we have yet to be in severe need. The church should go to great extremes to give help in the name of Jesus because we are in the business of making much of Jesus.
This last question may be a difficult one, but stay with me. Have you ever been tempted to NOT discipline a member because you were afraid of the fallout? What would Jesus say about that? His final words to the apostles included the command to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:19). To disciple and to discipline are the same thing. I’m not talking about humiliating punishment, but love-driven, Jesus-honoring discipline. When we refuse to discipline because we are afraid an important, prominent member will leave, or will bad mouth us, or will scale back/cease their contribution, or cause us problems in any other way, we are exalting someone to the status of “Lord” and “Master.” That position belongs to Jesus alone. The church is in the business of making much of Jesus, and this includes obeying his call to transform into his likeness by his power. He warned us time and again, using multiple metaphors, that following him would be a rather difficult and unpopular proposition.
You are shepherds of Jesus’ church and you answer to him alone. No one else. You will one day stand before Jesus and give an account. When that happens, I pray you can do so having made much of Jesus on earth. Then, he will make much of you.
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” – Matthew 25:34