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Leading as Fathers and Mothers in the ChurchMay 6, 2023
As Jesus cleansed the temple in His day, God is cleansing His house in ours. He is putting His finger on impure motives and corrupt methods so that His glory can once again fill His house. The following is an excerpt from my book Restoring the Ministry of Jesus that addresses these issues.
Motives and Methods
In order to restore the ministry of Jesus, we will not only have to restore the message of Jesus but also the motives of Jesus. Our motivation for preaching should be obedience to God and the true transformation of people’s lives. When we change our objective from pleasing God and transforming lives to pleasing people and keeping them happy, we have just taken a dangerous step away from the ministry of Jesus.
Jesus did not preach to please people. He was not swayed by popular opinion and did not water down His message to make it “seeker-sensitive.” Jesus was not concerned when crowds of people stopped following Him, because he was not controlled by numbers (see John 6:60-66). He did not measure success by the amount of people following Him but by obedience to the Father. We need to get this into our hearts and minds: obedience equals success. I fear that there is a major over-emphasis on numerical growth today in the Western church system. As a result, the appearance of success has taken the place of lasting fruit. Consider the following passage.
And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. (Mark 11:13)
From a distance the fig tree looked promising; it had the appearance of success. But upon closer examination, it was barren. Could this also be the case in many of our churches? When a church is seeing rapid numerical growth, it appears to be succeeding, but numerical growth does not equal fruit. When we stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ it will be the quality, not quantity, of our work that is tested (see 1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
I am not necessarily opposed to fast numerical growth or to big churches, but large numbers of people do not automatically mean fruitfulness. Fruit is not determined by how many people are attending a church but by what is being produced in the lives of those people. Think of the number of people as trees, not fruit. A church can have many “trees,” but if they are like the above fig tree—without fruit—then we have missed the point. Week after week, multitudes of people are sitting in our pews and not receiving the ministry that they so desperately need: the true ministry of Jesus which includes Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered preaching. We make a mistake when we assume that people will just eventually get it if we can keep them coming back to our churches. Let’s remember that church members are not customers to be kept or consumers to be entertained but saints to be equipped. Have we turned the Father’s house into a marketplace?
Jesus did not sell the gospel, and He did not make it easy. He told people to count the cost. The rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus looked at him with love and then told him to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, take up his cross, and follow Him (see Mark 10:17-22). Apparently, loving the rich young ruler meant calling him to full consecration and devotion to Jesus. But the young man declined; he sadly wanted heaven but not Jesus.
What if a “rich young ruler” walked into a church today and asked the same question? I have a feeling we might answer in a different way than Jesus did. He’s the kind of person you want to keep around, not drive away. He is influential. If he joins the church, surely others in the community will notice and follow. He is also wealthy and could be the key to a successful building campaign. Has our desire to attract people caused us to compromise the message and use methods that are less than pure?
Isaac or Ishmael?
Impure motives lead to man-made methods; and man-made methods can only produce man-made results. I often wonder if some of our modern preaching and church growth methods are producing Isaacs or Ishmaels. In the story of Abraham found in Genesis 15-21, God gave him a promise that he would have a son even though he and his wife were well past the age of producing children. Instead of believing the promise as it was given, his wife Sarai (later called Sarah), suggested that he sleep with her maidservant Hagar. The result was Ishmael.
Ishmael represents the product of the flesh, human effort, while Isaac is called the child of promise born “by the power of the Spirit” (Galatians 4:29 NIV). Ishmael and Isaac had a lot in common. They may have looked similar, talked the same, and in some ways acted the same, but their destinies were worlds apart. We have to honestly ask ourselves if we are producing converts by the power of the Spirit or by human tactics and effort. When we resort to worldly methods, we unite with Hagar. When a Spirit-filled church embraces the seeker-sensitive model of church growth, Abraham marries Hagar, and Ishmael is born.
Commercialism comes into our ministry when we become more concerned with attracting people than equipping people and give more priority to pleasing man than to pleasing God. It is God Himself that we should want to attract; who cares how many people show up if God’s presence does not? Preaching that is aimed at the soul instead of the spirit, and preaching that is designed to please people will end up producing Ishmaels instead of Isaacs. I am not saying that no good will be done or that no one will truly be saved, but it will certainly be far from God’s best.
The type of preaching that I am referring to falls short because it ignores spiritual realities, neglects the power of God, and dilutes true Christianity. It is time to leave human methods behind and preach the Word of God with the anointing of the Spirit. Spirit-empowered preaching is so important to restoring the ministry of Jesus, because it will set the tone and overall spiritual atmosphere needed for the other three elements of His ministry to operate. Remember, it was the preaching of the message of repentance and the message of the kingdom of God through John the Baptist and then through Jesus Himself that paved the way for His ministry on earth.
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Everywhere Jesus went, people were miraculously healed, set free from evil spirits, and transformed by powerful teaching and preaching. Restoring the Ministry of Jesus calls us back to the foundation of walking like Jesus walked and doing what Jesus did. It shows how to bridge the gap from our current condition to walking in our inheritance in Christ. As you read, your heart will be stirred to seek God’s face and go after all that He has for you and the church today!