Musings on Building the Church

I’ve been a bi-vocational pastor my entire 13 years in the ministry. I’ve always had at least two jobs, sometimes three. I’ve often thought that if I could simply focus solely on ministry that I would have more success building the the church. In having to work another vocation, it splits my time, energy, and attention between my service to the kingdom, and meeting the responsibilities and duties of my job. I often think of the passage where “no man can serve two masters.” Though bi-vocational ministry is not the same as the love of money which Jesus is addressing, it still proves very true. I have had seasons where I have hated one, and longed for the other… and it hasn’t always been the ministry which has held my longing. There have been times where I’ve resented the ministry and it’s undefined demands. I like to know what’s expected of me. I like a plan. Ministry does not often afford you either. In fact, pastors can face a totally different set of expectations for every single person they talk to. This can make it extremely difficult to build a church… and this is where God speaks through my “other job.”

Currently, I’m working part-time at a local campground. We’ve been partners in ministry the last 12 years, and it has been an amazing partnership. It came about that they needed help, I needed extra work, and God brought these two things together. I’m doing a little carpentry for them. I have some experience here, but there’s also things I need to learn. I work under Rick. Rick is a contractor with over 30 years experience in… everything. Rick is also a good teacher. As we turn to the projects, Rick is in charge. He’s building, and I’m helping. My job is to follow Rick’s directions, receive Rick’s instruction, and do my part. I am not responsible for the whole, just for my part, and in the process, I learn and grow and become better at my job. Does this sound a little familiar? Rick also has a wonderful habit of stopping work, and waiting on the Spirit in the problem solving process. He’s avoided a lot of extra, unnecessary work that way. Working with Rick can be a spiritual experience too, and it’s a reflection of what we, as pastors and ministry leaders, need to understand as we serve God in our ministries:  We do not build the church. God does.

When Jesus spoke to Peter and gave the “On this rock I will build my church” speech, he was saying two things. First, the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord is the foundation of the church, not Peter. This is vital. We cannot see ourselves as the foundation of the church, or of our local fellowship. If the church is built on us, on our wisdom, our charisma, our knowledge, our strengths it will fall as soon as our back is turned (or as soon as God takes us out, because if we try to build His church on ourselves, he will undo us). Second, Jesus said He would build his church, not Peter, not the disciples, and not you or I. To Peter he commanded “feed my lambs.” In his teaching, Jesus warned his hearers that those “in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time,” that “it will be good for that servant when his Master finds him doing so when he returns” (Matthew 24:45-46). In the same way, we are told that God has called us for the work of “equipping the saints for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12). For us to attempt build the church would be like me trying to take responsibility for the campground projects: foolish. In fact, it would look more like a poorly organized mutiny.

When church leaders try to build the church, we often rely on tactics, trends, and strategies. Like Sarah and Abraham, who went the route of surrogacy rather than trusting God, we attempt to accomplish God’s will our way and rely on culturally acceptable systems and customs rather than relying on the power of God, the blood of Jesus, and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. We defile the work of God and wonder why the church becomes more and more worldly and why sheep continue to go astray. It’s because they were lured in by thieves and robbers (John 9:7-10) — false teachers who want quantity over quality, who cherish a worldly view of success over truth and holiness and draw people in with production, celebrity, and coffee bars, but who seldom serve the Gospel, which condemns sin and offers new life. We can only do what we can do. We need God to do what only He can do.

We will build a feeble church that won’t withstand social pressure, let alone real persecution. We build a church that wants to be liked, not a church that prevails against the gates of hell. We need to surrender and let God build his church while we remain faithful to doing what he has charges us with: 1) be his witnesses to the world, and 2) feed his sheep, equipping them to serve the Gospel. If we reason people into the Kingdom, they will be able to find a reason to leave. If we attract them with worldly things, well, the world simply offers better things and does a much better job marketing. But when they encounter the conviction of the Holy Spirit, they can never turn back. I encourage you, read through Romans 10:1-11:6. We often hear this as a call to preach and “build God’s church” through evangelism, but it’s not. Read it understanding that it is talking about the sovereignty of God to build his church, to call the lost to repentance, and to unfold his great plan of redemption. Then prayerfully commit yourself to follow the leadership of Jesus in your ministry; not to build his church for him, but to be faithful in the task to which he has called you.

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