Counting the Cost of Ministry

I used to think that ministry was just a matter of just showing up, sharing my faith, and seeing lives change. The stories I heard from the pulpit growing up, the testimonies of revival preachers and missionaries and others all spoke of the tremendous power of the gospel to change lives. Story after story was told of persons coming to Christ and seeing their lives radically transformed, all as a result of ministry. Well, those stories were true and were worth telling, but often they left an important aspect of ministry out – that ministry is HARD, that it’s costly, that it requires sacrifice and investment of our time resources and emotional energy. Lives are transformed by the gospel, but not through a casual laissez-faire Christianity. Lives are changed when God’s people join Him in His awesome kingdom work – giving themselves to following Him and their lives to his mission.

In­­­­ the gospel Luke, Jesus reminds us to “count the cost” of following Him (Luke 14:28). Of course, the idea of counting the cost is not intended to keep us from following Him. He wants us to be His disciples. Rather, we are to recognize just to what it is that Jesus is calling us. We are to see what following Christ really means and commit ourselves to this life of following.  Counting the cost keeps us from a nominal, counterfeit faith that leaves us unchanged. It keeps us from the idea that we can somehow be religious but not follow Jesus in his mission to serve others and to seek and save the lost. It is to remind us that in order to follow Jesus we have to stop following everything else. It reminds us that the call to be “fishers of men” (Matt 4:19) is not like Andy and Opie going down to the pond to dreamily cast a line whistling as they go, but more like the adventure of an episode of “Deadliest Catch” with all risk and work that comes with it. It’s denying yourselves, taking up your cross, and following Him.

I dream of pastoring a “different” kind of church in a “different” kind of denomination – not different in the sense of “novel” or “hip”, but different in that we would be churches that truly depend on God, give ourselves in authentic fellowship to one another, and are sent out with God’s mission to the world around us. But such a vision does not come without cost, and Jesus wants us to count the cost. The world will not be reached by coming to some agreement about soteriology or mission funding mechanisms. The world will not be reached by having the coolest new church vibe nor returning to the glory days of however you define “traditional” church. The world will certainly not be reached by good intentions or mere feelings of compassion. The world will not be reached if God’s people are convicted but remain unchanged. The world will be reached when God sends laborers into His harvest fields – when we as God’s people join Him in the work. I truly believe that the Lord has grown Southern Baptists in many ways and He is giving us an opportunity to really be used of Him to reach out to people in our communities and around the world – hurting, broken people with real needs and problems and a deep need for relationship with Jesus. But there is a cost.

The religious people of Jesus’ day hung around other religious people and largely ignored the hurting people around them. Jesus was different. He was seen with those with the greatest need (e.g., Luke 15:1-2). He gave Himself to others and invested in them. He left the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep (Luke 15:5-7). He got involved in the messiness of people’s lives and offered Himself to them, pointing them to the Father. Will we follow Jesus’ example? Will we count the cost and then give ourselves to follow Him?

What is God calling us to do as churches? As a denomination? I believe He is calling us to truly invest in the lives of people. To “spend and be spent” for their souls (2 Cor 12:15). To give “not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thes 2:8). To stop pursuing the American dream and it’s models of success and pursue His heavenly vision. To pursue the Lord and His mission with all that is in us. But there is a cost, and we must count the cost. The ministry opportunities before us are great, but they are not easy. The truth is, ministry is hard. Getting involved in the messiness of people’s lives is demanding. It requires effort and investment of ourselves. It requires trust and dependence on God to do what only He can do in people’s lives. Often, it includes suffering and heartache. It always involves a cross. It means that we must pursue God and his purposes.

I am not promoting an agenda nor asking you to jump on board with some new denominational vision or strategy plan. I am asking you to count the cost and then give your lives for the sake of His Kingdom. To see with God’s eyes the great spiritual need around you. To be willing to be the hands and feet and voice of God to those who desperately need Him. To seek his direction as you follow Christ and make Him known in word and in deed. To invest your time, resources, and your very life and soul to pursuing God and his mission. To finding your place of service and serve Him wholeheartedly. That, with full view of the cost of discipleship, with whatever capacity God has given you, that you jump in with both feet and pursue God’s call to be used by Him as he works in us and through us for His glory. That’s my heart. I want to follow Him.

 

 

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see my follow-up to this post here: Second thoughts on the Cost of Ministry

Comments

  1. Todd Benkert says

    I know this post is written in the most general of terms. That is because I know that God calls us each to different ministries and in different ways. The specific things that God has called me and my family to are not necessarily universally applicable. At the same time, what my wife and I view as “normative” Christianity is viewed by those around us as abnormal and extreme. The world should look at us and wonder why we do what we do – but too often it is from within the church that I get the greatest resistance. There are hurting people all around us that are open to ministry, but not enough Christians willing to give of themselves to really minister to them.

    My desire is not to be the Holy Spirit and tell people how God has called them, but to call us generally out of our aversion to hard things and real investment in others’ lives.

  2. Dwight McKissic says

    Todd,

    Thanks for sharing your heart with us. It was challenging and convicting, even though you said you had no agenda. God had one and it was impossible to read this post without doing a self examination. Thanks again. May we all take what you have posted here to heart. Would love to grab a bite with you if The Lord enables me to be in Baltimore.

  3. Greg Buchanan says

    Todd,

    Wonderful article, but it comes at a bad time for me personally… I’m in the midst of seeking the Lord’s face about a decision or rather a potential decision as the offer isn’t on the table yet.

    And here you go with writing all about denying myself and counting the cost and honestly… I’d rather make a simpler decision based on less data. Why do you have to remind me about suffering for Jesus a la Deadliest Catch? Why do you have to be the mouthpiece of God basically telling me which option to take?

    It was better when I was asking and not really getting an y clear direction and you have to go an muddy the waters and be used by Him… not very considerate… you should have asked me if pointing me in the right direction was O.K. with me at this time… the nerve of some people. I mean really, encouraging service and sacrifice and dependence upon the Lord… this isn’t Sunday.

    Why don’t you go and blog about Calvin or alcohol or something and stop being used by Jesus to give answers to prayer for guidance.

    Thanks :-)

    • Greg Buchanan says

      Todd…

      I hope my tongue-in-cheek above wasn’t off-putting? I was thanking you and making fun of my own pride at the same time.

      I deeply appreciate this post.

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