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