How to Find Your Heart
Dr. Jim Denison
This past Tuesday, amid much ceremony and tradition, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI. I wish my experiences in church work could be so dignified.
I should have known pastoral ministry was not all pomp and circumstance in my first pastorate, on the Sunday when a scorpion which crawled inside my wading boots as I was preparing to baptize. And the time the baptism waters were freezing cold, but the 6’7″ candidate insisted on being baptized anyway; I got his face under water, then he grabbed me and dragged me under with him. We counted two baptisms that night.
There was the staff member in First Baptist Church in Midland who wore his lapel microphone into the restroom, and the entire sound system was on. He was the same beloved friend who dressed for Sunday morning, checked on his horses, then walked through the church building making sure all was ready. Only when he reached the platform for the service to begin did we realize that he had brought his horses with him. The carpets were cleaned that week.
And of course, there was the infamous Saturday afternoon at Park Cities when I climbed up to the fifth-floor bell tower room to see if it would work as a prayer room, without my cell phone; the door locked behind me, with no keyhole on my side. I finally used a two-by-four to break out the window in the door, and carefully reached my key through and let myself out. Otherwise I’d still be up there. I was so grateful to the staff member who heard the story the next week and asked, “Who left the two-by-four in the room?”
Some mistakes in church work are worse than others. Today we’re going to examine the worst mistake in all of Christian history, and the most subtle. This mistake has robbed millions of Christians of the joy Jesus gives, the direction his Father provides, the purpose and power of his Spirit. Let’s see if it has affected your life:
Do you feel that you are accomplishing all you were made to do in life, or is something missing?
Do you consistently seek opportunities to serve the Lord and his people, or do you more typically wait to be asked to serve?
Who was the last person you led to faith in Christ? The last person whose faith was strengthened significantly because of your direct influence on his or her life?
Do you experience each day the satisfaction of knowing that you are walking in the Spirit’s power and purpose?
The mistake we’ll discuss today has kept millions of Christians on the sidelines of significance. It has kept many of you from the life God wants you to live, from the direction and purpose he made you to experience. If you don’t understand the tragedy of this mistake, that’s all the more evidence for its damage.
My goal today is simple, and ambitious: I want us to repent of this sin, this tragic mistake, once and for all. I want us to put it to rest, now and for the rest of our lives. I want us to settle the matter this morning.
Why members don’t minister
Jesus’ last words before his ascension are familiar to us all: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). “You” is plural, commissioning them all.
These first Christians took his word seriously: at Pentecost, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4).
At this early point, everybody knew that ministry was for all members, that every one of us is equally called by God to serve and grow his Kingdom.
But over the coming generations, things changed.
As their movement grew beyond its Jewish boundaries, pagan heresies began infiltrating its theology. So the church decided to confine theology to the theologians, ministry to the ministers. Around AD 250, Cyprian of Carthage coined the word “clergy,” meaning the “called-out.” He separated them from the “laity,” from the Greek word laos for “people.” When Constantine legalized the church in the next century, a massive building campaign ensued. Now the clergy had a place to work and do their ministry. Over time they moved into those buildings and made them monasteries.
From then till now there’s the unstated supposition in the church: if you don’t work here, you’re not a real minister. I can work on old cars, but since I don’t work at a mechanic’s shop I’m not a real mechanic. You’re not a real football player unless you play on the team–throwing the ball in the street doesn’t count. You’re not a real economist unless that’s your living. Ministry is the work of ministers.
So it’s your job to support those of us who do this for a living. Come to church, give financially, do what we ask you to do, but leave the real ministry to the ministers. Leave surgery to the surgeons, law to the lawyers, and ministry to the ministers. Ministry is not your job.
The second fact explains the first: you don’t know how.
As “clergy” grew, so did vocational training for their work, now called “seminaries.” Doctors read medical books, but the rest of us don’t. I didn’t study before my knee surgery, and learn to do the procedure. I trust those who know more than me.
If you’re in a court of law, it’s best that you let the lawyers talk. If someone here today stops breathing, it’s best that you find someone who knows CPR to help. Otherwise you might make things worse.
You don’t know Greek and Hebrew; you haven’t been to seminary; you’re not called to do this as your vocational work. This is what you pay us for. You do what volunteers do–teach Sunday school, sing in the choir, work on committees. But leave the heavy lifting of ministry to the ministers. That’s the “clergy lie.”