During a recent time away from the ministry, we were able to enjoy time on the beach. The water was a little too cold to enjoy. So, many families opted to play in the sand rather than the water. We saw one or two elaborate, and some not so elaborate, sandcastles.
I usually read Christian fiction when we are on vacation. This excursion was no different. The book’s author used pastoral family dynamics as a portion of the storyline. Together, the visual sand edifices and the book made me think about all the work to erect something so temporary. Then, I started thinking about how that applies to what we often do in our churches.
We often find ourselves discussing topics with clients that could fit into this category. It is something we are very familiar with both from the vantage point of falling prey to the temptation to erect them and from the perspective of having them completely dismantled.
Growing up in the Church
I was introduced to the ministry as a child. My mom tells a story about the time I crawled up into his lap and asked Dr. Beard if I could attend “big church” at the very mature age of three. Evidently, the nursery bored me. Pastor John said I could, but I was expected to listen just like the grown-ups. No coloring, no playing games, no talking or whispering during service… I was expected to be fully engaged in the music and the sermon, no matter how long he was preaching that particular week. He was known to be long-winded.
I wasn’t much older than that when I sang my first solo in church. (Yes, I can remember the words to that little song even now.) My dad entered seminary when I was 8. Then, we moved to Canada for him to pastor a church there in the middle of fifth grade (grade five for my Canadian friends). This experience provides me multiple perspectives of evaluating ministry from the eyes of a child, and as an adult, which assists greatly in our scope of ministry.
As ministers, there is an innate desire to help people. The problem is, we can start to build sandcastles with skewed priorities. This often happens because the minister is attempting to fulfill all the expectations, whether disclosed or presumed, reasonable or unreasonable, of congregants, parishioners, and denominational leaders.
A pastor will never be able to keep all the people happy. To attempt to do so is simply to build a temporary castle that will all too easily be washed away. Unfortunately, the pastor often begins to build another structure in the same spot on the proverbial beach to “reconcile” with those in the church who were disappointed in some way.
It is God’s opinion that is of the utmost importance. (Though individuals we encounter day to day often have the loudest voices and express displeasure through complaint.) He established relationship, and He establishes priority within differing relationships. The Ten Commandments clearly expresses God’s position. “You shall have no other gods above Me” (Exodus 20:2-3). That means our first ministry is to God, Himself.
As we teach priorities, God is at the top of the list. Then our spouse, followed by our children and immediate family. Lastly, all other relationships or responsibilities, including our paid ministry positions, can vie for priority depending on the season and urgency.
Organization and Numbers
It is often tempting to churches to build sandcastles in leadership ranks and organization. Ministries have legal guidelines and budget considerations, however, the administration of churches and service ministries should not be approached the same way as it is by those in the business world. Churches are to be focused on spreading the gospel and dependent on God. Often God will ask sold out Christians to do things that do not make sense through an earthly lens.
Worldly success and financial prowess do not impress the lost who are looking for the Church to be different. They may complain about our values, but they expect our values, and the expression of them in daily living, to be counter-cultural. Otherwise, we are offering nothing different than anyone else, and our salt has lost its usefulness (see Matthew 5:13-16).
While focusing on finances is a temporary edifice, so is a focus on numbers. Numbers are deceiving. Numbers can be manipulated, and the enemy of the saints does just that. He causes doubt in the mind of the missionary that isn’t seeing tangible spiritual fruit even though they continue to faithfully labor in the field. He maliciously whispers to the pastor that is shepherding a small home church, “Surely, the impact is not sufficient to be significant to God.” Conversely, he causes the leader with great charisma that can draw multitudes to be puffed up. Racking up and counting numbers is often equivalent to using seashells to decorate our castle.
The Solid Rock
Jesus taught us to build upon the Solid Rock with Him as our foundation. All of us need a Savior because we are fallen and fallible. We used to sing a song in Sunday School about the foolish man and the wise man. It was always a favorite because of the accompanying hand motions. The foolish man built his house upon the sand, but the wise man built his house upon the Rock (see Matthew 7:24-27). This principle holds for both individuals and the church, made up corporately of individuals. Be sure your foundation is Christ and stands firm lest your house is built on sand and comes tumbling down.
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