Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said recently, “If we were to get up a trip to Paris and really push it, we might get a half dozen students to go with us. However, if we announced a mission trip to Afghanistan and told the students they had to buy their own flak jackets, we’d have to turn some away. Today’s students respond to a great challenge.”
Abraham Lincoln attended church with a friend in Springfield. Afterwards, the friend asked the future president what he thought of the message. “It was all right,” he said, “but it was not a great sermon.” Asked what made him say that, Lincoln said, “The pastor said many fine things, but he did not ask us to do a great thing.”
Joe Brown, long-time pastor of Charlotte’s Hickory Grove Baptist Church, returned from a mission trip to a difficult area of the world and shared this experience with his congregation.
“At ‘The Edge’ they have an underground church…. They meet on different nights, and when they reach the number of 10 or 12, they split the church because it causes too much attention.”
“They have a man…. He’s not the pastor. He’s not a teacher. He’s an usher. He volunteers to go down into the center of the city, and he stands there. The members of his church will ride down there and he’ll tell them where they’re meeting and when they’re meeting, because the telephone lines are monitored…. There was such a man in this city, and the government found out about him. They arrested him. He lost his job. When he lost his job, he lost his housing. He lost his medical benefits. He lost everything he had. He was beaten and put into prison.”
“Another man stepped forward and took the job. And he was turned in, and he was beaten and put into prison and lost everything he had.”
“Someone traveling with us looked at the house-church pastor and said, ‘I suppose you have great difficulty in filling that job.'”
“He said, ‘Oh no, we don’t have difficulty in filling that job. We have a waiting list.'”
In the city where I live, we have a pastor with an uncommon gift for seeing the big picture and calling his church members to do big things for God. I have never heard him preach a sermon, offer a prayer, or even deliver an announcement without being inspired to be more, give more, and do more for my Lord.
Recently, that pastor’s daughter moved to a new city with her husband. After a few weeks of visiting churches, she told her mother, “I suppose I’m biased, but so far, I’ve not found anyone out there I’d rather hear preach than Dad.”
Personally, I doubt if the young woman understands what it is about her father’s preaching that makes him special. She probably thinks in terms of his style or the personal approach he takes in his preaching, the warmth he conveys or the love he communicates. These are all elements of his effectiveness, no doubt, but for my money it’s one thing and one thing only: he does not hesitate to call people to greatness for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Too many pastors shrink from asking people to sacrifice in their giving, to grow in their service, and to leave their comfort zones for the sake of the Gospel.
Years ago, I heard of a Marine recruiter in a small town who was enrolling twice the number of recruits as the other services, even though they were all working equally hard. Finally, the recruiters from the Navy, Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard decided to find out for themselves what the Marine was doing that made him so successful. The only thing they could find different from their own approach was a small sign above the entrance to his recruiting office. It read: “You don’t have what it takes to be a Marine.”
The Lord Jesus understood people’s need to be challenged, and was not afraid to demand complete dedication. Consider these samples of His preaching….
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves…. Beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues….do not become anxious about how or what you will speak, for it shall be given you in that hour what you are to speak…. You will be hated by all on account of my name…. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master….if they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household.” (Matthew 10:16-25)
“He who loves father or more more than me is not worthy of me….And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37-38)
“If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
“So then no one of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” (Luke 14:33
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations….” (Matthew 28:19)
Sadly, some churches today have lost the sense of urgency over the condition of people without Christ, they have lost the conviction of the transforming power of the gospel to raise the dead, and thus their message has degenerated into a feel-good pep talk better suited for a civic club or PTA meeting.
Let us never hesitate to call people out of death to life, out of complacency to commitment, from the partial to the complete, and from the comfortable to the sacrificial.