ministry

The Idol of “Success.”

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This is the third post in a series of reflections based on Jared Wilson’s book “The Pastor’s Justification.”


I had the honor of helping launch the Garretson Campus of The Rescue Church in October of 2014. I immediately had dreams of outgrowing our building in a week and breaking ground on a new facility. I assumed that people would come to our services, give their lives to Jesus, and become powerful missionaries in the community and abroad.

In our opening service we had 75 people join us. This may not seem like a lot depending on your context but we were planting this campus in a town of 1,200 people. On our first Sunday, we ran out of room due to the high attendance! My dream of becoming an influential and successful minister was finally coming to fruition.

A few months later we moved from Sunday night services to Sunday morning services. Our goal is that we would see how many people were going to stay with us as a “real” church and how many others were simply visiting from other churches.

We decreased in attendance to an average of 14 people.

I remember one Sunday morning when the only people that came to the service were those that were scheduled to serve in different areas. I stood outside to greet all the people that were flocking to my “successful” ministry and I welcomed no one.

I was crushed.

Jared Wilson, in his book The Pastor’s Justification has this to say, “Whatever God gives you in your ministry, accept as his wise allotment to you, not as unjust or unbecoming your awesomeness. Will you accept good from God and not trouble?

Without realizing it I had elevated worldly forms of success and tied them to God’s view of my ministry. I forgot that God measured success not through attendance numbers, increased giving, or larger buildings. Rather, He demands faithfulness and obedience; we are called to leave the results in His hands. He is the one who gives the growth!

I’d love to say I no longer struggle with this… the truth is I do. Some days we have 80+ people in our service and I begin to stroke my ego; assuming that people are coming due to my awesomeness. Other Sundays we have 40 people and a horrible offering – it is extremely easy to find my identity in the roller-coaster of attendance numbers!

Friends, I say all of this to encourage you. Our evil nature longs for us to find our identity in something or someone other than Jesus. When our circumstances have the power to crush our joy, we are worshiping a false god.

Allow this passage to encourage you in your day of despair:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3

Fix your eyes on Jesus.

Three Myths about Ministry

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I have just finished a tremendous book on pastoral ministry called “The Pastor’s Justification” by Jared Wilson. Over the next few weeks I will reflect on the ways this book has challenged my view of ministry and leadership.

Wilson has put into words ideas which have burned strongly in my mind for the past few years.

“Books and podcasts and conferences from the leadership cult bid us to believe that pastoral ministry is a technology, that our churches are businesses, and that our flocks are customers.” – Jared Wilson

Let’s break down the three failures of the “leadership cult” mentioned by Wilson in the quote above.

1. Pastoral ministry is NOT a technology!
Granted, many of the “creative” leaders who emphasize secrets to growth would not claim ministry is a technology. Nevertheless, their practical theology is evident in their strategies for success. These leaders boldly proclaim that God wants all churches to grow… the problem (they claim) is we have not discovered the secret to breaking through the next “growth barrier.”

There is not a magic formula that can cause churches to grow. Sure healthy things DO grow… but so does cancer!

Pastors – labor faithfully, pray fervently, minister lovingly – but trust the growth of your church (numerical & spiritual) into the hands of God. He alone gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:7).

2. The Church is NOT a business!
Is there a business aspect to a church? Definitely. My undergraduate degree is business administration. I believe pastors would be greatly helped through a better understanding of the business side of the church. That being said, the church is NOT a business!

Successful business are led by CEOs that often domineer over those in their charge. The Church should be led by self-denying and sacrificial leaders modeling their leadership on the Great Shepherd – Jesus himself. The Kingdom of God does not emphasize CEO-style leadership… rather it is a call to die daily for the good of others. It is the responsibility of every pastor to become the servant of those under his care.

3. The flock are NOT customers!
Many church growth gurus emphasize studying our communities and then offering a product that meets a felt-need. Here’s the problem – the Scriptures teach that all outside of Christ are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1).

Let’s be real – it would be a little insane to go to a cemetery and take a poll to determine what the rotting corpses would enjoy for entertainment!

If we seek to serve felt-needs we will subvert the Gospel by elevating attractional models of ministry over the blood-splattered Messiah. The Gospel itself is INCREDIBLY offensive. The cross of Jesus implies the following about everyone on earth:
— We are wicked beyond imagination.
— We are unable to respond to God in our own power.
— We are not special; matter of fact, we are objects of God’s wrath.
— The Son of God was brutally murdered because of us.


Even if you are not in formal leadership in a church, I highly encourage you to spend some time praying through 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. Pay attention to the paradoxical nature of the cross. 

What are some other “ministry myths” you would add to this list? Let me know by leaving a comment!

Sue Jensen had this to share in the comments and it was TOO good for me not place on the main post!
“I know we call a lot of people volunteers at our church but I think the belief that the church is a volunteer organization is a myth. As volunteers, people believe they can do as little as possible and say they are part of the church. However, the attitude in scripture calls us to be soldiers and servants and we should take our roles in ministry seriously.”

I Meet With a Therapist.

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I am utterly weak and unqualified to be a pastor.

My leadership is ruled more by timidity than boldness. My actions often derive from a desire to please people rather than God. The motivation behind my preaching springs from a desire for the praise of man rather than the affirmations of the Father… far more than I’d like to admit.

I stress the need for community while drowning in isolation. I proclaim the importance of confession while remaining silent about my own sin. Each Sunday, I exhort people with the message that God loves broken people… while practically denying the same message for my own life.

In short, I am broken.

In my own mind, sin is often a greater delicacy than the glory of God. I sink my teeth into this disgusting, mold-covered appetizer while believing the lie that it offers a greater freedom than obedience to Jesus.

I shared some of these realities with my church recently. I’ve always thought only weak, needy, and emotionally sick people need to see a professional counselor on a regular basis.

I still believe this.

I just realized that I also fall into this category.

I have started meeting with a professional Christian therapist at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in order to pursue Christ-centered wholeness. I debated whether or not to share this with people because it would reveal the illusion of my perfection. It was into this internal argument that the Holy Spirit resounded the paradoxical words of the Apostle Paul:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9

I don’t have all the answers. People come to me on a regular basis expecting counseling… not realizing that I am utterly aware of how inadequate I am to provide it for them.

Pastor – the Gospel you proclaim is for you.

Our identity isn’t found in the mask of perfection we wear on Sundays. Our righteousness doesn’t flow from the weekly attendance or yearly budget at our churches. Jesus – the only Perfect One to ever live – willingly subjected Himself to brutal torture and crucifixion for the wrath that we justly deserve. This same Jesus resurrected from the grave – offering eternal life, forgiveness, and a foreign righteousness to all who come to Him by faith.

Jesus lived the perfect life we could not live… died the death we deserve to die… and rose from the dead for our justification.

There is a Great Physician that skillfully applies healing salve to the wounds of his people – even pastors. It’s okay to not be okay. 

Your Life NEEDS Margin!

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I absolutely love to read. Books give us the possibility of entering into a conversation with people we will never meet. These authors teach us about life, marriage, faith, and the art of story-telling. Yet a badly designed book can have devastating consequences on the ability of the reader to enjoy it!

On the left, right, top, and bottom of a book is white space. This white space is known as margin. If the text in a book filled up the entire page – which seems as if it would accomplish more – the book would be a nightmare for the reader.

The same way that margin is vital for a book, it is essential for our lives.

Many of us believe that constant activity will produce extraordinary results. This simply isn’t true. Those of us who feel the need to constantly work are slowly eroding our families and destroying our marriages on the false altar of productivity. Our need to work 60-hour weeks says less about our work ethic and more about our desire to be a god. God does not sleep… He doesn’t have to. He is infinite. We are finite.

We get this confused far too often.

One of the greatest ways to build margin into your life is by practicing a regular Sabbath. I have been using Saturday as my Sabbath for the past year and it has been incredibly refreshing and healing.

I want you to pick a day of the week that you can spend time resting with your family. After you select this day you need to guard it with passion! If you do not fight for margin in your life, no one else will. There are not a bunch of legalistic rules you need to keep on your Sabbath; instead, I would encourage you to seek out activities that allow physical, emotional, and spiritual rest (I’d also encourage you to do this with your phone OFF!)

For me it means I spend a lot of time reading fiction. I love being pulled into a good story rather than being occupied with the current stress of my ministry. Fiction allows me to experience exotic places and incredible stories without leaving my home!

I also love nature. As long as it is not -30 outside, I will go for a long walk to breathe in fresh air and slowly watch birds, squirrels, rabbits, and insects enjoy the day. This reminds me that I’m really not that important. If God sustains the creatures of the earth with food and shelter, He will provide me with everything I need.

During my weekly Sabbath I commit much of the time to hanging out with my beautiful bride. Here’s the truth I live by: The Rescue Church in Garretson can have many different pastors, my wife and (soon to be) daughter only get one husband and father. I will willingly lay down formal ministry if it becomes a god which ravages my family through workaholism.

Can you say the same about your career? Or is your family being ripped apart by the incessant demands at work? Anything or anyone other than the Living God is extremely destructive to worship.

I’m afraid many of us are sacrificing self-care and the health of our families for the false gods of productivity, career, financial security, and materialism.  

Clergy Aren’t Respected Anymore… Is That Good?

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Those who hold the title of clergy have been experiencing a fall from popular culture. The image of a pastor has transformed from a caring individual, dedicated to bringing hope and restoration into a community to a televangelist bent on stealing money from the poor through the prosperity gospel.

This seems like a new phenomenon.

It’s really not.

This utter lack of respect for clergy began in the early 19th century. Nathan O. Hatch mentions this time of transformation by quoting from the 3rd Epistle of Peter… at least that’s what it was called. Alexander Campbell mocked professional clergy with this fake letter. In it, “Peter” instructs ministers to “live well, wear the best clothes, adorn themselves with high-sounding titles, drink costly wine, and fleece the people.”

This destructive seed which was planted in the 19th century is now coming to full bloom in the 21st century. As a member of the so-called clergy, we can respond to this in two ways.

One way is to get angry. I mean REALLY angry. This is how many of the pastors in the 19th century responded.

This doesn’t work.

Pastor, you do realize that we serve a crucified Savior right?

Have you forgot Matthew 10:25?
“It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul (or Satan), how much more will they malign those of his household.”

The Gospel will be administered under the shadow of the cross. Ministry is not a call to respectability but to death. The Apostles themselves were treated as the scum of the earth, why should YOU be treated any better? This leaves us with the second option…

Pastor, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us…” What if instead of getting mad at those who accuse us of fleecing the sheep, we laid down our lives (and time) sacrificially for those who malign us? What if, instead of bemoaning the lack of respectability for clergy, we loved the very people that hate us?

The ministry is one of crucifixion.

You will receive a crown… but not from the culture.

You will experience resurrection… but not from those who don’t know God.

The rewards you will get for faithfully fulfilling the ministry God has given you far outweigh every negative word, unfair rumor, and false accusation you will ever experience.

Pastor, keep your eyes on Jesus… He is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. He is the Prince of Peace. He is the Chief Shepherd – minister from HIS strength and power – not your own.

Jesus and the Crowd

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I hate large crowds.

Yup, I know that is pretty ironic since I am a pastor. I actually do not mind being up front speaking to a large crowd but I hate being in the middle of a bunch of people. What I REALLY hate is if there is a large crowd of people and they are all trying to get my attention. If there are more than a few people talking to me at once, I am bound to shut everyone out.

Thankfully, Jesus is not like me.

In Mark 6, Jesus’ spirit is crushed as he hears about John the Baptist being beheaded. In the same scene, his disciples return to him after a long, grueling day of ministry. In wisdom, Jesus instructs his disciples to go with him to a solitary place in order to find rest. Unfortunately, the crowd has keen eyesight and interrupts Jesus and his disciples while they are trying to rest and mourn in peace.

How would you respond?

I would be angry, impatient, frustrated, and overall disgusted by the crowd.

Let’s see how Jesus responds:

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” – Mark 6:34

Specifically Jesus…

  • SAW the crowd.
  • Had COMPASSION on the crowd.
  • And PROVIDED for the crowd.

I want to encourage you to view yourself in light of Jesus’ actions and allow the Holy Spirit to change you in the following three areas:

1. Slow down so you can truly see people.
Often, when I am interrupted by someone, I try to brush them off as quickly as possible. Instead of looking at the person as an image bearer of God, I see them as an annoying distraction. If the person is “needy” then I definitely try to steer clear of being in a conversation with them because I feel as if they will capitalize on my time.

Not so with Jesus.

In the midst of his grieving, Jesus SEES the crowd. He puts himself in their position and realizes they are like “sheep without a shepherd”. His intense love for people – ALL people – motivates him to see the crowd with love.

2. Seeing should become compassion.
It is one thing to slow down long enough to see people as beautiful image bearers – It’s another challenge to have compassion on them. Compassion is defined as, “concern for the sufferings of others.” All of us would claim we are compassionate people. Unfortunately, our actions betray our speech.

Having compassion for another person is a supernatural work. We are, by nature, selfish people. In order to TRULY have compassion for those who are suffering, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us see people through His eyes. Only when we gain God’s perspective can we have compassion on the crowd.

3. Compassion should become provision.
In this verse, we see that Jesus fed the crowds’ spiritually hungry souls through teaching them. A few verses later, we see that Jesus furnishes their appetites with physical food by multiplying bread and fish. One test on whether or not you are truly exercising compassion for others in your life is if you are willing to provide for them.

James, Jesus’ brother, explains this concept powerfully in James 2:15-16:
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

What good is it, if you claim to be a compassionate person, if you do nothing to comfort those who are suffering?


Often the “interruptions” in your life are opportunities for you to be used in powerful ways by God. If you neglect to open your eyes to the hurting people around you and instead allow your heart to be filled with selfishness, you will NOT experience the abundant life Jesus promises. Ultimately, your time does not belong to you. Everything, including each minute of your day, is an undeserved gift from the sovereign hand of God.

When you are interrupted today by a hurting person, follow in the steps of Jesus: SEE them as an image bearer of God, have COMPASSION on them in their suffering, and PROVIDE for them in the midst of their neediness.

Paul’s Mission (Chapter 29 – The Story)

I had the honor of sharing from the Bible this past Sunday at The Rescue Church. Below are the video and notes from the message!

The Story – Part 29
“Paul’s Mission”

Paul’s Mission and Transformation

  • The Apostle Paul was the first terrorist towards Christianity. (Acts 9:1-9)
  • One of the greatest witnesses to the world about Jesus is a transformed
  • Paul faced intense persecution in every city.

Our Mission (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

  • To some people we are death (2 Cor. 2:16).
  • To some people we are life (2. Cor. 2:16).

How does this apply to my life?

  • Repent and put your faith in Jesus for salvation.
  • Display Christ in every area of your life.
  • Pray that God would break your heart for lost people

Enjoy the message? You can join The Rescue Church every Sunday morning at 10am central time from the comfort of your computer via the iCampus!