For nine long years I watched a dear friend practically killed himself- and I mean that literally- trying to pastor a church. During that period of time, the church more than doubled in size to an average attendance of about a 1000 (in a town of less than 10,000), the budget tripled, and more baptisms took place in that nine year span than had happened in the previous fifty. The reason he practically killed himself was not so much because of all the hard work, but because there was a dysfunctional group of longstanding “influencers” who were constantly at odds with him. Finally, that small group made it impossible to continue on and my friend was faced with a decision to either split the church and go start a new one- which he could have easily done with several hundred folks; or, simply walk away. Mercifully he walked away. I mean mercifully for him and his family- not the church. It was a wise decision.
The good news that resulted is that within a few short months, my friend moved to another state to pursue his Ph.D. Shortly after enrolling in school, he was called to be the interim pastor of a small, struggling church. Today, he is still the pastor. And God has blessed as that small struggling church has been the fastest growing church in the city for the 16 years he’s been there.
The bad news? The church he left, the church to which he gave his life’s blood for nine years before having to leave, quickly shriveled to a small group of families who struggled to keep the doors open.
Let me ask you a question. What if you knew that the church or ministry you are currently killing yourself to build and grow was going to end up in the tank?
Toward the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 31, God reveals something to Moses that almost takes your breath away. Moses has just given his life’s blood for forty years to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land and they are about to enter in. Then, the startling revelation:
Deut. 31:20-21; “ For I will bring them into the land I swore to give their ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey. There they will become prosperous, eat all the food they want, and become fat. But they will begin to worship other gods; they will despise me and break my covenant. 21And when great disasters come down on them, this song will stand as evidence against them, for it will never be forgotten by their descendants. I know the intentions of these people, even now before they have entered the land I swore to give them.”
God’s saying, “Moses, after all you’ve done these past forty years to get them here, let me tell you what is going to happen to these people from here. They’re going to take this land of promise. But, after they fatten up a little, they’re going to forget me. They’re going to follow other gods and turn their backs on me- completely desert the faith. Then, disasters are going to come their way as a result. I even want you to write a song about it.”
The Bible doesn’t say how Moses responded to God’s announcement. On the one hand, it could not have been a complete surprise, given the track record of the Israelites for the previous forty years. But, on the other hand, I wonder how those prophetic words made him feel after all he had done to finally get them to the Promised Land? “For nine years you’re going to practically kill yourself building and growing this church, but shortly after you leave, disasters are coming and there’s not going to be much left to show for it.”
So, how would that make you feel? How do you resist the temptation to become an angry cynic? Why do we do what we do?
I think the commentary on Moses’ life in Hebrews 11:26 is the best answer. “He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.” For Moses, the ultimate prize was never the Promised Land or the people. It was the reward of Christ.
Why do we do it? Is fulfillment in ministry finally found in the butts, buildings, baptisms, and budgets? All of which are at risk of being here today and gone tomorrow? Ultimately, like Moses, it comes down to one thing- the faithful pursuit of the reward of Christ. That requires eternal perspective. And, no doubt, that’s why the writer of Hebrews goes on to say in ch. 12, “And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”