I met an impressive young man in 1981. He was a 16 year old high school student and I was his youth minister. He was outgoing, funny, good looking, smart and energetic. He also knew more scripture than any of his contemporaries and many of his elders. He was committed to Christ and planned to be a preacher. Actually, in many ways, he already was.
I expected that God would use him to do great things for the Kingdom.
I think he expected God to do great things with him, too.
In 1986 I relocated to a ministry in another state and I sort of lost touch with him. I would hear things about him from time to time. Some good. Some not so good.
I heard he was a natural in the pulpit. His personality was perfect for it. He was a focused leader. I believed this was true because it fit perfectly with what I knew of him as a teenager.
He could also be brash and abrasive. He alienated long-time church members and focused only on newer folks. This was also believable.
I admit that I took some of the negative things I heard with a grain of salt because I’ve encountered many of those same complaints myself from people who didn’t like changes that were being made.
Then came the discovery of immorality. I don’t know all the details, but I know it was bad. He lost his ministry and his family.
His kingdom impact would never be the same.
In some ways, I suppose it’s the same old story of moral failure in ministry. But this one hit closer to home. This one was personal. I knew the guy. I knew his wife. They were kids in my youth group. Leaders, in fact. I loved them both. I still do. My heart hurt.
I attended his funeral recently. He was 51 years old. Cancer.
Even though I hadn’t really spoken with him or his ex-wife for many years, I felt compelled to be there.
There’s something about death that puts life into perspective.
It reminds you of some basic truths. These are certainly nothing new, and they aren’t filled with subtle insights and nuances. But they are hard truths that easily elude us.
Satan is a liar.
If you’re a minister, he will tell you that you have the talent and ability to do ministry on your own. Success in ministry is dependent on your gifts, your personality, your drive, your vision. Depending on God is a cop-out. It’s a sign of weakness and a lack of self-confidence. Also, you don’t need the accountability of other Christians. They would never understand you, anyway. You can’t let anyone else know about your temptations and failings. You must keep those things hidden. People would lose all respect for you. Your reputation would be ruined. – These are just a few of the lies he’ll tell. And I can tell you from experience that they’re easy to believe. But don’t! Ministry is not like building a business. Ministry is a spiritual battle. You and I don’t have the power to win this battle on our own. Attempting it just makes us a tragedy waiting to happen.
It may seem oxymoronic, but leadership requires humility. Think about who has had the most lasting positive influence on your life. Who do you admire? Who do you want to be like? Who is someone you would trust with your deepest self? I’d be willing to bet that the person you’re thinking of is not an arrogant, prideful, self-absorbed individual. It’s more likely someone whose life is characterized by humility. Someone who doesn’t hide behind a façade. Someone who is more interested in the welfare of another than advancing his own personal agenda.
Sin is a killer.
Because it’s so universal, it’s easy to minimize sin. Everybody does it, so it’s easy to let yourself off the hook with an “I’m only human” attitude. But sin is a killer. It ruins everything it touches. It wrecks families, and churches, and individual lives. It has destroyed nations. It killed Jesus.
It’s important to remember that sin is not simply a specific act, but a condition of the heart that manifests itself in specific acts. Sin is a heart in rebellion to God. Sin is a willful decision to behave in a way that you know God hates. This is why there is no hierarchy of sins. It’s true that some acts will have heavier consequences on this life than others, but Jesus’ point in the Sermon on the Mount is that anger and murder, adultery and lust, all stem from the same root cause. It comes from a heart that says, “I know what you said, God, but I don’t care. I’m gonna do what I want.”
That’s sin. And it’s a killer.
We only have one hope.
It’s not popular these days to make exclusive claims like this, but that doesn’t change the fact that our only hope is Jesus. Our hope is found exclusively in the wonderful, indescribable, undeserved grace that can be ours through the blood of Christ. Sin may have killed Jesus, but grace made his death our hope.
This is the gospel. This is the truth that must completely saturate our hearts and our work. Without this, what are we even doing? Why are we wasting our time? This is what keeps us humble, and it’s what keeps us bold.
Why is this so easy to forget?
Because Satan is a liar.
And he’s a good one.
As I said earlier, these are all basic truths that we all know. You’ve read nothing here that you haven’t heard before. But this stuff is easy to lose track of. It seems too basic to spend much time with.
In fact, the opposite is true. These things are so basic, so fundamental, that without them nothing else matters.
Ability, talent, personality and gifts all matter. They do. But a career in ministry built on these things is a building with no foundation. It might look great for a while, but it won’t last. And when it falls, it could be disastrous for anyone in it or close to it.
Anyway, these are some of the things that have been on my mind since my friend’s funeral.