How To Start A Ministry
How To Start a Ministry
Matthew 3:13-Matthew 4:17
How to books. They are best sellers these days. In our success oriented society, in a society that is a flood with information, you can basically learn how do anything. I looked up online some of the most popular How to books . Some examples include, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Hardcover), Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (Paperback) by David Allen (shelved 44 times as how-to) , How to Win Friends and Influence People (Paperback) by Dale Carnegie (shelved 55 times as how-to) , The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead (Paperback) by Max Brooks (Goodreads Author) (shelved 43 times as how-to) , The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook (Paperback)
by Joshua Piven (shelved 34 times as how-to) . The last two of course are my favorites.
In the world of church work you can also find many books about how to grow your church. Church growth and redevelopment is really a passion and calling for me. One of the most practical books I have read is What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Indispensable Rules of Thumb For Leading Your Church. Frankly, I wish I had read that book before I became a pastor because then I could have avoided a lot of mistakes I made. And yet, many of these books offer false promises. Follow these strategies and your church will grow. If you don’t have this or that your church won’t grow. There is an obsession with numbers and statistics that can become unhealthy. You can find many books on how to start or grow a church. It is harder to find a book about how to start or grow a ministry. Unfortunately, though it should not be the case, there is a difference between growing a church and growing a ministry. And while I would like Calvin to grow in numbers I think it more important that we grow first as a ministry. Faithfulness is more important than fruitfulness. Being faithful with what we have is more important than worrying about what we don’t have. And at the start of this new year I think we can learn a lot about how to start our ministry together at Calvin by looking at how Jesus started his ministry. How did Jesus start his ministry? From our text today I see three keys to how Jesus started his ministry;
- Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit
- Jesus was tested and found faithful with the power He was given
- Jesus lived where he ministered
First, the scriptures tell us that Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit. To quote our passage today, “ And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and resting upon him; and behold a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.”
All the Gospels record that the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove. But if Jesus was already God then what was the point of this? Why is God descending upon God? I think most Christians get the incarnation. The Word became flesh. God became a human being. Most Christians get the resurrection. God raised Jesus from the dead thus conquering death. But have you ever wondered what was the point of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove? It is a major event in the Gospels. But in my experience most Christians don’t understand why this happened. I think the scriptures are clear. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus to empower him for ministry. This empowerment works in two ways. First, the Holy Spirit affirmed the love of the Father for His Son. Second, the Spirit anointed Jesus with power for ministry. We need these two things to minister. We need to know that we are loved. And we need to depend upon a power that is greater than ourselves.
First, and most importantly the Father declares, “this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” We believe that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. This is a mystery, we don’t know exactly how this worked. But the point is because Jesus was a man the Father wanted to remind Jesus of his identity. That he was beloved. The unique and divine Son of God.
I don’t think it is an understatement to say that much of human existence is defined by a search for love. Much of our time is spent on a quest to know whether we are worthy of love. Whether we are worthy of a connection that values us for who we are and not what we can do for someone else.
Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6) that we are not to fear human beings or do things for the approval of human beings, but we are to fear God and do things for the approval of God. If we pray out loud to impress people than we are to go into our prayer closet to pray in secret (Matthew 6:5). But if it is out of the abundance of our heart that our mouth speaks than we should not be afraid to let our prayers and our good works shine before men (Mathew 5:16). The difference is intention. If we know we are seen by God, and loved by our Father, we can operate in secret and in public the same way. We can be human beings and not just human doings. We can have integrity. If we do not have confidence in the Father’s love for us we will seek the approval of people. We will operate differently in public than we do in private which is the definition of hypocrisy. This is especially true when it comes to being a pastor and a shepherd of a church. I have learned that as a shepherd I must care about people but not what people think. I have to be honest. Any person that makes a living by talking in front of people has narcissistic tendencies. I get a high from preaching. It is addicting. And I always have to aware of that. I have to pray when I say what I am going to say am I saying it out of a place where I am resting in the love of God and not seeking the approval of people. As a pastor I must genuinely care about the well being of each one of you. That is why I ask you to come up to me and ask me, “what is my name?”, because the Lord knows your name, your name is part of who you are, it is important to the Lord, and thus it is important to me, though I am not the best at remembering names. The scriptures say when Jesus saw the masses seeking healing he had compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Compassion is where a shepherd’s power comes from. The moment my heart stops breaking for you. The moment my Spirit stops churning for you is the moment I know I am done being the pastor of this church. Because I have lost my compassion. And when I lose my compassion I have nothing left to give you. But when I start worrying about whether you will like what I say, whether people will come or leave because of a sermon I preach, whether you all will renew my contract, than I have valued the approval of man over the approval of God, and gained the whole world by sacrificing the integrity of my soul. If I tell you stories from my ministry it is to teach you something about the scriptures not because I am seeking praise from you. Sometimes I have not told you things for the very reason that it appeals too much to my vanity. If we go around telling people all the good things we do that is not ministry it is vanity and that is a dangerous road to walk down. But we walk down that road because in our hearts we don’t believe we are worthy of love. To say we are fine just the way we are is a lie. If we look deep within ourselves we know there is sin and brokenness. The prayer of repentance is not, “take me as I am I am not broken,” it is “have mercy on me oh God a sinner.” And the beauty of redemption in Christ is he claims us in our brokenness. Even though we are slaves to fear, even though we do the very things we hate, his grace adopts us. To quote Paul in Romans, “the Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” We are all God’s children but not all of us have claimed our inheritance. We claim our inheritance by confessing Jesus as Lord and crying out Abba, Father. Have you confessed Jesus as your Lord? Do you believe God is your Father? Do you believe that God can provide for you what your biological mother and father could not provide you with for the simple fact that they are broken people and they were destined to fail you somehow?
A shepherd, a pastor, needs to care about you but not about what you think. And in that regard I think your last pastor Clayton Rascoe was an excellent shepherd. I have not met Clayton in person but I have talked with him by phone several times to ask for advice. I talked with him by phone before I accepted this position. And what struck me about Clayton is his deep love for you but his lack of concern about whether you approved of him or not. Whether you liked him or were angry with him did not affect his love for you. He knew what he was called to do here, he exemplified the Reformed tradition’s focus on the Sovereignty of God. Sovereignty is just a fancy Word for the idea that God is in control. In the words of Jesus he provides for the sparrows so will he not provide for us whom he loves so much more? Clayton is the type of shepherd I want to be. He led you with a steady hand through a difficult times. And to be honest there are a lot of you guys and while I am your shepherd I need some other shepherds to help me. Whether we are ordained or not the best thing we can hope for in ministry is that on the last day our Lord Jesus finds that we were Good shepherds as he is the Good Shepherd. I don’t know how to do this without grace. But you have seen that grace at work in Clayton’s ministry so you already know it is possible, and I pray that grace will be at work in my ministry as well.
Next, the scriptures tell us that the Holy Spirit gave Jesus power for ministry. In Acts 10:38, Luke sums up Jesus ministry, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” In fact, Christ, as you probably know, is not Jesus’ last name. Christ is Greek for the Hebrew word Messiah. Both words mean, “anointed.” Often the term is used in the Old Testament when people are anointed with oil. Anointing with oil was a sign of divine favor. But in this passage what is Jesus anointed with is the Holy Spirit. And it was the Holy Spirit that gave Jesus the power to do miracles. This explains a mystery that perhaps you have wondered about. How can Jesus be both God and human when he did things that no human could do? Because part of being human is being limited. Part of being human is I can’t just wave my hands and make a blind person see. I can’t do whatever I wanted. If Jesus acted like God, if Jesus used his divine power for his own purposes, he could not be human because he would be nothing like us. But if Jesus was only human he couldn’t have done many of the amazing things he did. The answer is the Father anointed his Son with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to do his ministry and allowed him to do so while still remaining human. This is not to say that if we are open to the Holy Spirit we will see the same types of miracles Jesus performed though that is certainly possible. I have found that the Spirit works in different ways depending upon what God wants to do. Nor does that mean that the way the Holy Spirit works in our church means that we have to speak in tongues like a Pentecostal church does, though the scripture teaches us there are benefits to speaking in tongues. Every church has a tradition. And these traditions spring out of a particular interpretation of scripture. Even nondenominational churches have traditions they come from though they may deny it. But these are still traditions they are not divine commands. And to be open to the Holy Spirit we must acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses in our tradition.
If you are visiting today you may have noticed that we are Calvin Presbyterian Church. John Calvin was a pastor and scholar from France who challenged the corruption of the Catholic church in the sixteenth century. He spent most of his time writing about the Christian faith in Geneva Switzerland and sought to govern that city by the Word of God. He sought to reform the church by taking it back to the true meaning of scripture as revealed by the Holy Spirit. So when you hear Christians say they are Reformed they are generally referring to the ideas of John Calvin. Presbyterian is a word that means Elder. And it reflects the way we run our church, through the rule of Elders, who are elected from among our congregation, as Godly men and women, to guide and govern the Church. Every branch of Christianity has a different emphasis. And each branch of the church has strengths and weaknesses because they are all human interpretations of the Word of God. To vastly oversimplify Presbyterians have a theological focus, a governance focus, and a liturgical focus.
Our theology has an emphasis on the power and the choice of God to call us, over our own choice, we call this election. Our church is a connectional church, ruled by representatives, much like the United States Government. Thus, I as a pastor can’t just make up the rules as I go, for we have a constitution, that consists of a book of Confessions, which describes historically what we believe, and a Book of Order, which describes how we are to run the church. Thus, say if I get married, and have a son or daughter, I just can’t appoint him or her as the next pastor of this church, as some nondenominational churches do. My son our daughter may indeed be called to the ministry but we believe that calling is best determined by the wider church not by a single person, especially not by someone’s father or mother who is admittedly biased. We have checks and balances so that’s God’s power is not abused by man. Finally, we are a liturgical church. Liturgy, is a word that means the work of the people. We do not call the pastor a priest, because we believe that each believer is a priest. We don’t pray to saints, because we believe every believer is a saint. And because we believe in the communion of saints, we believe that worship is not to be handled just by professionals, but by the people. Indeed, what I love about Calvin, and what I think we have to grow, is that even the children are included in worship. The generations worship together. This is a really hard thing to do, because kids often don’t want to sit still, but it is worth the discomfort. Part of our liturgy is that we are to do things, “decently and in order,” 1 Corinthians 14:40. Thus if you go to a Presbyterian church you will often find that it is more structured than a non denominational church, which might have three worship songs and a sermon. I have found, as I have gotten older, and stopped using churches only to fit my tastes and as a Christian dating service, that I have craved liturgy. Because liturgy gives the church roots to a faith that stretches beyond our own lives. It gives us roots to something ancient and something Holy. Often, I have found that the Holy Spirit may move in contemporary worship, but contemporary worship lacks substance, it lacks depth, it lacks a connection to the ancient. The Presbyterian tradition does not lack these things. And that is what I love about the Presbyterian tradition. That is what draws me to this tradition, the belief that God is in control, the checks and balances of our government, and the deep roots of our liturgy. We must cherish these things. We must honor these things.
But every tradition has its weak spots and our tradition is no exception. We should note that the phrase “decently and in order” comes from 1 Corinthians. In that letter Paul is trying to deal with a church full of spiritual gifts. People are prophesizing, speaking in tongues, worshiping, expressing gifts of mercy, and administrations. This church is a happening place, God is moving, but things are out of control. I think it is fair to say that most Presbyterian churches do not have to be restrained because we are being too expressive in worship. Our problem is not chaos it is stagnation. Our problem is not that we don’t have order it is that we don’t have inspiration. We constantly say that things need to be done decently and in order but doing things decently and in order isn’t our problem, in fact we got doing things decently and in order down so well that it has become a problem. Because we have turned honoring tradition into the idol of never changing our traditions. That is why Presbyterians are often called the Frozen Chosen. Frozen because we are not very expressive in worship and because or government has become too bureaucratic, making it impossible to get anything done. Chosen because our tradition of values the choice of God to call us over our own choice to choose God. I would submit to you a new motto for our church. Still chosen, not so frozen. We need to be open to updating our traditions. And we need to be open to the Holy Spirit thawing us out a bit and moving in our midst.
And I think the Holy Spirit taught you this in the supply pastorate of David Baldiwn, who was your pastor for a year before Clayton came. From talking to him and from everything I have heard he did a lot to loosing things up and bring a Spirit of warmth back into this church. I have heard many of you say that David was not a Presbyterian and many of you think that was a good thing. Having talked with David I have seen his passion to restore that which is broken, to do whatever God tells him to, and to preach the good news of the Gospel to the entire world. David showed you the power of the Spirit of Holiness, a passion for Christ, a desire to see every chain broken. That is what happens when we have faith in the Holy Spirit. We see God work in ways that we simply cannot do on our own. Our ministry is magnified. We say to the mountain move and the mountain is cast into the sea.
Next, we see that Jesus was tested and found worthy to use the power he was given. In this passage we find one of the most confounding verses in all of scripture, “ then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.”
God lead his Son into the wilderness to be tempted. How does that make any sense? Are not we told in James 1:13 that God tempts no man? The key word to understanding this text are the word for, “to tempt.” The Greek word for ,”to tempt”, can mean anything from, “to tempt to improper behavior”, “to endeavor to discover the nature or character of something by testing,” depending upon who is doing the testing. Thus the meaning of the word depends upon the intent of the one doing the leading. While the Father meant to test His Son to reveal His true nature to the Devil the Devil meant to tempt Jesus away from the path the Father had set out for him. These tests were meant to cause Jesus to use His power for himself. And indeed, all who are given power in any sphere of life face this temptation, the temptation of using power to benefit ourselves and not for the purpose we were given that power. And often before we are given greater responsibility and power the Lord will lead us through a trial to reveal what is in our heart.
Scientific research has shown that the way we gain and loose power is far more in line with the teachings of Jesus than one might naturally think. As SHANKAR VEDANTAM reports in the NPR story, The Peril’s of Power, True power doesn’t come from bullying, backstabbing, and sheer force of will, it comes from compassion, generosity, and trust. To quote Dacher Keltner author of The Power Paradox: How We Gain And Lose Influence, “what science is finding is that kids at school, kids in summer camps, people in colleges, people in organizations, if they are emotionally intelligent and really focus on others and even practice generosity, they rise in social power.” Keltner gives the example of Abraham Lincoln as one who gained power by advancing the interests of others. To quote Keltner, “You know, I mean, Abraham Lincoln was such a compelling example, you know, and I love this observation about him of Thurlow Weed who was a journalist at the time and a close student of the politics of Lincoln’s era. And he’s like what is it about Lincoln that accounts for his really unpredicted rise in power? He’s a poor guy, awkward, didn’t have all the advantages that often give you power. And he said – Thurlow Weed said, you know, Lincoln sees and hears everybody who comes to him. He just engages in the interests of others. “
But research also shows the more influence and power we gain the more empathy we lose. The more power we gain the more we loose the connection that originally helped us obtain power. Ketlner tested the temptations of power by studying how people drive. Keltner describes this test to Verdatim, the host of the NPR show.
“ what we did in one of the versions of this study is we put a young Berkeley undergraduate at a pedestrian zone right next to the Berkeley campus. The pedestrian zone is this strip that cuts across a road that is – it gives the pedestrian the right of way. You get to cross the road. It’s white stripes. And then we coded, and we had these Berkeley undergrads kind of hiding in the bushes. Our one student was standing at the pedestrian zone.
The other student, who was coding, was noting the make of the car and whether, very simply, did they stop for the pedestrian, which is law, or did they blaze through the pedestrian zone? And 0 percent of our drivers of poor cars – the Yugos and Plymouth Satellites of the world – drove through the pedestrian zone; 46.2 percent of our drivers of wealthy cars – you know, the Mercedes and the like – drive through the pedestrian zone.” After his results were published Prius drivers emailed Keltner observing that was Mercedes drivers and obviously Prius drivers would obey the law. Turned out Prius drivers were actually the worst offenders.
Whatever car we drive, whatever church we attend, whatever party we vote for, we can be reminded of the words of Jesus to his disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” If we want to grow not just a church but a ministry first we need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. We do this through prayer, and fellowship, through gathering together to rejoice and hear God’s Word. Then we must be tested. Before the Lord will bless us with his power He will test our hearts to see if we desire to serve or if we are out for our own gain.
Finally, after he was tested the scriptures tell us that Jesus, “ went and lived in Capernaum.” Jesus put down roots. He spent most of his time in Capernaum. If we want to start a ministry we have to put down roots in our community. We have to open your hearts and our homes. In Acts, Luke reports this about the early disciples, “ and day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” (Acts 2:46). I have seen the power of living where you minister in my own life. For many years in Richmond I was involved with a Christian Ministry called Church Hill Activities and Tutoring or CHAT for short. It is an urban ministry that reaches out to predominately African American kids in the East End of Richmond. It was founded by a white man name Percy Strickland, who is from a small southern town called Spivey’s corner North Carolina. Fifteen years ago Percy and his wife Angie, a medical student studying to be an E.R doctor, moved into inner city Richmond with the only intention of being good neighbors. Because kids in the neighborhood had nothing to do after school they opened up their home. They began to treat other people’s children like their children. They had no intention of starting a nonprofit. But as children started to gather in their home they began to tutoring them on reading and math. They began to recruit others to help. Fifteen years later CHAT is a million dollar non-profit.
I met Percy in seminary, because he was studying to get his PHD in Old Testament. His passion was to teach the Old Testament. But the Lord had different plans for him. And as His ministry grew Percy had to put those plans to get a PHD on hold. Recently, Percy retired from CHAT. After 15 years of ministry he saw it was time to pass the baton. He didn’t want CHAT to become victim of founder’s syndrome. This is an idea in the nonprofit world, where an organization does not survive past the life of the founder, because the founder is not willing to give up power, they are not willing to give up control, and the ministry dies because it is nothing more than an extension of the founder’s ego. You see part of starting a ministry is knowing when our time to lead has ended, it is knowing that we are only stewards of God’s gifts, and at the end of day we can let go, because we are slaves not to the world, but to Christ. We do not demand praise because at the end of the day we have done only what we ought to have done ( Luke 17:10). Recently, I watched Percy’s goodbye video online, and I broke down in tears. I could not even get through the entire thing. Because he talked about all the kids he had to burry in the course of his ministry. He kept his composure in the video. But I know the man. I know the sacrifices he had to make. I have seen how his heart was broken. How do you start a ministry? Jesus shows us. Seek the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, be prepared to be tested and tried, and live amongst those you wish to reach. How do you know whether your ministry was a success at the end of the day? Not by the size of your budget, not by the number of people you have served or saved or by the size of your congregation, but by the fact that your heart has not become hard, you still have your compassion, your heart breaks for what breaks the heart of Christ. I submit to you if your heart doesn’t break in ministry you are not doing it right. Love, this is the heart of ministry. In the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, “ if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if all I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I have nothing.” I have told you how to start a ministry but let us not forget why we do ministry, we do ministry because we love one another and we love because he first loved us and gave His son for us. My friends as we begin our ministry together let us love one another, not because we are perfect but because he first loved us. And when our ministry together ends let love be the one thing that remains.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.