“The Glory of God Changes Everything…” is a brilliant statement of truth. When I read it for the first time, I was elated. Why? Because, when you are constantly inundated with the impulse to do everything you do for the glory of man, this little reminder becomes gigantic. One area specifically that is transformed by this truth is the local church. It goes from a mindset that hungers after numbers, people, and “impact” to a church that simply, and unhypocritically, desires to pursue the glory of God.
I pastor a small church in Northwest Montana, in the city of Kalispell. We have about 25 people attending, including children. In the minds of far too many, it would seem that the best thing to do would be to shut it down and move on. However, one small problem with that kind of thinking is found in what Jesus said to Peter, “If you love Me, tend, shepherd, My lambs, sheep, sheep” respectively (John 21:15-17). That is to say, Jesus’ expectation of men of God is that when the sheep of God are located, they must be cared for.
In other words, which one of the sheep are we, as leaders, willing to sacrifice by leaving them to fend for themselves? That appears, to me, contradictory of the Lord’s own methods. In fact, He left the innumerable company of angels and living beings in heaven (see Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 5:11) in order to concentrate on shepherding twelve men, one of whom was a satanically-inspired traitor. Why? Jesus tells us in the parable of Luke 15:3-7 that a good shepherd leaves the other sheep in order to search for a single lost sheep. He perfectly patterned that depth of love for His own (John 13:1).
I wonder what it would have been like if Jesus had said, “I only have twelve men following Me now. Maybe it is time to close the ministry down since the numbers make it obvious that God is not blessing it.” He didn’t. In fact, just the opposite. His ministry to these men was not simply an act of love for them, His ministry to these men was an act of love for His Father who gave these men to Him and THAT made Him stay (see John 14:31; 17:2, 9, 24).
You see, leader, unless you love God, you will be tempted to move on to a bigger, more “influential,” ministry when the numbers are low. However, that would be a compromise of love. The only permission there is in the New Testament for leaving a ministry is when it becomes obvious that the people have stopped listening and refuse you as their shepherd. Jesus instructed the apostles in this way, and it is fitting for us as well, “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14). Until then, you stay.
Here are the convictions that must be in place in order to see your ministry as a display of the glory of God:
- Ministry is always service “to the Lord” first – local church ministry, for pastor and saint alike, is always an act of obedience to God first before it is ever result. In Acts 13:1-2, Luke tells us that the leaders there were “ministering to the Lord” when the Holy Spirit called Saul and Barnabas to service. That seems to be a phrase for daily church ministry.
- Ministry is always in response to the Word of God – as there is sequential exposition demanding skillful exegesis, conducted so that every word, which is tested and tried and found pure (Proverbs 12:6; 30:5), is understood and explained, then there will develop in that local church the ministry that God has designed for that body.
- Ministry is always to prepare God’s people for His return – since it is true: that church leadership is supposed to care for the souls of God’s people (Hebrews 13:17); that elders are supposed to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2); that sin and transgression against the commandments of Christ lead to chastening (Hebrews 12:4-11), then the work of ministry to the people of God is for their sanctification and not their recreation. Ultimately, we do not want God’s people to cower in shame at His coming (1 John 2:28) because we left them to themselves.
Pastor, leader, children’s director, Sunday school teacher, and any other ministry leader: if you are shepherding a few of God’s people, and they are hearing the Word of God, give God glory by remaining there and loving those sheep until the end. In that way, you will change your subconscious need for numbers into a soul-driven need to glorify God.