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PlumbLines-1

Back in 2007, I sat in a conference filled with ministry leaders, listening to a prominent pastor share some sobering statistics:

  • In the U.S., 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • 80% of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could…but they have no other way of making a living.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost 40% of pastors polled said they had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • 80% of pastors’ wives feel that their husband is overworked.
  • Over half of pastors’ wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage was the day their husband entered the ministry.

Not long ago, that same pastor—the one who had warned us about pastoral burnout and moral failure—was removed from pastoral leadership. He had abused his pastoral authority, shut out any attempts to hold him accountable, and pursued inappropriate relationships with a couple different women.

I know this man loved Jesus in 2007, and that he loves Jesus today. And I know he sincerely believed what he told us in that conference. But that didn’t prevent him from becoming one of the statistics he dreaded.

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PlumbLines-4

The church I grew up in wasn’t perfect, but I will say this for them: they wanted everyone there to know the Bible. I memorized dozens of verses as a kid. We did Bible drills. We would fill out cards every week, letting the pastor know if we had read our Bible or not. And if our church programs (of which there were many) weren’t about evangelism, chances are they were focused on knowing the Bible better.

The older I get, the more I look back and appreciate the passion that church had for the Bible.

I’m not entirely sure why, but learning and teaching the Bible has fallen out of fashion within the megachurch movement. Generally, we aren’t ignoring the Bible altogether. Many large churches, however, don’t put nearly the same resources, time, and energy into training people in the Word as they do a dozen other aspects of their ministry. It’s a temptation the Summit is prone to as well.

But if we don’t focus on teaching our people the Bible, what are we doing? How can we possibly say we’re preparing our people for the trials of life? When Satan attacked Jesus, Jesus quoted Scripture. What will your kids comes up with when Satan attacks them? He will. In fact, he already is. You see, Jesus didn’t try to outwit Satan, though he probably could have. He didn’t try to exert his divine might to drive Satan away, though he could have. Instead, he did what you and I can do: he quoted the Bible.

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PlumbLines-4

I once heard a Christian leader say, “Better to spend one hour on your knees pursuing the Holy Spirit than ten hours studying the Bible.” Tweetable, maybe, but very wrong. We must never separate what God has inseparably joined. Better to spend one hour on your knees pursuing the Holy Spirit through the Bible. Scripture invites you into a relationship that involves both Word and Spirit. Each is indispensable.

Every word of Scripture is a revealed Word of God, but God desires more than for us to learn the doctrines and obey the precepts. He desires relationship. Jesus did not just give us a book of things to believe and a list of tasks to execute. He called us to follow. To walk with him, interact with him, and live in his power. And anything short of this is not true Christian discipleship.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, British pastor of a previous generation, said,

Those who have received the Holy Spirit are aware of a power dealing with them and working in them. A disturbance, something, someone interfering in our lives. We are going along, and suddenly we are arrested and pulled up, and we find ourselves different. That is the beginning; that is what always happens when the Holy Ghost begins to work in a human being. There is a disturbance, an interruption to the normal ordinary tenor of life. There is something different, an awareness of being dealt with—I cannot put it better; that is the essence of the Holy Spirit dealing with us.[1]
(Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John, 386)

Lloyd-Jones wasn’t what you would call a charismatic. He went deep went it came to the Bible. But he recognized that there is a profound and inseparable unity between biblical depth and Spirit-filled living. By going deep into the gospel you become alive in the Spirit. As he often said, “I spend half my time telling Christians to study doctrine, and the other half telling them doctrine is not enough!”

Those of us who aren’t in “charismatic” circles need to reckon with the reality of the Holy Spirit. Our churches need to pursue a real experience with the Spirit. I’m not sure we can overstate the importance of this, because the Holy Spirit multiplies the power of God available to the church.

In John 14:12, Jesus would even say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” Greater works than Jesus? Have any of us ever preached with greater clarity, healed the sick with greater power, or prayed with greater compassion … than Jesus?

Our works are greater in two ways. The first is that while Jesus’ earthly miracles illustrated his power to save from sin, the greatest miracle of all is conversion from death to life. Jesus fed 5,000 to show he was the all-satisfying bread of life. He walked on water to show that he was sovereign over all dimensions of the believer’s life. Nik Ripken tells of Russian believers who are currently seeing miraculous signs that would rival anything in the book of Acts. But these believers only use the word “miracle” to refer to conversion, because amazing acts of deliverance pale in comparison to what God does when he draws someone to himself. When we preach the gospel and sinners believe, we are doing the greater work: Jesus’ miracles were only signs, and we get to participate in what those signs pointed to!

The second way that our works are “greater” than Jesus’ is that they are greater in their range. When Jesus was on earth, the Holy Spirit focused his ministry in and through Jesus. But now he is on every believer, and the collective impact, Jesus says, of ordinary Christians filled with the Spirit would be greater than if even he himself stayed to lead the church.

In Acts 1:1, Luke says that in his former book—the Gospel of Luke—he “wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day he was taken up” (Acts 1:1). The implication is that Acts records what Jesus continues to do, through his church. It’s not that in the Gospels Jesus worked, and now we, in his absence, work for him; during his incarnation Jesus worked through his earthly body and now he works through the entirety of his earthly body, the church.

If we want to see God’s power in our cities, we need to teach our people to listen for the Holy Spirit, to closely follow his guidance, the way the Apostles did—not simply to think up a bunch of good ideas for ministry, but to tune their hearts to hear a few God-ideas.

Now, whenever I start to talk this way, someone inevitably says, “Well, you know, we can’t use Acts as a pattern for our time. Things are so much different now.” And I understand that Acts represents a unique period of apostolic history. But you can’t convince me that the only book God gave us with examples of how the church operates is filled with experiences that have literally nothing in common with our own. The Holy Spirit appears 59 times in the book of Acts. In 36 of those appearances he is speaking. Has he ceased moving and guiding today? As John Newton said, “Is it really true that that which the early church so depended on—the leadership of the Spirit—is irrelevant to us today?” (“Letter IV: Communion with God,” in Letters of John Newton, 29)

Here’s a question I think every pastor would be wise to consider: do our people see ministry as something they are doing for God, or something God does through them as they yield themselves to him? Do they know what it means to follow him, to move in his power? And do they know how to distinguish his leadership from superstition, whim, or heartburn?

The presence of the Holy Spirit was the key to the early church’s explosive growth. He is the key to awakening in our generation, too. As the Apostle Paul says, it’s not Christ beside us nor Christ before us, but Christ in us, that is our hope of glory.

 

Plumb lines are a series of short, pithy statements that we, at the Summit, use as rallying points—both for our staff and for the entire church. They are a way to encapsulate our ministry philosophy in short, memorable phrases. Be sure to check out our entire list of plumb lines.