Don’t try to be Awesome, be Faithful

This week I’m enjoying the Shepherds’ Conference with 3000 of my closest friends at a church where I served on pastoral staff for 4 years. I am forever indebted to Grace Community Church for providing a green house for the teaching at The Master’s Seminary to come to life. I loved serving this church and these people. But let’s face it, most of us will not have massive throngs of people lined up to hear us wax eloquent on the book of Hebrews week after week. Do you ever feel like your life is not “strategic” enough for gospel work? Have you ever stopped to wonder where we got our ideas about strategy? When I look at the Bible, I do not see strategy language — at least not in the way we use the term. In fact, I think an argument can be made for quite the opposite. In the Bible, we see faithful people making what sometimes seems to be poor strategic moves. Abraham gave away the best land, Gideon sent much of his army home, Elijah took on vast numbers of false prophets, and even Jesus spent time in the countryside — sometimes retreating to private. He only ministered for 3 years! How much more disease could have been healed, people reached, and disciples made if he had just hung in there another few more years! He only lasted slightly longer than the average youth pastor.

I remember taking Kent Hughes for a class on Second Corinthians. Along with this class, vessels-ministry-success-starts-herewe read his book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome. That should be required reading for anyone really, but certainly for anyone in vocational ministry. This gem chronicles how Kent and his wife Barbara almost hung up their cleats early on in ministry because they were not “successful.” But what is success? What is the biblical “strategy?”

Here’s the thing: God is the ultimate strategist which relieves you from needing to be strategic. Just follow the plan, the one in the Bible. I hear folks, especially in ministry who take new positions because it’s “more strategic.” So is the rural pastor in Alabama, Montana, or Wyoming not using his gifts wisely and “strategically?” Who made strategic a metric for measuring ministerial worth? Amazingly, the Ultimate Strategist is using the guy faithfully preaching to 25 souls just like he’s using the mega church pastor. Interestingly, I think we see the strategy of God worked out in the OT, NT, and through church history, but it was not because of brilliant strategist. God worked through faithful souls doing what they do day after day, year after year.

Of course, a little common sense is in order. Paul went to the synagogue and taught on the Sabbath, because that’s when he would find an interested audience. That was “strategic” in some sense. Paul also saw his plans get rerouted by the Spirit many times, including stops in small towns, a redirect to a different continent, multiple stops in jail, and eventually a trip to his dream city, Rome, but while in chains. There was certainly nothing wrong with Paul’s plans, but I do not see strategy language seeping its way into his writings. He had plans and simply moved along as the Lord gave the opportunity.

The epistles are striking. Conventional wisdom does not speak this way. Peter says:

[7] The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. [8] Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. [9] Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. [10] As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: [11] whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11 ESV)

Did you catch that? The end is near, so we need to have a strategy meeting, right? No, the end is near, so “be self-controlled and sober-minded.” In short, be holy — a major theme of the book. Love one another well (above all) and be hospitable. If the Lord returns to find his children living holy lives, loving people, being hospitable, and using their gifts to serve the church, he will find us doing exactly as he instructed. We need to stop trying to be awesome and simply be faithful.

This passage is not a NT aberration. It’s everywhere. One reference from Paul will help solidify this point. Paul wrote to the Thessalonican church a letter that is largely one of commendation. He commends them for their love and exhorts them to “excel still more.” Just before he moves to a section explaining the return of Jesus, he reminds them of their current place in the world:

[11]…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, [12] so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.(1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV)

Here’s the thing, as we seek to live quietly, we will actually gain attention for the gospel since we live so differently from the world. Our obligation is not to cause a ruckus for the gospel, but seek to be truthful and good citizens in every possible way. Don’t be a freeloader or a high maintenance person. Pull your weight in the community as much as you are able. Keep your testimony clean and be ready to speak when afforded the opportunity (see also I Peter 3.15).

God will move on some people to do extraordinary things — praise the Lord for that! I pray for the nations, I am part of a group equipping pastors for ministry in the Caribbean.  Some will sell it all and go overseas, some will work a 9-5 for 40 years then retire. Neither one is more valuable, just different roles. I just read CT Studd’s story. The Lord did amazing things through this man. Interestingly, he was supported by middle to upper class business folks. There’s no CT Studd, Hudson Taylor, or Adoniram Judson without someone making, buying, and/or selling widgets. For every CT Studd, there’s a small army pecking away at a keyboard in a cubicle to fund the mission.

Run your leg of the race faithfully today recognizing that God sees all, even that which is done in secret (Matt 6:18).

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Allen Cagle

About Allen Cagle

Allen serves as the Lead Pastor at Sunrise Community Church in Atlantic Beach, FL, in the Jacksonville area. He graduated from The Master's Seminary (MDiv) in 2005 and is currently working on a DMin degree at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. Allen is married to Mindy and has three awesome kids.