There seems to be a great need in the Body of Christ in the way we train our leaders but most especially our ministers. What do I mean by this? It has been my experience that our top leaders, those who train and lead our ministers have been taught to chase the wrong things. As a result of their training they are passing on those flawed leadership priorities. We have deviated so far from the Biblical pattern of raising up our leaders that we no longer seek to duplicate the methods Jesus used and instructed His disciples to follow.
I do not wish to disparage or blame anyone for this tragedy only to look for and diligently pray that we return to the biblical examples left us by our Lord and Savior. It has been said that 1800 ministers a month in the United States are leaving the ministry. In our own denomination the average age of our pastors has increased dramatically and churches that need qualified ministers are taking longer and longer to fill. I spoke with a pastor just the other day who said he does not know any pastors who enjoy what they are doing but rather are going through the motions in obedience to their calling. This scenario is not new to me, for over ten years ago a beloved minister was sitting in on one of our elder’s meetings and when it was over and the elders left, he began to weep. He said very sadly, “Bob you are the only pastor I know that still loves what he is doing. The rest of us are just being obedient.” Obviously, he was speaking from deep wounds and did not speak for everyone. Yet there are far too many Godly men and women who fit Ezekiel’s sad vision.
Ezekiel 37:1-3 NKJV
37 The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord , and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones.
2 Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry.
3 And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
In many ways this vision of Ezekiel is a perfect picture of much of the ministry today. Broken, scattered, divided, and dry. Where is this frustration coming from? How many men and women of God must be sacrificed on a broken system before we seek to find out what is wrong? I write a great deal on the broken men in leadership but what about the precious wives who are often times the ones who suffer the most? I remember my precious wife once had the wisdom to say to me, “Honey, I will always love you and always be your wife, but I will not stay here to watch this church destroy you. I will be at my Mother’s. and when the Lord releases you from here I will be ready to go with you.” Her wisdom was great enough for me to change what I had been falsely taught and put my family first. I changed very quickly and was able to save my marriage and my sanity. I learned that the first church I must pastor is my own family. It is here that we learn the real skills that matter in Godly leadership.
How did we get where we are, and why I am I writing like this? Yet more importantly is “how do we change?” The dear Holy Spirit is taking many of us down into this valley of dry bones and requiring us to walk up and down in it until we see just how dry, how divided, broken, and lifeless it truly is. May He keep us there until we are ready to totally give up on the present system and allow Him to put His words of life into our spirit and empower us to Prophesy until our ministers are filled with life and power once again.
Ezekiel walked this valley so thoroughly that he knew no human plan, program, or strategy could bring life into this valley. Indeed, it is our confidence in programs and plans that has largely created this valley of despair. There is a place for programs, but they must never be the priority. For many decades now, we have run to conferences and seminars to learn about an effective program that we can take back to our churches to see them grow. Yet how many conferences have we attended that focused on the top priority of Christ likeness?
The error it seems is that our leadership think that Christ likeness is something we are responsible to gain on our own time, and it is their responsibility to teach us methods and programs. In reality, we must see the passion of our leaders to be like Christ, and the relationship building they are doing to pass that passion on as their chief priority.
I have and still do love my leaders. Yet in all of my interactions with them, I cannot remember a time when I was inspired to be more like the Christ life reflected in them, save one. This is a great departure from the admonition we receive in scripture.
1 Cor 4:16 KJV
16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
1 Cor 11:1 KJV
11 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
Phil 3:17 KJV
17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.
It is very difficult to write on the need for change without becoming negative. We must not allow ourselves to walk in criticism or use negative methods to bring about the change that is needed. We must always remember it is Christ who is building His Church and the gates of hell will never prevail against it, but we must also know when Christ is speaking to us about change.
I will try to state how I see that our present system works. As I have watched over the past thirty years of ministry, I have seen some amazing things happen. What do I mean by this? In my area the leading cutting edge ministry, when I first came to this region, was the ministry of a church called Resurrection Life. It seemed they could do nothing wrong, and that everywhere they started a church it grew to a thousand or more. Right now, that ministry is waning and another ministry is gaining prominence and every church it starts seems to grow in the thousands. Yet when we look more closely at these ministries we are seeing that it is almost if not all transfer growth. One of our good churches lost 600 members to the Harvest Ministries.
Here is what I see happening. These ministries have come up with a program and method that is superior to other ministries in caring for the flock. So much so, that they draw great numbers of transfer growth. Many of our own sheep have flocked to them. Yes, indeed they do have a great system of caring for the members of other churches. They are superior in their abilities to meet the needs. Yet I have not seen the kind of Christ-like change in the members they have gathered. Do not mis-understand me in what I am saying. I am very grateful for these ministries and what they are accomplishing. Still it is not the pattern that is impacting the unsaved with believers who are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Perhaps, I can better state it like this. There once was a factory that produced the most delicious food. When asked how much of that food they were able to bring to the market and sell they said, “Oh, we cannot sell any, we need all that we have to feed and care for those here in the factory.” Then another factory came along with better methods of producing a tastier product, and they grew much larger than the other one and they were asked, “How much of this excellent food are you able to make available for others to buy?” They too responded, “Oh, we do not have any leftover, we need all that we make to feed our workers.” This is what I have seen as the pattern for much of what we see here in America. Can you see what I mean? Oh I know that some of what we have is getting out saving the lost and reaching the world but, dear one, it is very little. It seems we need all of our strength and energy just to care for those we have. We must not disparage what we presently have, but we must recognize the truth of what we are calling church growth is not really the church growth the Lord is after.
Yes, and I can say that at one time the ministry that I led developed a better system, and many flocked to what we had. I, too, counted that as a kind of success and found identity in the “church growth” that was happening under my ministry. Yet I am here to say there is a better way. Earlier this year I heard the Lord say I am going to take Oak Crest back down to its very foundations, so that what is built again is built upon me. My character changing presence will be the priority, and programs and methods will be in their proper time and order. Indeed, I was called into the Holy of Holies to experience what the Lord wants to do.
Robert D. Roberts