Article - To Those Who Minister: A Call to Return
In writing this I realize that even as I point a finger outward, I have three pointing back. However that may be, I feel compelled to do so because time is short and many within our churches are unprepared for the coming of the Lord. In a way I feel very much like Jeremiah who complained God had tricked him into ministry and yet the prophetic word was so alive within him, he declared it to be a “fire shut up in his bones” that had to be released (Jer. 20:9).
As I have been studying the Word for the past several months, one thing has been consistently highlighted to me, and that is God’s incredible displeasure with the shepherds of His flock. This is a tough word because my husband and I can relate to the difficult struggles ministers face. Growing up as a pastor’s kid and transitioning to full-time ministry myself, I know firsthand the heartache that ministers experience. One would not embrace this life unless called by the Lord, so I do want to reaffirm to you that the Lord loves His shepherds and His words of correction and warning are for our benefit and that of the people He has placed in our care. As Zechariah the prophet warns, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zech. 13:7).
There is a call to the leaders of the church to return – to get their houses in order both physically and spiritually. Throughout the minor prophets, God reproves His shepherds. In Zechariah eleven, verse seventeen, God declares, "Woe to the worthless shepherd who abandons his sheep! May a sword strike his arm and his right eye. May his arm be completely withered and his right eye totally blind." The arm is a symbol of strength; the right eye symbolizing revelation. In other words, God Himself will withhold revelation and the ability to walk in the power of it when we worthlessly neglect the first things.
So, what are those first things? As ministers, it is not difficult to find articles that will tell us how to grow our church, including special events and outreach ministries. We can discover myriad numbers of ways to keep the flock occupied, but if they remain unempowered to fulfill the Great Commission of "making talmidim [disciples], immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh [Holy Spirit], and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” then we fall short as ministers in fulfilling our call to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Matt. 28:19-20a; Eph. 4:12). In a culture that is in a consistent state of compromise, God is calling us as leaders to return to the pure unadulterated truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, reminding us that our calling is based in covenant relationship alone.
Regarding God’s covenant with Levi, Malachi states that "My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave him these things. It was also one of fear, and he feared Me; he was in awe of My name. The true Torah was in his mouth, and no dishonesty was found on his lips; he walked with me in peace and uprightness and turned many away from sin. A cohen’s lips should safeguard knowledge, and people should seek Torah from his mouth because he is the messenger of ADONAI-Tzva’ot. But you turned away from the path, you caused many to fail in the Torah, you corrupted the covenant of Levi, says ADONAI-Tzva’ot. Therefore, I have in turn made you contemptible and vile before all the people, because you did not keep My ways but were partial in applying the Torah” (Mal. 2:5-9).
This truth should cause all ministers to tremble, for though written long before Jesus, the principles apply to us, as well. We are to:
1) Be conduits of life and peace
2) Walk in fear of the Lord
3) Awe the Name of the Lord
4) Speak the true Gospel
5) Be honest (that includes a vulnerability many are unwilling to show)
6) Walk in peace and righteousness
7) Turn people from sin
8) Safeguard knowledge
9) We should be the ones people seek out for wisdom
10) Be the messenger of the Lord
God hits the nail on the head when He tells us that we’ve corrupted our covenant with Him by not only preaching a partial Gospel but partially applying His Word to our lives. Are we safeguarding the truth of God, standing firm in Him, or exchanging His truth for a lie more palatable to the masses? When was the last time you preached on the holiness of God and our responsibility to pursue it as the Apostle Peter told us to, “Be holy for I [God] am holy” (I Pt. 1:16)? When did we choose to compromise the Word for the sake of numbers or tolerate sin in our churches instead of issuing correction to fill our offering plate? Let's be honest: that does not reflect a healthy fear of the Lord, and it is our poor example that has God's sheep wandering about lost in a pasture full of foreign gods that encourage them to indulge their flesh while promising admittance at heaven’s gate.
God describes the status of His sheep under the influence of these false gods in Zechariah ten, verse two. He explains, "For the household gods talk nonsense, the diviners have seen a lie; their dreams convey delusions, and the comfort they offer is in vain. Therefore, they go their way like sheep in distress from lack of a shepherd.” In the midst of this, God lays the blame solely on the shoulders of the shepherds saying in verse three, “My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will vent it on the leaders of the flock.” His sheep are chasing one prophetic word after another in search of truth, exposing themselves to doctrines of demons because we, yes, we, have been negligent in our care for them. The danger of continuing on the path we have trod thus far is that God will hold us accountable and will bring judgment first and foremost upon us.
The good news is that all is not lost. God’s desire for His shepherds is that we return to right relationship with Him, rededicate ourselves to His purposes while dying to our own, and renew our resolve to see His sheep led to green pastures and still waters. Why this call to return? Because God wants His temple rebuilt. He has promised that in the last days He will once again pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, and they will need leaders who know how to lead according to the Word of God.
In Haggai, the prophet encourages the leaders to begin again. I know many of us are downtrodden and discouraged feeling the work of our hands is in vain. That being said, you are called! You are anointed! You are set apart for such a time as this, and God’s Word is true! If we do ministry His way, just as He was faithful to the Israelites, so He will be to us, reiterating His promise, “From this day on, I will bless you” (Hag. 2:19).