A Sincere Heart Trumps a Spectacular Ministry

watering shadow 200c“Your responsibility is not to have a spectacular ministry, but to have a sincere heart.”

No, that quote isn’t from The Grasshopper Myth. It’s not even from another Small Church writer or pastor.

It’s the key quote from a great talk given by Jud Wilhite to over 3,500 ministers at the Catalyst conference in Irvine California, earlier this month. It may not have been the message most of the assembled ministers were expecting to hear, but Wilhite’s talk, and that quote especially, may have summed up the mood and message of the two-day conference as much as anything else that was said.

From my perspective, it’s a hopeful sign that we may be returning to an atmosphere of health and humility that many feel has often been missing from conferences like this.

 

Sincere is Better than Spectacular

Since mentioning my time at Catalyst in a recent post, several people have asked me if the conference was really as much about church health and universal spiritual principles as I claimed it was, rather than church growth and spectacle.

My answer? Yes it was. And Wilhite’s talk was Exhibit A.

Wilhite is a pastor in Las Vegas and is a regular speaker and former host at these conferences. He took his talk from the following bible passage.

It is because we know this solemn fear of the Lord that we work so hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. Are we trying to pat ourselves on the back again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart before God. – 2 Corinthians 5:11-12 NLT (emphasis mine – and Wilhite’s)

Bragging about having a spectacular ministry happened in the New Testament? So it isn’t new? It didn’t start with those big, bad megachurches in America? It happened before TV preachers? How is this possible?

Yes, it’s as old as the first century church. Apparently things weren’t as pristine in the church of Paul’s day as the “let’s do it how they did it in the first century church” crowd would have us believe.

It’s almost as if human nature hasn’t changed at all in the last 2,000 years. Weird, right?

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Sometimes Sincerity Excludes the Spectacular

Here’s another quote:

“Sometimes, because we’re faithful to God, it will mean that we will not have a spectacular ministry.” (emphasis his)

Wow, that’s gutsy. Wilhite’s point, which he demonstrated with some touching illustrations, was similar to one I made recently, that sometimes when we choose for simple faithfulness, it closes the door on a ministry that we, or those around us would consider spectacular. Sometimes faithfulness will lead to smaller numbers, rather than larger ones.

But it’s not our responsibility to be spectacular (or large), it’s our responsibility to be faithful and let God take care of the rest.

 

Sincerity is What We’ll Remember

Or how about this one:

“When you die, no one will care how big your church was, only how faithful you were, and the people who love you.”

This immediately made we wonder, “If no one will care about the size of our church when we’re dead, why do we care so much about it while we’re alive?”

That, of course, was Wilhite’s point. Spectacularly big or self-righteously small, they’ll all mean the same thing in the end – they won’t matter at all.

 

Simple Truths

I’ll close with a couple more quotes from his talk:

“Ministry is messy because sin is messy.”

I know, it’s not unique to Small Church ministry. I just like it. It rings so true. Finding a church without sinners is like finding a hospital without sick people. What would be the point?

And finally…

“We’re responsible to bring Jesus’ love into the marketplace in a way the marketplace will get – even if the church doesn’t get it.”

What’s your “marketplace”? Is it a small town? An inner city? A bedroom suburb?

As pastors, we’re as responsible to know our marketplace as any missionary is to know the culture, language and people of the nation they’re trying to reach.

In a Small Church, we have the chance to talk with people one-on-one. And not just church people. Please… not just church people. The marketplace isn’t inside the walls of our churches. It’s out there. In the real, gritty, sin-filled world where people don’t feel the need to act holier than they really are for one hour on Sunday morning.

It’s the world we see on TV, overhear in coffee shop conversations, monitor on Facebook and miss out on if we’re not attending public school curriculum hearings. It’s the world our congregations live in for 40+ hours at work every week, and when they come home after a long day.

We need to know this marketplace. We’re disobedient to our calling if we don’t know it, engage it and become a part of its conversation.

But when we do, we can bring Jesus’ love to it. Not in spectacular, laser show enhanced, finely choreographed stage shows. But by having “a sincere heart before God” – and by being faithful to the people he’s given us to love.

 

So what do you think? Have you been striving for a spectacular ministry instead of a sincere heart?

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(Boy Watering Shadow photo from Steve Italy • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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