“I can’t offer the Lord my God a sacrifice that I got for nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24).
This seems to be one of those “lost” verses of the Bible. No one really wants to sacrifice. Anybody who has been around church for any length of time knows that the church is all for change – that is, everyone else should change to conform to the way we are already doing things. People are not looking to change themselves – to offer God a sacrifice that is costly. In fact, we want pastors and church leaders who will offer change with a minimal sacrifice on our part. We want assurances and certainties that there will be changes made that will not disturb us, but will affect others. After all, it’s the world that’s going to hell, not us. They are the ones who need to change, not us, right!?
Um, wrong. Jesus did not die on the cross so that we could avoid the cost of discipleship. The Holy Spirit was not given to us in order to fulfill all our ideas of how church and life should operate. No, we are called to a radical life of following Jesus in a sacrificial life. Taking up our crosses and following Jesus daily does not mean that we are suffering through media bias, or have to put up with mediocre preaching and/or pastoral care. It means that there are demands on our lives as Christians to live sacrificially, giving our very lives for the sake of Jesus.
Let’s face it. Living the Christian life and committing ourselves to a life of following Christ is dangerous business. Following God got Daniel in the lions’ den; Isaac on the altar; and, Paul at the end of a whole lot of stones being thrown. But we have no record of Daniel, Abraham, or Paul whining about how hard it all was; or, how much they would have to give up to actually change and live for God. In fact, we get just the opposite: “Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless. Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything and count it all as garbage” (Philippians 3:7-8).
Let’s be honest with ourselves: We don’t put ourselves out there and live for God with complete abandon because we are afraid, risk-averse, and just do not consider it worth committing to some church thing that may or may not pan-out for me. What we need to hear, and what we want to hear, are often two very different things. When parishioners simply look to pastors and leaders for easy answers and simple solutions to the complex challenges of our world, the church ends up with dysfunction. If our concept of leadership is expecting a pastor, elder, or ministry leader to solve problems with no ramifications for ourselves, then it ought to be no surprise when churches do nothing but routine management instead of boldly reaching others with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I’m not delusional. I get it that congregations rarely hire pastors to disturb their lives. Members expect that pastors will use their authority to provide them with right answers, and not to confront them with the need for growth, change, and completely wrapping their entire lives around the person and work of Jesus. But the work of ministry demands disturbing people – just doing so at a rate they can absorb. Even then, after all has been done with discernment and love, it could still all implode like a house of cards. After all, Jesus was perfect and he ended up being killed by people who could not absorb the life he was calling them to live.
So, you and I have a decision to make. Will we be the kind of leaders that shrink from the rigors of ministry, fearing what people will think of us? Or, will we be leaders who embrace the good news of Jesus and seek to orient all of church ministry around Father, Son, and Spirit? Put yourself out there. For we all really play to an audience of One.