Today is Independence Day, one of the most celebrated American holidays. This day marks our freedom as a nation secured 241 years ago. Perhaps you will celebrate this freedom today at a parade, park, backyard barbeque, beach, ball game, or somewhere else of your choosing with family and friends. However you choose to celebrate, you do so as an expression of the freedom you have received, even if it is simply living a normal day—freely.
Your freedom, of course, was not free and is not free. Thousands of soldiers gave their lives in the American Revolution, and thousands more have paid the ultimate price to maintain our freedom. As many have said, the ongoing price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Ronald Reagan warned, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We did not pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. … We must fight for it, protect it, defend it, and then hand it to them. … They must do the same.” We, therefore, cannot say “thank you” enough to the men and women of our U.S. armed forces who have fought for our freedom and continue to fight for it today.
The freedom we have and hold in America is an amazing thing. It is truly priceless. Yet, those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior know an even greater freedom. We not only know a human freedom that comes with being an American; we also know an eternal freedom we received when Jesus bought us with His blood, adopted us into the family of God, and set us free from the bonds of sin and death forever. This is ultimate freedom!
Of course, Jesus alone secured this freedom, but who introduced it to you? Who was vigilant? Who was intentional to pass it on? Who fought for you by telling you about it?
The churches that dot the landscape of America today are numerous but not perfect. In fact, there is no perfect church. Broadly speaking, the churches in our land are struggling. Our struggles are many, but one issue stands out as most acute. Coincidentally, the day on which we celebrate our birth as a nation can point us to the solution, revealed most clearly in the days when the church was born.
The birth of the church is recorded in the book of Acts. On the day of Pentecost, God fulfilled the promise that Jesus’ disciples would receive the Holy Spirit and be empowered to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. Jesus defeated sin and death by freeing forever all who would trust Him for forgiveness of sin. Our forefathers won our freedom as a nation as they gave their lives on the field of battle. Now, our armed forces continue to fight for the freedom that our enemies seek to steal. Yet, Jesus alone won our spiritual freedom by giving Himself on a rugged cross, and this spiritual freedom remains ours forever!
Think of it this way: Our American freedom is something we must be vigilant to secure. Ultimately, the battle for freedom is never over. In stark contrast, our spiritual freedom is eternally secure. What remains is the responsibility to share it—to proclaim the message of freedom so that others may be free. This is exactly what the newborn church did in the book of Acts.
Just think about it … Jesus gave His followers one primary responsibility: to witness (Acts 1:8). Jesus commissioned His followers to speak of what they had seen, heard, and come to know, and, in doing so, to produce additional followers of Jesus Christ. They had the task, now they just needed the power. It came profoundly in Acts 2. From there, the disciples literally opened their mouths and spoke the Gospel everywhere they went. Their empowered proclamation caused the Word to spread, and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). Why? Because they simply spoke the Gospel.
The disciples could not help but speak of what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20). When they faced opposition, they prayed for boldness to continue speaking the Gospel (Acts 4:29). When asked to be silent, they said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). When there was an internal complaint, they addressed it while continuing to prioritize speaking God’s Word and prayer (Acts 6:2-4). Those who had to scatter due to persecution spoke the Word as they went (Acts 8:4). When the Holy Spirit fell, He fell on those who heard the Word because the disciples were speaking the Word (Acts 10:44). The Word was spoken, and as a result, it spread throughout the whole region (Acts 13:49).
The church was not perfect, but it did have peace. It was being built up, and the church walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit because the church overwhelmingly gave themselves to their primary responsibility of witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:31).
I believe one of the main problems with local churches in America is that we are silent. We pray for revival, but we do not speak the Gospel. We gather to hear one man preach the Word, but we do not scatter to speak the Gospel everywhere we go. We read our Bibles, we worship corporately, we seek to live godly lives, we train our children at home, we prayer walk, and we take the occasional mission trip, but rarely do we personally speak the Gospel to a lost person. We enjoy our national freedom while our silence ensures the bondage of the spiritually enslaved.
On a day when we celebrate our American freedom, this is a call to speak for the sake of spiritual freedom. This is a call to speak up and end our silence, a silence that leads to death for the lost and internal decay for the church. Brothers and sisters, let us speak up! Invite a lost person to your backyard barbeque and speak the Gospel. Take your neighbors to the lake and share the hope you have with them. Ask the person seated next to you at the ball game or parade if he knows of the freedom Christ offers. Seek out a lost person and speak the Gospel to him. You have freedom of speech, but do you voice the speech of freedom?
Remember, if the church’s job was simply to exist, then Jesus would have already returned. The church, however, is still here so it can grow. Yet, we will not grow if we do not speak the Gospel. So let us die to our silence and speak so the dead might live. By doing so, we will celebrate both freedoms we have today.
Ronald Reagan. Speech given on March 30, 1961, to the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Audio available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gf9Y7UgGi0.
Perhaps “launch” is not the best term, because they may stay in ministry for many years. But they never seem to do well. They never seem to have a peace. They seem like they are always trying to prove something.
I recently went through my old seminary pictorial directory. I was able to locate 47 people I knew in seminary who I know where they are today. Of that 47, only eight remained in ministry. If you are doing the math, that is an 83 percent dropout rate.
Vocational ministry is a calling. It is not just another vocation. If you enter ministry for the wrong reasons, you will not likely do well. Indeed, you will not likely make it.
What are some of the terrible reasons to enter vocational ministry? Here are five of the most common failures:
Escape from a secular job
I know a man who has a huge desire to work fulltime in ministry for a church. But the only reason he ever articulates is his hatred of his middle management secular job. He sees ministry vocation only as an escape from the problems of corporate work. I hope his heart changes before he makes the leap.
Fulfilling family expectations
About one-third of my peers who dropped out of ministry came from families in vocational ministry. Don’t hear me wrongly. It is admirable to see multiple generations in ministry for the right reasons. But too many in ministry feel compelled to enter that world because of family pressure. One peer of mine told me, “Dad called me into ministry, not God.”
When your spouse is not supportive
Vocational ministry is demanding and can be exhausting. If ministers do not have the support of their spouses, their lives will be miserable from the point of entering vocational ministry. For those of you who have supportive spouses in ministry like me, count your blessings.
Not theologically prepared
I recently heard a man preach a sermon that had, sadly, several biblical and theological errors. Those errors did not go unnoticed by many members in the congregation. The role of teaching and preaching in ministry is not to be held lightly. Do not enter ministry theologically unprepared.
Skewed views of the demands of ministry
I was in a conversation with a 30-something pastor who came into ministry from the secular world. His conversation went something like this: “I had this idea that I would have all this free time and short work weeks. Ministry seemed like a piece of cake compared to the world I was coming from. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is unbelievably demanding. I am on call 24-hours a day whether I admit it or not.”
For those who enter vocational ministry for the right reasons, the work can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. For those who don’t, the frustration will seem unbearable, and the failure rate is high.
This article was originally published on Rainer’s blog.
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