I heard Francis Chan speak tonight.
Let me back up a little bit. I’m at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Louisville, KY this weekend. We arrived this afternoon after a long, but enjoyable ride in a not-too-shabby rented Ford Explorer. Upon our arrival, we checked into our hotel, checked in at conference registration, grabbed some dinner and hunkered down for a great night of worship in God’s presence and hearing God’s voice through a guy named Francis Chan.
God blew me away through Francis and at one point I quite literally thought to myself, “Okay, I quit.” Now, let me clarify what I mean by that. First of all, Francis Chan lives a life of such faith that I’m not sure his feet touch the ground anymore. He’d say (and I know its true) that he’s simply taking God’s Word literally; reading it, believing it, and living it literally. What it says to do, he does. He actually does. He doesn’t preach dynamic sermons telling anybody to do anything. He simply relies fully on the power of the Holy Spirit. Imagine that.
Francis started off talking about his own youth pastor that invested in him as a teen. It was his youth pastor that showed him how to simply believe God fully and fully do what God says to do, leaving the results up to….you guessed it: God. A poignant statement Francis made early in the message was this: “I learned everything I needed to know for ministry from my youth pastor.” That pricked a question in my heart as a youth pastor: What are the students I love and lead learning from me? Because if its not what I hope it is, I quit. More on that in a few minutes.
I was also reminded that my sole responsibility as a follower of Jesus is to show other people the life of a follower of Jesus. That’s it. That’s all. There isn’t any more. I’m not saving anybody, I’m not convincing anybody, I’m not filling any quotas, I’m not striving for ANYTHING but a love relationship with Jesus. And in doing that I will show young people how to stand on their own two spiritual feet. As I share passionately what I know as I grow in faith, those students I love will be impacted. And if they’re not, well, its not up to me to be flashier, to be hipper, to be more relevant, to be more anything. The question came and created a bit of an indictment for me personally when Francis asked, “What if you were a Spirit-filled person focused on discipling?” Do you know me? Then you know (hopefully) that I’m pretty passionate about discipleship. But can I confess something to you? Here’s what has happened: Its become more because “discipleship” is in my job title than because I closely follow Jesus. And because of that, I’ve come to trust in my skills as a “Student Discipleship Pastor” than in my passion for Jesus Christ, my all in all.
But what does anything I do matter if God isn’t in it; guiding, empowering, loving, showing, building, and working? Nothing, that’s what.
When I was a kid, there were some specific pieces of decor that I recall from our house. For some reason, these items just stand out in my mind. One of them was a wooden sconce type of wall hanging in our den that held these dark purple, rubber grapes. There was a set of purple grapes and another set of green grapes. I’m not sure what the point of these grapes were. Clearly my Mom wasn’t fooling anyone. No one walked into our den and said, “Oh, I didn’t know you had a vineyard. Do you squeeze your own juice? Do you make your own wine?” No one said that. Because when you looked closely, you’d see that the grapes were made of rubber.
Now, I’m not trying to be hard on myself as a minister of the Gospel, but I think it warrants asking: Are my grapes rubber? Don’t laugh. I mean is the fruit of the ministry I’m leading really authentic, really juicy, really real fruit? I know that in some ways “only time will tell”, but if its not, I certainly don’t want it to be because I am more in love with ministry than I am with Jesus.
And there it is. I admit to you that I’m sometimes guilty of being more in love with ministry than I am with Jesus. But nobody needs an encounter with me. People need an encounter with God. With God’s Son, Jesus. With God’s Spirit speaking directly to their hearts, wooing them into love with Him. But sometimes the stuff I get preoccupied with stands between me and Jesus. Yikes.
We can lose our faith, as pastors. We can lose our focus on Jesus and put it on people. And if you think there’s nothing wrong with that, you need to either read it again because you misread it, or you need to step away, get alone with Jesus, and realign your life into a passionate love affair with Him. That’s my heart’s desire this weekend. Because in the end, I’m defined not by the ministry I perform, but by the Jesus that I love.