I want to speak specifically to the issue of love as it relates to “ministry”. That word “ministry” is a loaded word now, and we really need to question someone when they use that word so we can find out what they really mean. I think most people will agree that what passes for “ministry” these days is something very far removed from the ministry practiced in the New Testament. And I am not referring to some kind of method or technique that they practiced. The “missing ingredient” is not something so superficial as meeting in homes versus meeting in buildings. How far we have fallen to think that the secret of New Testament life is found in some way of conducting a meeting.
Leadership exists in the Bible, and leadership exists in the Church. There is no getting around that. Jesus showed us, both in word and in deed, that His idea of leadership is based on service to God and to others. The question we need to ask is what constitutes godly, Spirit-led, Christ-centered, servant leadership? What makes someone a spiritual father? What really qualifies someone as an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher?
You might say the calling of God is what qualifies someone. Perhaps, but many are called and few are chosen. Many are called but they fail to respond to the call. You need more than a calling.
You might say the gift of God is what qualifies someone. Let me tell you something, brothers and sisters. Gifts no longer register much with me anymore. Gifted brothers and sisters are really a dime a dozen. I am just speaking frankly. Often I will meet people and come away thinking how gifted they are, but they leave me hollow inside. They have a lot of potential but I would not trust them to watch my dog much less watch over people’s souls. Many of them claim to be in some kind of pastoral or prophetic or apostolic ministry. But that in and of itself does not qualify a person. I have seen gifted brothers and sisters with absolutely no wisdom, no maturity, and no spiritual discernment make a real mess of people’s lives.
You might say revelation from God is what qualifies someone. I absolutely believe that revelation is a necessity for teaching others because you cannot point the way to a place you have never been. But revelation by itself does not qualify a person.
There came a time in my life when I realized I was called, and I was gifted, and God had given me great revelation, but I still lacked something. Now when I was younger I believed that having a calling from God and being gifted by God was all you needed. Then I began to learn some things by revelation and thought that was God’s seal of approval upon me.
Even so, I could not get away from the fact that there were then, and there are now, lots of people in the world besides me who are called by God, have spiritual gifts, and enjoy an abundance of revelation. But God cannot trust them in any kind of a servant leadership capacity. They may have a title or a ministry but they are unqualified because they do not have the missing ingredient. I noticed they lacked something, and worse, I lacked the same thing. Eventually I discovered what everyone, including myself, is lacking.
What is the missing ingredient? The missing ingredient is LOVE.
Let me share something to illustrate what I mean. A pastor told me something that happened many years ago between him and his associate pastor. They worked together in the church but fortunately they were also good friends. He said his associate came to him one day with tears in his eyes and told him, “You’re the best preacher and teacher of the Word I have ever heard in my life. But you just don’t love people.” When the pastor shared this story with me he had tears in his eyes, too. It was a powerful reminder to him, and an important lesson to us. We can be called and gifted and full of revelation and still fall short because we are not walking in love with people.
Now we could go to many examples of love demonstrated and love commanded in the New Testament. You know them as well as I do. But when I turn to this little obscure passage in II Corinthians 12 I find something mostly overlooked. Paul writes, “I will VERY GLADLY spend and be spent for you; though the more ABUNDANTLY I love you, the less I am loved.” Now that is what qualifies a person. That is the missing ingredient.
Paul wrote this to the Corinthians. You know Paul had more trouble with the Corinthian church than all the others combined. Most people would have quit, but not Paul. Paul has the heart of a father. That is a real apostle. That is a real pastor. We know he was called, we know he was gifted, and we certainly know he had a depth of revelation. We could understand if he felt like he was wasting his time with Corinth and wanted to turn his attention elsewhere.
You see, that kind of thinking has the flesh all over it. I read something many years ago that I accepted at first as wisdom, but have since changed my mind. A man wrote, “Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated.” At the time I was feeling very unappreciated so I thought this was sound advice. But God has been gracious to me, and He has helped me to see that this attitude is the whole problem with “ministry” today. We love people who love us, and we serve people who serve us, and we thank people who thank us, and if you scratch my back then I’ll scratch your back. What kind of Christianity is this? What if Paul only went where he was celebrated and avoided places where he was just tolerated? What a foolish statement, but this is the prevailing attitude among “ministers” today.
Paul gave us an example to follow. Don’t just look at his calling and his gifting and his revelation. Look at his heart of love. He gave all – not just for the Lord, but for the Lord’s people. And they were a most carnal, unappreciative bunch of people. Even so, the heart of a father is demonstrated. That is the reason he had authority. I tell you his authority was not in his title, his position, or his status as having taught the believers there. His authority was not in his calling, gift, or revelation. His authority was in the abundant love he showed.
Make no mistake: I am not there yet. I still struggle with how to be a good brother, much less a spiritual father with abundant love for everyone. I obviously have a long way to go, but now I see the missing ingredient and I am following after love. How about you?
You know, the days of a person just “showing up” to exercise their gift and do their little ministry event are just about over. I have been guilty of that, I think we all have either done it or seen others do it. Is that what Jesus has called us to do? Is that being an example? Hold some meetings, have some talks, shake hands and go home? It doesn’t mean a thing if we are not loving one another. It is all tinkling brass and clanging cymbals.
Paul saw himself as a father caring for the needs of his children. He entered right into the heart of God, because that is exactly the way God sees it. That is why Paul was able to love them more even as they loved him less. There is a vacuum of that kind of leadership in the Body of Christ today. We have people who cannot even be good brothers and sisters and yet they aspire to be spiritual fathers and leaders, apostles and prophets and pastors and teachers. Instead of serving people WITH their gift they expect people to serve them BECAUSE of their gift. It is seen in things so seemingly insignificant as the pastor’s reserved parking space right by the front door.
In recent months I have prayed, “God, take away my calling, take away my gifts, take away my revelation, but give me a heart of love.” Really friends, we have plenty of gifted brothers and sisters. But where are the Pauls and the Peters and the Johns of our generation? Where are the spiritual fathers, the leaders, the elders, the ones giving a godly example to those who follow after? An example is most definitely being given, but all too often it is an example of what NOT to do.
Where are the ones who will very gladly spend and be spent in the service of God and of others – who will love abundantly even when they are not loved in return? One father is worth more than ten thousand teachers.
All you who are called and gifted, hear me. Love is the missing ingredient. Follow after love and the calling, the gifting, and the revelation will find its deepest and fullest expression.