He (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) kept a certain distance from others out of respect for their privacy, and he saw to it that he was treated likewise. This made many people think he was proud. His very manner expressed this distance.
About 17 years ago I prayed a very dangerous prayer while lying on the floor of my church near Orlando. I repeated these words from Isaiah 6:8 (MEV): “Here am I. Send me.” Then I cringed. I knew God would mess me up good in order to use me to touch others for Christ.
I wanted God to use me, but I was painfully aware that we don’t just go out and start a ministry on our own terms. God bends and breaks those who speak for Him. He requires full surrender. I had to let go of fears, adjust attitudes and change priorities.
It has become popular today to suggest that God can use anybody. It’s true that He does not show favoritism based on race, age, gender, marital history, past failures or income status. Yet His standards have never been lowered; He only uses humble, obedient, consecrated followers.
Many Christians will never be useful in the kingdom because of mindsets or behaviors that limit the flow of the Holy Spirit or, as the apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:21 (KJV), “frustrate the grace of God.” I don’t ever want to frustrate His grace! If you want God to use you, make sure you don’t fall into any of these categories:
1. Driver’s seat Christians. Jesus is not just our Savior; He is our Lord, and He wants to guide our decisions, direct our steps and overrule our selfish choices. There are many believers who enjoy the benefits of salvation yet they never yield control to God. If you want Him to use you, then you must slide over into the passenger seat and let Jesus drive. If you have a problem with willfulness, learn to pray: “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42, MEV).
2. Armchair critics. There are some people who roll up their sleeves and serve the Lord; there are others who make it their business to analyze and pick apart everyone who is doing God’s work. The devil is the Accuser, so if you are accusing others you are operating in the spirit of Lucifer. The Holy Spirit does not work through people who are bitter, angry or judgmental.
3. Glass-half-empty pessimists. Many Christians today are worried about what sinners are doing, and some spend hours trying to predict when the Antichrist will arise or when the world will end. Meanwhile there are other Christians who focus on winning lost people to Jesus and showing His compassion to a broken world. Who do you think will bear more spiritual fruit—the doomsday pessimist or the hopeful evangelist?
4. Carnally-minded Christians. It has become fashionable today for believers to lower the standard of moral behavior to the point that anything goes. Unmarried Christians are living together, some pastors are experimenting with adultery and some denominations have voted to sanction homosexual relationships. Don’t be fooled. Just because more and more people are jumping on this trendy bandwagon does not mean God has rewritten His eternal Word.
People who live in blatant sin cannot be instruments of the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 2:21 says clearly: “One who cleanses himself from these things will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, fit for the Master’s use, and prepared for every good work.” Our usefulness to God is based on whether we have submitted to the process of sanctification. Holiness is not an option.
5. Church dropouts. I won’t win a popularity contest by saying this, but it’s true: God does not use people who have turned away from the church. Today it is fashionable to bash the church; some people have even established “ministries” to lure Christians away from church and into an isolated spiritual wilderness. Most of these church-bashers are bitter because they had a bad experience with a pastor.
I have only compassion for any victim of spiritual abuse. But no one has the right to tear down the work of God just because a spiritual leader hurt him. The church is God’s Plan A, and He does not have an alternative. If we are going to be used by God, we must get connected to the church and learn to flow with its God-ordained leadership.
6. Timid cowards. When Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to pioneer the church there, he exhorted him to break free from fear. He wrote: “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:8). Fear has the power to paralyze. All those who surrender to the call of God must bravely open their mouths, defend the faith, risk their reputation and suffer rejection—and possible persecution. If you are afraid to share the gospel, repent of your fear and ask God for holy boldness.
7. Lazy spectators. Many Christians today think following God means clocking in for a 90-minute service before driving to the lake. We read quick devotions on our smart phones and breathe short prayers during our morning commutes. But somewhere in all this 21st century stress we lost the meaning of discipleship.
My beloved city is in turmoil. Grief, fear, anger, and frustration are settling on our community like a dark cloud. We hurt. We grieve and mourn. Deep down, we feel something we’ve never really felt before; to be honest, it’s hard to put into words.
Baton Rouge has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. There were not many #BatonRouge tweets until 12 days ago, when the news of Alton Sterling’s killing surfaced.
And yesterday, it struck a still darker tone. After a tense week and a half of protests—some peaceful and others violent—an act of hate has left our city stunned and frightened. Three police officers have been killed in the line of duty; four others have been severely wounded by a gunman who turned his hatred into puddles of blood in our streets. We can feel the tensions ratcheting up all over our city. Tonight, Baton Rouge groans for peace and redemption (Rom. 8:20–22).
As I write, many of our city streets are closed; people are being told to stay in their homes. I have never in my life felt such community-wide heartache and fear. The halls of our church were a little quieter yesterday as Bible study lessons were interrupted by the incoming news. Phones were updating the breaking story throughout the worship service. Though we didn’t feel unsafe as we worshiped, there was an unmistakable awareness that another terrible evil had come to our already wounded city.
Yet even then, I was comforted to be worshiping with my church family. It was good for us to “groan” together, and the Spirit was present as we praised our King. Our text was Psalm 66, in which the singer declares: “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul” (v. 16).
Oh, how we needed to hear those words.
Poisonous Root, Perfect Love
Yesterday was marked more than ever by a sense of fear. As believers, we must beware the root of fear. When fear is allowed to take up residence in our hearts, it poisons our souls. Fear causes us to blame others rather than seek to understand them. Fear shouts “My needs first!” instead of asking “How can I serve you?” Fear seeks revenge instead of healing. Rather than give in to fear, we must remember that only God can overcome this evil and bring peace—and he does this in our in our communities through the lives of his people.
Driving home after worship yesterday, I thought of the apostle John’s beautiful words:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:18–19)
Instead of operating out of fear, we must respond as the embodiment of God’s love for our friends and neighbors who are afraid. If the fear brings darkness, then what a glorious light might the gospel be to those living in that darkness?
Perfect love leads us to weep with those who weep and grieve with those who grieve. Perfect love is not too afraid to call up a fellow pastor of a different ethnicity and say, “Can I buy you a cup of coffee? Can we pray together? How can I help you cast out fear in your community?”
Friends, what will you do to cast out fear today? How will you love those who are afraid today? Go ahead and make that call right now! Send that text or email and make the appointment with a friend or fellow minister. Begin the process of destroying fear in your own city, just as we are seeking to do in ours.
What to Pray For
The God who saved us is the God who holds us together. There is much to do in Baton Rouge, and the churches in our city will be leaning on one another in the days to come. It feels like we’ve been punched in the gut again, and we need some time to catch our breath.
But for today, the people of Baton Rouge need your prayers as we groan for peace and plead with God to stir in our hearts a desire to be peacemakers in our broken city.
Here are five specific prayer requests for Baton Rouge:
Pray for the family of Alton Sterling—especially his wife, Quinyetta, and 15-year-old son, Cameron—who are still grieving his death at the hands of a police officer.
Pray for the families of the three slain police officers. Today there are wives and children mourning this terrible tragedy. Our hearts ache for them. Pray for God’s hand of grace to comfort those facing the deepest kind of pain. Pray also for the four wounded officers, that God would preserve their lives, restore their health, and guard their families in the days ahead.
Plead for God to raise up men and women out of the churches in our city to be peacemakers for the sake of Baton Rouge. This is the work of the church. God saved us for days like today. There has never been a better time to be a follower of Jesus.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Don’t forget to check out NewChurches.com for videos, podcasts, and tons of resources for church planters.
Does your church have an intentional development plan to disciple and deploy believers to live out the Great Commission? Are you providing strategic pathways and opportunities for your congregation to participate in church planting so that they can be a part of the Kingdom of God invading into every crevice of society both locally and globally? Or, does this happen haphazardly when someone approaches you and they say that they feel called to ministry?
Jesus said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38 HCSB)
All Are Called
When I look at those verses, I see them as a call to pray for more harvest workers. But as a pastor and as a church leader, I also see them as a call to disciple my congregation into being harvest workers for the harvest that exists around them both locally and globally.
As a result, while a once-a-year sermon that challenges your congregation to consider full-time ministry may be helpful, it can actually create more harm than good. This sort of sermon unintentionally creates a culture that says some are called and others are not. But the reality is that all believers have the same primary calling—to go and make disciples of all nations. What we do to earn money is a secondary issue, not a primary one!
Instead of merely hoping that your preaching will stir some to see their primary vocation and calling as being harvest workers, what if you actually created intentional environments and training opportunities to call people into this reality? What if everyone in your church saw their primary vocation as being a harvest worker, where some would get a paycheck from the church if their role was to be an equipper of others (Ephesians 4:11-13), and others would get their paycheck from an employer, while serving passionately on the worship team, children’s ministry, or leading a small group? Then we would definitely see more churches get planted.
In Eric Metaxas’ epic biography of the pastor, martyr, prophet, and spy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we read about the ways that Bonhoeffer trained people for the call of ministry. Although, as the first head of the seminary in the Confessing Church, he was focusing on training individuals for full-time pastorates, there is much that we can glean from his methods that relate to our discussion at hand—training all people to embrace their first and foremost vocation as a harvest worker.
Before we get to those points, here’s a bit of background to understand why Bonhoeffer was starting a new seminary. The main reason Bonhoeffer moved back to Berlin to run the Confessing Church seminary was due to the fact that German Church seminaries had gone apostate. The German Church was compromising on theology and allowing itself to be shaped and formed by Hitler’s anti-Semitism.
This was also at a time in history when the savage bloodbath known as the Night of the Long Knives had just occurred. As a result, Hitler was quickly gaining power while the divide between the German Christian Church and the Confessing Church continued to rapidly widen.
When it comes to creating intentional environments and training opportunities to encourage people to embrace their first and foremost calling as harvest workers, here are three things that we can learn from the way that Bonhoeffer designed and ran this seminary.
Disciples before Ministers
Bonhoeffer was deeply inspired by the Sermon on the Mount and he believed that Christianity would look and be radically different if believers would just merely live it out. So he called his students to see themselves, not as theological students, but as disciples intentionally living out the Sermon on the Mount. “Bonhoeffer was interested in a Holy Spirit-led course adjustment that hardly signaled something new” (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, 263).
Since theological education in his day produced “out-of-touch theologians and clerics whose ability to live the Christian life—and to help others live that life—was not much in evidence,” Bonhoeffer wanted to train an army of harvest workers who were first disciples before they were ministers (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, 263).
Besides the Bible, To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book in the world—and the movie version is my favorite film. That’s partly because I’m a Southerner who appreciates this painfully probing look at Southern racism. I also love the novel because no one has ever made fictional characters come to life better than author Harper Lee.
Atticus Finch, the small-town Alabama lawyer who defends a black man in a rape trial in the 1930s, is a hero to me because of his courage to fight social injustice. I feel as if I know him, along with Atticus’ children, Jem and Scout; their black maid, Calpurnia; their neighbors Miss Maudie and Mrs. Dubose; the mysterious Boo Radley; and Tom Robinson, the man who is falsely accused of rape in a biased culture that refused to believe a black man could ever be innocent.
I thought of Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson many times last week. I wished I could have invited them over to my house for a glass of iced tea. We would have a lot to talk about.
On July 4th we celebrated Independence Day, and then we mourned for the next few days—first because of the questionable killings of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, in Louisiana and Minnesota, and then because of the shooting of five police officers in Dallas during a peaceful protest. Not since the 1960s has America felt such overwhelming racial tension.
As I listened to the chatter on the news and on social media last week, I couldn’t help but remember Atticus’ advice to his daughter. He told Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Isn’t that what we should do today? We cannot hope to rid ourselves of the spirit of racism that haunts our country until we sincerely try to understand each other.
Atticus Finch felt compassion for his black client, Tom Robinson, because he drove to Tom’s house in the country and sat on his front porch and got to know his family. He saw the fear on Tom’s face and heard the racial slurs he endured from local townsfolk. Atticus saw the world from Tom’s perspective. Atticus’ children learned the same lesson when they went to church with Calpurnia and saw how black Christians worshiped.
That’s the only way we’re going to end this ugly racial divide. We have to talk to each other. We have to sit on our porches together. We have to become friends and share each other’s burdens. We have to worship together. Laws alone will never tear down the walls of racism. Only compassion can destroy this evil.
I was not born black so I don’t understand what my black friends have experienced. I have never been stopped by a police officer and interrogated when I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I have never walked into a store and felt people staring at me or treating me with suspicion. I have never had to endure racial slurs. I have never been turned down for a job interview because of my race.
But I have black and Hispanic friends who have experienced racial cruelty. I’ve listened to their pain. I put myself in their place. I crawled into their skin.
He (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) smoked many cigarettes when he engaged in difficult negotiations or concentrated writing. In conversation, he was an attentive listener, asking questions in a manner that gave his partner confidence and led him to say more than he thought he could. Bonhoeffer was incapable of treating anyone in a cursory fashion. He preferred small gatherings to large parties because he devoted himself entirely to the person he was with.