Sunday, March 05, 2006

When disciples crash and burn

Lately I've been thinking on a more visceral level than usual about preaching and Christian leadership. Today I feel compelled to share some of those reflections, particularly if you're thinking about entering vocational preaching ministry yourself.

The past few weeks I've been reminded--sometimes forcefully--how very, very heartbreaking Christian ministry can be. One day we rejoice that the Word has taken root in the soul of a new Christian, but before long we look on in horror as their faith withers in the sun and shallow ground. We feel the exhilaration of a new believer freed from sin, but soon the thornbushes of everyday life wrap them up. After a while, despite our best efforts to hold on, we don't see them anymore.

Yes, there certainly are stories of sustained triumph and growth in the church. But that doesn't make the crashes any less painful. The early church in Jerusalem sometimes grew by thousands of new believers a day, but I suspect the brethren took no delight in the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira.

Disciples fall away, and it hurts. When this kind of heartbreak sets in, it's tempting to choose a theological extreme to soothe our minds: ultra-Calvinism ("Well, it's God's perfect will that they be damned, after all"), or arch-Arminianism ("Hey dude, their choice"). But what if we refuse to read Scripture and our own experience through a ready-made theological lens? Where do we find encouragement at times like these?

The best answer I've found is to rejoice: to rejoice that God has allowed us the immense, undeserved honor of proclaiming the Good News of Christ Jesus; to rejoice that, whether anyone listens to us or not, we don't have to suffer the pain of not proclaiming the gospel; to rejoice that, if we are faithful, our heartache is the heartache of Jesus.

Please don't think I'm writing this to try and make myself look good. Not at all. I sometimes think I keep preaching because, no matter how much it hurts, it's not nearly as bad as not preaching. And so I rejoice and thank God that I can.

19 Comments:

Blogger Keith Brenton said...

Milton, I just posted this comment on a young friend's blog after his discussion of Calvinism and Arminianism, and I'm going to be egotistical enough to paste it below:

I find my feet planted squarely in both camps.

Christ chooses us. We choose Him.

Otherwise, the "Sacred Marriage" relationship (like the one you describe in your previous post) between Jesus and His bride just won't work.

That makes me a Calvminian, I guess. Or an Arminiast.

Or just a follower of Christ.


As a post-script, I don't pretend to have it all together, either. I work in a church office, though I'm not described as a minister. I see what you describe. I experience the same roller coaster of sympathies, though probably not to the same heighths nor the same depths. But, like you, I think of myself as a persuader.

We try to persuade. Then people choose.

And it is a great gift and privilege God has given us to share in His sorrows as well as His joys; His disappointments right beside His ecstasy. It helps us know His heart all the better and more intimately.

7:50 PM, March 05, 2006  
Blogger Standing_Firm said...

Dear Milton, I am sure my former Pastor would have grieved with you on this however I know Philippians 1:1-6 is true for He did not let me go. So here – “I am confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” If the work was begun He will finish it and when we are there with Him you will see a multitude of souls you have touched. Be encouraged my friend and brother in Christ Jesus and all who preach the Word.

8:22 PM, March 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, I needed that.

12:04 AM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Peter Bogert said...

Thanks, Milton.

6:39 AM, March 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Calvinist/Arminian argument has been on my mind in recent months. As an "Arminian" I often thought, somewhat satirically, that it would bring me great relief to be able to become an Calvinist (assuming those were the only two choices available.) The reason I have been thinking about this has to do with my grown children who have given up their faith (that sounds Arminian, doesn't it?) My thinking is I could feel less guilty if, as a parent, I really, truly, had nothing to do with their state of rebellion. But the thought that they were born for the purpose of being lost is not all that comforting, either.
Nevertheless, no matter how I "try" I can't make pure Calvinism alone match scriptures. I do believe we people can cause themselves to be lost, even as I also believe that NO ONE ELSE can snatch the saved away from God. Therefore, I really like the comment someone has made on another site (following a link from this site): I'm 100% Arminian and 100% Calvinist! That seems to be a good combination that makes sense. I still have hope that my children have the option of choosing to repent and thus be saved, as God wants no one to perish but all to come to repentance.

8:18 AM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Standing_Firm said...

Anonymous...have they given up their faith or did they never really have faith to begin with? If they had faith once they will not be able to deny Him. I cannot imagine an instance and never have heard of someone who once being born again was able to become unborn again. I just don't believe that can happen. No matter how carnal I became I could not and would not deny the trinity and my love for all three. I was carnal and disobedient and needed a 2x4, which He lovingly provided. Praise God.

If someone has Scripture to point to an unborn again state I would like to know about it for my own sake. If you know some carnal Christians ask them questions. The more they are able to proclaim their love for Jesus Christ the more opportunity there is to reach them in that state. But that was just my experience.

8:52 AM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Dan Edelen said...

Milton,

Great piece. I struggle with this too. I've known some who once ran the race well, but then did not finish it. What to do with them? I don't know.

All I know is that it saddens me greatly when I see people who once burned brightly abandon the race.

10:56 AM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger John said...

Great post Milton, and one I truly concur with, I guess prayer is the answer?

Be encouraged!
GBYAY

4:16 PM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

I agree with you, Keith. The Bible has too many passages that make strong cases for both positions.

4:22 PM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks, SF, for your encouragement. Peace.

4:23 PM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Kevin and Peter, you're welcome.

4:24 PM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for sharing the comment about your children, Anon. Please e-mail me if you'd like to continue the discussion privately.

4:27 PM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Me too, Dan. Thanks for your comments.

4:27 PM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

John: Prayer certainly is the answer! Peace.

4:28 PM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger AnnieAngel said...

Why are you so arrogant to assume it is YOU that is making the difference to these people? It's JESUS who is calling them, and reaching them, not you. You are a vessel being used by God through your won free will, for whatever reason God chooses to use you.

If the person doesn't come back, they are not meant to come back, God has used to to lead them elsewhere, but never forget the seed is inside of the person, planted by God through you.

You're just a conduit, you are nothing in the big picture.

Imagine yourself thinking of the person who led you to God as being of any importance to your actual relatioship with God. They are not. You are not.

Get over it. The way you are going leads to pride. If the people stay, do you take it that they stay because you are such a great preacher and not because of God?????????????

2:54 PM, March 07, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

The post isn't so much about me, Annie, as it's about watching people on their way to hell. Peace.

6:47 PM, March 07, 2006  
Blogger AnnieAngel said...

Are you the judge of who is going to Hell? No, lay down the responsibility you feel. Jesus tells us to shake the dust off our feet, He does this because He knows as compassionate people we want everyone to be saved, but He knows it isn't possible, some people just don't want to be. He doesn't want us to feel responsible, we are not our brother's keepers.

Trust in God. Do what you can do, but don't try to sway the free will of another, that is a sin. You can just spread the message and get the word out to as many people as possible. If you're creative, that will be a lot of people hearing the message through you.

That's awesome. But you can't change hearts, only Jesus can.

8:32 PM, March 07, 2006  
Blogger Catez said...

Good post Milton. I like what you said about sharing the gospel.

6:02 AM, March 08, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks, Catez.

12:49 PM, March 09, 2006  

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