I remember as if it were yesterday. Sitting across from a pastor friend I had served for years, and still respected and loved deeply. We were in Selma, NC eating Chinese food for dinner. I had just recently heard the truth of the finished work of Christ, and was excitedly sharing with him the cool things God had been revealing to me.
We talked about my ministry of preaching in other churches, and he shared with me some very interesting advice. “Mark,” he said. “If you want more preaching opportunities, you need to change your message.” Intrigued, I asked him to elaborate. We had been talking earlier about how the truth of the Gospel sets people free, as illustrated in Malachi 4:2 where it says, “You will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” “You see, Mark, the grace message (as we called it back then), sets people free. Pastors don’t want a bunch of calves running around.”
The implication was clear. Calves who have been let loose from their stall are excited. They run freely, with no sense of being under control. They are happy and even reckless. The joy of freedom runs through them. They kick up their hind legs and in their own way, rejoicing at being set free.
My pastor friend was telling me through illustration that many pastors don’t want a bunch of “set-free saints” in their congregations. There is a fear of losing control. Perhaps it is a thought like, “If they are really free, maybe they won’t tithe or serve.” Or, “If they see the true grace of God, they might start to sin.”
This conversation took place years ago. Since that time, I have been blessed to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. What began as “the grace message” has taken root as the truth of the Gospel, the mystery of the finished work of Christ. The reality of the eternal, unconditional love of God toward us, an incomprehensible, life-changing truth has become my passion, my life’s message.
As I recently pondered this years-old dialogue, I realized that there is a dynamic among some pastors that is really ironic. It is a lack of faith when it comes to the Gospel. Oh sure there is plenty of faith for the status quo, to doing things as they’ve always been done, and teaching what they’ve always taught. But God showed me that it is easier for pastors to yoke their congregations with a mixture of law and grace, then to trust God that He will provide if the people are set free.
It is the nature of Christ Jesus to give, to serve, to love. Yet rather than trusting that reality, it is easier for some in church leadership to have faith in the control and manipulation of the law. Take tithing and serving for example. For decades, statistics have shown that, in a typical church, only 20% of the members tithe and serve regularly. Why? Is it because the motivation to do these things is presented as obligations for the believer?
What would happen if the saints were regularly told the truth of God’s amazing love (Romans 8:38,39), and that Christ lives in them? (Col 1:27) What if they were set free from the mentality of obligation and encouraged in the truth that God is no longer counting their sins against them? (2 Corinthians 5:19) What if Sunday after Sunday the saints were encouraged to look to Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith, (Hebrews 12:2) instead of being questioned or subtly accused about their lack of pursuing holiness? Is it possible that giving and tithing would increase as the natural response to God’s love, and if Christ’s nature in the believer was trusted to freely flow? Would serving increase as an outflow of Christ in us?
If you are a pastor or church leader, pray about what God is saying in this post. Where is your faith? Is it in your ability to subtly control your congregation, or in the overwhelming faithfulness of God? If you are a church member, ask God to give your pastor a fresh glimpse at the beauty and love of Jesus. Ask that faith in the finished work of Christ would arise in his heart.
Be encouraged to set the saints free! Let ‘em run around in the exuberance of their freedom. So what if something gets messed up (like sacred cows). Let’s put our faith in Him and His awesome love to work His nature in the saints, manifesting in their tithing/giving, serving, and loving like never before. Let’s trust His kindness to lead the saints to repentance. Let’s preach His love and grace like never before, and open the stall doors and let those calves frolic in the joy of their freedom. For whom the Son sets free is free indeed!
George Barna, in his new book, Growing True Disciples, says it well: “Ignite people’s passion for God and get out of their way.” Amen!