The call to follow Jesus is a call that we do not consider with selfish motives. His call to the three would-be followers, He dealt with the problem of superficiality, hesitancy, and double-mindedness. Looking back and considering the worldliness of the past life disqualifies men from being a true follower of Jesus Christ. For those of us who have been in Christ’s service for some time, we should recognize the various temptations that come in Christian ministry.
The call to preach must be viewed as an opportunity and a privilege. The realization that God is using our gift and causing us to be a blessing to others is a reward all. When we are called into the ministry, we must go where God has opened the door to do so. Every would-be pastor dreams of preaching in the large church and gaining a name for himself because of being their pastor. Somehow in our minds, we think of that first church that we pastored as the first step to something better. It is hard to understand why we think this way if we understand God’s call. Perhaps it is in the teaching institutions or schools or examples of people we admire who have done such. We must, however, dismiss the idea that “What’s in it for Me”, has any place in the thought of Christian ministers (or any Christian at all.)
I think everyone can agree to what I have already said, but what is the reality? First, there is the temptation. When we take our first church, very often the congregation is small and cannot afford a full-time pastor and we may have to work at one or more secular jobs to be able to serve. We must resist the temptation to think because they cannot afford to give me what I think that I deserve, then I must limit the quality of ministry that I can give. I know of several pastors that think that way (myself included.)
I have never pastored a church where I did not have to work in secular employment. One church that I pastored I had to work two jobs outside the church. My first church was a small church with just a few people, and all they could pay me was $65 a month. They did ask me to preach three sermons a week and do the rest of the ministry as well. Besides that, I had to work 8-10 hours a day at my regular job. God was faithful and in one year, we had more people in our church than we had members to serve them. Our increase in numbers did not bring in any further income and sometimes to serve we had to operate on a slight deficit. Although it did not bring in extra compensation, it did require more work. As I look at all the churches I served, I would do it again.
Being familiar with many people in the ministry, I am saddened to say, many determine the call to the church by how generous the congregation is in providing extras to the pastor. I know of one pastor who left the church because they did not give him a raise in salary. One pastor, I knew who was not faithful to the people who called him. In the time, that I was pastoring one church he had gone to three, each of them more prosperous than the other. The last that I saw him He remarked to me about this present church, that they were very generous.
We have a story in the Bible for people like this. It is found in II Kings, chapter five, and concerns a servant of Elisha named Gehazi. As we study the life of Gehazi, we find him following Elisha faithfully. He served Elisha for many years, and from all outward appearances, no-one ever suspected any wrong motives in him. There’s a story. One-day Elisha saw God heal Naaman of his leprosy. He was so grateful to Elisha and offered him great riches in compensation for what he had done. Elisha refused any reward, as was his lifestyle. “What’s in it for Me?” Never occurred to Elisha.
As Gehazi looked on and saw what was happening, his hidden desires which he had for so long began to awaken at the sight of the silver, gold, and rich clothing that was offered to Elijah. Sometimes it just takes the opportunity to awaken desires hidden from the eyes of others to surface. This is what happened to Ghazi. As Naaman was headed back to his country, Ghazi ran after him. Upon seeing Elisha’s servant, thinking that something had gone wrong, Naaman stopped his chariot until Ghazi I caught up with him. He thought that something might have happened to Elisha, and he asked him “is your master well?” Ghazi said yes, but he made up a story. The story was that two students from the prophet’s school had just arrived at Elijah’s house without notice. There is no money or clothing to take care of these visitors so Ghazi told the story to Naaman and he was willing to help without question.
Gehazi knew this action was wrong and one that would not be approved by Elisha, so he took it home and hid it in his house. Ghazi arrived at Elisha’s house as if it was just business as usual. What he had done was hidden from the eyes of men but he was about to discover the reality of the message, “Be sure your sins will find you out” was true. Lesha knew and God knew that Gehazi was not telling the truth and upon lying about each question asked, God, stepped in and made the pronouncement that leprosy removed from Naaman would now be placed upon Ghazi for the rest of his life.
There are many temptations that ministers may face that we find illustrated in the life of Gehazi. First, there’s a problem with an evil eye. What we mean by that is that some enter the ministry with the idea of something selfish to be expected. The admiration of people, the fantasy of preaching in the wealthy prosperous church with many people as your congregation, the idea of a soft easy job with no need for hard work are some misunderstandings that we have about the ministry. Sometimes we pursue the ministry and spend much money on education with the idea that such education earned a right to a more elevated ministry but the only thing that it elevates is our egos. Another problem that Gehazi faced was he took advantage of another’s generosity. In any other circumstance, Naaman probably would not have even stopped his chariot, but now Ghazi had his opportunity to take advantage and he did.
This illustration from the life of Elisha serves as a warning to those who would go into the ministry, claiming to be prophets of God who are there for wrong reasons. The book of Jeremiah is full of messages concerning false prophets. Messages against false prophets and there were many of them at that time. Regarding being called we must not forget that God calls, God equips, God prepares the opportunity, God provides protection, and most of all, God causes things to happen in the hearts of people. We can preach fancy sermons, read many books, practice our presentations. If we are not people who take praying seriously. There is no more effective ministry. Without prayer and the inner workings of the Holy Spirit what we are giving to people is merely fleshly ministry which merely gives further proof that we are not called of God to do His work.
We have another story in the Bible likes this one recorded in Jeremiah chapter 45. Jeremiah also had a faithful servant of Elisha; (outwardly, it appeared) his name was Baruch. Baruch served Jeremiah is very sacrificial ways. He served Jeremiah for many years and when Jeremiah was imprisoned, he was Jeremiah’s messenger to deliver some very difficult messages to the King putting his own life on the line. He was truly an honorable man and a faithful servant. Later, Baruch was also faced with the temptation of thinking “what’s in it for me?” He saw what was happening to Jeremiah. He was identified with everything he did and he recognizes the sacrifice that was necessary to do the work that God called him to, but now Baruch began to have some reservations. He began to think selfishly like “after all of this, what is there down the road that I can look forward to?” Will I someday be a prophet? Who knows all the thoughts that went through Baruch’s mind but we know that one thing was certain: he was wondering what he was going to be rewarded with by being so faithful. God’s word to Baruch was “Baruch, sleekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not” Now that’s a short message, but a very powerful one for those entering into the ministry of Jesus Christ. First, God calls him to examine his motives next God calls him to forsake his motives and finally to trust in Him. God said to Baruch I am going to spare your life and you will not be destroyed like many of these; that will be your reward. Do you think Baruch asked the question “Is that all I get?” Baruch faced the temptation, but we know he was not like Ghazi who suffered the consequences of that kind of thinking.
In closing this section, I would like to admonish each servant of God to recognize “Called to preach” is a call from God, with a message, to a people. Gratitude ought to be in all hearts that God would choose us to do such. There is no guarantee that God is going to call us to a church that can take care of us financially and meet all our needs, desires, and even give us a few trinkets on top of that. We must enter into the ministry with no expectations, but those which God gives to us and we must be satisfied and “grateful for whatever gifts and opportunities He allows us to have. The only reward we can expect is “Well done thou good and faithful servant: Enter into the joy of thy lord” (Mathew 25:23)