For those of us doing full time ministry, it’s difficult, yet incredibly rewarding. The best thing about ministry is the people. The worst thing about ministry is…the people. But people are the currency of heaven and the people make up the church, the bridegroom of Christ, and for better or for worse, their value is immeasurable.
God calls us to go and make disciples of all nations in the Great Commission. It should not matter who or where that is. When we decide to pursue people for the cause of Jesus, we will know when he is prompting and we know it won’t always be easy, but we know we could be called anywhere and we should be ready to listen because the reward far outweighs the risk.
Sadly, we are seeing an asterisk being added after the Great Commission, another comma, parenthesis, whatever you want to put in there, and our actions as believers are putting them there. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit… just as soon as you get all your preferences checked off.”
I work and serve at an AMAZING church in Cheyenne, Wyoming named Element Church. This is far and away the best church I’ve ever been a part of, helped serve at, been excited to be a part of the vision/mission of, and I’ve worked at many across several states.
If you aren’t aware, Wyoming is the least populated state in the country. We are tiny. We are so tiny we aren’t called rural, we are called “micro rural”. Yeah, pretty tiny. However, Wyoming is also one of, if not THE most, underrated states in the country as well. There is so much beauty here, people have no clue and the people who live in this state are warm, friendly, and proud of it.
Many of you have heard of the “Bible Belt”, which is in the southern part of the country. Wyoming is the 9th most un-churched state in the country. It’s also known as the buckle of the “Un-Churched Belt”. Over 400,000+ people in Wyoming are disconnected with the gospel of Jesus, most claiming none as their religious preference. That’s a crap ton of people who don’t know that there is life change, for the BETTER, available for them.
We at Element Church have a passion to do something about that, and we have, by starting the I Heart Wyoming initiative (www.iheartwyoming.com). Now, this isn’t about I Heart Wyoming, it’s simply to let you know what WE are doing about the state we love.
But here’s what really fired me up recently and over the past few years: despite a laser focused vision and mission to reach a whole state (not many churches can say they are going after a WHOLE state), an incredibly talented staff who is second to none, with a culture that celebrates new life every week and attendance that is growing to where we are running out of space -basically everything most people would be looking for in ministry- we find in our hiring process, our location hurts us.
Why? Because we live in Wyoming, where people assume we don’t have paved roads, or that the winters are -40 every day and our city isn’t big enough. Are you kidding me? We’ve just added a caveat to the Great Commission. We are nothing but stuck up missionaries.
Now, let me stop for a moment and clarify:
1. Not working at Element Church does not mean you aren’t fulfilling the Great Commission
2. There are lost people on the coasts and/or more populated states with a dire need for people to serve and reach the lost.
3. The Great Commission is not exclusively only in America. My example is one small sample size to the bigger problem.
4. Not everyone is called to work at Element Church, Cheyenne, or Wyoming. There is a need all over the globe and not everyone fits into the culture in every church.
5. I am not bitter about people not wanting to work where I work. However, my heart hurts for what could have been done in the Church had we listened to the heart of God over the voice of our preferences.
My point is this: When you START with your preferences and then pick a ministry, you place God second and your preferences become your idol that you’ve placed above him. You may not want to hear that, but it’s what the Americanized Church Staff has become.
I’ve seen Bible college students fight over a church position that’s open because it has the most money, it’s the easiest to slide right into, and it looks better on their resume. I’ve seen many people turn down an opportunity to turn around a dying church, because it was easier to take the secondary position at a church that better suited their needs and wants for a city and staff culture.
I’ve seen people go into interviews ready to nit-pick everything they see wrong with the church because it’s an easier out if the church has the issues so they can easily turn it down even though it might be where God is calling them IN SPITE of the faults of the church. EVERY church has its faults and they are hiring in the hopes that they find the person who WANTS to tackle those faults and fix them.
When we go into God’s calling with a hero complex, where we are the ones being pursued and thinking the church needs US and we don’t need the church, we have just added to the decay of the power of what THE church can truly do.
Use Wyoming in this example. When we say that we don’t want to work in a state that doesn’t have many people, the city isn’t big enough with not enough to do, and it doesn’t have the right surroundings we are looking for, we’ve simply said that the souls of those who live in Wyoming aren’t as important as those who live in more populous areas, with more to offer us and the scenery we desire.
When the country God is placing on our hearts isn’t safe enough, isn’t clean enough, isn’t as easy of a language to learn as the ones we prefer, we have decided to tell God how he should direct our steps instead of allowing him to direct ours.
I love the people of Wyoming, even the ones I haven’t met yet in cities I haven’t even been to. Would I like to have some of my preferences checked off? Absolutely, I’m not a fool or naïve. But my calling to where God, the Creator of the Universe and the one who I will stand before one day has called me far outweighs my wishes and dreams of my flawed, culturally calloused, and sinful self. I want things, but my wants don’t fulfill me, only Jesus does and can.
I didn’t want to end up in Wyoming, it wasn’t my preference and I fought it longer than I wished I had before ending up at Element. But I will tell you this, I’ve lived and worked in cities much, much bigger than Cheyenne with more amenities and people and things to do, but never have I been MORE fulfilled than I have in Cheyenne.
Why? Because I embraced God’s challenge for me. I once sat in the crowd as an attender at Element, simply biding my time until God led me to where I wanted to go, and picked out all the things they did wrong or not as well as I thought they should. I saw red flags and had lots of questions because I was thinking of getting out of ministry and I was hurt so it was easier to think like this. And when Element was looking for a Creative Arts Pastor I was brought to my knees by the resounding voice of God speaking to me in my prayer life saying: “You could nit-pick all the things you see wrong and sit up on your high throne looking down upon this church or you could shut your mouth and use the talents and gifting I’ve trained you for to help them fix some of these things you see. How about you help raise up my church and not bring it down? Can you do that for me?”
God wrecked me and humbled me. I was bowing down to my preferences and my talents and insecurities. They had become my idol, hiding in what I claimed and thought was the will of God. I was nothing but a stuck-up missionary telling God what I wanted like a spoiled child.
There is no soul that is more valuable over another. When we value our preferences OVER the calling of God, we stunt the growth of the church and even potentially kill off some others. Sometimes our journey includes stepping stone churches or getting out of ministry to help us refocus, and that’s okay too. We end up loving people less by choosing what we WANT the most, instead of WHO needs Jesus the most by fulfilling the Great Commission, and it won’t matter WHERE that is.