One trait of every healthy, growing church I’ve ever seen is what I call “lung capacity.” By lung capacity, I’m referring to the ability to do ministry at a level requiring endurance and sacrifice over an extended period of time. It’s vital we develop this in churches, because ministry is hard. It’s a joy, but it’s hard.
Churches (and pastors) that can get winded by any conflict, any challenge, or steep challenges over short time periods will struggle to grow healthily over time. There are three reasons for this:
1) Following Jesus, and certainly following Jesus together (ministry) requires endurance. This is why it’s talked about so often in Scripture.
2) Lack of endurance is symptomatic and cultivates spiritual immaturity. Inability to tolerate pain in ourselves and others is a primary source of ministry misery.
3) Sacrificial offering of ourselves to God is the essence of our Faith. When we miss this, we miss everything. Whether it’s a woman anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume, a widow offering her last mites, or Jesus dying on the cross for humankind–all the Gospel sings of sacrifice.
One of the best things we can do for our churches is lead them to intentional sacrifice consistent with the Gospel. That’s right–we must weave intentional sacrifice into our strategies, plans, sermons, assemblies, service, and outreach. If we fail to challenge people and be challenged ourselves, we will fail the challenges that come our way. Why? We haven’t developed the heart of sacrifice that gives away our extra tunic, our last two mites, says no to lust, rejects gossip, and follows Jesus when it’s hard…really hard.
I’m not talking about inducing pointless suffering. I’m talking about discerned, strategic, prayerfully guided sacrifice. As you head into planning for next year, ask yourself, “How can we offer a sacrifice to God that costs something?” By planning it into the , we bring God’s blessing. Like David, we need to say as often as prudent, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24). It’s the costly sacrifices that Jesus treasures most.
If we want Him to treasure what we are doing above all–we need to cultivate hearts of sacrifice. Many churches try to avoid having to do these kinds of things. Why? Because they are afraid people don’t want to sacrifice, or won’t sacrifice. Often, frankly, church leaders themselves don’t want to sacrifice. So, they only sacrifice when they have to. People give sacrificially only when the budget is short–if then. People only serve when they must. Pouring oneself out for others is seen as a last resort…a Hail Mary of sorts to be used only when there isn’t a safer, more pleasant option.
Jesus says the power of the Christian life itself is in giving ourselves away. If you want to hang onto yourself, prepare to lose yourself. If you lose yourself for His sake, you’ll find yourself. Most Christians have heard this idea preached enough they are ready to give at least half of themselves away for Christ’s cause. That’s their loss—settling for a low-grade fever of worldliness that saps the abundance of their spiritual passion and purpose.
Jesus pictures following Him as both abundant and as a daily cross-carrying. Usually, the abundance is found in the cross-carrying. What Jesus says is true–if we try to save our lives (or churches), we will lose them; and we lose our lives (or churches) for His sake, we will find them.