Stealing Ministry

Jerry cookMy friend Jerry Cook passed away last year and I am still sad. He was a great man of God and contributed significantly to my understanding of God’s grace. He also was an excellent writer and speaker, and I aspire some day to have the skill in both that he had.

He and I served on a couple of boards together and we even shared a condo on occasion. No one was better at casual conversation than Jerry. He had a way of probing into your life so gently that you felt like telling him all your secrets. But he never pried. And when he shared stories from his life, they were a treat. I remember one of those stories to this day and I want to use it to illustrate a point. Here is the gist: A good church leader will coach members of God’s church to do ministry. Unfortunately, too many think it is their right to steal ministry from church members.

Here is Jerry’s story. He was a pastor in Gresham, Oregon when this story took place, and one morning was working on some office administration stuff. His phone rang. On the other end was a salesman who attended his church. The guy was calling from a pay phone in a restaurant. He was talking to a client and had begun sharing about his faith in Christ. The client was intrigued and wanted to know more. So the salesman decided to call Jerry and ask him to meet the two of them down at the restaurant.

You want me to come down there? What for?”

“Pastor Jerry, in my business, we have several different types of sales people. I’m the kind that makes new contacts and presses them to consider our product. But when they get interested, I pass them on to someone else who makes the sale. We call those salespeople “closers”. Pastor Jerry, you’re my closer. I need you to come and close this deal for me and God.

This made sense to Jerry, so he hopped into the car and drove down to the restaurant. Halfway there, he stopped to get gas. That’s when God spoke to him.

Jerry, what are you doing?”

“God, I’m helping out my friend. I’m going to lead someone into faith with you.”

“Stop it Jerry. This is not your job. Why do you want to rob my son from the privilege of sharing his faith and leading another person to me?”

“Jerry, you are stealing from him if you do this.”

Jerry Cook realized the truth of what God was saying. There is no feeling in the world like sharing your faith with another person and seeing their life transformed by Christ. Jerry had experienced this many times in his life. Now, because he was this so-called expert, he was planning on taking this experience away from another Christian. It was wrong.

He went to a pay phone and called the restaurant. When his friend answered, he told him straight: “Listen, I won’t be coming to be with the two of you after all. But what I will do is this. I will tell you how to lead him to Christ. I will tell you how to close the deal.”

His church friend was nervous but agreed to do it. After teaching him how to help the man become a follower of Christ, Jerry got back in his car and drove to the church. He went back to work knowing he had done the right thing.

Two hours later, two men walked into his office. One was the salesman who had called him on the phone. The other was a man Jerry didn’t recognize. The church member introduced his friend and after giving his name said this, “He is now part of the family of God, Pastor Jerry. He just prayed to receive the forgiveness of Christ. And I was able to help him.”

Jerry said he would never forget the satisfied smile on both their faces. The three of them talked for a while and then they had to leave. On the way out, his parishioner stopped and took Jerry aside. “Pastor, thanks for not coming to the restaurant. It means the world to me.”

God gave pastors, evangelists and teachers to the Body of Christ to train everyone for ministry; not to steal it from them. Can you imagine a coach running out on the field as his player is about to score a touchdown, taking the ball away and running the last ten yards? Can you imagine an acting coach trying to take the Oscar when their students wins? Can you imagine a parent attending college classes for his son instead of allowing him to go? No; there is a reason we can’t imagine those preposterous actions–they are out of character. A coach succeeds when the players do. The parent succeeds when the child keeps trying.

But we have almost conditioned pastors to do everything for the congregation. Instead of training and equipping people to do the work of the  ministry, we refer to pastors as Ministers. By this, we imply they are the only ones who know what’s going on. How many churches have seen this kind of ministry theft? Way too many from my observations.

I would rather hear “Thank you for not showing up and letting me do it” than “Wow, we could never have done this if you hadn’t taken over.”