We like fast. My sons love to look at fast cars. We demand fast internet and food. If there is not a response to an email in 24 hours we assume there is a problem. We quit our jobs because we did not get a raise quickly enough. Even our education has to be fast. “Get your degree in 18 months.” On and on this goes.
This mindset is detrimental to most of life. The best things are not gained quickly or easily. Customer service is often worse because it must be fast. One reason our education is so terrible is students and teachers expect quick gains in short time. Husbands leave wives and refuse to sire children because of the long term commitment. But above all this desire for quick results has been devastating to the church and her ministers.
One could argue that the church exists to glorify God by making disciples. But discipleship is not a week long summer intensive or a semester long course. It does not last one year or two years or ten years. It goes from the moment of faith in Christ or being brought into the church until the moment you breath your last. As Eugene Peterson says, “It is a long obedience in the same direction.” Disciples are not made quickly. For most of us there are many miles left to run before we cross the finish line.
For American Christians this is hard. We want great things, but we want them now. For ministers this mindset provides particular temptations. Our congregations demand quick results, which in church terms means more people, more money, more power, more influence…and now! Fix my wife, my children, my husband…and now! They expect to walk into worship and be overrun with emotion. Every sermon must be an explosion. Ministers are tempted to forget that we are not blowing things up. We are building, brick by brick.
In addition, ministers have slowly lost trust in the means of grace. We used to believe the Word, in public and house to house, and prayer, privately and corporately, formed the two indispensable and dominate parts of our work. Not any more. We are CEOs and administrators. We entertain or keep our social club together. We tickle ears, placate old ladies, and give in to arrogant men. The Word is tethered and prayer an afterthought.
Put these together, the desire for quick results and loss of faith in Scripture and prayer, and you get the evangelical church and her leaders: prone to lies, heresy and false teachers, Biblically illiterate, unable to defend basic Christian ethics on issues such as human sexuality, theologically anemic, impotent in her witness, unable or unwilling to care for widows and orphans, in bondage to entertainment, and worldly in her approach to life. Many of us see this and know reformation is desperately needed. How can we change the tide?
The answer is plain, if not always welcome: Word and prayer.
Ministers, study the Word, study those who study the Word, preach it, teach it, and pray it. Lash yourself to it. Refuse to be distracted from it. Strive to prove yourself an unashamed workman (II Timothy 2:15). Pray for your people, pray with your people, teach your people to pray, and teach them to worship. Believe that God shapes his people through his glorious Word and fervent prayer. Keep administrative duties to a minimum. Don’t apologize for being a man of Word and prayer. It is what you are there for. Then die with a clean conscience.
Congregations, expect your minister to be a man of Word and prayer. Be grateful he sweats over the Bible. Give thanks when he quotes Scripture over coffee instead of talking about the weather. Listen carefully when the Word is preached and obey what you hear. Let him buy books. They are his shovel and saw. Pray for him and his family. Believe that prayer is one of the most important things he does. Don’t expect him to solve your problems or fix your life. Don’t expect him to be a therapist, entertainer, or CEO. Expect, indeed long for him to bring you the undiluted Word and to pray for and with you year after year.
If we commit ourselves to Word and prayer with all our strength, ability, and resources for decades God might be gracious and grant us reformation. If we refuse then all hope of reformation is lost. This is the only way.