“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”
Jesus Christ, speaking to the Ephesian church (Rev 2:4)
Used with permission.
This is a warning from Christ to a church that was doing good works. When you get a warning from the Son of God – take note!!! The Lord could truly say to them “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance” (2:2). Yet in spite of their notable activity and faithful commitment to a mission, they had forgotten their first love, Christ himself. Could it be that this church had fallen in love with the work of the church rather than the Lord of the church? Could it be that I have done the same with my ministry work? How about you?
Losing your first love
In his interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:18-23), Jesus outlined two ways that first love for him might be lost. I’ve included a biblical illustration for each.
- Eli the priest presumably had a love for God when he became the priest at Shiloh, where the Lord’s house was located. However, he is an example of the seed that falls on rocky ground. These people joyfully receive the word but do not have the roots to sustain its growth. As we see in 1 Samuel 2 and 3, later in his career he hadn’t grown to be spiritually sensitive. His sons were scoundrels with no regard for the Lord, and yet Eli is so spiritually insensitive that he felt no compunction to do anything to correct them, even after God warned him twice about the sins of his sons and the judgment that will fall on Eli and his family. Today, people with a superficial faith fail to apply it and risk failing in God’s sight as a result. If you as a leader are not growing in Christ, you are coasting and will sooner or later glide to a spiritual stop, at which point you are operating in your own strength and not God’s.
- King Saul is a good example of the seed that falls among the thorns. These people are focused on the cares of this world rather than God’s kingdom. King Saul’s concern with maintaining the loyalty of his army (1 Samuel 13:11) led him to go ahead with a sacrifice that he knew was supposed to be made by Samuel. The contemporary manifestation of this problem is the leader who relies on secular leadership techniques without any critical examination of how appropriate they are from a Christian perspective. Some secular techniques may be quite alright while others may be antithetical to our faith. Over time, the person giving preference to secular leadership techniques will be distanced from God.
Remembering your first love
Having discerned your call and faithfully carried it out, are you still today as much in love with Jesus as you were when you were first called to ministry? (We should ask this question about our spouses too. Do we still love them like we did on our wedding day?) Remember what your love was like at the beginning. Remember how you felt on your first day in ministry. Can you fan the flames and keep it alive and fresh?
I have been nine years now at CCCC, and I still remember the circumstances of how I came to be here, and how God stood behind it all, orchestrating events in the way that only he can do. I remember the feeling of wonder and “Who, me?” that filled my soul. I remember thinking “There is no way I can do this great thing without the support, guidance and power of God acting on me and through me.”
When I start to think I or the staff is responsible for whatever success CCCC has had, Deuteronomy 8:17-18 flashes to mind:”You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me. But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” Success comes from God. If I ever get to the point at which I think “I can handle this now,” I’m done from God’s perspective. I’m pretty sure that what he wants to do through me is more than I am capable of doing on my own, so if I leave him out of it, he’ll probably want someone else in my position who will rely on him.
As pastor of Erin Full Gospel Fellowship, I prayed each August to receive the overall spiritual direction I should give to the church for the next year. I was still full of sermon ideas and loved giving spiritual care for the church. Yet this time when I prayed, the Lord said my time there was up. “No,” I protested! “I still want to pastor.” The Spirit responded to me saying,”John, you can keep pastoring if you want, but you’ll be on your own.” Oh my goodness, did that make me sit up straight! Much against my own wishes, I resigned as of Thanksgiving and helped with an orderly transition to a new pastor. I sure wasn’t going to risk speaking on God’s behalf to Christ’s church without the Spirit enabling me!! The only consolation I had was that I have never before nor since experienced the sense of God’s complete approval for a task that was finished as I did that day. And in hindsight, the reason my time was over at the church was to free me up to do my doctorate. I had no idea that six months later an opportunity would arise out of nowhere to pursue a Doctor of Ministry degree.
How long have you been in ministry? Do you recall how reliant you were on God when you started out? Do you still feel the same today?
Rekindling first love
Here are some great ideas to rekindle your first love for Jesus:
- Go back and relive your call to ministry and times when God was obviously working through you. Reflect on those times. What was your role in those times? Are you playing a different role today? Start doing the same spiritual practices you did then. Re-adopt the attitudes that you held then.
- Make sure you are receiving ministry and not just giving it. You need to be in a non-leadership role somewhere where others are speaking into your life. Be discipled by someone. Take the sermons you hear to heart. Feed your spirit.
- Remember at all times that you are leading Christ’s ministry, not yours.
- God works through weakness, so that his power is seen. Be humble and give credit where credit is due – to God.
- If God led you to your ministry, then he still wants to lead you in your ministry. Don’t stop seeking God’s guidance as earnestly as you once did.
- You are a follower before you are a leader! In fact, you are a follower first, a partner with your co-labourers second, and a leader third. The purpose of your leadership role is to help your teammates faithfully follow God’s leading and do the work he wants done. It’s about following God, not you.
Do any readers have their own rekindling ideas to share? Please do.