Public ministry began for me shortly after a definite call to preach in the autumn of 1966. I was a student at a Bible college and had absolutely no idea what this calling on my life would involve. God had given me parents who loved Him, and He provided me with many great experiences with my family and friends growing up. The Lord had also granted me success in academic, sports and other activities during my high school years.
As a result, I responded to the call to preach with a great deal of self-confidence. We were farmers, we were Germans; I would work hard, think straight and succeed.
During my college years, God graciously gave me a beautiful wife, and after I graduated God led us to Temple Baptist Theological Seminary in Chattanooga, TN. By this time, we were expecting our first child and I had enjoyed a fruitful ministry as a youth pastor in a local church.
Burnt Out in Ministry
The years in seminary were different. My heart was good, but the Lord began to systematically chip away at my self-confidence. He was allowing situations to arise that I couldn't handle just by working hard and thinking straight. I even doubted my salvation for a time.
I didn't know it yet, but the Lord was taking me into a deeper brokenness that would require a deeper dependence on Him.
I graduated from seminary with a strong sense of His leading in my life. The invitation to our first church came right around the time of my graduation. God clearly confirmed His direction in our lives through His word, so we began. I loved to preach and God was giving me wonderful ideas. I was thinking to myself, "I'll do well at this!"
Success was my goal, and I thought I was well on my way to attaining it. What a joke! After two years I crashed and burned.
I was able to go through the motions of ministry, but there was no power or joy. I found myself filled with fear, worry, and depression. I was not having victory over my thought life, and there seemed to be no lasting fruit in the church. Worst of all, I had no earthly idea what to do about my condition. I was already working long hours applying myself to ministry, but the emptiness grew greater. Something had to change.
Sufficiency in Jesus Christ
During those months my wife became friends with an elderly Christian lady in our town. She would share tapes and books to encourage us. On one of those tapes was a sermon by a missionary about the sufficiency of Christ.
I'll never forget the points of that missionary's sermon:
- Jesus is my Savior - that's what He did for me.
- Jesus is my Sanctification that's what He does in me.
- Jesus is my Service - that's what He does through me.
- Jesus is my Shepherd - that's what He does with me.
He gave appropriate Scripture for each point, and my heart was smitten with the realization that what I desperately needed was faith in the fullness of Jesus Christ. I now call this "accepting all of Jesus."
Each one of the points correlated directly with my needs - His sanctification for my impurities, His life flowing through me in service, His shepherding to calm my fear and worry. I bowed my head and prayed, "Oh, Lord Jesus, in the same way I received you by faith to be my Savior, I now by faith receive you as my Sanctification, my Service, and my Shepherd." My heart was full and my spirit was free. God had shown me that the fullness of Jesus was my answer.
I was overjoyed with my newfound sufficiency in Christ. In my ministry life I was taking the awkward first steps in learning how to let Christ build His church while still maintaining my leadership responsibilities.
After six more years in Tennessee and Georgia, God led us to Calvary Baptist Church in Danville, Illinois. By that time God had helped me to clarify this message of the sufficiency of Jesus, and the people in our new church were being blessed. They had experienced several years of hurt and desperately needed refreshing.
Christ Proves His Sufficiency
For about two years, our church grew in excitement as hurts were healed and the people came to understand the sufficiency of Christ. But they began to struggle when they learned that in order to see the sufficiency of Christ fully realized in our church, they would have to submit to His lordship and allow the ministry to become His alone. The church leveled off, and once again I had no idea what to do.
As I walked home after church one Sunday morning, I expressed my concern to the Lord and let Him know I was trusting in Him to build His church. I told Him I truly loved the people at Calvary and believed He had strategically called me to this place.
Within a month of that very dependent prayer, a revival team came to a sister church in a neighboring town. The crusade there grew far beyond expectations. The two weeks of scheduled meetings became three, then four. The revival team called area pastors together to discuss what God was doing and the possibility of moving the revival services to a larger city.
As I sat in that meeting I began to sense that God was coming our way. Sure enough, within days the meetings were moved to Danville and right into our church! All of this happened with the blessing of our leadership and the consensus of the revival team and the Christian community.
What a time we had - three-and-a-half weeks of watching God change our lives in a deep and lasting way! The Lord had answered my prayer, blessed our church, clarified the message of His sufficiency, and gave me a church family that related to what God had done in my life years before.
Enablement through Christ
I sensed, however, that in this blowing of God's Spirit there existed the very real potential that it all could blow over - or blow up - very quickly. I asked the revival leader what he would recommend as a follow-up procedure in this case. He recommended a particular revival team that he believed God could use to meet our needs.
Two-and-a-half years later, that revival team arrived for a three-week crusade. Again God blessed with a deepening reality, clarification, and application of the wonderful sufficiency of Jesus Christ.
Our church was experiencing the river of enablement that can only flow from the character of God. Our leadership was growing in these truths and our people were learning how to let Jesus be the Pastor of His church.
Again we needed to provide our people with post-revival follow-up. I realized that when the revival meetings are over, the pastor's work begins. It was a fact I didn't want to face! But the Lord gave me grace to do it.
Praying for the Sufficiency of Christ
We came to believe that prayer needed to be the priority in our church. We were referred to the prayer ministry of Oliver Price in Dallas, Texas. Meetings with Brother Price were scheduled, and on the phone one day I asked him what his topic would be. He said, "I will be speaking on `Christ Obviously Present and Actively in Charge'."
I thought, "That's it!" Oliver's sermon title had encapsulated my entire life's message! That first phone conversation with Brother Price took place in February of 1988.
Now, years later, Oliver's sermon has become a prayer seminar, a book, a ministry for Bible Prayer Fellowship, and a vision of ever-expanding ministry to the Body of Jesus Christ, which is forever struggling and in need of getting back to its first love.
"Christ Obviously Present and Actively in Charge" is the only way for families and churches to live if they intend to enjoy the life of heaven here on earth. We must learn to depend, to believe, to rest, to pray, with Christ obviously present and actively in charge.
A New Paradigm
God has given me a new, true paradigm for success. This true paradigm has little to do with sermons or offerings or attendance. Success in ministry happens when Christ is obviously present and actively in charge of His church when it meets together for prayer under His authority. The glorified Christ is still walking amongst His candlesticks, holding His messengers. He's still knocking on the door of the church, eager to be invited in among us and given a place of honor.
The Heart of Bible Prayer Fellowship
After many years of tried and proven ministry with Christ obviously present and actively in charge, our heart is to serve the church by giving clear biblical and practical answers to vital questions, such as:
- Why pray?
- Why pray together?
- What is the theology of corporate prayer?
- How can we restore Christ's authority over our churches?
- What does the church that Jesus builds look like?
- How can we allow Christ to build His church, and still maintain responsible leadership?
- What is the New Testament vision of a successful church?
- What are the biblical goals of a successful church?
- What is the fastest-growing sin in the church?
To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:21