Great answer, but what’s the question? Are we talking about wives or trucks? (Or something else???)
Well, if you read here much, you surely know I am NOT talking about those things. I am talking about ministry – service to God. And as I watch one of my college-age children begin a career path in ministry, I am getting a much more mature view of what his training involves and what it aims him at (of what mine involved and what it aimed at). And like so much else involved with church and ministry today, I am skeptical. Something is amiss here, and it stinks of idolatry.
Are you aware, dear reader, that King Herod The Great, the king of the Jews when Jesus was born, started a construction project to rival all others? A construction project that lasted over 70 years! And the monument he was building was Jerusalem’s Temple – aka The HOUSE of God. Herod would not live to see it completed. However Jesus of Nazareth, who was born in Bethlehem (it’s complicated, I know, but try to keep up) was born very early on in the construction process. He was crucified well before its completion. But when it was finished, it was one of the great Wonders of the World and rivaled even Rome’s glory! And just to give you a taste, let me point out that some modern scholars have chosen to call Ancient Jerusalem not a city, but a temple with a small village around it!
Yeah. That’s HUGE!
If you thought Solomon’s temple was big… sorry to tell you, but Herod’s was bigger!
Let me round out the picture just a bit more, for I suspect many of my readers just are not really equipped with sufficient knowledge of this monstrosity to truly appreciate it’s significance as a looming backdrop to the canonical gospel stage upon which this Jesus plays in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. During Jesus’s whole life (“earthly Jesus” as some of us call him), Jerusalem would have effectively been an orange barrel city. Digging, dirt moving, stone-stacking, men-at-work, hard-hat-required zoning at every turn. Kinda like driving through Albuquerque, New Mexico any time in the last 40 years! But this is, in a sense, the place of worship when Jesus was doing his “earthly ministry”. It was big and massive AND it took a loooooooong time to complete!
The temple always was meant to be the place where heaven and earth met. God would live there (at least that was the idea). But if you had to choose between that monumental stone structure or the young, donkey-riding prophet who throws tables inside it, which one would you say was God’s real dwelling place? (John 1:14 anyone?)
Perhaps you recall that scene when the disciples follow Jesus out of the temple district and pause on the Mount of Olives to look back at the construction project. One of the disciples points out the size of the stones being moved in to place (Mark 13; Matt. 24; Luke 21). Suddenly the construction site is starting to take shape. All those taxes Herod raised for all those years are finally starting to grip the imagination of Jews who patriotically love God and country! And what does Jesus say about those stones? Does he say, “Yeah, God is really blessing Herod’s ministry with fantastic success!”?
No. He doesn’t. And instead of blessing that construction site, God sends his young prophet to die on a cross outside the city.
Maybe when Jesus says not one stone atop another he is just being jealous! But if you are a New Testament Christian believer, that is not an option you entertain.
Maybe for him SIZE doesn’t matter.
Or… Maybe smaller is better with Jesus?
How big is your heart? That is the Christian temple after all… No?
Let’s consider this a bit more critically. Did I say these passages of Scripture teach us how to do ministry – the ins-n-outs of service pleasing to God? No. I am not claiming that. They do, however, make a good springboard for our discussion though. After all, I did mention idolatry, yet no one ever accused Herod of that! Yet, there is no doubt that money, sex, and power characterized Herod and his kingship/dom. As N.T. Wright demonstrates, these ancient Roman gods are alive and well in America today too.* And if they could so severely infiltrate the king of the Jews and his (supposed) best efforts at leading and serving God’s people in Jesus’ day, who’s to say they aren’t our problem now too? And anyway, we certainly see quite clearly the difference between BIG SUCCESS and small failure.
And here’s the rub… neither in my own training for ministry, nor that of one of my kids in school training now too, do I find the slightest concern regarding this problem, but I sure do see plenty of collusion both there in the academy as well as in the field.
When I was young “success” used to be measured in numbers of souls saved. You could have a revival if you were good at packing the house. And if you were successful, you could get an appointment at a big church, if not – a small one. Conversely, if you started a church that grew large (or pastored a small one into strong numerical growth) you would be considered a success. And this idea is not entirely gone and forgotten now, but the money and influence that go with those numbers is where the real measure of $ucce$$ is now.
I especially see this in the 501c3 ministries. Don’t be fooled by the label “non-profit”. There is a LOT of ca$h to be made out there with a “non-profit” mini$try. And as the 501c3 ministries don’t really need to claim numbers of souls saved to be a mark of success, there is no way around claiming ever-growing budgets that reach into the million$! And, anyway, wouldn’t you rather give your money to an organization that is known for, and has a track record of, handling large $um$? The health-n-wealth gospel preachers on your TV have nothing on these ministries! As one of my fellow street ministers asked me two years ago: When did HOMELESS MINISTRY BECOME A BU$INE$$???
The church I attend used to be located, not too many years ago, in a more central part of town (not exactly poor, but certainly not the glitz-n-glam), and the building was a bit frumpy and “dated”. But we put together a fundraising campaign and joined the white-flight district with a HUGE and ornate monument to the peasant Jew crucified in the backwater part of someone else’s empire! And now that church is considered a $ucce$$ of the first order! Not exactly the achievement of coronation by crucifixion… No. A bit more respectable (with Roman-style respectability) than that.
College is all about training successful professionals. And I watch my boy taking ministry classes to train him (among other things) to write a $ucce$$ful resume, to dre$$ for $ucce$$, to $trategize proper time management, and so forth – you know, just the kind of stuff God sent Moses into the deserts of Midian to learn before he started his ministry, or like he sent young David to learn in the sheep fields, or just like Jesus taught the twelve before he sent them out two by two. What counted as success in each of those examples?
Agent X, Are you saying we should not train budding pastors of 19-21 years old to manage their time properly?
Yeah… I am saying that. For Jesus, time management in ministry seems to have involved arriving a bit late to heal Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35) or Lazarus (John 11:32), but showing up in time to party at all the major weddings and festivals! (Matt. 11:19/Luke 7:34). Who is really served by proper time management, as it’s taught in “ministry” courses at the Christian university? Is it not the business interests of church buildings and colleges? I know when I was in college, the same exact school that taught me that when I give I should not let my right hand know what my left hand is doing (Matt. 6:3) turned around the day after graduation and tried to sell me a brick in the memorial wall with my name on it for only $100! And for $1000, I could get my name on a seat in the coliseum.
Really??? I got that Christian education for that? Yeah. I did, it seems. And as I recall, I loved my Bible classes and hated my ministry classes. And hey, while I am at it, will someone please tell Dave Ramsey that Jesus teaches us to FORGIVE debt, and that if and when our pastors, churches, and 501c3 ministry representatives ever finally get that message across to God’s creation, THERE WON’T BE ANY DEBT ANYMORE! IT’S CALLED JUBILEE!!!
And this Jesus we serve, if we are in fact serving him, says not one stone will be left upon another… All this aiming big at success and so on is really not found on his lips or in his example. Look again! The ministry God is blessing is probably NOT a huge temple-construction project; it’s a young prophet dying on a Roman cross! Perhaps we could find another measuring stick for ministry success. Try APOCALYPTIC!
* Wright, N. T. (1994). Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.