As a teenager (as if that were a long time ago) I spent several of my Summers volunteering as a “Summer Missionary” with Child Evangelism Fellowship. In case you are not familiar with CEF, our Summers consisted of going around our county teaching “5-day clubs” for kids. Before our ministry officially began, each teen involved would go to the Asheville area for a week or two of training. Part of the training was comprised of an actual 5-day club in the Asheville area, supervised by our counselor.
I remember one year as we began to pack up all our supplies and head out into the city, I was so excited—excited to present to these kids the amazing gospel of Jesus! Many of these kids had never heard it before, and I couldn’t wait to see the excitement on their faces when they heard it for the first time! I wanted them to get saved.
Songs were sung, a missionary story was told, the gospel had been clearly presented at least three times, and no one got saved. No kid in that room even seemed the least bit interested in the gospel! We all did a great job. We followed the schedule, were energetic, and captivated the kids attention the entire hour! I was so discouraged. Honestly, I didn’t care any more. I didn’t want to go back to that club, in fact, I wanted to go home. How could I complete an entire summer of this when my passion expired the very first day?
I knew my attitude sucked. Something had to be done about it before the next day began, though when we returned in the morning I was just as discouraged as before. I purposed to think positively, and mustered up the strength the give it my best shot. At the end of the day, nothing changed. Any discouragement that I felt the day before was now multiplied. Returning to camp after the club I began to pray that God would refuel my passion to reach those kids. As I prayed I recognized my error; my focus was all wrong! My focus was on those kids—getting the kids saved!—rather than on the glory of God! Once I shifted my focus onto God I was able to see the situation in a whole new light. When the kids didn’t respond to the message, it made me all the more passionate about getting it to them clearer than before! Of course that is not to say that we should no longer have compassion on people, or that the thought of them in Hell should never motivate us—Jesus modeled compassion often (Mark 8:2 etc). I still wanted them to accept Christ, but my main focus was beginning to change. Jesus loves those kids, and died for them! As Paris Reidhead asked, does He “not deserve the reward of [His] Suffering?”
Honestly, I don’t remember how many kids got saved after that. That’s really not the point of the story. I’m not claiming that as long as our focus is on God, our evangelistic attempts are going to be magically powerful! I think at least one or two kids got saved, though It probably would have gone down exactly the same hadn’t I refocused.
Paul said this:
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” Philippians 1:15-18 (ESV).
So maybe it didn’t make a huge difference in the effectiveness of my words, but it definitely made a difference in my passion to reach them. Could this be part of the reason so many missionaries ‘burn out’ and leave the field that God called them to? Certainly the preachers who preached Christ “from envy and rivalry” didn’t last as long as Paul did!
A passion for ministry that isn’t ultimately a passion for God, is superficial and will die.
As ministers of the Word we must remember that we exist to bring glory to God. We are “ministers of reconciliation” (II Cor 5:18-19), and as we strive to bring the “message of reconciliation” to the world we must keep our focus on Him, knowing that those who are reconciled will forever worship and glorify God (Eph 2:7)!
“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Mission exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever” (John Piper, Let The Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God In Missions 17).