I am a servant of the Most High. This morning my heart was filled with thanksgiving to Him. For what reason? Aside from eternal life which is God’s most precious gift to us, what was the reason for my thankfulness? As a servant of God, I do not pastor a local congregation of thousands, or even hundreds for that matter. I do not oversee a big physical church facility. I don’t run a Christian school or orphanage. Our ministry doesn’t have tens of thousands of dollars in the bank or other investment assets to its name. We don’t have thousands of missionaries around the world who minister under The Elijah Challenge banner. And shame of all shame, we don’t even have an official office for the ministry. According to the standards of the world, I could be labeled as a failure. Why should I be so thankful?
Recently I was told of a pastor who served faithfully in an area of the world dominated by a religion which is hostile to the gospel. He had worked hard and diligently over the years, and by the time he reached the age of fifty he oversaw an impressive congregation and church facility along with other related ministries like a school and an orphanage. But one day the enemies of the gospel in his area rose up and completely destroyed his church building along with its related facilities. He lost “everything.”
One cannot imagine the distress in his soul following the devastation of his labors. Man would shake his head and feel sorry for someone who had worked so hard for the better part of his life only to have nothing to show for it in the end. The world would sympathize with him, but would nevertheless not call him a success because he did not finish well. The world measures success by objective measures like physical and financial assets. Unfortunately the ways of the world have infiltrated the Church of Jesus Christ.
But what does Scripture say about physical church facilities?
In Scripture, there is little mention of the traditional church buildings or facilities we see almost everywhere in the west today. According to Acts 8, the early church did meet in the Temple in Jerusalem. However, after Stephen was martyred, persecution broke out and most of the believers fled from Jerusalem. Other than that it appears that the Church would assemble in the homes of believers as house churches. It is not recorded that the Church owned property and considerable assets as some churches do today. Moreover, it is not recorded that as apostles Peter or Paul led large ministries which owned buildings, land, and other assets liquid or otherwise.
Of course it can be argued from a contextual point of view that effective ministry in today’s culture requires official organizations, physical facilities, and the like. But would we dare say that the model followed by the early Church and Peter and Paul cannot be effective today? If we truly believe in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, few would dare say that.
Our personal testimony
In 1999 at the age of fifty when I had served as missionary and traditional local pastor for approximately 21 years, I gave it all up. I was convinced that I was not doing God’s will in my life. At that time the Lord gave me a dramatic vision in which I saw my traditional ministry turn to dust before my very eyes.
Now in 2012 we are seeing that vision being fulfilled. We have personally trained disciples in nearly 40 countries in six continents of the world with The Elijah Challenge. But in terms of physical facilities, we have nothing other than the home in which we live. By the world’s standards, we and our ministry are poor. Nevertheless, by God’s wonderful grace we have been fruitful.
With Paul we can say:
1 Thessalonians 2:19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?
For us our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory is the hundreds of thousands (and perhaps someday, millions) of souls saved and discipled through the tens of thousands which we have personally trained to heal the sick, to disciple the nations, and to fulfill the Great Commission.
The Lord has taught us to “travel light” in this life. If someday we are forced to flee or physically re-locate to another area of the world, we will have lost little—since we have virtually nothing to lose. Our ministry is not dependent on the physical structures of this world which will someday turn to dust. We will simply continue to bear fruit in the new mission field where the Lord plants us.
That is why we are so thankful to the Lord.
Since we do not have salaried workers or an office to rent for the ministry, our overhead is low. And because we are not under pressure to raise funds to cover such operational expenses, we do not need to “charge” for our ministry when invited to teach. We personally never take offerings—a great relief to us in this current age of prosperity teaching and high-pressure tactics designed to get believers to give a generous “seed offering.”
Our main expenses are for very basic personal needs, mission trips, Feeding Events and the support of indigenous pastors overseas.
The Lord has been so gracious to us. He has taught us to go back to the Scriptures. We are very thankful to Him.
What about Christian schools, orphanages, and hospitals?
Our purpose here is not to argue that these institutions should be done away with. They indeed have been a great blessing to the gospel. But can there be other ways? Scripture of course does not mention Christian schools, orphanages, and hospitals. Are there possible alternatives to them? Yes.
For one, home schooling for children has shown to be a very viable option for believing parents. Secondly, orphans can be adopted directly into the homes of believing families. While I was ministering in Africa, I learned that my host pastor had four grown daughters and an adopted two-year-old son. The boy had been given up by his mother just after she gave birth to him. He was very sickly and had virtually no hope. But out of compassion my host and his wife adopted him and nursed him back to health. Now he is a healthy toddler who loves his pastor father and imitates him in every way. Someday he will serve God very fruitfully just like his father.
As for hospitals, can the Church not follow the instructions given in the gospels and in James 5 to minister supernatural healing to the infirm, and through the miracles bring those who do not yet believe to saving faith in Jesus Christ?
It is time to return to the authoritative and inerrant Scriptures. The real Church is the living body of believers, and not our impressive physical facilities. But too often they are confused with one another, and are in fact dependent on one another. The contemporary church as it is today in the west might be hard-pressed to survive without a building. And the building would be repossessed by the bank without the believers to pay the huge mortgage on the facility.
So what did Peter actually have—if not material assets?
Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.
Peter did not own material assets, but instead had authority to heal the sick in the name of Jesus Christ—which he used very effectively to bring the lost to God. But as often attributed to Francis of Assisi, no longer does the prosperous Church in the west today need to say, “Silver and gold have I none.” Unfortunately neither can she say to a cripple, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
Luke 16:15b …for that which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.