A Case for Both
Over the years, whether it was in a conference where Daniel and I were speaking together or writing an article for Strategic Renewal, I have confessed that Daniel and I are like Mary and Martha. Daniel has always led out in being the one at Jesus’ feet, or as he puts it, seeking the face of Jesus. My propensity is to exchange service for prayer, work for dependency.
The local church has been my place of employment for 50 years. I love the local church. Yes, there have been rough seas at times, but I still believe in the importance of local bodies. There have been times when I had to reckon with the realization that my love for the local church was overpowering my love for Christ. Why? The basic functions of the church were comfortable for me. I could measure, and to some degree control, the outcome. I could forecast budgets, chart attendance graphs, project building campaigns. Doing these exercises of leading is not necessarily wrong, but it can be if these things are the end goal. The local church has to be more than a set of metrics.
Through the years, I have listened to and even taught the concept of being a God-dependent church. It is agreed in many circles that the pastor sets the sail of the ship. His shadow falls on the ministry of the church. As I wrestled with that principle over the years, the Holy Spirit slowly taught me the importance of leading by example. It was never hard to set an example of long hours of work. However, in quiet moments I sensed the Holy Spirit showing me the flaw in what I exemplified. If the true goal was to be a God-dependent church that could see an unexplainable transformation, then it seems logical it should start with the leaders. Conclusively, I understand that my example in public worship, small gatherings, staff meetings, and one-on-one times with people must display God-dependency in prayer. Thus, regular prayer gatherings must take place, a culture of prayer must be developed, and the leaders must be at the front of this charge. People need to sense that prayer is the natural outflow of our leadership. It is in prayer that we lean upon Him and not ourselves.
Our church puts a high emphasis on discipleship. On the front end it seems like it could be just another activity. However, it is more than an activity or just another small gathering to study the Bible, fill out workbooks, and recite memory verses. We define a disciple based on Jesus’ invitation found in Matthew 4:19, where He said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Taken from a pastor by the name of Jim Putman, we then teach there are three principles true in a disciple’s life. A disciple is one who follows Jesus, is being changed by Jesus, and is on mission with Jesus. As I reflect often on that definition, I understand that a disciple is one who is following, seeking, or desiring to be like Jesus. The idea of dependency becomes a normal part of the disciple’s life. Then as we are close to Him, He begins to change us. We become like our teacher. He begins a transformation in our lives that is more than just behavior modification. It is the closeness of being with Him that changes us. With His work going on in our lives, we join in mission with Him. We begin to see the brokenness of men and women. We become fishers of men. With a clear definition of what a disciple is, we then connect it clearly to the need of being praying people, following closely to Jesus, so that from Him we draw the strength to do His purpose for us.
There is a case for engagement in service, evangelism, planning, and preaching. Jesus, Paul, early believers in the Book of Acts, and the Epistles have left a record of the work of ministry. Yet, there is the case for agonizing in prayer, praying in all circumstances, giving God His rightful place by thankfulness and worship, and praying daily together. Hard work and deep dependence are shown throughout the New Testament record. In reality, they were in sync. So we have a case for both. We see this dual focus in the Great Commandment. Jesus instructed us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; He also said to love people as ourselves. We love God by our gratitude, our worship, our dependence and humility before Him. We love people by serving them.
The case is clear. We pray and we work. We must pray before we work, as we work, and as we finish our work. To work without prayer would be to go to war without weapons.
As I come to 50 years of ministry in August, I must admit that I am slow to learn. I have not arrived. However, I am learning that the work of God must be the work of God, the unexplainable. As I work in this season of my ministry I desire to not slow down, but I do desire more to see God be God in His church. I join the ranks of those in Strategic Renewal and the 6:4 Fellowship who long to see a transformational movement of God in our days. I join with many others in both serving strongly and adoring our great God, who is the only hope for our churches.
Copyright © 2016 Dennis Henderson. All rights reserved.
Dennis Henderson is the lead pastor of Fusion Bible Church in Durant, Oklahoma. He celebrates 50 years of full-time ministry in August of 2016. He taught in three Christian Colleges and at the Dallas Police Academy. He has been married to Billie for 51 years. One of Dennis’ great passions is to encourage pastors to stay in the game to lead God-dependent, disciple-making churches. He authored Clean Up on Aisle 2 for the purpose of sharing that the reality of long-term ministry can be possible as one keeps his heart focus on our great God.