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Christian Ministry

  1. Is call a must for fulltime Christian Ministry?
  2. Is Seminary training a must?
  3. Can I preach others' sermons?thers' sermons?
  4. Are there Apostles today?
  5. How can I have a deliverance ministry?
  6. What about Healing Crusades?
  7. How about Prayer Walks?
  8. Are para-church organisations Biblical?
  9. How about independent ministries?
  10. Why defections?
  11. Can we follow a leader?
  12. Why do Christian leaders backslide?
  13. Why do God's servants die before time?
  14. What about those who die unevangelised?

1. Is call a must for fulltime Christian Ministry?

Most of the Christians believe that unless a person is definitely "called," he should not enter fulltime Christian service. Others are of the opinion that it's a matter of "choice." Confusion over this matter is one of the foremost reasons for insufficient number of workers for the harvest. What has the Bible to say on this?

The text which is frequently quoted to stress the need for a definite call is Hebrews 5:4, "No man takes this honour to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was." We must not fail to notice two things here. First of all, the reference here is not to general priestly service but to the special position of a "high priest" (v 1). Secondly, the priesthood is changed under the New Covenant. Christ our elder Brother is not after the order of Aaron but that of Melchizedek (Heb 7:11-13). He arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood (v 14). Therefore the use of Hebrews 5:4 to answer our question is inappropriate.

You will be disappointed if you keep waiting for a dramatic call as in the case of Moses or Paul. Men like them were called to fulfil unique roles in the founding of the Jewish nation and the Christian Church. This is the "eleventh hour" in Church history. Those who excuse themselves saying, "No one hired us," will be fired by the Lord of the harvest, "Why have you been standing here idle all day?" (Mt 20:1-7). They were not supposed to be waiting for a call at the "marketplace." Rather, they should have gone to the "vineyard" to find out if they were needed. While searching for secular employment we knock every door and accept as God's will for us that which opens. Why not apply the same logic to get into God's work? So many Christians are unemployed or underemployed, but they never bother about the Kingdom work that is understaffed (Mt 9:37).

Don't pray, "Lord, call me," rather, "Lord, send me!" (Mt 9:38). God did NOT ask Isaiah, "Shall I send YOU? And will YOU go for Us?" Instead He said, "WHOM shall I send? And WHO will go for us?" (Isa 6:8). To a general call, Isaiah gave a personal response: "Here am I! Send me." Then God said, "Go!" (v9). It is when we volunteer to "go," God will "send" us.

"Many are called, but few chosen." Jesus made this statement twice in the Gospels, once in the parable of the vineyard and next in the parable of the wedding feast (Mt 20:16; 22:14). Both these parables teach human responsibility to respond to God's call properly. In other words, those who obey the call are the "chosen!"

God also honours the desire of parents when they commit their children for His service. Hannah, of her own self, promised God that if He would bless her with a son, she would give him away for His service. God granted her heart's desire and she kept her promise. It was after several years that God personally called Samuel (1 Sam 1:11,27,28; 3:8,9). When parents these days motivate children from very early years that they should become doctors or engineers and spare no pains to make them so, why not do so for God's work?

My mother had dedicated me, her firstborn, for God's work several years before I decided to enter fulltime ministry. I had a growing desire to invest all my time, talents and treasure in God's cause, even though I was doing quite well in my engineering profession. I realised that it was God who was planting such "desire" in my heart (Phil 2:13). I neither heard an audible voice nor saw a vision. It was a simple guidance. My wife was more than happy when I shared my decision with her. My mother embraced me with tears. My parents-in-law simply said, "Let the will of the Lord be done." Under normal circums-tances, the wife may go with her husband as he steps out into fulltime ministry. Abraham's call is good enough for Sarah also (Gen 12:5).

I have not come across instances where God has asked candidates, "Why did you come when I called you not?" Rather there are just too many Christians whom God will question, "Why didn't you come when I called you?" The disobedient outnumber the obedient.

Beware of overconsultation! Even seniors and prophets at times may misguide you (Gal 1:16; Acts 21:8-14). I encourage you to read my articles, "How to make Decisions" (Chapter 9, ENLIGHTENING ESSAYS) and "How we miss God's will" (Chapter 5, FIRE IN MY BONES).

Don't mistake me. I don't say that God expects all His children to leave their jobs and enter Christian ministry. What I say is this: Need is great. Time is short. Choice is yours. Take the first step. Proceed. If you turn to the left or to the right, God will correct you (Isa 30:21).

2. Is Seminary training a must?

Jesus as a boy learnt from teachers by listening to them and asking them questions (Lk 2:46). Paul as a young man studied the Old Testament at the feet of Gamaliel, a highly respected teacher of his time (Acts 22:3; 5:34). God has placed "teachers" in the Church for the equipping, educating and edifying of the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4:11-13). Teaching is therefore ordained by God. Systematic learning is a must for every believer and especially for those who enter fulltime ministry. The pulpit is polluted by preachers not trained in "rightly dividing the Word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). Someone said, The Bible today suffers more in the hands of its exponents than its opponents!

The other side of the coin is equally distressing. Liberals and modernists have somehow entered the faculty of many of our theological colleges. Imagine we have professors who are not even born again! Lot of head knowledge without a jot of heart experience. But the teachers in Bible times were quite different. Samuel was a teacher bathed in the spirit of prayer (1 Sam 12:23). Ezra had "prepared his heart" in order to teach the people (Ezr 7:10). Paul, Barnabas and the three others who were teachers in Antioch were men given to fasting and prayer (Acts 13:1,2). The apostles taught under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and not with human wisdom (1 Cor 2:13). Jesus demanded that the teachers should first be doers (Mt 5:19). Paul challenged those who divorced their life from their teaching (Rom 2:21).

Several young people in India lose their early vision, faith and zeal after entering a theological college. I have personally known some of them. Of those who are mightily used of God as Revivalists and Evangelists in India, very few are theologians. Even in the international scene, this is so. Billy Graham is not a theological graduate!

In some seminaries the teachers are mere academicians. They cannot teach their students how to hear God, fast and pray, operate spiritual gifts, cast out demons and so on. I recently came across the following lines concerning one of our well-known seminaries: "At present we have two teachers having Ph.D. in missiology. Both of them do not have firsthand missionary experience." Alarming and appalling?

In the light of these facts, one should very prayerfully decide for himself what sort of training he should have for the type of ministry he is called to. For example, a course on the principles of Church growth and a short-term missionary training are ideal for a missionary career. Besides theology, some seminaries offer courses on Christian arts, communication, music, counselling, management, youth ministry and so on. These are quite helpful. A systematic training disciplines the mind for right thinking. We thank God for the colleges which have produced some of the finest preachers, teachers and pastors.

If only one has discipline and capacity for self-study, there's an ocean of study materials to profit from. Even after entering the ministry, systematic study should continue for life.

3. Can I preach others' sermons?thers' sermons?

Nothing we have is of our own. Whatever we have is what we have received from God (1 Cor 4:7). No one is original. Nothing is original. God alone is original and we are created in His "image."

Paul received most of his revelations directly from God. But he told Timothy to teach others whatever the latter had learnt from the former. And he wanted the chain to continue (2 Tim 2:2). This is God's general method of communication.

Therefore in the strict sense there is nothing wrong in using someone else's outline for preaching. But preparing one's own outline gives greater authority and confidence while delivering the sermon. We must be a voice rather than an echo!

There are several dangers in using others' sermons. There sets in a tendency to become lazy and the discipline that goes with the hard work of preparing an outline is left undeveloped. Flexibility in the pulpit under the guidance of the Spirit is very important, but with borrowed sermon outlines it is not easy. When proper acknowledgement is not given to the source we steal the credit due to another.

Books of sermon outlines by preachers of old like Charles Spurgeon abound. When one begins his public pulpit ministry, it is advisable to study some of these outlines to get an idea on how to construct sermons. To start with, some of these readymade outlines can be used with suitable modifications. But sooner one learns to walk without these crutches the better.

Quoting others while preaching will spice the sermon. Someone said, "He who does not quote will not be quoted!" When God calls a man to preach He equips him. He can freely use others' labours in sermon preparation but he must be watchful lest he misses the peculiarity God has designed for him.

4. Are there Apostles today?

The answer to this question is both "yes" and "no."

There are two categories of apostles we find in the Bible. The first is the twelve disciples Jesus personally chose during His earthly ministry and named as apostles (Lk 6:13). This group was frequently referred to as "The Twelve" (Mt 26:20; Jn 20:24; 1 Cor 15:5). They had known Jesus intimately and were eyewitnesses of the special events during the three year period. The Lord also appeared to them personally after His resurrection. This uniquely privileged group received its special authority from Christ who is "the" Apostle (Heb 3:1). He promised the twelve that they would "sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" in the recreated world (Mt 19:28). As foundational ministers of the New Testament Church, the names of the twelve apostles would be written on the twelve foundations of New Jerusalem (Eph 2:20; Rev 21:14). When Judas died suicidally, his position of apostleship was taken up by Matthias who also had been an eyewitness of the ministry of Jesus from the beginning (Acts 1:16-26). Thus these twelve formed an unique circle and there's no successor to any of them. The Bible does not suggest any addition to this category of apostles.

God however chose Paul in a special way, especially as an apostle to the gentiles, and granted him the fullfledged apostolic authority. He also received unparallelled revelations concerning the Church. Not to pride of his calling but to establish his ministry, Paul over and over again declared himself to be an apostle by Jesus' call (1 Cor 9:1; Gal 1:1,15,16).

The New Testament speaks also of other apostles who were never counted as part of "The Twelve." They were Barnabas (Acts 14:14), James (Gal 1:18,19; Acts 15), Andronicus and Junias (Rom 16:7), and several others unnamed (1 Cor 15:7).

Apostleship is the first of the five ministries the ascended Christ has given to the Church. They are meant to continue functioning in the Church "till we all come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:10-13; 1 Cor 12:28). If we say that the apostles have ceased to be, then on what authority can we say we still have evangelists, pastors and teachers, who are listed in the same passage? We dare not be partial in interpreting any portion of the Scriptures.

The word "apostle" comes from the Greek word "apostolos," meaning "one who is sent forth." In the NT times, "apostle" meant an envoy, one sent on a mission as the personal representative of the one sending him. The Latin equivalent of the word "apostle" gives us the word "missionary." They are essentially translocal and mobile ministers, visioned for pioneer work to lay the foundations for the Church where Christ is not named (Rom 15:20, 21; Acts 13:1-4). Those with an apostolic ministry can be generally identified by their readiness to suffer and sacrifice (1 Cor 4:9-13; 2 Cor 4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:23-33; Gal 6:17; etc.), spiritual authority for leadership, training and discipline (1 Cor 4:21-5:5; 2 Cor 7:8,9; 2 Tim 2:1-3), and the presence of signs, wonders and mighty deeds in their ministry (2 Cor 12:12). At the same time if we keep measuring everybody by the standard of Paul, we may fail to recognize several apostles developing from among us.

Functioning is more important than labelling. Thank God we do have apostles today. They give direction and impart vision to the Church to fulfil her call. We need more of them in these closing days.

5. How can I have a deliverance ministry?

If you are a soulwinning Christian you are already doing deliverance ministry, because salvation from sin is the greatest deliverance Jesus came to bring for mankind (Mt 1:21). It is erroneously thought that only those who are involved in the ministry of praying for the sick and casting out demons are in the deliverance ministry. This is only a part of the wholistic deliverance the Bible speaks about. A Biblical ministry of deliverance includes atleast seven aspects—

a) Deliverance from the bondage of the Law

Even though Christ has delivered us from the bondage of the Old Testament Law, numerous Christians do not enjoy the liberty in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:2,3; Gal 5:18). They live under the yoke of legalism which says, "Touch not, Taste not, Handle not!" (Col 2:20-22; Gal 5:1). This is due to a lack of understanding of the difference between Law and Grace (Jn 1:17). They never bubble with the joy of salvation. A spirit of gloominess and heaviness will surround them. They can be delivered from this state only through a practical exposition of Apostle Paul's Epistles like Romans, Galatians and Colossians.

b) Deliverance from the power of sin

Deliverance from the penalty of sin is instant at rebirth, but deliverance from the power of sin is a moment-by-moment exercise. This is otherwise called walking in the Spirit to overcome the works of the flesh (Gal 5:16-25). By "standing" we are already perfect and complete in Christ (Col 2:10); but by "state" we are growing into perfection (Col 1:28). Our sinful nature is not "eradicated" from us in this earthly life, but we can be "emancipated" from its power by the indwelling Christ and His Spirit. Without the knowledge of this liberating truth, Christians live miserably under guilt and condemnation (Rom8:1,33,34).

c) Deliverance from the curse of sickness

Though all sickness is not the direct result of sin in an individual's life, there was no sickness or death before our first parents sinned. Jesus commanded His disciples to heal the sick when He sent them to preach the gospel (Mt 10:7,8; Lk 9:2). Even though all may not be bestowed with the "gifts of healings," any Christian believer can "lay hands on the sick" and offer the "prayer of faith" (1 Cor 12:30; Mk 16:18; Js 5:15,16). Medical work done in the spirit and compassion of Christ is not inferior to miracle healing. God is the Healer in any case.

d) Deliverance from the oppressions of the devil

The devil plays havoc in the lives of people who know not God. Christ came to "destroy the works of the devil" (1 Jn 3:8b). Some Christians are exceptionally used by God in exorcism, but every Christian has the "authority" over the "power" of the enemy (Lk 10:19). Demons obeyed the seventy disciples of Christ even when they had least expected it (v17). He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4). Stay full of the Holy Spirit and deliver people from demonic oppression and demon possession (Acts 10:38). Learn from mature Christians and be a part of a team as you set out to deliver people.

e) Deliverance from social bondage

The prophets of old invariably called God's people to fight for justice on behalf of the poor, the fatherless and the widows and deliver them from the oppressors (Isa 1:17; Am 5:15,24). Patriarch Job testified, "I broke the fangs of the wicked and plucked the victim from his teeth" (Job 29:17,12-16). Missionary William Carey (1761-1834) alongwith Rajaram Mohan Roy crusaded against the "sati" system and persuaded the Government of India to ban it. Missionary Amy Carmichael (1861-1951) fought against temple prostitution. It is for such daring acts that the Lord has "anointed" us (Isa 61:1). Do whatever you can to enlighten the minds of people to be delivered from superstitious fears (Isa 42:6,7). There are more and bigger thieves outside the prison than inside. Ministry to prisoners is Christly (Lk 4:18; Heb 13:3).

f) Deliverance from bad habits

Even after a genuine experience of rebirth lots of individuals are unable to come out of certain addictive habits like smoking and drinking. The cry of these people is, "Don't tell me why; show me how!" If you desire to help them, you need lot of patience and compassion. Never condemn them and add guilt to their burden. Meditation and memorisation of the Scriptures, fullness of the Holy Spirit, close fellowship with believers, kind shepherding, good reading and busy occupations are the rehabilitation helps to be offered. All deliverance may not be instant. Give a helping hand to voluntary organisations which are committed to help such victims. There's nothing unspiritual about such partnership.

g) Deliverance from doctrinal deceptions

Doctrinal deception is a killing captivity. Paul says that one can escape this "snare of the devil" only if he comes back to his senses (2 Tim 2:24-26). Too many Christians are unaware that they hear only "doctrines of demons" from several pulpiteers who speak under the anointing of "deceiving spirits" (1 Tim 4:1). Bold Bible teachers are wanted to confront these agents of Lucifer and deliver people from their craftiness so they may not be "destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hos 4:6). There is too much of preaching and too little teaching these days. Though not from a pulpit to large gatherings, give yourself to share sound doctrinal truths with individuals and small groups. This is the deliverance ministry desperately needed in the Church today.

6. What about Healing Crusades?

Wherever Jesus went He preached the Gospel and healed the sick (Mt 9:35). Miracles were quite normal in His ministry. People came to Him "to hear Him and be healed of their diseases" (Lk 6:17). Miracles of healing were the attesting signs of His Messianic ministry (Mt 11:2-5).

When Jesus chose and commissioned the twelve to preach the gospel, He clearly commanded them to "heal the sick" (Mt 10:7,8). Also in the Great Commission to the Church, the ministry of healing is included (Mk 16:15-18). The "gifts of healings" bestowed by the Holy Spirit are to continue Christ's healing ministry on earth today.

But, the modern practices followed in the healing crusades make several fair-minded Christians and leaders to dismiss the ministry of healing with contempt. This is not justifiable. The remedy for abuse or misuse is not non-use but proper use!

Let me highlight a few areas where several of the healing ministries bring more dishonour than glory to God's Name. The evangelist becomes the centre of attraction and heroworship is common. The emphasis unconsciously shifts from the salvation of soul to the healing of the body. The evangelists make certain statements which are highly questionable in the light of the Scriptures. For example, "Today God is going to heal people with ailments below the hip and tomorrow above the hip!" During the healing sessions photographic tricks are freely played. Exaggerated reports in magazines and periodicals are normal. Funds appeal is professionally interwoven. Special prayers are promised for special offerings. Financial accountability is usually absent. Showmanship is at its highest. These and such things are contrary to the teachings of the Carpenter-healer from Nazareth!

The ministry of healing for Christians should primarily function in the context of the local Church (Js 5:14). And evangelists with gifts of healing should not be freelancers but be closely linked to the other leaders of the Church for safety and accountability (Acts 8:12-17). Then the result of all such ministries will be Church planting and Church growth and not building of individual empires!

7. How about Prayer Walks?

With the renewal of interest in the subject of intercession and spiritual warfare has come the practice of organized walks across the streets of cities and towns called Prayer Walks. Though this appeals to many believers, several others are quite bothered because to them this practice does not sound very scriptural. As prayer walks are becoming increasingly popular, a Biblical analysis of this exercise has become necessary.

First and foremost, it must be pointed out that, according to Jesus, prayer must be essentially offered in secret. He condemned the intentional habit of certain religionists of His day who loved to pray "on the corners of the streets." He taught, "When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (Mt 6:5,6). According to Jesus, the secret of prayer was praying in secret. Rarely do we read of Him praying in public. Rather He withdrew to places of solitute for this holy exercise. Even for the sick He never prayed in public. He simply healed them.

When Jesus commissioned the seventy disciples to be sent out to evangelize towns and villages, He told them, "Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops" (Mt 10:27). In other words, praying should be in private and that must be followed by preaching in public. This was the Lord's prescription even for hostile and non-receptive places (v28).

We do not come across any passage in the Acts of the Apostles which suggests prayer walks across cities. The spirit of Paul was deeply provoked within him when he saw the city of Athens full of idols. He did not immediately organize a prayer march against the spirit of idolatry. Instead he reasoned with people daily in the marketplaces (Acts 17:16,17). When Peter was imprisoned, the believers did not march around the prison walls shouting praise and prayer. Rather they were praying in houses behind closed doors, and the Lord miraculously delivered him (Acts 12:5,12,17).

The seven day march of Israelites around the walls of Jericho is the oft-quoted Biblical example to support and promote prayer walks (Joshua 6). But this incident is not meant to directly teach us about spiritual warfare prayer in the New Testament era. Apostle Paul's teaching on this subject in his Epistle to the Ephesians is explicit and conclusive. According to him, the active sphere of evil powers is "in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12). Christ is seated "in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion" (1:20,21). We as believers in Him are seated with Him at this level "in the heavenly places" (1:3). As such the warfare is not at the horizontal plane. We fight the enemy from above him. This principle is best illustrated in the battle scene of God's people against Amalek. Moses, Aaron and Hur on the hilltop represent intercessors. Joshua and the people who confront Amalekites in the plains represent Gospel communicators (Ex 17).

The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem also does not suggest prayer marches. "Hosannah" simply means "Save us, O Lord!" It was just a cry of anguish by the Jews to be delivered from the rule of Romans.

It is my conviction that we have not preached the Gospel enough. There is no substitute for sowing the seed. As important and as powerful prayer may be, it can never be a substitute for systematic and tireless preaching of the Gospel. The harvest is poor because we sow sparingly and not bountifully (2 Cor 9:6). Prayer walks may be exciting but it won't get the job done. Like the early adherents of Salvation Army, believers must boldly go for open-air evangelism. The need is for gospel processions rather than prayer marches. Jesus has commanded us to go into all the world and PREACH! (Mk 16:15). He said, "Whatever city you enter... PREACH!" (Mt 10:7; Lk 10:8,9). The seventy disciples were sent out to PREACH. As they were preaching, Jesus saw Satan falling down! (Lk 10:18).

Individually and as groups, let us infiltrate into communities to share the Gospel. Let's "fill" cities with the doctrine of Christ (Acts 5:28). Let there be non-stop proclamation of the Gospel for months and years so that "all" who dwell in countries and continents may hear it (Acts 19:10). Let's go house to house on visitation evangelism (Acts 20:20). It's such saturation evangelism which will earn us the nickname, "THOSE WHO TURN THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN!" (Acts 17:6). Though tough, this is the only way. Anything else may be thrilling, but will not be fulfilling the job.

The promise that one will inherit whichever place he treads was a national promise given to the Old Testament Israel. It was geographical (Dt 11:24; Gen 13:14,15). In the Gospel dispensation it is not places but people. Even among people, not everyone we talk to will accept our message. There's no such promise. Very few will choose the narrow gate against the broad way. We are not called to christianize the world but just evangelize it. "India for Christ" is an empty shout, but "Christ for India" is a meaningful slogan.

In conclusion I would say that prayer marches are not wrong but they are unnecessary. It makes no difference whether prayer is offered in site or from inside the closet. "Am I a God near at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off?" (Jer 23:23). What matters is how close our hearts are to God's and how much of His burden we really share (Rom 9:1-3). If the time and energy spent to organize prayer marches are invested in aggressive gospel preaching, the Great Commission will be fulfilled much sooner.

8. Are para-church organisations Biblical?

God in His sovereign grace and wisdom is using para-church organisations, so called, all over the world to further His cause. But they are an eyesore to many a pastor and Church leader. The scriptural validity of these organisations is repeatedly questioned. Dialogues between both sides have helped to improve mutual understanding, but tensions do exist. Do we have any light in the Bible over this difficult issue?

I believe that we have the seedbed for missionary societies in Acts 13. The Holy Spirit actually called Barnabas and Paul "out of" a local Church for a wider ministry. After their first missionary journey, they returned to the Church, which released them, to report the works of God (14:26,27). But thereafter we don't see Paul and his associates tied up to any one particular local Church. Their style of functioning became that of a missionary society.

Para-church organisations are essentially translocal in their ministry. Our understanding of the Church should not be limited to the local assembly. The universal aspect of the Church helps to explain the place of para-church organisations in God's Kingdom.

There are not only "diversities of gifts" but also "differences of ministries." There are not only differences of ministries but also "diversities of activities." But it is all by the "same" Spirit, "same" Lord, and "same" God (1 Cor 12:4-6). This knowledge is basic to Christian ministerial maturity. No one can tell the other, "I have no need of you" (v 21). We are not to compete with each other but complement each other.

I understand para-church organisations as the scaffolding, and the Church as the building. The mission of missions is Church planting; and the mission of the Church is missions. We need Bible Translators and Bible Societies so pastors and their congregations can have Bibles to study. Relief Agencies assist the Churches in their social concerns. Theological Colleges train men and women for various responsibilities in the Church. Missionary Societies reach out to "hidden" peoples who are not normally covered by neighbourhood evangelistic programmes of local Churches. We can go on giving such numerous examples. Nurses, pharmacists, technicians and the like are called para-medical staff. What they are to doctors is what the para-church ministries are to the local Church. They are not a substitute but a supplement to the local Church.

No single local Church can boast of having all the gifts. Para-church organizations help to bring together gifts from various Churches for common programmes and wider ministry. This way we can influence and impact communities, and not just affect the neighbourhood.

In the early Church period, there was only one Church in each locality. The condition is quite different today. Each denomination wants to establish its branch in a place even though a dozen Churches may be already functioning there! Para-church organizations serve as common platforms and meeting points to foster unity and fellowship between congregations. When we pool our resources, lot of duplication can be avoided. Para-church organisations are strictly "inter-church" organisations! They are definitely in the plan of God for the unity and maturity of the Church.

Paul rejoiced even when some preached Christ out of "envy and strife" (Phil 1:15,18). Let's praise God for any ministry that brings gains to His Kingdom. Why stop someone from prophesying just because he is not with us "inside the tabernacle?" Let's not be narrowminded like Joshua but be largehearted like Moses (Num 11:26-29). Who could ever think of a deliverance ministry other than that of Jesus and His team in His own times? John could not accept such a possibility. He actually stopped that preacher! But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him... For he who is not against us is on our side!" (Mk 9:38-40).

A message to King Saul: "Don't consider David as a threat. He will actually help in your battles!"

9. How about independent ministries?

In the old dispensation, all the religious activities were centred around the Temple. People were not allowed to offer sacrifices wherever they desired (Dt 12:5,13). But under the New Covenant "wherever" two or three would gather in the Name of Jesus, He would be there in their midst (Mt 18:20). No place is more sacred than the other to offer worship from or perform any religious duty (Jn 4:21-23). In the Old Covenant, priesthood belonged to just one of the twelve tribes. But now all the children of God are royal priests before Him to offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet 2:5,9). Misunderstanding of this privilege has led to the mushrooming of thousands of independent ministries.

Some Pastors call all ministries outside the local Churches as independent ministries. This is not correct. Individually all Christians must associate themselves in the worship and witness of local Churches, but there can be so many ministerial activities which may not be governed or administered by local Churches. Bible translation ministries, Bible societies, relief organisations, medical ministries, and pioneer missionary movements are some examples. Apostle Paul and his team were a missionary movement and they were not directed by any single local Church. They fellowshipped with local Churches wherever they travelled.

Whether it is a local Church ministry or a translocal ministry, if there's no accountability of ministers to one another, such independence is unscriptural. As far as local Churches are concerned, there can be no singular leadership. Pastors or elders or bishops or overseers are different names for the same office and they are always mentioned in the plural (e.g. Acts 20:17,28). Translocal ministries also must have plurality of leadership. Jesus sent His disciples two by two. Paul always had associates in his missionary team.

Independence in financial matters leads to corruption. Independence in message content leads to deception. Independence in ministerial methods leads to unscriptural practices. Independence in administration leads to misuse of power. Several independent ministries end up as a family business. Accountability is more when a ministry is registered with the Government.

We cannot accomplish much when we work indepen-dently (Eccl 4:9). Independence may give us job satisfaction, but the Kingdom of God will not be benefitted much. Independent ministries result in duplication which wastes the Kingdom resources. Interdependence is the law of the Kingdom. Team work with accountability is the New Testament pattern. Team work is difficult but it strikes a deathblow to selfishness. Most of the independent ministers are those who fell out of established structures because of indiscipline or relationship problems. Love of money is another major reason.

The observations I have made here, however, do not totally rule out the possibility of any minister of God functioning independently. There can be exceptions. Prophets may find organizational structures suffocating. Bible teachers may find denominational structures straitjacketing. Lions hate cages. However, it is safe for such ministers to voluntarily become accountable to senior and seasoned ministers of similar gifts.

Some independent ministers boast that they don't receive salaries but live in faith. Those who work in ministerial organizations also live in faith. They exercise "collective" or "corporate" faith that God would send in offerings from His people month after month for their needs. After all the Lord did not teach us to pray, "Give ME this day MY daily bread," rather, "Give US this day OUR daily bread!"

As a trainer, preacher and Bible teacher, I am happy that I had been a part of a missionary organization for thirtythree years (1971-2003) until my retirement. I thank God profusely for my fellow-leaders and fellow-workers who will be rewarded richly for helping me fulfil my ministry.

10. Why defections?

"I was with Such-and-such organisation; but now..." We come across scores of Christian ministers who say such things. People are confused over this phenomenon. As a leader of a Mission for over thirty years and being associated with several Christian organisations inland and overseas, I have painfully observed this regular occurrence. I list here what I have understood as common reasons when I analysed the cases of defection. Many of them can be illustrated Biblically. I am also trying to find how defections can be atleast minimised if not totally prevented.

Let's first of all look at some of the positive and inevitable reasons for defections.

  • Ministers with special gifts and skills find the structural set-up of certain organisations too restricting. They do not find sufficient ministerial outlet to develop their gifts. There's suffocation. Even here it is not advisable to leave a ministerial body unless God very definitely guides so. There are two great dangers. One is the absence of immediate and close accountability. There are simply too many examples of spectacularly gifted preachers running into excesses and extremes after leaving organisations. The other danger is that their ministerial gains may not go to the Body of Christ but to their own selves and families. Many freelancers are building their own empires rather than the Kingdom of God. There have been cases of defection perfectly in the will of God, but they are quite few compared to those of selfish reasons.

Leaders of organisations have a great responsibility not to treat associates of unusual gifts and talents as everybody else, but become flexible and create avenues and opportunities as much as possible to make them feel fulfilled in their giftings. The leaders must not feel envious and threatened about a fast-growing charismatic worker. Philip was chosen only to oversee food distribution to the widows, but when his gift was apparently witnessed he was happily acknowledged as "Philip the Evangelist" (Acts 6:5; 8:5,6; 21:8). But Philip did not lift himself above others.

  • Administrative flaws are another reason for defection. When leaders do not keep developing their qualities through Biblical understanding and spiritual graces, they become a stumbling block to their associates and especially to the youngsters. No system or structure is perfect and therefore changes for the better must be welcome. Constitutions, rules and regulations are there only to serve us and not vice versa (Mk 2:27). God Himself changed what He Himself wrote! New wine needs new bottles. When leaders become authoritative and refuse correction, the organisation may lose good workers (Mt 20:25,26).
  • A few men may come together with a specific burden and found a ministry. In course of time one of them may feel that the Lord is calling him for a different type of ministry. He should not instantly leave the team but share his burden with the other members. They must pray over the matter and discuss it objectively. If there's a general consensus among the members, the candidate must be released with their blessing. It is difficult to let go ministers like "Paul and Barnabas" who are so precious with their "prophetic and teaching" ministry locally. But the Kingdom concerns must overtake personal interests however justifiable the latter may be (Acts 13:1-4). Not all types of ministries can be accomodated under one umbrella.
  • There are also several instances in which ministers leave organisations due to health reasons and family constraints. Believers should support genuine cases.

Now let's look at some of the negative causes of defections.

  • Love of money has taken the largest toll in the lives of ministers. There are too many Demases leaving Pauls for the sake of more money (2 Tim 4:10; Phil 3:17-19). In general, independent ministers make more money than what they would receive in a corporate set-up. They would cover up their covetousness with the cloak of "faith ministry." Concerning material needs Jesus has actually taught us to exercise "collective faith." We are to pray, "Give US (not me) this day OUR (not my) daily bread!"
  • Personality clashes are a very unfortunate thing in Christian ministries. How many had to leave their mother organsiations just because they could not get along with egoistic leaders! Sometimes the problem could be with the fellow-workers. Quitting is not always the solution. God purposely keeps us with difficult individuals. "Iron sharpens iron" (Prov 27:17). While we are anxious to grow our ministry, God is passionate after developing our character. When the mistreated Hagar fled from Sarai, the Angel of the Lord stopped her and said, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand." But a little later God Himself told Abraham to send Hagar away as Sarai wished (Gen 16:5-10; 21:9-14). Blessed are those who have learnt to stay put until the appointed time. Problems will be there everywhere wherever there are human beings. God works with and through imperfect men and machinery. Trying to escape from one situation will end up in the proverbial "frying-pan-to-fire" story! The Biblical pattern is interdependent and not independent ministry.
  • Some workers are sent out from organisations on disciplinary ground. Such individuals may give a false picture to the public as to why they left the organisation. The organisations also may not publicize the actual reasons because they desire to safeguard the interests of the candidates, their families and their future ministry. I would advise people not to believe all that a defector would say about the organisation. It would not benefit the Kingdom.
  • Let me conclude with a mournful reason for defection. We have heard about sheep-stealing, but what's common today is shepherd-stealing. Numerous overseas agencies have enticed Indian workers with their dollars and deutchmarks. International conferences have become hunting fields for white whales to devour active fishermen of the third world countries. The European and Western agencies must make an honest commitment before God not to start new ministries in the poorer countries but to strengthen and support the existing structures of which we have enough and more. Otherwise God will be displeased. God's Word commands the leaders, "Thou shalt not covet your neighbour's servant!"

Time is too short and the task too staggering. In a country like India and in times like these, any more divisions, defections and duplications are not affordable. Let our motto be: "I must decrease; He must increase!"

11. Can we follow a leader?

The Bible teaches us to be "followers of God as dear children" (Eph 5:1). Jesus was exactly like His Father. He bade His disciples, "Follow Me" (Mt 4:19). Then comes the third stage. Apostle Paul urged his converts, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). The teaching of the Bible confirms that this chain should not be broken but continue from generation to generation.

A chain smoker cried, "Don't tell me why; show me how!" We are desperately in need of men and women who can lead by example, being role models. We have often heard preachers say, "Don't look at me; look at Jesus!" This is nothing but escapism and sheer hypocrisy. Concerning such debasing examples among the religious leaders of His day Jesus warned the people, "Whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works" (Mt 23:3). On the other hand Paul challenged, "Join in following my example... the things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do" (Phil 3:17; 4:9). It is the sacred responsibily of everyone in any leadership capacity to present before his "little ones" a lifestyle that's unoffensive and praiseworthy (Lk 17:1,2).

This does not mean that we must be looking for "perfect" leaders to emulate them. We have to observe only the overall "outcome" or fruit of their lives (Heb 13:7). Ask these basic questions concerning a leader you desire to follow: Is he committed to the authority of the Bible? Is he a man of prayer? Does he maintain a distance with the opposite sex? Has he given himself to simple living? Is his own house in order? Is he honest in financial matters? Is he dead to seeking popularity and self-interests? Does he embrace all believers and work for unity? Is he passionate about world evangelism? Does he train secondline leaders? It is normally safe to follow a leader who has these sterling qualities.

Each leader has his strengths and weaknesses. No one exemplifies in everything. This I believe is one reason why the New Testament consistently promotes plurality of leadership (Tit 1:5; Acts 20:17). This way we can avoid heroworshipping any one person. Unfortunately we have produced more fans than followers, more devotees than disciples.

Following a leader does not mean copying his style of preaching or ministry. Imitating one's performance on the pulpit is easy, but we will miss the spirit. What is essential is to learn the leader's prayer closet and study exercises. Otherwise we will become "clouds without water." I mourn over young people who have lost their God-given originality because they have gone mad imitating star preachers.

God clothes the secondliners with His anointing and authority when they humbly and faithfully watch and follow the first leaders. Secondliners must devote themselves to this painstaking study. Joshua learnt from Moses. Elisha learnt from Elijah. Peter, James and John learnt from Jesus. Timothy and Titus learnt from Paul. And so on. Right during his lifetime Paul certified of Timothy, "He does the work of the Lord, as I also do" (1 Cor 16:10).

What if the leader backslides? The hurt will be deep in the hearts of the followers but they need not discard whatever the leader has preached or written. King Solomon ended up with one thousand women in his life and went after idols (1 Ki 11:3,4). He had wisdom for others but not for himself. But God has not removed his writings from the canon of Scriptures. Similarly if Psalm 23 is the most favourite of all, next comes Psalm 51 which David sang as his sin confession. As you follow a leader, pray much for him that he may not fall.

12. Why do Christian leaders backslide?

Sadly, not only the pew but also the pulpit is stained with backsliding. When Christian leaders backslide, the devil rejoices and the world ridicules Christianity. The fall of leaders causes agony and anguish in the Church. The following are the common causes of backsliding of preachers and leaders.

  1. Thank God for successes and victories in His work, but leaning on them has been a major cause for the fall of many giants. Several kings and leaders of God's people in the Old Testament failed when they were at the zenith of their rule. They forgot the Blesser and began worshipping the blessings. The enemy subtly used this to lead them astray. Even though it was God who gave crowns to the twentyfour elders, they laid them back at His feet (Rev 4:10).
  2. When leaders climb on the ladder of power and authority, they tend to think they are infallible. They forget the warning: "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor 10:12). They do not run away from persons and places of temptation (Gen 39:10-12). Rather they presume that they have outgrown the silly temptations of the flesh. Excusing themselves on little things, they get sedated and seduced in course of time.
  3. Reversal of priorities is another reason. The leader deserts his prayer closet and starts worshipping his work. The early habits of Quiet Time are forsaken because he has become too busy. He goes on running and flying without refuelling (Isa 40:30,31). Bible meditation now is mostly for hunting sermon outlines rather than self-overhauling. He therefore becomes weak in his inner man. He does not spend enough time with his family either. And he may have to travel alone for practical reasons (1 Cor 9:5). He then becomes an easy prey like an exhausted deer to the devil when he offers alternatives for his emotional and physical needs (1 Cor 7:5).
  4. Too many leaders are loners, by choice. When a leader thinks he is unique, he is sure to fall. Peter is an example (Mt 26:33). Preachers and leaders are treading on dangerous ground if they don't voluntarily submit themselves to accountability and subject to the scrutiny of fellow-leaders and coworkers. No leader ever outgrows the need for fellowship. Hesitancy on the part of associates to check and correct the leader has led to the fall of many in top positions. "A stitch in time saves nine!"
  5. Pride goes before a fall (2 Chron 26:14-16). In his sin confession, David said, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit" (Psa 51:17). God resists or opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. A leader, who is not gentle and meek while dealing with someone taken in a fault, earns God's displeasure and becomes vulnerable to a similar temptation (Gal 6:1).

The people of God should intercede with tears for leaders who have fallen. God can use them again, even more than before (Rom 14:4; Judg 16:30). Broadcasting their sins gives advantage only to the devil. Though Saul was a backslidden leader when he died, David said, "How the mighty have fallen! Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcision triumph" (2 Sam 1:17-20).

13. Why do God's servants die before time?

The untimely death of God's servants is one of the hardest things to explain. I shall however attempt here to list out some possible reasons. This is for our own admonition and not for judging the dead.

  • The days are evil. Today is worse than yesterday, and tomorrow will be worse than today. When God desires any of His servants to escape the evil that floods the earth, He may call him Home. "Devout men are taken away and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death" (Isa 57:1,2). The death of saints is precious in the sight of the Lord (Psa 116:15). To be with Christ is "far better" (Phil 1:23).
  • Life is not to be measured by its duration but its donation. Not how long one lived but how he lived is what matters before God. If a servant of God finishes on earth whatever God has planned for him, He may decide to take him away. "When David had served God's purpose in His own generation, he fell asleep" (Acts 13:36). John the Baptist died in his early thirties when his part in God's programme was over. What was the need for just the "voice" to linger on after the actual "Word" had come? Jesus died before He could visit India or celebrate His fortieth birthday, because He finished His work before He was thirtyfour (Jn 19:30).

There can be some negative reasons also—

  • If a minister of the gospel deviates from his calling or sound doctrine, God will admonish him directly, or through the fellow workers or other leaders. But if he is not ready to correct himself and if God thinks that by living longer the preacher might undo the good he had done and actually hinder the furtherance of the Kingdom, He may ring His calling bell. Because, God alone knows the end from the beginning (Isa 46:10). God is quite serious when His men in crucial positions disobey Him (1 Ki 13).
  • Our God is a jealous God and a consuming fire (Dt 4:24). He has repeatedly declared, "My glory I will not give to another" (Isa 42:8). God is angry when a preacher exalts himself, or lets the people heroworship him. Preachers should do all that's possible to escape garlands (Acts 14:13-15). If God struck a secular orator for not giving the glory to Him, how strict would He be with gospel preachers? (Acts 12:21-23).
  • Another important truth God wants us to learn is that no one is indispensable to Him. Perhaps there cannot be another mighty leader like Moses, but God will have His Joshuas ready to take over (Dt 34:9; Josh 1:2). Ministers may come and go, but "Of the increase of His government there will be no end!" (Isa 9:7).
  • Several ministers of the gospel spoil their health by overwork and overcommitment. Irregular meals, inadequate sleep, insufficient rest, etc, have shortened their lives. Even God rested one full day after six days of work!

As much as the people expect preachers to pray for them, they should also pray regularly for the safety, protection, health and long life of the preachers. The labourers are already few!

14. What about those who die unevangelised?

If Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven and there is no salvation without Him, what is the destiny of those who die before they hear about Him? (Jn 14:6; Acts 4:12). This age-old question perplexes both Christians and non-Christians alike. Various answers have been put forth, but none seems to be totally satisfactory. God has perhaps purposely withheld a direct and explicit answer to this mindboggling question in His Scriptures because it is not absolutely necessary for us humans to know it. However, an overall understanding of the subject will be helpful especially for those involved in reaching the non-Christians with the gospel.

God is a Saviour and because of His very nature He does not desire anyone to be lost. He desires "all" men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:3,4). He is not willing that any should perish but that "all" should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9). Foretelling His crucifixion Jesus said that He would draw "all" peoples to Himself when He would be lifted up (Jn 12:32). He shed His blood not for a selected few but for the sins of the "whole" world (1 Jn 2:2). It is God's grace that brings salvation and it has appeared to "all" men (Tit 2:11). God is the Saviour of "all" men, not only those who have believed (1 Tim 4:10).

The Scripture texts quoted above assuredly tell us that God loves all men and women equally. He plays no favoritism. If a person has not heard the Gospel, it is not his fault. It is the failure of the Church. Even before Cornelius became a Christian, his prayers had been heard and alms remembered in the sight of God. Apostle Peter, though he had been biased by his exclusive Jewishness, testified, "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (Acts 10:31,34,35).

Man will be judged only according to the light he has received. God is a righteous Judge (Gen 18:25; 2 Tim 4:8). Those who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and those who have sinned in the Law will be judged by the Law (Rom 2:11,12). So with the Gospel. Judgment for those who have never heard the Gospel will not be the same as for those who have rejected it. "To whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Lk 12:48).

Even though God has revealed Himself fully in the Person of Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-3), He has also other means of revelation of His grace and goodness. One is nature and the other is man's conscience. Here are a few key texts: "God did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heavens and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17). "The heavens declare the glory of God... There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard" (Psa 19:1-4; Rom 10:18). "Gentiles who do not have the Law... show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness" (Rom 2:14,15).

Some suggest that those who die without hearing the gospel will get a chance to hear it in the spirit world. Such an interpretation of the text of 1 Peter 3:19 quoted to support this view is not consistent with the general teaching of the Bible that "it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). It is not right to use an obscure passage to establish a doctrine.

The destiny of the unevangelised is too high a subject for our finite minds distorted by fallen nature. God's thoughts and ways are as higher than ours as the heavens are above the earth (Isa 55:8,9). Instead of arguing over what is not clearly stated in the Bible, let us accelerate our efforts of reaching the unreached with the Gospel. Those who die without hearing the Gospel enormously outnumber those who die after hearing it. How shall anyone believe in Christ of whom he has not heard? (Rom 10:14). How shall "we" the believers escape if we neglect—to proclaim—so great a salvation? (Heb 2:3). The delay in the Return of Christ is mainly to give "us" the believers more time to proclaim the Gospel (2 Pet 3:9). It is late, but not too late.

In the parable of the lost sheep, one sheep was lost but ninetynine were safe. The condition today is that ninetynine are outside the fold. Let's not rest until we find them and bring them in. Let's do our best and leave the rest into the hands of God. This generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of non-Christians.

 

 

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