NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Too many ministers and other Christian leaders are in danger of going through the motions while neglecting the core meaning of their calling, Robert E. “Bob” Reccord told students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
“We can be so busy and so active and so straining doing work for God that we miss the God for whom we say we’re doing the work,” said Reccord, president of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.
Focusing on a classic passage in the second chapter of the Book of Revelation, Reccord spoke about the similarities between the great church of Ephesus having left its first love and modern-day ministers losing their original passion for God.
What once started as undying devotion can become distracted, causing a drift that, unchecked, ends up in complete departure from the original intent, Reccord said in his Nov. 14 chapel address.
Just as the Ephesians first were commended for their hard work and diligence, many ministers today are praised for their church growth skills and preaching abilities. And just as the Ephesians also had theological correctness, ministers and other Christian leaders may possess that same combination of doing the right thing and believing the right thing. Yet while that combination is important, “You can be as straight as a gun barrel theologically and as empty as a gun barrel spiritually,” Reccord said, quoting the late evangelist Vance Havner.
“Doing the right stuff” and “believing the right stuff” are not enough, Reccord emphasized. The critical thing, he said, is to keep the first love, “making sure that in believing the right stuff, you’ve got a passionate, on-fire, full heart that is just brimming over with God.”
Turning personal, Reccord — the former national director of leadership training for Evangelism Explosion, a veteran pastor of two large churches and a highly successful businessman while in his early bivocational ministry — confessed to students that he nearly lost the most precious part of his life until he was shocked into realizing he had gotten so consumed with the work of the ministry that he was neglecting the meaning.
It happened one night when he returned home after a three-week business trip, part of his ministry related to Evangelism Explosion. He was 29, had a 4-year-old child and a newborn, and was traveling 33 weeks a year.
He came in the door, put down his suitcase, and said excitedly to his wife, “Want to hear what God’s done?”
His wife, Cheryl, looked at him and said, “No,” then began to cry, Reccord confessed.
He then went from being stunned to being shocked and panicked as he listened to his wife say, “You used to be an asset to this family. All you are now is an interruption to this family.” Reccord said she went on to say that if things didn’t change, she and the children would leave him.
“Men and women,” Reccord said with earnest, “I need to say to you that there is not any ministry in existence that is worth the sacrifice of your family.”
Reccord’s own very personal encounter “caused me to reevaluate and make some changes in my life,” he said. “To this day I still have to reevaluate and make some changes in my life because it’s so easy, having started with strong devotion, to become distracted, and often distracted by good things.”
While God definitely has called Christian leaders to minister to many others, Reccord said from his own experience, “He’s called you first of all to a priority ministry to your family.”
Reccord said he knows firsthand about the hard work of ministry. “You’re straining, giving it everything you’ve got.” But he warned, “There’s some strength in that, but there’s also some weakness.” He briefly told how Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Ill., nearly lost his marriage and ministry not because he was unfaithful but because “he almost crashed and burned.”
Don’t let the work of the church begin “to kill the work of God within you,” Reccord challenged. Don’t give more place to human effort in ministry than the more important “spiritual empowerment,” he said.
The most important thing he has learned in his 30-some years of ministry, Reccord said, is, “Ministry can never give me what only God can give me.”
“If you lose that,” he said, “all you’ll be doing is going through the motions without the meaning.”