NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“The moment ministry becomes characterized by dependence, determination and devotion, a life-changing ministry for the glory of God will be yours,” Chuck Register said in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual Gurney Evangelism Lectures, March 6-9.
Register, pastor of First Baptist Church, Gulfport, Miss., and a former evangelism professor at NOBTS, told of a 40-day journey he began last fall, asking God to do a fresh work in his heart, life and ministry. During those 40 days, Register said he spent more time than ever pouring his heart out to God, kneeling in prayer and studying God’s Word. Around the 21st day, he said God directed his Bible study to Ecclesiastes 6:9, “What the eye sees is greater than what the soul desires. That too is futility like striving after the wind.”
God began to work and speak, Register said, noting his discovery that for the past 17 years of ministry he had been striving for what the eye can see — a baptistery filled week in and week out and Sunday school numbers larger this year than last year.
“I was chasing the wind,” Register said, “not what my soul desires. My soul desires to be like Christ. I want my life to mirror the life of Jesus.” Register encouraged students to learn a lesson it took him 17 years to learn: “The ministry of the church is not about baptisms. It is not about evangelistic success or anything that you can measure numerically. The ministry of the church is life change — life transformation.”
Using the story of the demon-possessed man in Mark 5:1-20, Register described the process of life change. The demon-possessed man’s life was a challenged life — a life out of touch and out of control, and a life out to destroy. When he experienced a changed life, the demon-possessed man gained a brand-new demeanor and desire. He life was so transformed that he wanted to go with Jesus.
“What made the difference?” Register asked. “Nothing made the difference in this man’s life, but someone did — Jesus Christ. We’ve got to come to the understanding in ministry and the maturity in ministry where we understand life change is what it’s all about. And the only person that ever changes lives is Jesus Christ.”
After establishing that biblical evangelism is more about life change than baptism, Sunday school, attendance, budgets or buildings, the staff of First Baptist Church, Gulfport, gathered to define life change. Finally one staff member spoke up, saying that life change must focus on the earthly life of Jesus because that is what his followers want to become like. The staff identified four characteristics of Jesus’ earthly ministry that must be the focus of life change:
— Jesus experienced intimacy with the Father.
— He expressed love toward others.
— He established authentic relationships.
— He exemplified servant leadership.
“What kind of church produces that kind of life-changing ministry?” Register asked. “In the churches that you serve, in the ministries that God is going to allow you to build, if you can experience these three traits we see in the church of Philadelphia, your ministry, the ministry that God is going to give you, will be a life-changing ministry,” he said, referencing Revelation 3: “You must be a person of dependence, determination and devotion.”
In the past, Register said, he wrongly viewed the open door of Revelation 3 as a gift because of the diligent work of the church at Philadelphia. However, because of a more mature understanding or because of life experience, Register said that he learned that God did not reward the church at Philadelphia because of their work but because of the people they had become in Christ.
First, the church at Philadelphia realized their microscopic power and were dependent upon God. “Bringing someone to the point of life change is a spiritual struggle, one that is not fought with fleshly powers,” Register said. “If your ministry is ever going to be a life-changing ministry, you must understand we are people of little power unless we are dependent on the power of the Spirit of God.”
Second, the church at Philadelphia was determined to be obedient to the Word of God. “To have a life-changing ministry,” Register said, “I have to be submissive to God’s Word in my life and help my congregation to be submissive to God’s Word in their lives.”
Finally, the people of Philadelphia were a people of devotion. In the midst of the tremendous persecution of the early church, the church of Philadelphia stood tall and did not waver, Register said, noting that believers can expect no less today. “When you determine for your ministry to have life change as its focus, you better fasten your seat belt because Satan is coming after you. He will do anything in his power to rob you of a life-changing focus for the glory of God,” he said.
Beyond being a person of dependence, determination and devotion, Register told the seminarians that a life-changing ministry will entail leading “your congregation to embrace these characteristics as well.”