I still remember the day I committed my life to God. I was 20 years old. I had just finished singing on stage at a large church in San Diego. Miles McPherson took the stage and gave the call to come forward and make a public declaration of our intentions to follow Jesus. My inner pride shouted so loud I was sure the woman sitting next to me had heard it. “You can’t go up there. You were just singing on that stage and everyone will know that you’re a liar and a hypocrite.” But underneath that loud shout, I heard a firm, but caring whisper from the Father that said, “Do you care more about what they think, or more about what I think?” As you’ve probably already guessed, I got out of my seat and walked down that long aisle to surrender my life to Jesus. It was the best decision I’ve ever made!
Do you care more about what they think, or more about what I think?
It’s funny how over 20 years later I still find myself answering that same question. This round of church planting has been one of the most humbling things I’ve ever done. Second only to asking my father-in-law for forgiveness after breaking his daughter’s heart. If I’m honest, I often get discouraged as I sit back and watch other Pastors, Planters & Preachers grow their ministries by the hundreds while I struggle to grow ours by the tens. Jealousy is alive and well in my heart, and I’m sure I’m not the only Pastor that struggles in this way.
Please hear my heart. I’ve been a part of mega-churches, medium-sized churches, and small churches. This is not a “bash the mega-church” rant. In each experience, I’ve learned a ton about ministry. In each experience, I’ve been privileged to work with some of the godliest men and women you’ll ever meet. And in each experience, I’ve had a lot of fun ministering to God and His people. What I’m learning today, however, in the smallest church plant I’ve ever been a part of, far surpasses anything I’ve learned in ministry over the last 20 years. But it all revolves around that same question, “Do you care more about what they think, or more about what I think?”. I believe this passage of scripture from John 5 pretty much sums up what I’m learning. I hope it encourages you as much as it’s been encouraging me.
Let me preface what I’m about to share with three principles that I’ve pulled from this passage. They will help us navigate Jesus’ rebuke of the 1st century Jews He’s addressing in chapter 5.
“Man’s Testimony” – The purpose of man’s word is to validate Jesus and point people to salvation.
“Works Testimony” – The purpose of the works we do is to validate our ministry and point people to the Father.
“Father’s Testimony” – The purpose of the Father’s testimony is to validate the person and point them in the right direction.
I find that many Pastors today, myself included, are not much different than the Jews in first-century Jerusalem. The problem with the Jews as witnessed in John chapter 5 is that they only accepted the testimony of man. In particular, Jesus points out that they only accepted the testimony of John the Baptist. While his testimony was not false, incorrect or maligned, it just wasn’t enough for most Jews. They needed further affirmation in order to fully believe. Unfortunately, they were too prideful to receive it.
The church today is no different. The validation of men is not enough to win people to Christ. And yet, as Pastors, we constantly overlook this fact and find ourselves in pursuit of the praises of men while blatantly overlooking the praises of God. “If I can just grow my church over 200, I’ll be successful.” “Maybe if I model my church after Rick Warren’s church, we’ll grow faster.” “If I had a bigger building, I know that more people would come.” Rarely do we stop and ask the Father, “Daddy, what would you like for this church to look like?”
Jesus tells these Jews what I believe He’d tell a lot of Pastors and Christians today, “No wonder you don’t have faith. You’ve never even heard the Father’s voice so how could you accept His testimony?” (John 5:37-38, My Paraphrase)
He goes on to tell them, “The Torah you worship actually makes these things clear, but you’re too prideful to even see that.” (John 5:39-40, MP)
Here’s the kicker… this is what hit me as I was pondering this passage and how it relates to what we’re doing at ConvergenceSD. Jesus straight up tells these so-called “mature believers” that they’re worshipping the wrong God! Yeah, that’s right! These faithful, mature, God-fearing men were actually idol worshippers! I couldn’t help but think of how I do the same thing all the time and don’t even realize it!!!
Look closely at what He says in vs 41-44.
“I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” John 5:41-44 ESV
The idol they were worshiping is the praise of men! What grabbed me in this passage is vs 41. I mean, I can totally relate! A lot of people look at what we’re doing at ConvergenceSD and say, “That’s not very impressive.” I myself have thought the same thing. Even to the point of questioning whether or not we’re even supposed to be doing it. And every time I question it God responds as He often does, with another question. In fact, it’s similar to the question He asked me over 20 years ago. “Who are you looking to validate your life and ministry; Me or them?”
Jesus said in vs 41 “I do not receive glory from people.” This statement has caused me to pause and ask a few questions of my own.
- If Jesus doesn’t seek glory from people, then why should we?
- If we do receive glory from men, then what should be its purpose?
- Ultimately, where should we be seeking glory from?
I think I already answered the first two questions in my three points above. Glory from men is not all bad if it’s purpose is to point people to Jesus. That’s a very great purpose! But what about the 3rd question? Where should we seek affirmation from? I think the answer is pretty obvious in this text.
Jesus goes on to call out the Jews by telling them that they’re so prideful they can’t even hear the testimony that God is sending them; the only testimony that really matters, God the Father’s testimony!
Hey Pastor!!! Did you realize that our insecurities are the byproduct of sinful pride? Why are we insecure? Because we care too much about what other people think. If we’ll swallow our pride, humble ourselves and listen for the voice of the Father, we’ll find newfound strength and boldness to pursue the life that He’s called us to with reckless abandon! It’s a boldness that can only come from His personal validation on our life and ministry. That’s what I’m learning in my current church planting journey.
Jesus wraps up His message to this group of Jews by telling them that they’re so prideful they don’t even believe Moses himself, one of the most revered fathers of their faith. If they did, He says, they’d realize that he actually spoke of Jesus.
Here’s how this applies to us as Church Planters, as Pastors, as Christians. The accolades of men are not all bad if we understand their purpose… to point people to Jesus. The real validation we should be seeking, however, is that of the Father. It’s His voice that will fuel our fire for life and ministry when the resources are limited. It’s His voice that will bolster our confidence when the growth trajectory doesn’t stack up. It’s His voice and His alone that will embolden our faith when the praises of men are absent. So don’t forget to check with God before you let your insecurities drive you to check out.
“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” John 5:44 ESV