My Failure

Some years ago, when I was pastoring a growing church, the Holy Spirit asked me a question that opened my eyes to see how far short I was falling in fulfilling God’s general vision. The Holy Spirit asked me the following question as I was reading about the future judgment of the sheep and the goats described in Matthew 25:31-46: “If everyone in your church congregation died today and stood at the judgment of the sheep and the goats, how many would be sheep and how many would be goats?” Or, more specifically, “In the last year, how many of the people in your congregation have provided food for hungry brothers and sisters in Christ, water for thirsty Christians, shelter for homeless or traveling followers of Christ, clothing for naked Christians, or visited sick or imprisoned believers?” I realized that very few had done any of those things, or anything similar to those things, even though they came to church, sang songs of worship, listened to my sermons and gave money in the offerings. Thus, they were goats by Christ’s criteria, and I was at least partly to blame, because I wasn’t teaching them how important it was to God that we meet the pressing needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I wasn’t teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded. In fact, I realized that I was neglecting what was extremely important to God—the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves—not to mention the new commandment Jesus gave us to love one another as He loved us.

Beyond that, I eventually realized that I was actually teaching what worked against God’s general goal of making disciples as I taught a modest version of the very popular “prosperity gospel” to my congregation. Although it is Jesus’ will that His people not lay up treasures on earth (see Matt. 6:19-24), and that they be content with what they have even if it is only food and covering (see Heb. 13:5; 1 Tim. 6:7-8), I was teaching my wealthy American congregation that God wanted them to have even more possessions. I was teaching people not to obey Jesus in one respect (just like hundreds of thousands of other pastors around the world).[1]

Once I realized what I was doing, I repented and asked my congregation to forgive me. I started to try to make disciples, teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded. I did so with fear and trepidation, suspecting that some in my congregation really didn’t want to obey all of Christ’s commandments, preferring a Christianity of convenience that required no sacrifice on their part. And I was right. By all indications, quite a few didn’t care about suffering believers around the world. They didn’t care about spreading the gospel to those who had never heard it. Rather, they primarily cared about getting more for themselves. When it came to holiness, they avoided only the most scandalous sins, sins that were condemned even by unregenerate people, and they lived lives comparable to average conservative Americans. But they really didn’t love the Lord, because they didn’t want to keep Jesus’ commandments, the very thing He said would prove our love for Him (see John 14:21).

What I feared proved to be true—some professing Christians were really goats in sheep’s clothing. When I called them to deny themselves and take up their crosses, some became angry. To them, church was primarily a social experience along with some good music, just what the world enjoys in clubs and bars. They would tolerate some preaching as long as it affirmed their salvation and God’s love for them. But they didn’t want to hear about what God required of them. They didn’t want anyone questioning their salvation. They were unwilling to adjust their lives to conform to God’s will if it cost them anything. Sure, they were willing to part with some of their money, as long as they could be convinced that God would give them more in return, and as long as they directly benefited from what they gave, such as when their money improved their church facilities.


[1] In a later chapter I will take a closer look at what Scripture teaches on wealth and stewardship.