“As you go, make disciples.”
Ellis was a preacher and an employee of the state detention center for juvenile offenders. His passion for sharing the gospel was obvious, and he was looking for a church to call him as pastor so that he could resign his state job. Ellis did not rest until he was called to a small rural church. With merely a calling and great passion for leading God’s people, he went to that church and immediately began to experience that which he never thought possible. It was a Missionary Baptist church where the traditional leadership is deacons and trustees (trustees not in the sense of corporate officers, which states require, but as in overseers of financial and business matters of the church). After his first sermon, he was instructed that preaching on sin was not permitted. Their reason was, “We are all saints and have left the ways of darkness, so we have no need to be preached to about sin.”
This small rural church met on second and fourth Sundays only. On Ellis’ second Sunday, he preached on the topic of tithe and offering as God’s appointed method for financing the work of ministry through the church. After worship, another leader approached him and said, “This is a New Testament church, and we do not ascribe to the tithe and offering as presented in the Old Testament because it is outdated, and we have fundraisers periodically to cover our needs.” It was then that he reached out to me to share his experience from his first two Sundays and sought advice for what to preach. My advice was to preach the Word of God, regardless of what they wanted or did not want to hear. And so that is what he did for the next two months. On his sixth Sunday, the leadership called a meeting before the benediction to hold a vote of confidence which was not in his favor. That was his last Sunday at that church.
He came to me defeated by what happened, how it happened and why it happened. He said he felt as though he had missed God’s instruction on that church but knew, without a doubt, that God had called him to ministry. It was then that I was able to show him that God had indeed called him to ministry, but his calling should not be limited to a pulpit. He did not understand because preaching, in his Christian experience, had always been connected to a pulpit.
I used his secular employment to show him that a pulpit is anywhere someone can hear the gospel. I instructed him not to limit God’s work through him to a specific place and time but to see the youth he served every day as the parishioners to whom God had called him to preach. As a result of this advice, my brother began to share his faith and show the love of Christ to the boys in his care. He rose to management positions in that organization and led many young men and women to the Lord. He never pastored again, but he never stopped preaching. There are juvenile murderers, rapists and burglars who came to Christ because of Ellis. He learned to make disciples as he went about his daily routine.
Additionally, he created ways for faith groups to come into the center to serve the teens and hold worship. Thousands of young people heard the gospel and hundreds were saved, leaving the center changed eternally. No one knows how many people were touched as a result of Ellis’ ministry. One thing is for sure; God calls us to make disciples as we go, not as they come to a church. Our world would be a different and better place if more men and women could grasp that their calling is not limited to a pulpit but is something they can engage in wherever God has placed them in the workforce.
Recently, Ellis shared with me a letter from a man who was a child in the facility years ago. The man shared in the letter how angry he was at that point in his life. He had learned to cope with people by displaying raging anger toward those he was intimidated by or with whom he did not wish to deal. He stated, “My anger was used to make people back away from me and leave me to myself. It worked on every staff person in the facility except you, Mr. Ellis. For some reason, you did not back away, and you were always patient and loving toward me even when I said and did mean things. I am now in a technical college and preparing to complete a certificate in automotive repair. I have a job, and I am getting married to the mother of my son next month. Your words changed my life. I accepted Christ because of you, and I wrote this to say thank you for being my preacher when you didn’t know you were being that to me.”
This article is excerpted from the book, Not On My Watch: Practical Principles for Planting, Pastoring, and Preaching the Word of God, by Robert Williams.