All on the Altar

"Where have all the Pastors gone?” was the title of a session at a ministers’ conference I attended recently. The intention of the organisers was to identify the reasons for the shortage of young men going into the ministry. We concluded that the main reason seemed to be a lack of willingness on the part of many to make the sacrifices that a life dedicated to God’s service would involve. The inevitable drop in salary, the stress of dealing with people, the anticipated move from family, and the demands upon time were considered too high a price. The same is true of missionary work. Although societies report a proliferation in applications for short-term service, those interested in making mission a life-long career are decreasing in number.
During the discussion that followed the session, it was suggested that the reason for such unwillingness was due to a deficiency in preaching. In previous generations preachers stressed the demands of discipleship and the need for self-denial. They emphasised such things as, “laying all on the altar,” “total surrender,” and “the yielded life”. Full-time service was considered a privilege rather than a burden and a priority rather than a duty. This demand for total commitment had the effect of supplying a never-failing flow of dedicated young people into the service of the Lord, and those who remained at home felt keenly their responsibility to support the work by sacrificial giving and earnest prayer. Many missionary societies now worry about a support base made up of an increasingly ageing generation. Many only survive because that same generation, even in their wills, have made provision for the Lord’s work. What will happen when they are promoted to glory and the legacies are spent?

How should we respond if ministers are to be recruited, missionaries sent and the work supported in the future? Preachers need to rediscover the emphasis of their predecessors. The cost of discipleship needs to be highlighted, the needs of our world presented and the privilege of full-time service stressed. Preachers should endeavour to put good missionary biographies into the hands of young people and to pepper their sermons with anecdotes of ministerial and missionary endeavour from the past. Christian work must be presented as the greatest, highest and most glorious calling of all. In the light of what Christ has done for us, to offer ourselves up as living sacrifices is nothing more than our “reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). William McChesney, a missionary in the Congo, was twenty-eight years old when he was martyred on November 14th 1964. He wrote:

If he be God, and died for me,
No sacrifice too great can be
For me, a mortal man, to make;
I’ll do it all for Jesus’ sake.

Perhaps if we recovered that note, candidates would be more forthcoming and support levels would increase. Pastors must preach the cost and privilege of wholehearted discipleship – the need to lay all on the altar!

Steven Curry
Pastor of Ballymoney Reformed Baptist Church, in Northern Ireland, and a member of CWI’s Council of Management.
This article first appeared in the September 2005 edition of the Hera

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