There is a sobering text from the scriptures concerning leadership…
“But the Levites who went far from me, going astray from me after their idols when Israel went astray, shall bear their punishment. They shall be ministers in my sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the temple and ministering in the temple. They shall slaughter the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before the people, to minister to them. Because they ministered to them before their idols and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel, therefore I have sworn concerning them, declares the Lord GOD, and they shall bear their punishment. They shall not come near to me, to serve me as priest, nor come near any of my holy things and the things that are most holy, but they shall bear their shame and the abominations that they have committed. Yet I will appoint them to keep charge of the temple, to do all its service and all that is to be done in it.” (Ezekiel 44:10–14 ESV)
I have served in Christian ministry both as a layperson and as an ordained priest. I have learned the rhythm, the ebb and flow of serving the church. This passage from Ezekiel is sobering to me. Here’s why. There was a season where I experienced what appeared to be great success in ministry, having national and even international impact. We were cooking on all burners! However, I let ministry overshadow my relationship with Jesus. As the Letter to the Church in Ephesus says in Book of Revelation 2:4, I had lost my first love. This was not intentional. I had drifted. I had let the work, the details of ministry rob me of a passionate, focused communion with Almighty God. I repented and ran to Jesus, my Savior, Redeemer and Lord.
What this passage from Ezekiel says to me is that God will give you the Outer Court ministry. He will let you “play church” — do the sacrifices, be gatekeepers, minister to the people. God is saying you can go through the motions. You can get wrapped up in programs, buildings, budgets and operations. You can be busy doing “spiritual things”. You can look good, even fruitful on the outside, all the while, your devotion to Christ suffers. Your first love wanes. You might be impressing people, but somewhere along the way, to stopped pleasing God. Don’t get me wrong, Outer Court ministry is important. At times we have to focus on buildings, maintenance, landscape, programs, budgets, mechanicals and more. To not do so would be bad management and stewardship. It is not that the Outer Court ministry is not worthy. It is but…
Outer Court ministry needs to be driven by an Inner Court life.
Because the Levites were unrepentant of their sinful acts they were denied the Lord’s presence. Their proximity to the Lord was restricted. They could not enter in to His presence or come close to the things of God. This was their punishment, the consequence for their disobedience.
Whenever I get to speak, especially to people preparing for ministry, I will usually toss in a few phrases like: You cannot give away what you do not have; You can not lead people to a place you have not been; You teach what you know, you reproduce who you are. The point I am trying to make is that ministry flows from the heart of a person, what they value. If they value anything more than God then what they do is tainted. It is not to say that it is not beneficial or even needed but it is not flowing with life and power. I was having success, people were coming to Christ. God was not going to let my wandering prohibit people from receiving the grace, mercy, kindness and love from Him. The Outer Court ministry I was doing was still blessing people; everyone but me. If ministry flows through a conduit of people, I had a clog that was preventing a steady flow. What had been a gusher at times was in that moment a trickle.
My point is that whatever you do in serving the Lord as a pastor, teacher, a lawyer or doctor in the marketplace or as a student needs to flow from a vibrant Inner Court life. Our passion, our purpose our very lives our fueled by our relationship with God. When that is not the case, when we have lost our first love we grow weary, empty and burn-out. I believe there are hundreds of leaders who are doing great Outer Court ministry but on the inside they are exhausted because they have not been to the Inner Court in far too long a time.
The good news; it is easy to get back in that place of communion with God. Through confession, repentance and faith we are reconciled and brought close. Like the parable of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24) we are welcomed home into the loving arms of The Father.
Let your life, your ministry, your work, your roles as Husband, Wife, Father, Mother, Child, Student and the many other descriptors out there be birthed in your relationship with Christ. Living in the Inner Court of God’s presence brings meaning, purpose and power to the Outer Court tasks.