LAKELAND—Acknowledging “we all know our Baptist family is in a mess,” Willy Rice urged the church “to get our eyes off ourselves and to fix our eyes upon Jesus.”
“I think that is our only hope,” concluded Rice, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, as he addressed the first session of the Florida Baptist Pastors’ Conference, Nov. 7 at Lakes Church in Lakeland.
“Right now we’re in a mess. We’ve embarrassed ourselves and tarnished our witness. Investigations, lawsuits, and public acrimony mark our days, and beyond that the extraordinary circumstances we have faced over the last 18 months have left many pastors reeling with discouragement and questioning the effectiveness of what we do.”
“The time has come for a hard look in the mirror. Maybe some of what we thought was real and genuine was only a cheap knock-off of the real thing. How can we get back to the fullness of spiritual power if we are satisfied with a genuine fake power?”
Referencing Acts 8, Rice shared the story of Simon, a sorcerer and “local celebrity,” to the Samaritan people. The passage reports that Simon believes and is baptized. Yet, as he watched the power of God through the ministry of Peter, John and Philip, the sorcerer “wanted the power that the apostles were displaying. . . so he pulled out his wallet and made an offer.”
Peter, however, rebuked Simon for believing that God’s power was for sale—”an act of great evil that revealed a heart of wickedness and bitterness,” Rice said.
While church history scholars have debated the authenticity of Simon’s conversion, Rice said, “the danger of inauthentic ministry” must also be condemned. Simon wanted spiritual power for dubious reasons.
“Ministries are facing crisis and scandals at an unprecedented rate and our own fellowship is fractured and full of distrust and animosity. Moreover, many pastors are discouraged, perhaps more than ever before,” Rice said.
“The COVID crisis has exposed the weaknesses in some of our strategies and the superficiality and lukewarmness of many of our people. We are distracted, discouraged, and divided.”
Yet, Rice asserted, “God is building His church.”
“In the case of ministry, the genuine fakes must be exposed, and we must hunger for the real thing, the power that comes from above.”
Rice offered three suggestions to gain authentic ministry—evaluate our models, evaluate our motives, and evaluate our missions.
Across the landscape some major evangelical pastor celebrities have crashed and burn over the last decade, he said. “Some of the models we have embraced were more about worldly success than spiritual power,” Rice said. “I wonder how much of our talk about church growth and evangelism is code for vocational success?”
Identifying idols of “bigness, money and success,” he asked, “how many of our ministry techniques are actually designed to build a great name for ourselves? How many pastors and church leaders have scurried across the country to the latest conference to learn the latest fad.”
Continuing Rice said, “How many church members are drawn to celebrity pastors who package a self-help message as a kind of gospel? We use the gospel for our own ends…where are those who will take up the cross and die to themselves?”
The solution to inauthentic ministry, he said is not a new program, another vote, or “besting those we consider adversaries.
“Our only hope is to get our eyes off of ourselves and to fix our eyes on Jesus.”