By Dr. Rhansyl Harris
Have you ever bought a car and discovered that it was a lemon? It looked good on the outside but the performance was much like that of the train in Watty Piper’s classic book, The Little Engine That Could. I have a cousin who had this problem. She bought a shiny 2006 sports car that only had 60,000 miles. She brought it by the house so that my wife and I could check it out. Shortly after leaving our home, she called us lamenting that her car had started to smoke, then lost speed, concluding in a grand finale of vigorous shaking and sputtering.
The car company took care of my cousin in a mighty good way. However, when the salesman sent her out with that shiny car without disclosing the critical truth about the awful engine inside, it reminded me of something: this is much like the church that makes disciples based solely on the bright side of ministry while failing to disclose its dark side.
The shiny side of ministry deals with salvation, fellowship, the blessings of God, and the like. The dark side deals with letdowns, disappointments, and the harsh reality that Christians will suffer persecution from people because of our identification in Christ.
The purpose of the Gospels is to highlight the good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection from the dead. Many have argued, and I agree, that the Gospels are characterized by large “introductions” that conclude with the passion narrative being the focal point. These introductions all have distinctive audiences and purposes that conclude with the good news.
John’s first 17 chapters were written for the main purpose that many people would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing they may have life in his name (John 20:31). The key word in John’s narrative is “believe” (pisteuō), which occurs 98 times. John stresses that true belief in Jesus is not always easy. True belief—not this fake, Sunday only, pseudo-Christianity that seeks comfort and avoids proclaiming Jesus as Lord of all. John deals with true belief.
Popularity, Prominence, Power
Raymond Rasberry, gospel pianist and composer, masterfully wrote the most beautiful song in the African American Hymnal titled, “Only What You Do for Christ Will Last.” As the title implies, in this work Rasberry writes about how the things we do in this world for our own prominence will fade away but only what we do for Jesus will endure. I’m convicted every time I sing these lyrics because within me there is always the tension and temptation of desiring popularity, prominence, and power while at the same time desiring God. There are times that I want everyone to like me, my ministry, and my appearance.
As children of God, whether we are leaders or laypeople, there is always the subtle seduction of wanting to fit in to the desires of the world. For this reason, many of us who reside in these yet to be “United” States refuse to speak up on certain issues. Maybe we don’t confront sexual sin or perhaps we hesitate telling those of other religions that Jesus is the only way—we fear that the world will hate us. The fear is that we will be talked about, scandalized, and ostracized to the point of sheer embarrassment. However the mark of true discipleship is knowing that Christ has empowered us to walk with boldness without fearing persecution.
Jesus understood that making disciples involves sharing the good news as well as the bad news. The good news is that he is the vine and we are the branches and because of such a position much fruit will come (John 15:5). The good news is that we are chosen friends of God who are no longer slaves but ones who love him and one another (vv. 12-17). Those of us who are in Christ will look at those verses and shout to high Heaven. The joy of knowing that my position in Christ has so many benefits is beyond comprehension.
But wait—there’s more!
There is a dark side that we don’t like to talk about for fear that it will run many away. The result of a life that remains firmly planted in Christ will draw many haters (v. 19). Jesus teaches that the world will hate us, not because of who we are, but because of whose we are. We belong to Christ and because of this we will suffer persecution. He said to them, “If you find the godless world is hating you, remember it got its start hating me. If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you” (vv.18, 19, The Message).
“The world,” as John uses over 75 times to mark those who refuse to believe, has been in a fallen state since the Garden of Eden debacle. That is why there is suffering, hate, wars, natural and moral disasters, and the like. The world is fallen because of sin, which is still running rampant today. Jesus spoke of this when he said, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil” (7:7). The dark side of ministry is that the church was, is, and will always be persecuted because of the fallen world.
Courage & Strength
In fact, did you know that approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high, or extreme persecution? Did you know that North Korea remains the most dangerous place to be a Christian (for 14 straight years)? Did you know that Islamic extremism remains the global dominant driver of persecution, responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 out of the 50 countries? Did you know that the killings of Christians in Nigeria saw an increase of more than 62 percent? Did you know that 23 Christian leaders in Mexico and four in Colombia were killed specifically for their faith?
The dark side of ministry is that of hate and persecution from the world. However when I look at martyrs from antiquity to present day, I am encouraged by their courage and strength. But let me warn you: hate from the world only occurs to those who are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ because they know that it is the power of God that leads to salvation (Romans 1:16).
Therefore, church brothers and sisters, let’s not only teach the bright side of this ministry, but also carefully break down the dark side so that, down the road, our fellow servants of Christ won’t quit but be encouraged to fight the good fight of faith.
Dr. Rhansyl Harris is the Founding Pastor of The Rock Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.