Ministering from a Bitter Root

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So often as pastors, we shape our teachings around specific topics that we feel called to share… But just as often, we fail to check whether our motivation for each of these topics is rooted in the right place. When it is, we do justice to the Word of God. But when it’s not? We minister from a bitter root. Here’s what I mean. 

My Bitter Root Started Years Before

When I started my church in 2010, we launched it under a separate church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We worked under that church’s 501(c)(3) until we were approved for our own in Arizona. The pastor from the South Carolina church was a mentor for me, and discussed everything with me about my new church from the length of the services to what we had to buy and anything in between. 

I’ll never forget talking to him and mentioning the idea of me not taking a salary. I didn’t want anything to be misconstrued about money, and thought this made sense. But my mentor said to me, “Justin, never minister from a bitter root.” The levity of that sentence didn’t sink in at the time (after all, I was 30 and brash so I quickly moved on to talking about the chairs we’d get and the color of the paint or something just as serious). But now, 10 years later, I get it. 

The Pendulum Swung Too Far

I realize I’ve done a disservice to my congregation in preaching about the principle of giving over the years because it largely came from a bitter place. Because, my church growing up would have an awesome worship set where we spent all this time praising the Lord and sharing meaningful moments. But then the pastor would get up and spend just under 10 minutes taking a truth out of context out of the wholeness of scripture and twisting it to fit his offering message. I remember vowing back then that when I was a pastor, I would never do that. I was angry, frustrated and yes, bitter about the manipulation. 

So for the first five years of my ministry, we took up offerings but I never taught once about the principle of giving. And not only the principle, but I also didn’t share the blessing of being a good steward. I swung the pendulum so far the other way that I was unintentionally hurting the people I was trying to reach, by omitting such key parts of scripture from my messages. 

How are You Handling the Word of Truth?

In 2nd Timothy 2:15, Paul said: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” 

I love this verse because it reminds me that I need to preach God’s Word, as it was intended and not through the lens of my own agenda. Years ago, I was scared of – and ashamed by – the perception that people would look down on me or see me as I had seen other pastors if I spoke a certain way about giving. But in avoiding that possibility, I wasn’t actually preaching God’s Word. Instead, I was picking and choosing what I would preach based on what I was comfortable with, and what I felt wouldn’t put pressure on anyone. 

This story isn’t unique to me. In fact, a lot of us pastors stand up and preach our own agendas – often without realizing that’s what they’re doing. Maybe they’ve been spoken out against by a member of the congregation, so they build a whole sermon about gossip. Even if we’re supposed to preach about the pitfall of gossip, such a sermon – when motivated by hurt – will likely be skewed toward rectifying a perceived wrong, not accurately handling the Word of Truth. 

In Hebrews 4:12, Paul writes: “For the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” But we’re not supposed to use the Word of God as a sword, to hurt others because of our own wounds. Or to further our own agenda because it’s convenient or advantageous to us. 

So, I’d like to ask you… from where are you ministering? Are your teachings pouring from a fresh outflow of revelation of what you’re getting from the Holy Spirit? Or are you caught up in the past, stuck in trying to right the wrongs you’ve experienced in ministry? Using the Word of God in the wrong way, to fight back, is not the example Paul – or better yet, Jesus – gave us. 

Our role is to take the Word of God and impart truth, instead of ministering from a place of frustration and angst. Will you join me in being diligent stewards of that role? 

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