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Preventing costly ministry decisions

pastor, man, person
Unsplash/Ben White

The legendary Rev. David Wilkerson, author and original founder of “Teen Challenge” and the Times Square Church in New York City, once published a sequel to his best selling book The Cross and the Switchblade entitled Beyond the Cross and the Switchblade. In this little known book, which is still available online, David seems to present a “tell all” confession of some of the mistakes that he had made in ministry. During one season of his life, when the Teen Challenge program was being highly effective, touching thousands of lives, Brother Wilkerson had it on his heart to open a third level program for certain individuals who had completed the first required two years of Teen Challenge and showed great potential in leadership.

In his book, David recounts that he had a name all picked out for the new ministry.  He prayed and prayed before he put a hefty down payment on a large parcel of property near Disney World in Orlando Florida. Sometime during this season, David was approached by a Chinese man in New York City who asked him if he indeed was David Wilkerson? David acknowledged that yes, he was. The Chinese man proceeded to tell David that he was a man of much prayer in China whom God had been using in prophetic gifts for many years. He went on to tell David that whatever steps he had been taking recently for building something new was not of God. He said; “David, God has shown me that you are trying to build an epitaph for yourself.” David became very angry and walked away, rebuking the prophet under his breath telling himself that this man must be of the devil! God, however, in His infinite wisdom through His still small voice, used what that man said to David that day to gradually deal with his heart.

David admits that he eventually realized that God had indeed sent the man and that David was being blinded by his own selfish ambitions. David goes on to tell that he felt terrible about the several thousand-dollar check he had put down on the property and prayed multiple tears of repentance. Then one day the Spirit of God spoke to his heart and said “David, what you learned through this error has taught you such a great lesson concerning praying more diligently before making decisions that it will save your ministry thousands of times over what it cost you to learn it.

Leaders, we are called to be under-shepherds, under the ongoing leading of the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ. We should be humble and teachable, in continual dependence on His Holy Spirit’s guidance in our life. We should continually be learning that prayer and much prayer is not a suggestion but a necessity for those of us in pastoral ministry. Then, like David Wilkerson when we do make mistakes, and we will, those beautiful words in season come to us from Jesus to our hearts providing healing and encouragement from our Perfect Shepherd.

The mistake, which is made by so many is when a philosophy of this world’s leadership gets mixed into the leadership of the church. There have even been books and seminars on this misnomer that seems to tie in Biblical support for such perspectives. Think of these titles with me for a minute, “President” or “CEO.” They seem innocent enough and in many cases it's not the title itself, but how it's perceived by the one using it.  Other titles or perceived perceptions go a bit further.  What about this one, “The son of a King?” Or even “The Heavenly Fathers Son” Or the Son of King Jesus?”

For a pastor or ministry leader to take any one of those positions in his thinking about who he is, can produce the same kind of thinking in his own relationship with God. For the sake of this article I would like to call it the thinking of an “individualist.” An individualist who believes that God speaks to him only and him alone. It was in this position of pride that caused David Wilkerson to fall into a major financial blunder. It will make any pastor feel that anyone’s attempt to speak into their life will not be from God and even perhaps perceived to be of the devil. It negates the acceptance and the need of the other four apostolic gifts and it will set any leader up for eventual failure. In over three decades of ministry it is the one attitude I have seen over and over. I have seen it believed, implemented and causing great harm to individuals and whole church bodies.

My heart before God is to call out to pastors and ministry leaders around the world to search your own heart. Ask yourself the question: “Do I believe that God only speaks to me directly and He will not use the other spiritual gifts to speak into my life too?” Personally I have had God speak to my heart through small children without them even realizing it. I have also had God use sometimes the most unlikely person in the five fold gifts, to amplify what He is already trying to speak to my heart. Sometimes, its neatly tucked in some sermon I hear on my car radio station or a prayer by an elder that speaks the scripture I needed to hear. Sometimes it’s wisdom from your spouse or parent!

Your safety net ministry leaders, is to see yourself not as an individualist but a co- dependent on those God by His design has surrounded you within ministry. It begins by humbling yourself and casting aside any notion that God speaks to you only. You must begin today to rally around your spiritual peers and humbly ask them to be your accountability partners. It's then and only then God can build a spiritual wall around you that will honor His name, and keep you from ever making costly non-God led self-inspired decisions. 

Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is

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