As a Christian, each of us has a critically important decision to make. Will I own my own faith, or just be a churchgoer? This was honestly the single most important decision I ever made in my life. It is a decision that I have maintained and lived out now for 47 years.
Many of you reading this may think to yourselves, “Well, that’s obvious Pastor Mark, of course, we all need to do that.” Unfortunately, this is not obvious to most Christians, who remain primarily just churchgoers, as study after study confirms.
In 1975, as a zealous new disciple of Jesus Christ, I began to understand immediately that I needed to hunger for the Word of God, that I personally needed to own my faith and walk with Jesus Christ as his disciple and learn from Christ. My faith needed to be the most important thing in my life. As I began to follow Christ, diligently read my Bible, and fervently pray for insight and understanding, I was deeply moved and inspired by the lives of David in the Psalms and the Apostle Paul in the Epistles. What so powerfully inspired me was their passionate pursuit of God, their relentless diligence to build themselves up in their most holy faith, to take full and complete ownership of that faith, and their passionate love for God. These men really walked with God.
These men built their whole lives around faith and obedience to God and his Word. They practiced their faith tenaciously. Their intimacy with God astounded me, and I earnestly wanted that myself. This more than anything else was what my soul longed for, and indeed still does to this very day.
Just consider these Scripture declarations for a moment from David in Psalm 119. Observe how David owned his faith.
I have hidden your word in my heart, that I may not sin against you.
I have recited aloud all your laws you have given to us.
I have rejoiced in your decrees.
I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways.
I will delight in your principles and not forget your Word.
I have chosen to be faithful.
I have determined to live by your law.
Teach me O Lord.
How I delight in your commands!
How I love them.
I rejoice in your Word as one who finds great treasure.
Now consider David’s zealous pursuit of God revealed in Psalm 63.
O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. Your unfailing love is better to me than life itself; how I praise you! I will honor you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest of foods. I will praise you with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking about you. I follow close behind you.
Consider the apostle Paul’s powerful declarations in these phrases from Philippians 3.
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ. I want to know Christ.
These autobiographical passages of the Bible reveal to us men who were absolutely serious about their faith, totally committed. Men who took personal ownership of their faith and relationship with God. They were relentless in their pursuit of God and in the nurturing and practice of their faith.
Friends, this is exactly what we need to imitate and live like ourselves.
Many years ago, I created an analogy for a group of pastors I was coaching, trying to help them grasp and understand the primary God-given responsibility we have as pastors to our congregations. To help them envision the main thing that we are trying to accomplish. I will share it with you now, as I believe it will help you grasp to a greater degree what I mean by owning your faith, and not just being a churchgoer.
THE HEALTH CLUB ANALOGY
I would like to use an analogy for a moment, to illustrate what I believe a Pastor should be trying to accomplish.
Let’s suppose that each church was to be a health club, where it was the role and responsibility of the health club owner and manager to get all his members in shape, committed, and faithfully working out on a daily basis. Personally committed to a healthy way of living. The way to evaluate his effectiveness and impact is this: How many of those who belong to his club, on a daily basis, walk or run 2-3 miles, have a daily exercise program, are making healthy, daily eating choices, and developing a healthy weight, maintained over the years? What are they actually doing when they aren’t at my Sunday morning club meeting?
He would not evaluate how wonderful it was to have a large Sunday club exercise day, and everyone showed up on Sunday morning, and he got 300 people to walk with him on the treadmill for an hour, but then during their week, they do no exercise at all, but simply continue to show up on Sunday morning for the neat atmosphere, the cool music, and a motivating walk for an hour on the high tech equipment with their health club trainer using his Garth Brooks mic to motivate them. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great, and wonderful to have a marvelous, motivating time. To equip them, encourage them, and give them training tips, and instructions. But if it does not translate into consistent, changed behavior and habits, during their day-to-day life, in their daily routines and habits, it is all for nothing. It is totally ineffective and inconsequential.
This is exactly what I believe Pastors need to think like when it comes to church, and our congregations. We want them to own their faith! We want them to develop faith habits that they take home with them and live out, such as the passionate pursuit of God. A deep devotion to Christ. A love for God and his Word, that translates into time spent reading his Word, every day of the week. Time spent in earnest prayer, real-time spent in prayer, along with personal worship of God. A habit of sowing the gospel. A habit of good works helping others. A devotion and sacrificial love for God’s people. We want parents who are committed and devoted to training their kids at home in godly character, Christian truth, godly values, and principles.
We want to produce Christians, who are willing to live culturally different lives than those around them. Who dare to defy and live for God. Christians who are living for eternity, investing in eternal things, not living for this world. Christians who are obedient to Christ!
To me, these are some of the critical elements that tell me as a leader, shepherd, and pastor, that I am being effective at my job, training my people to own their faith.
This illustrates exactly what I was and am trying to accomplish as a Shepherd of God’s people. I am relentlessly striving to get each Christian to own their faith, and not simply be a churchgoer.
My fervent prayer for each of you, my friends, is that you would each choose to own your faith. In doing so you will bring your Savior and your Pastors great joy. You will personally experience the profound blessings and richness that come from owning your faith. Your soul will swell with strength, and your heart will find great joy and peace. You will experience God in deep and satisfying ways you never have before. You will be so grateful you chose to own your faith.