Last month I went to prison. Actually, I have been going fairly often since one of my congregations conducts prison ministry in the correctional facility in town.
One day, I asked the men at our prison prayer meeting about their Christian walk. They began to give theological answers but said nothing of their experience with Christ. They shared stories of disagreements with other denominational groups and wanted to know how they could defend their beliefs. It became clear why these men were in prison. They had a knowledge of the Bible but not a living, transforming experience with Jesus. These individuals professed Christ before they broke the law and were incarcerated. One young man in the group recently died after a series of drug overdoses. He professed to be a Christian but was out of control.
Unfortunately, we find this problem in churches also. Pastors regularly experience difficult people. Some profess to believe God’s Word, but when they were baptized, they were “buried alive.” Self did not die, and they were not born again (John 5:39, 40). We may be actively searching the Scriptures but still fail to gain eternal life because we never really came to Christ!
“Listen,” I told the group, “it’s not your job to go around telling others that they are wrong. Your first job is to spend time with Jesus Christ.” I strongly encouraged them to take at least an hour each day to draw close to God through the Scriptures and prayer.
The next time I saw these men, it was like they were different people. Their faces were lit up with smiles and happiness. They had taken the advice seriously and were spending regular time with Jesus!
As pastors, we are called not only to share the fundamental teachings of Scripture but also to teach others to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16) and to demonstrate what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Strive to include the importance of personally knowing Christ and the experience of practical Christian living in every sermon. Share stories of how God has given you the victory over sin in your life. Pray the prayer of David:
“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You” (Ps. 51:12, 13, NKJV).
—Jed Genson is pastor of the Sault Ste. Marie, Manistique, and McMillan churches in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, United States