“When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?'” Mark 8:34-36
When you read this familiar text from Scripture, among those who may have responded over the years, who comes to mind first? Do we not usually think first of those who may have been called into missionary service, pastoral ministry, or some other means of full time vocational ministry? Is it not usually the known disciples that stand in our pulpits, fly across the seas to foreign lands, lead our Christian organizations, rather than the unknown faces that often sit in the pews of our churches?
The Lord really grabbed my attention recently when reading Mark 8:34….“When He had called the PEOPLE to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them…..” Note that our Lord called the people, the ordinary faces in the crowd, along with his disciples also.
The challenge to take up the cross and follow Him was also to the people that had gathered that day, along with the disciples. And I can’t help but believe that there were some numbered among the multitude (the people) that did just that. In their hearts they said, “Whatever, whenever, wherever!”
Have we not seen that type of commitment from time to time among those in our congregations who yielded fully to the Lord to do as He commanded? As a result, many of them have not sensed a call to full time vocational ministry, but have served faithfully behind the scenes helping to make our churches effective lighthouses for His glory.
It is said that Winston Churchill, once during the tough times of WWII, called the labor leaders to a meeting to enlist their support. At the end of his presentation he asked them to picture in their minds a parade he knew would be held in Piccadilly Circus after the war. “First,” he said, “would come the sailors who had kept the vital sea lanes open. Then would come the soldiers who had come home from Dunkirk and then gone on to defeat Rommel in Africa. Then would come the pilots who had driven the Luftwaffe from the skies.” “Last of all,” he said, “would come a long line of sweat-stained, soot-streaked men in miner’s caps. Someone would scream from the crowd, ‘And where were you during the critical days of our struggle?’ And from 10,000 throats would cry the answer, ‘We were deep in the earth with our faces to the coal!'”
Sometimes in ministry we forget those who make up the soul of the church, those who have kept their faces to the coal! We allow the devil to discourage us by spending too much think time on those who have left the church unhappy, or maybe even for good reasons; with those who attend but won’t serve in the church; with those who enjoy causing division in the church; with those who think they have the gift of criticism; and the list goes on.
Sometimes in ministry there can be a tendency to forget those faithful ones who have kept “their faces to the coal!” These are the people who keep the church running. They are our nursery workers, ushers, money counters, custodians, youth sponsors, children’s church helpers, faithful Sunday School teachers, happy greeters, faithful Awana/WOF volunteers, P.A. system controllers, tape ministry distributors, bus drivers, church pray-ers, etc. These are the people who ARE there and keep the church functioning — these are the ones who keep their faces to the coal!
I recall in one of my pastorates lamenting and sulking over a number of families that had left the church over a short period of time, not necessarily the result of problems but job changes due to a dip in the auto industry, retirees moving south, and a few relocating from the city to the suburbs. After a period of time focusing in the wrong area, the Lord reminded me that there were many more still left in the church and I needed to focus my ministry and energies upon them. Thus began a personal discipleship ministry that reaped a great harvest. Those that I had overlooked while sulking over those who had left, were truly faithful servants who had put their faces to the coal and kept the church going.
Sometimes we become enamored by those who visibly shine in the church, and in doing so, we overlook those who are “deep” in the work of the Lord with their faces to the coal. Good, solid lay people who have said YES to Mark 8:34-36, just as committed as those who, over the years, have become pastors, missionaries, and even deacons in the local church. They are part of an unnoticed, unnumbered core who do jobs for Jesus that aren’t as prominent nor glamorous. They just tough it out, hang in there when others don’t, stick by the stuff, work diligently behind the scenes, and are perfectly happy doing just that.
If we will just look around, I think that we will find there are more “faces to the coal” people in our churches than there are of the other kind. And, praise the Lord, they are usually always on our side, helping to carry the load, holding us up in prayer, reprimanding those who don’t, and giving, even when it hurts. They are totally content just being part of the crowd, the PEOPLE in Mark 8:34 who weren’t described as “the disciples,” but who nonetheless said, “We will deny ourselves and take up His cross and follow Jesus.” They have proved themselves time and again by keeping their faces to the coal. Like the PEOPLE in Mark 8:34, just faces in the crowd BUT faithful followers of Christ.
We all have some of these special people in our churches, who over the years, have kept their faces to the coal. I encourage you to seek some of them out, even this week, and thank them for keeping their faces to the coal. One thing for sure, it will help you forget all of the others who haven’t!
–Maynard H. Belt
Photo by: Paula Reedyk (Creative Commons)