An Open Pastoral Letter: The Seduction of a Jerusalem-only Ministry

Jorge Acevedo

By all practical measures, if you were to evaluate my ministry at Grace Church, I would grade out pretty well. In most areas of ministry, things were on the increase. In five years, consider the common measure of “nickels and noses.” Our weekend worship attendance had grown from 425 to over 1400. The giving had grown from $320,000 to nearly $1,000,000 over that same period. A 1.2 million dollar debt had been reduced to $500,000 while at the same tens of thousands of dollars of renovations on facilities had occurred.

In regard to vital programming, things were going well. Stephen Ministry had begun with over fifty persons trained and equipped for care-giving within the life of Grace Church. Ministry to children had exploded from a few dozen children to over 250 on our Sunday services. Worship had mushroomed from two traditional services to five weekend services and a mid-week service. God’s bounty in our youth ministry was clear. Unchurched teens by the dozens were packing into our middle school and high school ministries. Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered, biblically based ministry, was reaching people with hurts, habits, and hang-ups by the droves. Small groups were growing and multiplying.

Our staff had grown from three full time and five part-time staff to ten full-time and fourteen part-time staff. Salaries and benefits were on the rise as well as the caliber of ministry improved.

Using evangelism as a measuring stick, we graded out well. Over sixty percent of the people that were joining Grace Church were from the ranks of the unchurched or once-churched. Over 800 people had been brought into the membership of the church.

So, you may be asking, what is the problem? The problem is that as a pastor, I had been seduced into a Jerusalem-only ministry. Remember the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8 (NIV): “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In seminary, I learned that Jesus was using expanding concentric geographic areas to illustrate our calling to the entire world. I always have believed in Acts 1:8, but, did I actually live it out in my personal life and leadership as a pastor? This was a harder question to answer.

Now, I had been involved in missions. As a ten-year youth ministry veteran, I had led teams of youth to Appalachia, urban centers in America, the delta of Mississippi, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Costa Rica. “Missions” was a core value of our church. As a Wesleyan, I was committed to Wesley’s maxim, “The world is my parish.” Grace Church had an expanding ministry to the poor, homeless, and addicted of our community. But was “missions” the mission of my life and my ministry? Not really!

All of that changed in one week! One of our leaders had been to a Global Focus Conference and returned “on fire.” And soon, her fire spread. For months, we planned a Global Focus week. At our Wednesday night, New Community service, we would invite a giant in world missions to address our church. Then on Friday night and Saturday morning, a team from the Mission Society for United Methodists would lead as many core leaders that we could get to attend through a seminar on becoming a globally focused church, followed by a Sunday sermon. Throughout the week, our missionaries from Japan would meet with as many small groups as possible during the week. As we planned this week, I never could have imagined the change that would occur in me and our church.

My defining moment came on Saturday at the Global Focus seminar. I am still not sure what happened, but it was probably the video that closed the seminar. It broke me. The speaker had asked me to close the seminar with prayer. When I stood to pray, my heart was beating so hard, I thought it would come out of my chest. After several minutes of silence, I asked our people to join me at the altar to pray. With tears running down my face, the Holy Spirit gently convicted me of my leadership sin of omission. The Spirit revealed to me that as a pastor I had been seduced into a Jerusalem-only ministry. It was not intentional, but it was the truth. In my zeal to reach the lost of Cape Coral and the surrounding area, I had forgotten about the world.

I asked God for forgiveness that Saturday. I told God that if he would give me another chance, I would do all I could with his help to lead Grace Church to be a globally focused church. Do I know all that this means? Absolutely not, but is that not the delight of being a leader in the church? I am scared to death. This changes everything—how we spend our money, the buildings we build, the priorities we make, the staff we hire, and more.

Now, please listen. I am still red-hot to reach my Jerusalem. With God’s help, that will never change. God has just expanded my vision and the vision of Grace Church to partner with him in reaching the 1.7 billion people who have no access to the gospel.

This week as I re-read Acts 1:8, I noticed how Jesus used the word “and.” He said, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus never said “Reach your Jerusalem first, then go to Judea, Samaria, and the rest of the world.” I think Jesus meant for us to have a biblically balanced church with a passion and a strategy to reach lost people in our backyard and around the world!

Posted Apr 01, 2005