When I was 19 years old, I preached at a little church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The church only had about 40 people, most of whom were elderly. Of those 40 members, only one was younger than me. I would love to say we had a youth group, but in reality, it was more like a “youth kid.”
By DUDLEY RUTHERFORD
I was just starting college in Missouri, so I had to drive about two hours every weekend to get to the church. At this time I was a very shy, mild-mannered, and meek guy. I was the kind of guy who didn’t want to offend anyone. People who know me now are shocked to learn this, but it’s the truth.
Smoking in the Church
Every time I drove to Fayetteville, I was terrified of the three elders of the church who awaited me. I referred to them as the “smoking elders” because all three of them smoked cigarettes. They burned through them by the pack. And what’s worse, they actually lit them up inside the church building. (Yes, I said inside the church building!)
Their smoking always bothered me. I knew it was an unhealthy habit, and the fact that they were church leaders indulging in plain view of the church wasn’t helping us out at all. Who wants to go to church and smell cigarettes as soon as they step in the door? Many, many times I wanted to talk to them about it, but I couldn’t. They intimidated me.
Preach the Truth
One day the director of a local orphanage called me and asked if he could bring the kids to church. “Of course,” I replied. “Come over and we’ll have lunch for you, too!”
He brought about ten kids, which increased our church attendance that Sunday by 25 percent. After the service was over, we all moved downstairs to enjoy our lunch together, but the director pulled me aside and asked to speak to me. Once we were out of sight and away from everyone else, his demeanor changed. He got right in my face and started poking me in the chest with his index finger.
Dead serious, he said, “Preacher, I’m gonna tell you something. Every single day these kids fight the temptation to drink, swear, and smoke. The last place I ever thought they would see a bad example was in the church! You better start preachin’ what people need to hear and not what they want to hear.”
Then he said, “We will never come back to this church again.”
Though his words were harsh, they were a necessary wake-up call. For the rest of that afternoon, I was racked with conviction. My church had served as a bad example to those kids, and it was all because I didn’t have the guts to say what needed to be said.
That evening, as I arrived for our Sunday-night service, I prayed earnestly for God to grant me boldness to do just what that man had said. To preach what people needed to hear.
During my prayer, I felt the power of the Holy Spirit rise up within me and fill me with courage and purpose. Before I even entered the church door, I knew I would finally be able to speak what God had placed on my heart. When I got up to preach that night, I threw away my prepared notes. I stood up there and let them have it with both barrels.
I don’t remember everything I said during that message, but I do remember saying at one point, “If God had intended for you to smoke, he would have put a chimney on your head! Smoking won’t send you to hell, but it will sure make you smell like you’ve been there!” I stressed the fact that we shouldn’t be smoking in the first place, let alone inside the church of Jesus Christ, because doing so would undoubtedly set a poor example for others in the faith.
Truth be told, I was surprised at myself. I never knew I could speak like that. And many in the church were just as surprised as I was. The point being, God unleashed a boldness in me that was completely contrary to my nature.
Fired in Fayetteville
The very next Sunday morning I made my drive from college to Fayetteville. I was preparing to deliver the message when one of the three elders pulled me to the side.
Calmly he said, “Dudley, we’ve decided to let you go.”
“Why?” I asked.
He said, “For financial reasons.”
“Financial reasons? You only pay me $50 a week!”
“I know, but we just can’t afford to keep you.”
I tried reasoning with him, saying, “I’ll tell you what; I just want to preach. What if you paid me $5 a week? That would at least cover the gas. Would that be in the budget?”
He firmly answered, “No, we’re letting you go. Today will be your last day.”
I immediately felt that same boldness rise up in me again, except this time it was twice as strong! For the second service in a row, I threw my sermon notes away and let them have it again. They definitely didn’t want me to come back after that message.
I will never forget what the orphanage director said to me on that Sunday afternoon in Fayetteville: “You better start preachin’ what people need to hear and not what they want to hear.” If I had a photo of him digging his finger into my chest, I would have it framed and sitting on my office desk to this day. It changed my life.
Fire in Your Bones
Today, you may be just like I was at age nineteen—timid and frightened to say what you know in your heart is true. God can empower and embolden you to proclaim truths you never thought were possible. He will change the lives of others before your very eyes.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7 nkjv)
Sharing the hope of the Gospel with as many people as I possibly can is my life’s burden and passion. Do you feel this compelling call as well? Pray and ask God to fill you with boldness and courage to speak up. Pray and ask Him to dissolve concerns about what others might think of you or say or do if you tell them the truth.
You don’t have to be a full-time preacher or pastor to get involved in God’s mission to save the world through His Son Jesus. If you ask Him, God will instill in you a burden for sharing your faith. Just as the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed in Jeremiah 20:9, the Word of God will become like a fire in your heart and in your bones that you won’t be able to hold in even if you tried.
Taken from the book, Compelled: The Irresistible Call to Share Your Faith, © 2018 by Dudley Rutherford. Used with permission by Worthy Books, an imprint of Worthy Publishing Group, a division of Worthy Media Inc., All Rights Reserved. Rutherford is the senior pastor of Shepherd Church in Porter Ranch, California, which has campuses in Agua Dulce, West Los Angeles, and the West Valley. You can connect with Dudley at www.LiftUpJesus.com and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.