There is a remarkable story found in 2 Kings 6:1-7, where a group described as the “sons of the prophets” undertake to expand their living quarters. They have gone along with Elisha to the banks of the Jordan where they are cutting down trees for the building project. One of the young preacher boys is in the process of cutting down a tree when the head of his axe flies off and lands in the water, apparently lost. That is the setting.
The young man cries out, “Alas, my master! It was borrowed.” Elisha cuts down a small tree and throws it into the Jordan where the young preacher told him he had seen it fall. The axe head floats, and Elisha tells the young man to reach out and pick up the axe head, which he does.
I would like to make a couple of observations. By no means am I trying to exhaust this text. I want to apply this to the “effectiveness of church ministry” in our day. Obviously the point of an axe is the cutting edge on the axe head. When this young preacher lost his axe head, he lost his effectiveness to cut down a tree. So let me comment on that.
1. The Loss of Effectiveness is often due to Carelessness.
If you have ever used an axe you know that the head can work its way loose. A wise worker tends to that as it happens so that the head doesn’t come off. This young man likely knew that the head of the axe was loosening, but he kept cutting. He was careless.
How easily does the church today carelessly handle what is most important? We know from the early pages of Acts that the effectiveness of the church is absolutely dependent upon the presence and the working of the Holy Spirit. In anticipation of that the early church prayed diligently before God. Once God moved mightily, they continued to assemble together in God’s Word and in prayer, obeying what God led them to do. The church is not primarily an organization. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being organized. We should do things in an orderly manner. But the church is primarily a living organism that does what it does effectively only by the operation of the Holy Spirit. We cannot be careless in our habits of spiritual discipline.
2. The Futility of Continuing without Effectiveness.
This young man lost his axe head. He could have continued to try and work without it. He could have run around banging the handle against trees, hitting harder and harder hoping against hope to knock one down.
When the church has lost its effectiveness, its cutting edge, so to speak, it can try and continue through programs and activities to try and do the work without “its axe head.” How often are our ministries equivalent to banging on trees with a handle? Jesus said in John 15:5 that without Him we cannot do anything. We are wasting our time trying to replace the cutting edge with newer and prettier axe handles. The answer to the issue of effectiveness is not copying the outward activities of the “newest and latest” growing church. The issue is not whether we sing from hymnbooks or words on a projected on a screen. It is not whether we wear a suit and tie or preach in blue jeans or the latest fashion.
3. The Solution to Regaining our Effectiveness is to Recover our Axe Head.
How can we recover our effectiveness? We cannot do the work of God without the operating presence and power of the Spirit of God. When that is gone, like the young man in our story we must begin with an honest confession that we have lost it. We must recognize that the effectiveness of our ministry is something that is borrowed. The indispensible person in our congregation is not the pastor, not the deacons, not some committee. The indispensible person is the Holy Spirit.
We sometimes speak of God’s “anointing.” Old-time preachers used to speak of divine “unction”. That special “cutting edge” in our churches is a stewardship from God. It is borrowed. It is not inherent in our abilities and talents. When we lose it, it is because we have been careless with our relationship to God. We need to return to the place we received it in the first place, the very presence of God.
We must do our part. This young man had to show the prophet where the axe head had landed. When it began to float he had to reach out and pick it up.
But only God could make it float. Only God can reignite the fire in our hearts and lives. Only God can restore the cutting edge to the life of the church. The solution is not some new program. It is waiting before God in prayer. It is living in God’s Word. IT IS OBEYING GOD WHEN HE SPEAKS.
Are you beating on trees with axe handles? I know I have at times in my life, and I have gone looking for those “silver bullet” solutions, that magic program that would fix everything. Can I suggest we honestly confess our carelessness, and seek for God to restore our cutting edge effectiveness?