RPM, Volume 12, Number 42, October 17 to October 23, 2010

The Sacred Cycle of Ministry

Mark 6:7-13

By Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.,

President, James M. Baird Jr. Professor of Pastoral Theology
Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC

A message given at the Chief of Chaplain's Preaching Conference,
September 14, 2010, at the US Chaplains' Center and School, Fort Jackson, SC.

Introduction to the Reading

The Gospel of Mark is written to people trying to figure out what makes Christianity different. Who is Jesus? And what does it mean to be His disciple in this world. Before we figure out what it is to be faithful chaplains we better know what it is to be faithful Christians! Mark is a good place to go for both.

Mark answers those questions in His Gospel. He often does it not only with the Word but even with the way He presents the Word. In Mark 6, for example, Mark shows how Jesus Christ answers the question, "What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus in the world today." The way he does it is simply amazing. He panels stories side by side, overlapping, interweaving, until the careful student begins to see that the answer is hitting him over and over again. In this case, before Mark tells the story about Jesus sending out the Twelve, He tells the story of Jesus' rejection at Nazareth. Then, after he starts the Sending Story, he sandwiches that story in between the story of the beheading of John the Baptist. Rejection to sending to martyrdom. The net effect is to powerfully press home the meaning of discipleship in the world.

And today, we come to meat in between the bread. Today we come to what I am calling "the sacred cycle of ministry" in the Word of God.

Will you give attention to the reading of God's Word?

(Mark 6.7-13)

Introduction to the Sermon

I was moving closer to a Ph.D. and further from God and I was a pastor. And I think what happened to me can happen to any of us.

I have told many of you about the details leading to my grace awakening and the new birth it brought in my life. I have related on at least one occasion about my call to preach. But I have never told you why I wanted to immediately do research work in theology after seminary. I believe then and now that God had called me to seek further study when I heard the words of James Montgomery Boice to pastors, that the pulpit was deserving of the finest training and study, that it was as important to prepare yourself for the work of the pulpit and parish as it was to do so for the seminary. I wanted to fine tune my mind, learn the tools of research, and discipline myself for the work of Study and Preaching. So, with a heart for study and a heart for missions, I simultaneously became a church planter and a Ph.D. student. I don't recommend it. It aged me considerably. But somewhere along the way, I think I began to lose my vision. I lost sight of the goal of the study and became immersed in the work as if the research was the goal. That is when God sent me to get fixed at the manse of a Welsh preacher named Mr. Morgan. My wife and I joined Mr. Morgan, the pastor of a congregational church in a valley in Wales, for tea after evening worship. Now Mr. Morgan was a very dramatic Welsh preacher who would fall on his knees during the service and shake the Communion rail as he literally wept for souls to repent. He would often call out people by their name, as he did with me one time to my astonishment, and use live examples of what Christ could do in a person's life. Like any respectable Welsh preacher, he carried a flowing handkerchief that cascaded out of his suit pocket and he came complete with a Dylan Thomas lock of hair that fell down over his eyes, so that as he stretched out his right hand to make a point in his sermon, he could deftly use his other hand to throw the lock back over his scalp. It was an ingenious move, very theatrical and yet one got the impression that this was just Mr. Morgan and not one bit of acting. Well, as I say, we went to his Manse on Alexander Street in that quaint little working class village to have tea. After some serious conversation about theological matters, he looked at me and said, "Mr. Milton, you really are a studied man, aren't you? I mean all of this study here and in that doctoral program there with those learned men at the University and all. I mean, Mr. Milton, you really are something!" What could I say? The devil was blinding me and he knew it. "Now, Mr. Milton, I suspect that you would like to go to my study to see all of my books, wouldn't you?" "Oh, yes!" I said like a kid on Christmas morning and I jumped up ready to go. "Alright, then," he popped up, "Let's have a look at my great library." I followed him up the old staircase in the Manse and we arrived at the top and went into the room he called his study. It was dark, but I could see one thing: shelf after shelf after shelf was empty. I was confused. "Well, what do you think of my fine library, Mr. Milton. Do you think the boys at the University would approve?" I stood speechless, waiting the show to carry on. "Well, Mr. Milton, there on that table, there are all of my books! All 66 of my books!" There, in the midst of an empty library was a table with a Bible on it. Nothing else. In fact, no other furnishings in the room save a chair. All I could do was smile. "Now, look here, Mr. Milton," the preacher said, as he looked me in the eye, "God told me that I was depending too much on books and not enough on His Book. So I got rid of them all!" I secretly wished he had thought of me when he was donating his library to others, but I said nothing. "Mr. Milton, you must never allow anything to get in the way of trusting in the Holy Spirit and His Word alone." And I felt then as I feel now that God spoke to me that night in that manse in Wales and reminded me: I am called to be taught and I am taught to be sent.

It is possible for people to think that they are Christians, but to miss it. For this is a Christian: Call, Taught and Sent. And moreover it is possible for even true believers in Jesus Christ to get confused about this essential character of the Christian faith.

Today, the Gospel of Mark is here to help clarify and I pray God uses this message to bring us back to the basics of this message in Mark 6.7-13 and to enter the sacred cycle of ministry.

The sending of the twelve in Mark is, not surprisingly, the shortest of this account, which appears in Jesus' preparation teaching in Matthew 9 and then the sending in Matthew 10 and in Luke 8. It is in Matthew's account that we have the testimony of the tremendous teaching about what it is to be a disciple. It is in Matthew's expanded story of the teaching and then the sending (in Matthew 10) of the Twelve that we have such teaching as:

A student is not above His teacher(Matthew 10.24 NIV);

If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the member of his household! (Matthew 10.25)

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Hell. (10.28)

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (10.34)

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of my and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me in not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (10.37-39)

That last verse bore down into my soul in a Morning Prayer service in a little Episcopal church in Morgan City, Louisiana, while I was on a sales call for Dow Chemical. It led me to see the shallowness of my profession and started me on a journey that eventually led me face to face with my sinful soul and my only Salvation in Jesus Christ.

This is the context. Mark is giving us the account of the sending of the twelve, sandwiched between rejection at Nazareth and the beheading of John. In this we come to see what it means to be a Christian. And in doing so we learn more about our own calling: we are called to be taught and taught to be sent! In this passage we are beckoned to enter or re-enter the sacred cycle of ministry. There are three movements in the sacred cycle in the passage that I pray will bring renewal to each and every one of us in our ministries so that we can say that we are "God's chaplains to His army."

The first movement in the sacred cycle of ministry is this:

If we are God's chaplains to His Army then we must be called

Jesus called His disciples as they were working in their jobs. Here in this passage, before they are sent, He again calls them to Himself, the Bible says. Jesus calls us in salvation, He calls us in teaching, and He calls us in sending. The essential character of a disciple is not a person who turns over a new leaf, or makes a decision for Jesus, but whose life is radically transformed by an encounter with the Call of Jesus on his or her life. The essential character of a chaplain of God for His army is one who has been visited by the eternal God. When you go to a soldier as a chaplain that soldier will know if you have been with God or if you are just here because you have the perfect Myers-Briggs score for a clergyman! We need chaplains who are like David Brainerd want to be a "flaming fire" for God. This comes from being summoned by Christ to preach His Gospel.

This is the uniform teaching of the Word of God:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and Bear fruit…John 15.16 (ESV);

The God of this people Israel chose our fathers… Acts 13.17 (ESV)

…He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him… Eph. 1.4 (ESV)

Now the issue is simply this: Jesus has come. His Word is in front of you and He is calling you. Dietrich Bonheoffer put it better:
One thing is clear: we understand Christ only if we commit ourselves to Him in a stark "either-or.' He did not go to the cross to ornament and embellish our life. If we wish to have him, then He demands the right to say something decisive about our entire life. We do not understand Him if we arrange for Him only a small compartment of our spiritual life. Rather, we understand our spiritual life only if we then orientate it to him alone or give a flat ‘No.' 1
I believe that what soldiers and families need more than anything is a chaplain who has heard the call of God on his life. We need chaplains who are what David Brainerd prayed that he would be: A flaming fire for Christ.

The essential character of discipleship is the call of God. It is the essential quality of the life of a chaplain. You are called by God. It is the call of God in Christ in salvation. It is the Call of God in Christ in discipleship, also, for here we see that these men who were called to Christ were called to Christ again before they would be sent. We cannot live the Christian life without coming to Christ again and again and again. Not for salvation, mind you?that is a once and always thing?but for guidance, for direction and for clarification of our lives as His disciples.

The second movement in the sacred cycle of ministry is this:

If we are God's chaplains to His Army then we are called to be taught

Again, I say that Matthew gives us more of the account of Jesus teaching just before they were sent, but Mark shows this in a different way. While Mark 4 begins by saying that he taught them (large crowds) by the sea, which is remarkable singular statement of his ministry, Mark shows us, dramatically, that Jesus taught them another way. Before they went out as His disciples He taught them through the example of His own life. He was rejected. Mark doesn't record the actual teaching that went on, he just shows the Roman Christians in the story about Jesus' rejection right before the Twelve are sent. Mark often leaves it for his audience to fill in the blank. He moves quickly. But He doesn't miss it. They are called to be taught.

We have developed, it seems to me, in many circles an almost distaste for learning. It is as if to do serious study of the Word of God, to inquire into the nature of God and into that which is properly called "theology" or the study of God, somehow leaves us suspect. I recognize that much of this suspicion of learning and faith comes from perfectly faithful men going off to seminary to become godless liberals. But must we again throw the baby out with the bathwater? Mark Noll of Wheaton College wrote an outstanding book on this very subject, which he called: The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. 2 Noll began his first page with this statement:

"The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is no evangelical mind."
Now that is hyperbolic and disturbing to draw you into the book. But his premise is that we have failed to "renew our minds" as Paul called us to do. We have failed to love God with our minds as Jesus called us to do. We may have forgotten that the Great Commission is to go and "teach them whatsoever I have commanded you." You are not ready to be sent until you are being taught by Jesus. And I don't mean on the other hand, a sterile, academic teaching, but a sit-at-the-feet-of-the-Savior academy. As a result, we have been satisfied with the hem of Christ for salvation, but have missed his deeper teaching for life transformation. But Jesus taught his disciples. As a result, some of us have reproduced a Christianity that does not contain the whole counsel of God and may not even be true faith. To be a disciple is to sit at the feat of the Master.

Are you, as a chaplain, seated, as it were, at the feet of the Master? Are you seated before His Word in your ministry? Are you seated before the Master in authentic, soul-changing, heaven-pleading, Christ-saturated prayer?

Now we need to see this as we move on. We need to see that the teaching didn't stop when they were sent. Indeed, they knew very little. The sending was a part of the teaching. For you see,

Third, we need to make sure that God's chaplain to His Army is called to be taught, but taught to be sent

You cannot be a disciple without being called by Jesus, taught by Jesus, but also sent by Jesus.

A spiritual pathology begins to emerge if we do not move from teaching to sending. It is very much like the scene I saw as a boy. We had a pasture and a pond in the back of our pasture. I used to like to ride my horse, Sugar Baby, back to that pond. I would just sit on my horse and watch the coming and going of water fowl, fish jumping, and every now and then hop off with a cane pole and enjoy a little fishing. But this one time I rode back there, Sugar Baby went so far and would go no farther. I tried to gig him and get him going but he would not move. In fact he wanted to turn around! In our tug of war, he finally bucked my off and he headed back for the coral! I was mystified and thankfully not hurt. I determined that I was going to go to that pond. So I walked back there. What I saw I will never forget. Because it was late August in a particularly hot and sweltering, swampy summer, the pond was dried up. It was just mud. Fish, some dead, some still flopping with withering life left in them, were all over the bottom of that pond. But here is what caught my eye and here is what made Sugar Baby turn around and run. There was a bull frog sitting on a stump. He was having a great time! There were flies and all sorts of flying bugs all over that scene of death and decay, and he was having a great time feeding on as many of them as his long tongue could snatch. I rather enjoyed watching him sitting there. He ate so much that he could have easily moved on. But he kept on sitting and he kept on feeding. Then I saw the first movement. A water mocassin slithered in the mud. He was watching that bull frog. My heart stopped. I started to run, but I was paralyzed with fear and with intrigue. "What would happen?" Well, that bull frog kept eating and that snake kept sneaking. And then all of a sudden, "Strike!" It was over for the bull frog. The bull frog had fed too long. He should have eaten in order to move on. But he didn't. And he was devoured.

The Bible says that the serpent, Satan, goes about, not like a water moccasin, but like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. I think there are too many chaplains, too many preachers, and too many of our people feeding—on Mps, on more and more books, on more and more instruction—but not moving. They are frozen in the sacred cycle. And this gives room for the evil one. We are not called to just sit and feed. We are called to be taught in order to be sent. There is no other way. That is the cycle laid down by Christ.

Jesus sends these out and it is now that I want us to consider what the three characteristics of this sending.

True believers, like the Twelve, are sent with a Commission.

The commission here is simple.


You must go. They were not called and taught to grow spiritually fat and sluggish but to go and bear fruit. True believers are people who are reproducing their faith, teaching the teachings of their Savior to others.

Go Together.

They are sent out two by two. They are unit ministry teams! This accords with all of the teaching of God in the Bible, for testimony is established in twos. Thus, you have Peter and John, Paul and Barnabus, Paul and Silas and so forth.

I once had another minister tell me, "I will give you a secret to the pastorate. ‘Never do ministry alone.'" I have not forgotten that. Pastors equip others. My work is to equip the saints for the work of ministry and I do that in the company of others.

In the Army we have something that is known as the buddy system. And I think this is what Jesus is doing. You go into battle with a battle buddy. He looks out for you, he covers your back, he gives you encouragement, he holds you accountable, he sees what you see and together you make better decisions.

My beloved brethren, there is a great principle here and that is that God has placed us in a team called the Church. There are to be no lone wolves in the Church. In Acts 2, after the great outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, we immediately see the saints gathered into local assemblies. Indeed, the very word of church in the Bible is "ecclesia" and it means "the assembly." In the Old Testament that word is "Qara" and it is translated "Congregation." In Hebrews, the word "congregation" is rendered "Church." That is right. It is the same thing. The people of God are not to "forsake the assembling of themselves together." They are to have church, literally in the Greek. To assemble is to church. There are to be no loose cannons in the Body of Christ. Paul told Titus, "Set in order the things that remain, appoint elders in every city." That is plural: elders.

All that is to say that God intends for His people to be gathered together in local fellowships under the spiritual covering of pastors and elders. In the Army that is hard to do because our people are in a unique culture. But General George Washington founded the chaplain corps in order to provide spiritual oversight for the soldiers. That remains the reason that we exist: to bring the spiritual "cover" to our soldiers in spiritual as well as physical battles.

Go with authority.

Jesus told these disciples that they had authority over demons. Now we need to always look at the Bible with redemptive-historical lens, otherwise we will forever be confused. This was a specific time in redemptive history. These twelve were sent directly Jesus. The word for sent in the Greek is the root from which we get the word apostle. There are no more apostles. But still every Christian is sent forth with an authority from Jesus. That authority is to proclaim what God has done for you. That is what the Man of the Tombs did. He was healed and delivered and told what things God had done for him. Peter says:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Pet. 2.9 (ESV)
Paul called us "ambassadors" sent forth to plead with men to be reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. That is a true chaplain sent from God to His Army. He is sent forth to burn with the Gospel of Jesus and when you do others come and watch you burn and they get caught up in the holy flames themselves. That is the way you plant a church. That is the way you build a church. That is the way you encourage a chapel community. That is the way you ministry to soldiers: out of the divine, authority that Christ has given you to minister in His name!

And Paul wrote in Ephesians 3.20:

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, Eph. 3.20 (ESV)
Thus, we have Christ's power and that is His authority.

And let us make sure we see this: We are to…

Go with authority over evil.

When Christ is preached in our homes in family worship there is power over evil. When Christ is shared in love with others, there is life changing power that will restore marriage, give comfort in grieving, and translate a dead sinner into a living saint of God.

Now let us see not only the Commission, but there is more:

Genuine disciples, like the Twelve, are sent with a Command.

The command of Jesus involved how they should go. He allowed a staff, a walking stick. He allowed sandals. But He forbid bread, a bag for supplies, money and an extra tunic, which was used for a covering at night. In other words, they were to go and depend on Jesus alone for the journey.

This may very well be the central part of this that many of you need. It is certainly what pastors and church leaders need to hear. Jesus is not sending us with everything neat and tidy. Christ is calling us to go and He is showing us that if He calls, He will equip, and if He equips, He will sustain.

When Chaplain Goetz went forward into Afghanistan on the day when he was killed, 3 he went with a Bible and his chaplain kit. That kit isn't much to a lot of people but it is life to the soldier. The bread and the cup. The stole we wear in the field that reminds all that when two ore more are gathered we are having church and the chaotic battlefield is transformed into a peaceful sanctuary of the living God. He didn't have much, but he went faithfully with the ordinary means of grace that would save, heal, give courage and hope and peace to others. He died on a field of battle but Christ's ministry lived. And others have come to Christ, the Chief told us. Others have surrendered to the call to preach. He went with a command to travel light, but he had all that he needed to accomplish his mission.

What are you leaning on this morning? A program? Your ILE, Command and General Staff College diploma? Your education? Your theological pedigree? Or are you traveling with Jesus' provision for supernatural ministry?

Now, finally, let us see about this "sending" that…

Faithful followers, like the Twelve, are sent with a Communiqué.

The message is this, according to verse 12: "repent." Matthew adds, "The kingdom of God has come." And Luke sums it up by saying, Preach the Gospel." What is the Gospel message? "Turn from your sins for in the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, the Kingdom of God has come to earth. He is here. This is the One. Look for no other. The Call is upon you to turn to Him and Him alone."

Verse 13 gives us the necessary companion to this first message: "Heal them." The oil mentioned is simply a sign. The olive oil could not produce the sort of instantaneous, miraculous healing that is under view here. These men had the supernatural touch of God, the power to heal and cast out demons. We do not have that power. We are not the Twelve. But we are to bring healing.

One chaplain told me that he can never look at Communion the same way. He told me that giving Communion prior to patrols became vital for his ministry and his men demanded it. They wanted the healing power of Christ Jesus. You have healing in your words. You have healing in your counseling. You have healing in your prayers for the soldiers. You have healing in your pastoral prayers in the installation chapel on the Lord's Day. You have healing in your Biblical expository sermons, with every truth drawn from the very Word from Another World!

Indeed, it is here that we learn a vital truth: the Gospel must go forth in Word and in Deed. Not Word alone. Not Deed alone. One is intellectualism or fundamentalism in the worst sense and the other is a social Gospel and neither is the true Gospel. The Gospel goes forth in Word as we feed the poor. And we feed the poor and also share Jesus Christ with them. The Gospel goes forth as we comfort the grieving. But it goes forth as we share the beauty of our Savior's grace as we minister physical and emotional comfort.

One of my former assistants telephoned me some time ago to tell me how God is blessing him. He went out and planted a church and now that it is established he has sought other ways to do the work of an evangelist. So he got involved with hospice. He told me that he was called in to be with a family of an aging and dying family member. As he met her, he held her hand, and with the sons and daughters and in-laws and grandchildren all hovered around her bed, he diagnosed her spiritual condition. He saw clearly that this woman was teetering on the edge of eternity without Christ. So, he told her the Gospel, that she was a sinner and in danger of soon standing before the judgment seat of Almighty God in her sins, but that Christ had come and died on a cross and is she repented she would be saved. The family said, "Pastor, you're a bit rough here." But the woman interrupted them and asked to pray to receive this One she had heard of all of her life. My former assistant then faithfully came into her room daily to teach her and sing with her. A few weeks ago, after work and a hard game of racquetball, he decided to drop by the nursing home before going to his house. The bed was empty. She was gone. A nurse came upon his astonishment and said, "Aren't you the one who came and sang hymns to her last night? "Yes, " he said. "Well," the nurse smiled and spoke softly, "you sang her right into heaven."

We are called to be taught and we are taught to be sent. And we are sent to speak Christ and be Christ for a world in need.


This Chaplain Center and School is a blessing. You get your Chaplain Basic here. You get your Chaplain Career Course, your advanced training here. We offer many other types of educational ministries. But this is not the destination. This is the starting place for ministry. We got to go! Christ called us to not only teach us, but also share that teaching with a world in need! We can't forget sending!"

Where are you in the sacred cycle of ministry?

God's chaplains in His army are called to be taught and taught to be sent.


1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Writings Selected with an Introduction by Robert Coles, Modern Spiritual Masters Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001), 43-44.

2. Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994).

3. See http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100903/death-of-us-army-chaplain-in-war-zone-marks-1st-in-40-years/.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Writings Selected with an Introduction by Robert Coles Modern Spiritual Masters Series. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001.

Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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