We all come from different places and we all have different stories but in ministry we should all have the same purpose. That purpose, ultimately, should be to reach people who are far from God and point them to Jesus who is the only truth that will make their lives better.
Even though we all have different stories and face different pressures, we all have the same enemies. Those enemies are the world, our own flesh and the devil.
The bible tells us that the devil prowls around seeking to kill, steal and destroy us and our efforts. And, we all know that the world and the culture we live in rarely welcomes us into a conversation and is, for the most part, against us.
For most of us, though, those two enemies are little to no factor in our lives and ministries. They can sit on the sidelines and watch us simply destroy ourselves. Our biggest enemy is our own flesh.
I am my worst enemy and you are yours.
Too many of us step into ministry excited and vibrant and filled with faith but at some point step out of ministry depressed, defeated and having no faith. That’s what the statistics say, that’s what I have seen and I bet many of you have seen it too.
What causes this?
There are many symptoms I could suggest but I think there is one common cause. In the end, I believe its because we lose sight of who we are and why we really do what we do.
I believe its because the pressure of ministry and the presence of sin – specifically self preservation, pride, autonomy – slowly cause us to lose sight of the reason we are in ministry. This pressure of ministry and presence of sin, slowly causes us to stop ‘looking to Jesus’ and we start focusing on the storm (or storms) going on around us or in us. We get scared or overwhelmed and we start sinking.
Before I was called into ministry I worked in the market place and had a great job and I was building a good career. I was often frustrated, though, by the notion that many people take in regards to their self worth, in that what they did for a job defined who they were as a person.
I warred against the notion that what I did for a living defined who I was as a person. I was so adamant about creating these clear lines of demarkation between who I was and what I did that I hung onto this idea even as I stepped into vocational ministry.
For me this attitude of separating who I was and what I did eventually proved problematic. The lines kept getting blurry. I wanted to be a follower of Jesus who, to pay the bills, happened to work for a church. A greater cause, maybe, than the market place job I was previously working. I saw it as some sort of righteous act… for less money, I might add.
But unlike the market place job I had, where it was easy to separate who I was from what I did, ministry wouldn’t seem to let me move forward with this attitude.
I wanted to equate success with something I produced as opposed to the person I was becoming.
I wanted the notoriety of a job well done more than embracing the process of who God was making me.
I began to understand that I didn’t just have a job at the church, but a calling into ministry. A calling into reaching people far from God and helping them follow Jesus step by step.
A calling, in my opinion, is simply where our burden to see others know and follow Jesus meets an opportunity to really do something about it. None of us in ministry should be working a job. We should all be stewarding our calling.
So as I moved along in ministry, I began to see that my burden for other people was actually running along side the Lords burden (or reason) for calling me. His reason was for me to be more like Jesus, not necessarily the work He could get out of me. I began to see that this calling (or ministry work) wasn’t as much about just getting things done, as it was to be an overflow of who Jesus was leading me to be.
I discovered that true joy and purpose in ministry is only found when we realize that it is and has to be who we actually are. That my ministry is, for better or for worse, a result of who I am.
I am my ministry and my ministry is who I am.
My life and my ministry, together as one, begins to reveal where my faith resides… either in my employer or my creator. My life and my ministry, together as one, begins to reveal how I judge my success… in a job well done or a life well lived.
A few months ago I heard a message preached by Crawford Loritts – a pastor for over 40 years – where he offered up several thoughts on this idea of life and ministry being one.
He said the following things:
“On the way to accomplishing something you must become somebody”
“God’s primary means of your sanctification… is your ministry”
“And if we view ministry this way, it becomes a resource for your spiritual wholeness instead of a competitor for your mental balance”
“Burnout comes when there is too big of a gap between what you do and your walk with God”
“There will always be a gap between who you are and where God wants to take you”
It hit me as I heard him saying these things that there will always be a next step in my walk with Jesus that will take me to my next place in ministry effectiveness.
And finally he said:
“Biblical leadership has everything to do with you becoming the desired destination at which other people need to arrive”
Pastor Lorritts put into words what my life and ministry had been teaching me in the years before I heard him say them. In a nutshell, my ministry is a big deal and for all of you who are in ministry, your ministry is a big deal.
Its much bigger than the people we may reach, its about becoming the person we want others to be. I don’t know what kind of challenge each of you face day to day but the biggest one we all face is that next step in being made more like Jesus.
The thing that has held me back is the thing that will hold you back. It’s the war that goes on inside of our own hearts and minds to be successful instead of being sanctified. It’s the pressure and stress we feel when we tie our ministry success to what we do instead of who we are becoming.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Jesus is saying that who we are in Him is connected to what we do. It has to be or our efforts will be in vain. On our best day and after our greatest accomplishment, apart from Jesus, it does nothing and it means nothing.
Eventually if we continue to strive in our work instead of abiding in Christ, we will become stressed out and disillusioned and we’ll bail out… or get kicked out.
If we don’t start to embrace the the fact that our ministry is the primary place where God is shaping us into the image of His Son then we won’t make it to the end and finish. We’ll become another statistic and our work in ministry will just become another line on our resume when we bail out and start looking for another job.
So what is the key to embracing this idea of our ministry being who we are?
Hebrews 12: 1-2
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
What can help us abide in Christ and run this ministry race with endurance so that we make it to the end and finish well?
It’s Looking to Jesus as our example.
Jesus was the Son of God and the Son of Man. The Son of God was who He was and the Son of Man was what He did. His ministry (on earth) was who He was and who He was, was His ministry.
In His very existence, He showed us the key to finishing well.
There are so many things we could look at in the life of Jesus but I want to simply offer 5 things He did to set an example for us as we try to embrace our place in ministry and the importance of how it is being used to make us more like Jesus.
1. He Followed the Authority Placed Over Him
We all work under authority. The bible tells us (Romans 13) that this authority has been placed over us for our good and our protection as a filter that is used by God to make us into being more like Jesus.
We naturally want to war with the authority that is over us especially when it seems to be holding us back from doing what we want to do.
But Jesus showed us, even as someone who could have rightly placed Himself over His authority, that the path to the joy set before Him was paved by the authority placed over Him.
For us, our joy will be found as we faithfully follow the authority that has been placed over us, even when its difficult to do so.
2. He Served Others When He Didn’t Have To
Every day and every encounter with those around us is an opportunity to serve others. We have a choice to make every moment about ministry or about me. We have a choice to make every moment about serving or self.
Jesus modeled for us that to reach the joy set before us, we need to be people who are eager to serve others… even when we don’t have to.
3. He Wasn’t Afraid to Rest
What we do in ministry is important and its also never ending. Sundays just keep coming and it can become overwhelming. But Jesus showed us that even in the midst of all that we have to do, we have to find rest.
Rest is a way that we show that our faith is in God, not in our own ability to get things done. Jesus showed us that we have to have a sabbath each week and find a ’solitary place’ from time to time if we want to make it to the end.
4. He Never Sought to Have His Name Known
Jesus name is one that is certainly known. Its the name above every name!
But how did this happen? It happened as He worked his ministry by serving others in a way that the ones He served made His name known.
If we’re to make it to this joy that is set before us, we have to suppress the desire to be famous and embrace the calling to be forged into the image of Jesus.
5. He Embraced the Process of Preparation
Jesus didn’t try to fast track His life and ministry. He showed us that to get to the ultimate place our life and ministry is trying to take us, we have to fall in love with the process of preparation.
This process will never be at the pace we desire. We have to see that whatever is happening NOW in our life and ministry is preparing us for what is NEXT. Jesus showed us that we’ll never get to what is NEXT if we don’t embrace what God is doing in us NOW.
So if we want to finish the race of life and ministry and finish it well, we have to look to Jesus and pattern our lives after His. It’s in doing this that we’ll begin to see that who we are becoming is connected to what we are doing AND what we are doing is connected to who we are becoming.
In the end, Jesus is going to build His church. And, He is going to do it by building His people.
Jesus primary mission is to see His church built. Our primary mission is to be built into the image of Jesus. We can be certain that Jesus will accomplish His mission. The question for all of us is, will we have the faith and endurance it takes to accomplish ours?