Ministry: What It Is and How it Affects YouAKA "Ministry Truths"
(By Christopher Long, BodEquip Ministries)
What do you think of when you read that word?
WHO do you think of when you read that word?
If you're like most Christians, you probably think of your church, your pastor, Billy Graham. Or perhaps something like Operation Christmas Child. Maybe even this ministry, BodEquip.
There's a funny thing about this term "ministry": Most Christians think of it in terms of someone, or something, else. "I support so-and-so's ministry." "I like Pastor so-and-so - they have a great ministry." etc. Usually right along with this, we tend to elevate, and highly esteem, the person who is overseeing a ministry. "Wow, what a great person - they are really being used by the Lord mightily." And often, we tend to think to ourselves: "I wish I could be used like that!"
We tend to look up to, and even place on a special kind of "ministry pedestal", those that we really think are really doing a great job and that "have it all together." In our hearts, we are in awe of people like Billy Graham and their faithfulness. We also look back with awe to people like Peter and Paul in the New Testament. We see their level of ministry as something unattainable for the "regular Christians" like you and me.
Yes, when you get right down to it, many Christians see "ministry" as reserved for the special few...The few who are really good, really faithful, really extraordinary. Why, the term "ministry" itself evokes a "wow" factor as we think of different people that head up different well-known ministries.
If you'll indulge me, can I share some things with you? Things that, if you grasp and take to heart, can literally revolutionize your entire life?
I'm not kidding...
Are you ready???? :)
"Dear Lord, Speak to our hearts today the truths you want to teach us. Amen."
TRUTH 1: EVERY BELIEVER IS A MINISTER
EVERY believer in Jesus Christ that has trusted in Him to be their Savior, is a minister, and automatically therefore has a ministry.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we are told that once we are "in Christ" we have become a new creation and that the old is gone and new has come. But then it goes on to say the following in the next verses: "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us." (2 Corinthians 5:18-20a ESV).
In other words, every believer in Jesus has been given a ministry: the ministry of reconciliation in helping their fellow humans know about this God that loves them so much that He sent Jesus for them so that they too can be reconciled with God. We are Christ's ambassadors! Your life, as a believer in Jesus, is automatically a ministry.
You see, a ministry is not some "great work I'm going to do for God." And it's not something you might "receive" from God some day. No, your life is ALREADY a ministry as you minister to those around you. How do you minister? There's infinite possibilities. Have you ever encouraged someone, washed someone's car, shared a meal with someone, smiled at someone, prayed for someone, baked a cake, sang a song, given a needed hug, picked up trash in your church's bathroom (yes, I'm serious), or visited someone in the hospital? You see, ANYTHING you do in the name of Jesus is a ministry because it is an overflow of Jesus' working in your life flowing out of you to others. That means that if you smile at someone as an overflow of Jesus' love in you - that's a part of your life ministry. If you pick up that piece of trash you see in your church's bathroom - that's ministry. It's ministry because you are ministering to others in Jesus' name.
You see, the problem is that we tend not to think of these things as "ministry". We humans like our boxes and like to put people in those boxes. We can make distinctions between serving in what one could call a "structured ministry" (i.e. a set ministry such as serving in your church's worship band) or unstructured ministry (the type like I described above as an outgrowth of your life relationship with Jesus). But really, ministry is just that: ministry - ministering to others.
The thing is that many of us have been conditioned to believe that ministry is only for the "special few". We don't think we've got a "ministry" unless we're the pastor of a church or the head of a ministry organization like Focus on the Family. In the western world, we have so convoluted the Word of God with worldly business practices, that we tend to think that only someone who has gone to seminary for 4 years and has their theology degree is able to minister. We see those who have done this as "higher" than those that have not. They are the ones who can "rightly" minister because they are the ones who have received the "training". I issue you a challenge: Search for the word "seminary" in Scripture. Read it all the way through. Okay, I'll go ahead and save you some time: it ain't there. ;) While growing in the knowledge of the Lord is good and certainly there are Biblical qualifications for being a pastor, nowhere is there an implication that only some are able to minister. Rather, ALL believers, are exhorted (frequently I might add) to minister. Not just those that we think have the "secret knowledge."
TRUTH 2: EVERY BELIEVER HAS GIFTINGS
Every believer in Jesus Christ is given one or more giftings by the Holy Spirit. Everyone.
"For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness." (Romans 12:4-8 ESV)
"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" (1 Corinthians 12:27-30 ESV)
"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone." (1 Corinthians 12:4-6 ESV)
As Christians we should all be supporting each other and encouraging each other to minister using the gifts that God has given us. Churches should make it easy for ALL members of the congregation to get involved and serve using their God-given talents and should empower (and not hinder) them from doing so.
Some Christians say they don't know what their gifts are. There's even little tests you can take that men have come up with to try to tell you what your gifts are. While I'm not going to fully discount this (I used to), sometimes I think we overly complicate this stuff. If you are a believer in Jesus and have the Holy Spirit residing in You, He has given you giftings. If you say you don't know what they are, then I would ask you: What is your passion? What do you like to do? God works through these things by His Spirit.
I do not believe that God is in a box and thus I don't believe that He is limited to only working through teaching, healing, exhortation, administration, tongues, prophecy, etc. He can (and does) work through many different things by His Spirit.
Further, there is also definitely no indication that we are limited to only receiving 1 gift - in fact the opposite is true. You can (and probably will) experience many different giftings throughout your Christian life. Some may be for a specific purpose or season and some may be an overriding gift that remains.
I can tell you as a personal testimony that the Lord has supernaturally worked through me using the following supernatural giftings at various times:
-leading others into worship and songwriting
-discerning of spirits
-word of wisdom
-computer skills (yes, I absolutely believe this is a gift - more on this in a minute...)
-data integration and simplification (probably shouldn't mention because now I have to explain what it is - LOL - see below)
And probably several others I can't think of now. The same probably goes for you too.
This whole gifting area is one that churches actually divide over. And quite honestly, it's absolutely ridiculous. It isn't about the legality of what is or is not a gift and whether they are valid or not. It's about the Spirit giving gifts. The Spirit gives gifts! The Spirit can give whatever gift He wants.
Some Christians take this all WAY too seriously and get real legalistic about it. It's lunacy. I believe that "computer skills" has been a gifting of the Spirit in my life. Someone might say, "but that's not in the Bible". And I would say "It most certainly is." The Bible teaches that all that we are that is of any good comes from God. And that we can bear no fruit without Him (see John 15). So if my ability to use the computer bears fruit for the Kingdom, then is that not a gifting? Each breath we take is a gift from God. To some degree it's semantics - but churches actually divide over these semantics and it is absolutely crazy.
It took me years to realize that one of my chief callings in the Body of Christ is to be a data integrator and simplifier. I didn't even know what that was and you won't find that phrase in the Bible. But it's an ability to take in lots of different data from differing sources/points of view, parse through it, piece it together, and spit out an integrated, simplified, practical, digestible form of that data. I'm probably losing half of you by saying that so we'll just move on! LOL :)
Just because I can hear somebody thinking it: "Okay then, what about the person who is running around barking like a dog claiming it is the Holy Spirit? Are you saying that because God can give any gift that He has given this?" I would say God COULD cause someone to bark like a dog, just like He caused Balaam's donkey to talk as a human (see Numbers 22). But if He's going to do something, He's going to do it for a reason. If a gifting is truly of the Lord, there will be valid fruit from it. I would say that if someone is barking like a dog - is someone being edified through that? Is there a purpose to it? Is fruit coming forth? If not, then it's not the work of the Holy Spirit. (it may even be a demon). The fruit will always show itself.
God gives gifts. He gives you those gifts so that you might use them to minister to others and bring glory to Him. Don't get caught up in a legalistic trap about what is or isn't a gift - just use the giftings God has given you to bless people in Jesus' name!
TRUTH 3: MINISTRY IS A WAY OF LIFE, NOT AN ENTITY
My life and your life are a living ministry to those around us. And the possibilities for how we can minister to others is literally limitless and is not just bound to one or two things. Ministry is a way of life, NOT an entity. Through our life as followers of Jesus Christ, we can minister to others around us in MANY ways. Man loves to try to categorize things as "big" and "small", "important" and "not important". But you must understand: This is not the way the Lord sees things. ANYTHING you do, as a servant of Jesus, is GREAT in His eyes because it is as if you have done it for Him.
"Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’" (Matthew 25:37-40 ESV)
The term "ministry" is NOT a singular term, whereby God gives us 1 gift and then that area is our sole "area of ministry". Nope. God does give different giftings to different people. And yes, those giftings will lend themselves to ministering in specific settings and specific ways. But, as mentioned before, our life as believers is a ministry and we should be very careful to not limit God by thinking that we only do X or only do Y.
Even though I consider BodEquip a ministry and one of my primary life ministry callings (I consider it a structured ministry calling to the Body at large), don't for one second misunderstand what this means. It only means that BodEquip is one ministry that I do as a believer for the body of Christ in Jesus' name. It is not "my ministry" - it is "a ministry." I have ministered and do minister in many other ways as well: For over 20 years I sent out daily emails to believers to encourage them and make them smile, I've prayed for and with people, I have played in my church's worship band and led worship, I have overseen the sound board at church, I've talked with people about Jesus, I've read the Bible to my dying father and grandmother, I've been a mentor, I've given many words of encouragement, and on and on. These are all ministries of my life relationship with Jesus Christ. I don't for one second want to limit Jesus by just thinking of one singular thing as "my ministry." When I wear a Christian t-shirt and then give a great tip to my waitress at the restaurant where I've eaten, I've ministered. When I say "Jesus loves you bro" (and mean it) to the guy at the gas station, I've ministered. And on and on this goes. The same is true of you!
Ministry is a way of life; it is not an entity.
TRUTH 4: MINISTRY IS NOT A JOB, EITHER
In our culture, so much of the world has infiltrated the church that churches are often run like businesses. Part of this is just because of the way the legal structure is in our society and churches to fit into that to some degree have to operate as a business. Businesses with "employees". The pastor is an "employee". The music director is an "employee". In most large churches, even people that work with the nursery children, sound board, etc. are actually paid employees of the church. Board meetings are held to determine salaries and job benefits. There's formal job descriptions and expectations, annual reviews, etc.
To just be blunt (another of my giftings LOL!) - Much of this is absolute nonsense that cannot be backed-up Scripturally. I understand that on a practical level to comply with laws, things need to be organized a certain way. But far too often, the business practices of the world have so infiltrated the Church that there's frequently little difference between the way a church or Christian ministry is run and the business down the street. I suppose some might think that great, but what that often ends up meaning in practice is that the Holy Spirit is kind of pushed aside to make room for man's wisdom...
There is a principle in Scripture of the church supporting those in the church that need that support. And there is a principle of those that the Lord has called to a full time ministry to have their needs met by the church. (see 1 Corinthians 9:11-13) Since we know that everyone needs to eat and live, there is a place for the Church to meet these needs so that the Lord's work might be furthered (incidentally, meeting financial needs like this is ALSO a ministry!!). So there's definitely nothing wrong with the church doing this. I would say a church absolutely SHOULD be truly blessing those in their midst that the Lord has called to a full-time structured ministry position.
But there is something very wrong with people who take "positions" in set ministries/churches merely as a job - a way to make a living. Sadly, I believe there are people who occupy pulpits across this land who were not called by God to do so, but they have done so as a "career choice" - as a job. For some, it's not about "Where does God want me to minister?" but "How much money does the job offer?" "What days do I get off?" "Is it a large church or small church?" And on and on.
Some people get caught up in terminology: "Full-time ministry" vs. "Part-time ministry". Let me share something: It's ALL full-time ministry. There is no "part-time ministry" in the Kingdom. Although you may have a "structured ministry" that you maybe only do so many hours a week, as believers in Jesus Christ, our lives are to minister to those around us. Whether God calls you to be a pastor, work at an established Christian ministry, or to bless people at the grocery store as you bag groceries, it's all about ministering to others as best you can where the Lord has you.
Because it isn't about you.
TRUTH 5: MINISTRY IS NOT ABOUT YOU OR WHAT YOU CAN GET OUT OF IT
"But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness." (1 Timothy 6:6-11 ESV)
We've already seen that ministry is not an entity and it's not a job, but a way of life. The Christian way of life. It is not about you and it's not about what God can do for you or how He can bless you. It isn't about your finances. It isn't about what great things you can do for God. Wrong motivations for ministry lead to all sorts of problems.
Ministry is about you humbly serving others in Jesus' name because you want to share His love.
Jesus modeled ministry for us as His way of life. And to hammer it in, He did something with His disciples that one quite honestly wouldn't expect: He washed their feet. He, the Lord of the Universe, the Savior of the World, the Perfect and Sinless One who would shortly be handed over to be crucified, knelt down and washed the dirty feet of His disciples.
"When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, 'Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.'" (John 13:12-17 ESV)
TRUTH 6: MINISTRY IS ALL ABOUT LOVE
Shortly after Jesus washed the disciples' feet, He said to them:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35 ESV)
And, you see, THAT is what it really is all about. If we are Jesus' disciples, then we need to see people as He sees them. And that means we need to love them as He loves them. The longer I walk with the Lord, the more and more I see just how true this is, and how often I and the church as a whole fail in this regards. It is always His Love that wins people over to Jesus in the end. Always. No matter what, It ALWAYS comes back to His love. The more we represent His love and share His love by ministering in His name, the more that we will have a positive impact for Jesus.
This is certainly a process, as by our human nature, we are not geared at all to want to really love others with the pure love of Jesus. But as we do, we will see lives changed left and right. I cannot emphasize this truth enough. It is ALL ABOUT LOVE! ALL. Again I say, ALL. Jesus genuinely loves each person on this planet. He has told us to love. As we love one another, people will see that we are different. They will see that we have something that they do not have. And they will want what we have. We will find ourselves with opportunities to really share with them the Good News of what Jesus has done - to go deeper with them - but it starts with love.
This incidentally is the main problem with those that spend their time yelling at people on a street corner and holding up condemning signs, claiming to do so in the name of Jesus. They are claiming to represent God, but in reality, they are completely misrepresenting His character.
God IS Love. (see 1 John 4:15-17) As we love others in His name, we are representing the nature of who God is to them. We are showing them who He is.
And that my friends is what ministry is all about.
TRUTH 7: MINISTRY BRINGS ETERNAL RESULTS
There are many things that we do with the life that God has given us. There are many ways that we can utilize our time. We can watch T.V. or movies, play video games, listen to music, eat, sleep, go shopping, play on social networking sites like Facebook, work with whatever employment we have, or do like all the kiddies now days and spend hours watching stupid videos on the web. Yes, there's all sorts of things we can do. And they all can either benefit or harm us here in this life.
But when we minister to people in Jesus' name, we are doing something that we could not otherwise do: We are impacting people for all eternity. The fruit that we bear in Christ's name is lasting fruit - it can never be snatched away or be diminished. Even if we don't see the results of the fruit, if nothing else we can know that we have done what is right and represented Jesus appropriately. And that will bring eternal benefits (whether we see them or not).
The Bible tells us:
"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV)
As we strive to do the Lord's will and minister to those around us (both believers and non-believers), we will be truly making a difference. And not just for the temporal - here and now. And not for 100 years. But for all eternity.
TRUTH 8: FAITHFULNESS LEADS TO INCREASED MINISTRY OPPORTUNITIES
Jesus often allows us to START ministering in ways that man would say are "small" or "insignificant". As we faithfully do these seemingly small things with our heart in the right place (just wanting to minister how we can), Jesus will often increase the things and ways that he allows us to minister. (for the principle behind this, see Matthew 25:14-30)
There is NEVER a ministry opportunity that should ever be "beneath" ANY believer in Jesus Christ. As Jesus calls us to minister, we are to do so, whether we believe it is "small" or not.
I know a pastor who started out primarily ministering by cleaning toilets and vacuuming their church! (sidenote: I can think of no better preparation for being a pastor then cleaning toilets! ;) And all the pastors said "Amen!' LOL). Anyway, jokes aside, this doesn't mean the Lord will call you to do the same thing. But it does mean that you always need to be open to letting the Lord use you in any capacity. And always remembering that no matter what the Lord has you do, that you have never arrived at such a place where any ministry opportunity is something you couldn't be called to do, whether it's "big" or "small" in man's eyes.
TRUTH 9: MINISTRY IS GOD WORKING THROUGH US (NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND)
There's a lot of people involved in structured ministries that I'm not sure get this. Ministry is about God's love and life flowing through us to others. It is not about the great things we can do for God. It's ludicrous to even think such a thing - but silly humans that we are - we sometimes do.
There is a real danger in allowing our pride to draw us into thinking that WE "have arrived" and all that we do is a result of the great work that we do. That it's about our diligence. It's about our power.
The truth is that we would be NOTHING without Jesus Christ in our life. And we can bear NO FRUIT, not one ounce, without Jesus Christ doing His work in and through our life. We are called to Surrender to Him. As we do this, HE will work through us. It is ALWAYS the Lord's power that is ministering to others through us, NOT our own. It is always His love, not ours. As we surrender to His will in our lives and allow Him to work on us and through us, we will see His life pour out of us to others.
"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." (John 15:5 ESV)
Read that again. Apart from Jesus Christ, you can do nothing - you can bear no fruit without Jesus. It is His work. Our job as the branches is to remain in and be dependent on the vine (Jesus).
Now certainly God obviously needs us to partner with Him as part of His physical body that is here on this earth. He might want you to write a poem to bless people, but you still gotta pick up that pen and use your hand. But it's God working through you and using you and the talents and giftings He has given you.
This whole area is one of the greatest traps for those who are seeing great results of their ministering: it is very easy to subtly shift from a position of realizing that it is all because of Jesus to thinking that it's all about us and our knowledge, our smarts, our efforts...Pride...Rather than giving God the glory, it can become us trying to take the glory (and just FYI: God REALLY doesn't like that!)
TRUTH 10: THE RESULTS ARE NOT UP TO US
When we minister, sometimes we might be tempted to get discouraged if we don't see changes happen right away. For instance, we might pray for someone and then not see a positive answer to that prayer. If, as mentioned in the previous truth, ministry is God working through us (and it is), then our job is just to be the vessel for God to work through. Our job is to allow God to minister through us and when we pray for people, to believe God in faith. The results are not our responsibility.
For instance, we may bless someone with a gift of food in Jesus' name, and they may cuss us out telling us how they don't need anything from Jesus. If this happened, the natural human response of our flesh would be to want to get upset. But, the results of our ministering are not up to us. We ministered and shared Jesus' love. The result is honestly irrelevant. If the result of our ministering is positive, praise Jesus! And if the result of our ministering appears to be negative, praise Jesus! It was never about that. It was about us sharing His love. God is able to work where we can't: on people's hearts. You never know how God might use your ministering possibly even YEARS later in a person's life.
For instance, using the example of the guy cussing us out for trying to bless them, we have no way to know how else God has worked and will work in their life. He may be using our ministry to them as part of a sequence in their lives to show them His love. We don't know. And it is because we don't know that we just have to trust the Lord and leave the results of our ministering in His hands.
"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, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)
Notice in this Scripture that it is His power that is at work, not ours. He Is ABLE!
TRUTH 11: JUST DO IT (AND DON'T LET PEOPLE OR CIRCUMSTANCES BRING YOU DOWN!)
As you minister, you will find that you will get attacked. You will get attacked by people (some under demonic influence). You will likely find that you will even be attacked by other Christians. This happens ALL the time.
You have to remember who your master is. Your master is Jesus. Romans 14:4 says, "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand." (ESV)
Notice, there's that "He is able" thought again, too. You will find that there are many people who do not heed this verse and will attack you on probably any number of things (many of which are probably really petty issues).
I assure you that I have been attacked through my ministering countless times over the years. And yes, it can get discouraging. For all I know, I might even be attacked over my writings on this whole ministry subject! If I had given up back in 1999 or 2000 when I was heavily attacked, I would have lost out on a substantial amount of fruit that the Lord subsequently brought about through me.
At the end of the day, your master is not any man or woman. Your master is Jesus Christ, your Savior.
You may also encounter various hardships and trials as a result of your ministering. These could be for any number of reasons (demonic or otherwise), but you must remember that God is with you all the way and He will take care of you. (Read Romans 8 for some quick reminders along these lines.)
There is no place for fear in ministering - but rather wholly trusting in Jesus to bring about the results He intends. We are to minister and leave the rest up to God.
If the Lord has called you to minister in a particular area or way, then you need to just do it and not let people or circumstances cause you to change that. Your feelings on any given day might waffle one way or another, but if you know the Lord has called you to something, who cares? Feelings come and feelings go. Doing the will of your Father in Heaven is what is important!
TRUTH 12: MINISTRY IS TO BE SIMPLE & PRACTICAL
"But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless." (Titus 3:9 ESV)
I recently was hanging out on an online Christian blog site. One of the things I discovered was that many there seemed to want to spend much time and effort debating theology & church history - things such as whether Calvinism had x number of points or the merits or lack of merits of Arminianism. I watched how some of these people displayed arrogant attitudes towards others who hadn't read a whole lot of books on church history, and thus were deemed "unqualified" to join the discussion.
One of the things I most love about Billy Graham is that he just kept things simple - the simple truth of God's Word - and God used him mightily. He really didn't get sidetracked into all the heady theological issues or debate this or debate that. He just tried to present the simple Gospel, simply.
Effective ministry isn't about you having studied all about the Reformation (helpful as that may be), or trying to definitively solve the age-old Sovereignty vs. Free Will debate. Effective ministry is about simply teaching and putting the Word into practice, simply, and making it practically relevant to those you are ministering to.
Man loves to complicate things. Really when you get down to it, the Gospel is quite simple, and our call as Christians is quite simple. Don't get me wrong: it's good to study and it's fine to discuss theological things, just as long as you keep everything in its proper perspective.
There's an awful lot of preachers out there who can discuss and preach on a theological plane all day long, but they frequently miss meeting people where they're really at, with their real life issues, with the simplicity of the Word. Regardless of the giftings God has given each of us and the way in which we minister, we must be willing to be real - show ourselves to be real people who understand the real issues of life and apply the Word of God to those issues in a simple, straightforward manner.
TRUTH 13 (bonus truth): MINISTRY SEASONS CHANGE
"Now from Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: 'You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; ... And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,'" (Acts 20:17-19,22 ESV, bracketed text added for clarity)
The Lord sometimes likes to "shake things up." Sometimes He wants to move us on to new areas of ministry with Him or sometimes to step back a bit from ministering a lot to others. There are lots of different "ministry seasons" that can come and go in our lives. Even if you've been ministering in a certain area/way for many many years, there may come a time when the Lord will call you to step back temporarily or even permanently. He may raise up someone else to fill your place or may not.
The Lord may call us to stop ministering in a certain area or way and call us to move into "new territory" with Him. Frequently, doing so requires much courage and faith on our part; often the devil is right there the whole time trying to dissuade us from going forward. In this situation we need to just keep pressing forward with the Lord, trusting in Him. Remember this saying: "Where He guides, He provides." When you know the Lord is calling you into a new ministry area with Him, the smartest thing you can do is not to fight Him on it, but just humbly trust Him and go forward with Him in it. Don't let fear (of the unknown, of yourself, of other people, etc.) keep you from moving forward with Jesus!!
Sometimes this "new territory" seems "large" and "great" as man would call it, and sometimes it may seem "small" or "insignificant." Remember from previous truths that these are just human ways of expressing things, but God does not see ministry in these kinds of terms. Often what may seem "small" to us, may have great fruit for the Kingdom.
In early 2006, I was sensing the Lord calling me away from the church I had been attending. At this church I was very involved in a variety of ministry ways, including playing on the worship band, leading worship, praying with people/intercession, etc. Basically I was very involved in serving at that church and LOVED IT!!! I REALLY did not want to let that go, but I knew the Lord was calling me away from that church and to a new church. Shortly thereafter I met with the pastor of the new church I would be attending. My purpose in doing so was to hopefully see (or at least put in his mind) if there were areas I could get involved ministering in this new church. The last thing I wanted at that time was to go from a position of strongly serving in one church to go to a new church where I would be an unknown and not serving. But the Lord had different plans for me.
I left that meeting sensing that not much had really been accomplished and I went into "wait and see" mode. A few weeks later or so I even filled out a "music team questionaire" at the church expressing my desire to possibly be on the worship team. And I waited. Through all of this my father and mother were both really sick at home and I had previously been juggling taking care of them with serving at church. The Lord really wanted me to step back from the serving in church and instead focus on serving/ministering to my parents.
It turned out that only a few months after I met with the new pastor, my dad was admitted to the hospital with very serious issues and the Lord showed me that my dad would be going Home to Heaven (He went about a month later). Thus the Lord took me out of serving at church to focus on serving at home with my parents. He used me to minister to my dad (pray with him, pray for him, read Scripture to him, etc.). And then after my father went home to be with Jesus, He led me into a long time of serving my mother and taking care of her and all the practical things associated with my dad's death including taking care of business affairs, selling the house and so forth, as well as helping my mom through her own serious health issues. (There were other things in this season too such as my grandmother and my travel to be with her and minister to her as she was dying.) God brought me to a season of personal ministry primarily to my family. It also was time where the Lord really wanted to work on me personally with no other outside distractions around.
As another huge personal example, for over twenty years I ministered to the Body of Christ through a daily email ministry and for at least half of that time it was no longer a hip and happening thing to do so (all the "cool kids" were off playing in "Social Media Ministry Land" and here I was still sending out emails like it was the 1990's!). But it was what God had called me to and I did it faithfully. In 2018 and 2019 it became clear to me that that season was going to be ending because the Lord wanted me to transition into a different ministry season. Let me tell you, when you've done something for 20 years, that's kind of a hard thing to face, especially when you know God's used you to bless many through it and you're still getting emails from people telling you how it's blessed them.
There are all sorts of ministry seasons. The Lord sometimes calls us to step back from one area of ministry to focus on another; to go forward with Him in a different direction. It may or may not SEEM as fruitful, etc. but the Lord knows what He is doing.
The best thing we can do is to continually seek the Lord and be open to Him changing our course (it may be a slight course correction or a major course correction!).
How you end a ministry season is just as important as how you begin one. When the Lord calls you to move into a different area, make sure you appropriately end the current ministry season (this is usually a process over weeks or months) and appropriately "seal the fruit" so to speak of all that the Lord has done in that season.
In the case of structured ministries, sometimes the Lord wants to end the entire structured ministry. There are sadly many examples in our world today where at one time the Lord moved powerfully in a certain ministry, but now it is nothing more than a social club, etc. with a Christian name. Honestly there are some structured ministries today that the world would be better off if they DIDN'T exist any more, but they weren't ended when they should have been. Instead, maybe one leader stepped down or went home to Jesus, and a subsequent leader rose and took the ministry off-course, etc. There is a pattern that I learned from a pastor several years ago that is sadly often true:
Movement -> Machine -> Museum -> Mausoleum
A ministry starts as a movement of God. The Lord is really working powerfully through it. Over time, it tends to become a machine. There is a danger of turning something begun in the Spirit to something trying to be perfected in the flesh (see Galatians 3:3). Eventually the fruit that was so prevalent when it was guided by the Spirit is now slowed to a very small rate or is non-existant. The ministry in essence becomes a museum for all the works God did in the PAST! Finally, it eventually becomes a mausoleum where death is all that exists. Ministries tend to go from Life to Death given enough time. The challenge therefore is to have people, (a) who keep the focus on the Lord and His Spirit and avoid reliance on the flesh, and (b) who recognize when a ministry needs to be ended and will take the necessary steps (even if hard to take) to do so. It is better to end a ministry in the Machine (or even Museum) stage then let it play itself out all the way to the Mausoleum stage where it can end up doing more harm than good in the world!
As with many things in Christianity, this whole area of serving and ministering is something that we can get very legalistic about and make much more complicated than it should be. While I have discussed several "ministry truths", the reality is that this article could go on and on and on. At the end of the day, it is all about just humbly bowing before the Lord with a pure heart and wanting to love others in His name. This all comes back to the Gospel. As Christ has loved us and died for us, we are to love others, both believers and non-believers, with His love. When we see needs that we sense the Lord wants us to meet, we should do so with a glad and joyous heart.
To God be all the Glory, AMEN! :)
This article is Copyright by Christopher Long 2007-2019. All rights reserved. You may quote/reprint this article for any non-commercial purpose without obtaining permission as long as you use the entire text and that all text, including this and all following notices, is not modified or removed in any fashion. For any other usage, you must obtain written permission from the author.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This is version 2.2 of this document (September 12, 2019). Any personal references relating to timing or specific events are likely from when the article was first written for the first version and may or may not currently be accurate.
Previous versions: 2.1 (October 2015), 2.0 (May 2010), 1.0 (December 2007)
This document is provided as a ministry outreach of BodEquip Ministries. http://www.bodequip.org