Ministry: It's Not What I Thought

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…
— Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV

Too many frustrated conversations to count. 

Conversations with people who felt called to ministry but were disillusioned when it wasn’t happening the way they had imagined.

 Photo Credit:  Ales Krivec

Photo Credit: Ales Krivec

They believed what I believed - that for people who were passionate about Jesus, ministry would be the acceptable way to achieve success, maybe even their own version of fame. 

I’m ashamed to admit that for the majority of my life I thought ministry was about the person who was standing on the platform with a microphone in their hand. 

It was about being known by your own little world and being admired. 

I want this to be clear; there is never a moment where I feel more like I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to do than when I’m communicating the Truth that the world needs to hear so badly. But in the last five years or so, by the grace of God, I’ve also come to wholeheartedly believe this: no one needs to know my name. 

If you’ve followed WeAreTheVigilant for any period of time, you’ve seen me hash out this internal struggle over and over. You probably didn’t notice it, but the battle that went on inside me is woven into everything I’ve ever written.

Ministry is not about being known.

I am ALREADY known.

You are ALREADY known.

We are known by the only One who matters.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.      
— 1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV

This begs the question: What is ministry?

  • Ministry is admitting your brokenness, your need for a Savior to a broken world that also needs a Savior.
  • Ministry is acknowledging God’s incredible mercy and receiving His grace.
  • Ministry is asking for forgiveness, not pretending like it didn't happen.
  • Ministry is yielding to the deep work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Ministry is the willingness to be uncomfortable.
  • It is the divine cooperation between you and a Holy God that happens for the good of everyone that comes into contact with someone who has experienced redemption.

God has given us gifts and He has called us for one reason: to bring glory to Himself so that people would turn to Him. The idea that we would have any part of that makes me want to get on my face and weep out of gratitude.

Have you ever wanted to say, “If I can’t do this the right way then I won’t do it at all”?

Me too.

And if God rolls His eyes, I’m the most worthy recipient of said eye roll.

We take a pre-emptive strike on the call because deep down we really think that somehow this is still all about us.

A divine commission either is or it isn’t. Within the context of Jesus’ command to make disciples is there ever a moment that you shouldn't endeavor to make that command a reality? Even if it’s not in the way that you imagined?

If there is a glimmer of a chance that your participation in the great commission would draw even one person closer to the heart of God is that not a risk worth taking? Whether the context is behind a pulpit, faithfully serving your community, leading a small group, adopting a child, or late night conversations on the phone with a struggling friend, it’s all ministry.

If He gave you a specific talent or ability He has every intention of using those gifts to draw people to Himself. Where we so often get tied up is the desire to be recognized for the gifts we have merely received.  

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
— 1 Corinthians 4:7 ESV

Sometimes we find ourselves at a standstill because we know that in order to move forward we have to lose all semblance of control. I don’t care who you are, that’s scary. But ultimately, I think the biggest lesson we need to learn is how to get out of our own way because “when Christ calls a man he bids him come and die"*.

As disciples, the call is dying to self.

As ministers, we must lead the way in this death. Only on the other side does a truly abundant life exist and we cannot show others the way when we have not yet been there ourselves.

 

 

*Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

 

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Better than Before

Some years ago we lost…well, materially, just about everything.

A series of tough breaks and the decision to transition my career had us on the ropes. 

We went from having two cars down one. Despite our best efforts, our home was foreclosed on. In every expression of the word, it was awful. 

 Photo Credit:  Bryan Minear

Photo Credit: Bryan Minear

My wife and I found ourselves donating plasma so we could buy groceries. We had to pick and choose which bills to pay and what not to pay. We had to trust God around every corner for day to day things. There were moments where we had no idea where provision would come from, except that it would sometimes show up in our mailbox. The stress of that time was incredible, but the faithfulness of God had never been more real.

Life was hard. 

I transitioned from ministry and back into teaching. As a man, wanting to provide for his family, this season spread me thin. It was immensely humbling.

I was recovering from some of the gravest disappointment I had ever faced in the local church. I felt wronged, mismanaged, and sorely misunderstood.

I made the move, but it was not easy. 

I went to church, a different church, but it all hurt. Not in a surface way, but in a super, subcutaneous way – under the skin, in the heart.

I knew where I was. Not that I had wanted to be in this predicament. For a good amount of time, I struggled to see beyond the emotional weight of the situation. I was angry and broken.

My wife had taken to quoting “Pride and Prejudice” to me when we’d talk about experiences of the past, “That savors strongly of bitterness, my dear.”

It came down to this: I was unable to reconcile my experience with my convictions.

To help you understand, ministry has long been both my occupation and my calling. As a pastor, leading the church is not just what you do, it's very much a part of who you are. “Church Hurt” is a specific kind of hurt. The wound is never surface; it cuts to the quick. It invokes a spiritual ache that is hard to describe.

I knew this road to recovery would take some time, but I had no idea it would test me so much.

There I was, teaching art again. Something I had done right after college. But I taught in the toughest school in the city. I’m talking hard-nosed kids from the streets. The school was (and still is) in an incredibly impoverished and struggling area. Art has been a love of mine for many years, but I didn't like it this time. And it wasn't because I hated the school or the students. I just couldn’t see past my circumstances.

For a solid year, my wife endured my poor attitude, as we welcomed our 2nd little girl into the world. 

I was delighted to have another beautiful, baby girl. When the school year came to a close, I was approaching the two-year mark in my time away from ministry. Time gave way to relief and I was longing to lead in the local church again. I agreed to take a position somewhere new. 

The next 18 months went by quickly. While the church we were at had been struggling, God began to turn things around. We served faithfully and saw the church nearly double in size. Then, at the turn of this year (2017), we were blindsided by a family emergency. The course of action was obvious and, albeit hard, but necessary, my family and I chose to move back to Tulsa, OK to be closer to my parents.

In the midst of our move, however, we were still on the road to financial recovery. While traveling over the holidays through the beautiful state of Kentucky, the transmission suddenly gave out in our car…while barreling down the road at 65mph. And so, without a car to call our own, we packed our things, said goodbye to the people we loved, and moved back to the Midwest.

We had no assurances. 

No jobs.

No vehicles. 

No house. 

But what we lacked for in natural things, we knew God could and would provide. 

After speaking with some incredible friends, they agreed that we could live with them (and their two kids), until things panned out. (Thank God for selfless friends who live and love sacrificially!)

Within 3 weeks of our arrival, my wife landed a job. Not just any job, she was hired on at a church we love and now call home. 

Then, along came the means to purchase car. No, it wasn't a sexy, speed wagon, but we found it and in 3 hours’ time, it was ours. At this stage in the year, we, a family of four, had effectively survived for 3 months without a car!!! (For the record, I don't suggest this. We opted not to finance a car because we did not want to go into debt. So, we held out until the timing was right.)

Our living situation was good, but having a house filled with 8 people, four under the age of six, can test you as an adult. There was this nudge in our hearts to look for a house to rent. This was major. It had been 4 years since we had owned a home, and this was a sore spot for me.

Am I the only one who finds house hunting to be a full-time job? We looked and looked, but everything either slipped through our fingers or cost more than we could manage. So, we prayed. I prayed that God would grant us just the right place. My wife, a highly motivated (and pretty) woman, came upon a lovely place in a part of town well beyond our current means. But as it happened, 2 weeks after discovering it, things worked out, and we moved in.

At this rate, we were almost 3 months into our move. While my wife was employed, I was not. I had been furiously looking for work since our arrival to Tulsa. I wanted to work as an artist. After all, I had gone to school for it. Be it art making, design, museum curation, etc., I was chasing every lead I could find, yet nothing seemed to pan out.

So, I watched my girls. Me, a grown, 35-year-old male, watched my 2 daughters, ages 2 and 5, while my wife got up each day and went to work. It was a humbling and precious time that allowed me to understand the role my wife had been playing in our lives for the past few years. Stay-at-home parenting is a full-on gig, not for the faint of heart.

This routine carried on for a near 3 months, and then, I got a job. But not just any job, I scored a position as an artist and designer at a local agency. And while I was so grateful to begin work, this opportunity meant my wife and I would have to travel in opposite directions every morning to get to work. As you might have guessed, this meant I would need my own car to get there. A car we didn’t have.

God’s faithfulness was revealed yet again, when someone gave us a a car. Please understand, that up until the last few weeks, I’ve been Uber-ing rides and renting cars to make my way to work. My dad even graciously stepped in to help me for a few weeks until it all came together.

If you’re reading this, I want you to know that the last four years have tested me more than I ever thought they would. And now, in a matter of five months, God has provided my family and I with work, vehicles, and a home, where there were previously none.

But more than the things He has restored, is the man He has restored. My passion to serve my family and others is stronger than it has ever been. This is, perhaps, the greatest miracle of all: the joy I have found in trying times. I still have days where I struggle, but they do not define me, God does. His declaration over my life is final.

Some seasons are really hard, but the difficulty you face does not negate the goodness of God. 

Trials may endure, but so does His faithfulness. 

In the times where life seems to suck, no hard season can overshadow His magnificence. There’s not a moment where any circumstance or emotion will outlast the enduring, constant goodness of God. 

This realization, the understanding of this His inherent goodness, will set you free. In the end, nothing ever has or will ever defeat Him. He is unmatched in every way. 

Looking back, I can see how unmoved God has been by any apparent crisis of mine. By comparison, all that has happened is so much smaller than His capacity to meet my need.

He’s not standing outside of your present circumstance, He’s in it with you. Jesus is not waiting to meet you on the other side of whatever you’re going through. No, He’s by your side, walking with you at this very moment. He is more than able to meet your need (Phillippians 4:19-20; Romans 8:28). He is gracious, considerate, and able.

If you would acknowledge His presence, and turn to Him, He will restore you.

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
— Hebrews 11:6
 

Dear Reader, 

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If this has somehow encouraged you, then I would ask that you please take a moment to share it with someone else. 


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