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Posts Tagged ‘successful ministry’

Over the course of several months the Lord spoke to me about what it means to be “successful” in ministry.  During that period of time I was exposed to many types of ministry, in a variety of settings, and with numerous different ministers.  While my initial impression was that defining what is successful ought to be fairly simple, my journey to a conclusion proved to be more involved than I imagined.

 

The Lord first challenged me on this subject at a large, conference type, event.  A tremendous amount of prayer, and preparation, had gone into this event; and numerous individuals had indicated that they would take part in it.  But when the day arrived, almost no one showed up.  Understandably, the sense of disappointment was tangible, but in the midst of it I heard the Lord say, “I’m not disappointed”, as He directed my attention toward the small group of attendee’s.  He reminded me of how all of heaven rejoices at the repentance of a single sinner, and He seemed to be challenging us to pour into these few souls with the same zeal we had for ministering to a crowd.  I realized that our unfulfilled expectations had caused us to feel as though everything had changed, but that God’s expectations for us hadn’t changed at all.  I concluded that, to God’s way of thinking, the chance to touch even one heart warranted all of the effort that had gone into the event.  This seemed to birth the question within me of what God views as “successful” ministry.

 

As with all things, Jesus is our model for ministry.  But as I meditated on that I gained an interesting perspective.  While the eternal ramifications of what Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection are undeniable to a Believer, would any modern Pastor aspire to the kind of credentials that Jesus could have claimed for His earthly ministry.  After all, He started with a dozen men that no self respecting church was likely to pursue; He traveled constantly, never really establishing any set location; His followers rarely seemed to grasp the things He said; other Ministers constantly talked about Him behind His back, and though He had a couple of well attended (revival) meetings, by the time His three year run was up, He could only claim a congregation of about 120; none of whom was willing to be seen with Him in town.  Is this what God would hold up to us as the picture of success in ministry?

 

As I looked for an example of a “successful ministry”, my mind was quite naturally drawn to large, and well known, ministries.  While we all know that it isn’t the numbers that really matter, it’s hard to deny that we tend to view “big” ministries as being “successful”.  While having people positively respond to ministry is an obvious goal, ultimately the content of what is being ministered determines the eternal value of that kind of response (e.g. positively responding to a false prophet can result in many being deceived…).  On the other hand, if a minister faithfully executes the ministry that God gives him, and it is rejected by the people, does that make it unsuccessful?  I would guess that in the eyes of most men such a ministry would be viewed as a failure; but in the eyes of God I believe that such a minister would likely be seen as a faithful servant.  The scripture says that we are the “aroma of Christ”, which will smell like life to some, and like death to others, which would seem to indicate that how people respond to us is largely out of our control.  Would the Lord intentionally lead a faithful servant to a people that He knew would reject the message?  I would submit that the scripture unequivocally supports that He would (see the Prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, Stephen, John, Paul…).  Thus, the manner in which people respond to ministry cannot be the measuring stick that ultimately determines it’s success, or failure.  While we can plant, and water seeds, only God can bring the increase.  As such, the “results” belong to Him.  This conclusion is supported by Jesus ministry, which couldn’t boast widespread support from the people, and yet pleased His Father.

 

As I returned to the idea of Jesus’ pastoral resume, the one credential that every Minister would likely covet is the supernatural acts (i.e. the miracles) that accompanied His ministry.  And while I believe that this is a feature that the Lord means to be an integral part of all that is done in His name, the question is whether tapping into supernatural power is necessarily indicative of “success” in ministry.  While my unconscious impulse would have been to think that it is, I was quickly reminded of Jesus’ words for those who claimed to have prophesied, cast out demons, and to have performed “many miracles” in His name (Matthew 7:21-23).  Though He didn’t refute their claims, He nevertheless rejected them based on the fact that He “never knew” them.  I was also reminded that Judas had been sent out with the other disciples, and that he’d undoubtedly been a part of the healings, and deliverances, that were accomplished in that period.  Yet Jesus said that he was “doomed to destruction”.  Jesus also warned of false prophets, performing great signs, and miracles at the end of the age.  Cumulatively, these scriptures would seem to indicate that the manifestation of supernatural power is not necessarily a validation of the quality of the ministry, or even of the minister.  The Lord also reminded me that despite the incredible signs of Moses’ ministry, the people wanted to go back to Egypt; and that despite the amazing wonders of Elijah’s ministry, he did not see the nation turn back to God; and that despite the miraculous nature of Jesus ministry, the people rejected and crucified Him. While I believe that the Lord desires His children to walk in the supernatural power of God, it would seem that even this would not necessarily ensure our “success” in ministry.

 

As I continued to query the Lord on what was valuable to Him, He gave me a vision of Moses striking the rock in anger (Num 20:1-13).  And He said that in that moment Moses had “misrepresented His heart to the people”.  I could sense what a serious issue this was to the Lord, and a wave of conviction swept over me as I considered how often I’ve been guilty of this same thing.  He reminded me that Jesus said that He didn’t do anything that He didn’t see the Father do first, and I realized that what made Jesus the model for all ministry is that He walked in perfect fellowship with the Father.  Always accurately conveying the Father’s heart to the people.  By that standard, Jesus was the most successful minister that ever was, or ever could be.

 

As I pondered the spectrum of “ministry” that I have witnessed, I wondered at how much of it really met this standard.  I thought of how many gifted ministers I’ve encountered, who bear little or no resemblance to Jesus, and of how many times I’ve heard such ministers use their “anointing”, or their “calling”, as their excuse for lacking in patience, kindness, gentleness, compassion, self-control…  The Lord impressed upon me how ridiculous it is for someone to claim that the manifestation of “His” Holy Spirit within them (e.g. the anointing) is what keeps them from acting like “His” Son, or from displaying the fruit of a life submitted to “His” Spirit.  I was reminded that Moses was a man of power, position, influence, and calling, who had a long history of faithful and fruitful service to the Lord; yet this failure was serious enough to God to keep Moses from entering the Promised Land.  While we can have the gift of prophecy, have all knowledge, fathom all mysteries, have faith to move mountains, give all that we have to the poor and even be martyred, if these things don’t come through a heart of love, they amount to “nothing”.  As if to bring it all together, I felt like the Lord said that anytime we accurately reflect His heart, regardless of whether it is received, understood, accepted…, we’ve been successful in His eyes.  Conversely, anything that doesn’t accurately reflect His heart doesn’t actually qualify as “ministry” to Him.

 

As I’ve continued to pray and meditate on these words, it occurred to me that Jesus’ strong connection to the Father was the thing that distinguished His earthly ministry from all others, and that ultimately it is the key for us.  In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he speaks of a man who has lost his connection to the “Head”, which supplies the whole body, causing it to grow; and it is difficult not to see a parallel with the current state of the Body of Christ in America.  If a once robust human body continued to grow weaker, with its parts seemingly operating independently of each other, and with erratic function, the connection between the body and the head would be the area of prime concern.  Yet somehow the Body of Christ seems to be looking elsewhere.  Ultimately, without that strong connection, we have little hope of accurately reflecting God’s heart to a lost and dying world.  Isn’t that what the Lord was calling the nation to (2 Chronicles 7:14) when he said, “if My people, who are called by My name” (i.e. the Church), “will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways” (i.e. reconnect with God), “then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (i.e. supplying the body and making it strong again).  The eyes of the Lord continue to range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are “fully committed” to Him (i.e. connected to His).  If we look, we may find that the problem is simply a loose connection.

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