21 Century Ministry and 2 Corinthians (Part 5)

What is the dynamic in ministry that really changes people today?

Many people in churches are tired. Those who serve as church leaders often find themselves exhausted as they give the church their best effort and still seem to get nowhere. When I was a very young minister, I felt bewildered by the very nature of ministry.

I didn’t want to admit this at the time, but it seemed as if whatever happened in ministry was up to me.

Now I am not talking about an out – of – control ego or a desire to take credit. I am just saying that my ministry felt like a tremendous burden weighing on me and at times utterly crushing me. As a result, I was someone who loved Jesus but found little joy in my ministry.

So very often my ministry seemed like it was simply shoe leather on pavement. I had tools. I was a part of a church family. Yet, for a number of years, I felt very little joy in what I was doing. Ministry just seemed like a lot of hard work with impossible problems and long hours. Were lives being changed? Yes, God was very much at work. Yet, I was missing something. I was missing something in the way I approached this extremely challenging work. I later realized that what I was missing was a sense of the powerful dynamic that was at work in ministry. That dynamic is the work of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Jesus.

Paul stresses this in 2 Corinthians 3 as he contrasts the old covenant and new covenant ministry. In new covenant ministry, people are transformed as they turn to Jesus and the Holy Spirit goes to work on their hearts. The most impossible situation can become a situation with possibilities when the Holy Spirit is at work in the transformation. Because the Holy Spirit is the dynamic of ministry, I can no longer say, regarding another person, “He will never change.” I can’t say this because God’s Spirit has the capability of blasting away at the hardest heart imaginable!

Trying to minister without the presence and activity of the living, dynamic Holy Spirit is like trying to write this post on my computer without electricity. Don’t get me wrong, I like my Mac. I like it very much. No problem there. Yet, sitting at this computer for hours with the electrical cord unplugged from the wall will never produce very much. Trying to write this post with no electricity will never be very effective regardless of my intentions or best effort. It is the electricity that is the dynamic that makes all of this possible. I can have the best tools and make the best effort in my ministry, yet the Holy Spirit is the living dynamic who changes lives. He is the one, through Jesus, who really changes people.

Now perhaps you got this a long time ago. Wonderful. But please bear with those of us for whom this realization took some time. Bear with those of us who even right now feel crushed by the weight of ministry and who have long ago forgotten the good news of the living dynamic of God’s forever presence at work in our ministries.

I still work hard and give my work my best effort. Yet, I also live with the realization that God’s Holy Spirit is at work and is the powerful dynamic who does a work that goes beyond anything I could ever do. I want my reliance to be on him.

Question

What is your experience with this? Have you gone through seasons where you felt as if the entire weight of the ministry was on you? Have you ever found yourself depending on yourself to change people instead of the Spirit of God?

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8 thoughts on “21 Century Ministry and 2 Corinthians (Part 5)

  1. I’ve been there — the weight of ministry bearing down, operating out of my own power, and for me losing focus on what’s truly important and allowing sin in my life. It all started with some messed up priorities; I wanted to love and help people more than anything.

    When asked the greatest command, Jesus echoes Deuteronomy 6, that we should love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. The second is to love our neighbor. I’m sad to say that for the majority of my life in ministry, until the last two years or so, I had the two switched. My chief objective was to serve others and help them into a mature relationship with Jesus Christ. I had it all backwards. Only when God is our first (and only) love are we fit to minister to others. We talk a lot about ministers and missionaries having a heart for the lost, being passionate about ministry — I know what being passionate about ministry got me…

    My love is so imperfect, so finite, so conditional. Yet God wants it — all of it. And the most amazing thing happens; when I give God ALL of my love — not holding back any for ministry or the lost or even my wife and family — he takes my pathetic, sick, and sometimes twisted attempts at loving him as much as I can… And he transforms them. I think really what he does is open me up to receive the unconditional, limitless, and perfect love he’s always had for me. But he gives me so much of it in my life that it overflows into the lives of those around me. My wife benefits, receiving God’s love through me, rather than what I myself had to offer. Those to whom I minister benefit, my love no longer limited in quality or quantity. Where I used to have to slice up my love pie — 40% to wife and family, 40% to God, 10% to other Christians, 10% to the lost — I now have a greater source of love. By loving God with my ALL, and trusting that he’ll solve the problem of what I offer my wife, church, and others, everyone benefits. Most importantly God, who receives all the glory. I wish I’d really realized all this a long time ago…

    • James–You express this very well. Your first sentence is one which resonates with me and I’m sure a number of people who are reading this. I really like the points you make regarding ministry and loving God. Very good. I like what you say about messed up priorities and placing loving others before loving God. Thanks very much. I appreciate your comment.

  2. Yes, I had a similar journey. Thankfully, the final 10 years or so of my 30 years of preaching were the very best years of my life. Don’t regret leaving that aspect of ministry to embrace this present ministry of serving families in the context of dying and death. People often ask me how we do it, that they don’t think they could possibly do what we do. They have no idea the incredible sense of joy we have in helping a family walk through this maze and then have them tell us how much it meant to them to have us alongside. It truly is a ministry that has to be empowered by the Holy Spirit because the human heart simply can’t stay in this context for that long in and of it’s own power. Funeral directors come and go and far too many of them have the reputation of used car salesmen. We look forward to every day and every family God sends our way. It get exhausting physically, but we go home at night filled with something that can’t be explained.

    • Greg, this is great to hear! What a great ministry you must have. I am glad you are doing this work at this point in your life and ministry.

  3. It has taken me a long time to learn this (and sometiems I still don’t apply it too well), but I am finding that it makes all the difference. Prayer is closely related to our reliance on the Spirit as I realize that the outcomes aren’t up to me or how hard I work. I am not in control of changing hearts or growing a church (spiritually or numerically). I can only ask that God use me as a tool in this process. This removes a lot of weight from my shoulders when my fuflfillment in ministry does not depend on “outcomes” or my own agendas. God is in control and I am only his instrument.

    • Wade, it is good to hear from you. Very good. You express this well. Reliance upon the power of the Spirit certainly changes my perspective on this work. One of the by products is the reduction of stress since if doesn’t all reside on the shoulders of one person.

      • So would you say PRAYER is the key to having “Holy Spirit” power in your life, so that you are able to make God your #1 focus, loving Him, yielding to Him, and listening to Him, which in turn makes whatever ministry you have “successful”? How does this look in day to day experience? A humble spirit, a teachable spirit, an open heart all day long… like that? I’m a wife and mother… and am still looking for the power of God in my life to be and do what I can’t seem to be and do on my own, namely, wanting my marriage, let alone working to make it successful.

        • J.S., yes prayer and an over all dependence upon the Spirit for his work in our lives. On the human end of things, I want to prayer. However, I do that realizing that on the “God end of things,” he is doing what I can see, fathom, or grasp. Sometimes his involvement may seem clear. Very often it is not.
          As a wife/mother, J.S., it might look something like this– You do what is right and God honoring trusting that somewhere God is at work. It means that you realize that you can’t control your husband/children but can only love them. It is like the lifestyle of Jesus (as I understand it from the Gospels) where he went about his daily life, loving God and loving people. Often the work of God in this was not evident. In fact, his lifestyle and teachings led him to the cross (appearing to experience total defeat.) Yet, God was faithful and raised him from the dead. I suspect our lives will be similar.