21st Century Ministry and 2 Corinthians (Part 6)

Do you know what it is to lose heart and become discouraged in your ministry?

A few weeks ago I took my mother to Arkansas for the funeral of her brother. The funeral was in Monticello, Ark., a place that we used to go often when I was growing up. (Lots of good memories there.) To look at a map, it seems to be pretty easy to get there (coming from central Texas). You exit off I30 at Hope, Arkansas and then take Highway 278 all the way there. Sounds easy enough except along the way, the road occasionally changes directions and one sometimes has to make a left or right in order to stay on this road. At one point, I apparently missed a turn. We came to a stop sign and 278 was nowhere to be found. I turned my telephone on and looked at the map. I pushed one button and a blue light began flashing, showing me where we were on the map. We were not far off at all. It is amazing that a satellite can find me in my car in southern Arkansas!

John Ortberg has written: “… the irony of our day is that while maps have given way to global navigation systems; while a satellite can pinpoint our location and direct us from thousands of miles away, we have a lost a sense of moral or spiritual bearing. We have exponentially increased our ability to locate our bodies, but lost confidence in the capacity to locate or direction our souls.” (John Ortberg, Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, 2 (2009) p. 247)

Sometimes we just get lost in our ministries. We lose the sense of what God is doing in us and among us. We look at what is happening (or what doesn’t seem to be happening) in our ministries and wonder if any of this really matters. Am I doing any good here? Do my efforts matter? Why do I put myself through a ministry like this? Is anything happening here that in some way is contributing to God’s kingdom vision?

I recently read 2 Corinthians 4:1-7. Note for a moment these words in 4:1:

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Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.  

This is a wonderful verse but a terrible chapter break. This verse is actually a continuation of the argument that is going on in chapter 3. He has just spoken about the work of the Spirit in new covenant ministry. Notice how he closes chapter 3:

And we with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever – increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Because God is transforming our lives (3:7-18) and because we are in his mercy, we do not lose heart. God has begun this work in our lives. He is transforming people and is at work through his Spirit. We might have given up on the Corinthians. After all, think about this mess! Rampant immorality, division, and now there are opponents who say that Paul just doesn’t measure up. Yet, he doesn’t throw up his hands and say, “It is hopeless.” Rather, he says that we have been given this ministry by God’s mercy.

There are many reasons in the life of a church that might contribute to discouragement. Think about your own ministry at home, at work, or in the life of the congregation where you are. Do you ever wonder if you are doing any good as a wife or parent? Do you ever wonder if your witness at work really counts for anything? Do you ever wonder if your ministry in the congregation is making a difference?  

I have become discouraged and disheartened at times. There are times when outwardly, I just haven’t seen much to be encouraged about. Yet, perhaps the point here is that in spite of the way things may appear, God is at work mightily, through his Spirit, transforming people. He has not stopped working in spite of the way things may appear. We have this ministry by the mercy of God (4:1). This is a good reason for not becoming discouraged.

The good news: God has given us a ministry in which he is at work, through his Holy Spirit, in a powerful way, transforming people into his likeness. Believing this can not only keep us from losing heart, but will keep our eyes on the one who is really making a difference.   

Question

What sometimes discourages you in your everyday ministry? How does God’s promise of transforming people through his Spirit encourage you?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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10 thoughts on “21st Century Ministry and 2 Corinthians (Part 6)

  1. I think one of the biggest reasons ministry can be frustrating is that it can be so intensely personal, that I can’t help but take conlict personally…it’s easy to make conflict about me when I think about my ministry in personal terms. So, we have to check that by keeping our eyes on the greater one at work through us, and listen carefully to the spirit, as that helps minimize and check my personalization of the ministry.

    On the other hand, I don’t know whether we can completely depersonalize things. God works through us, through flesh and blood people, not ministry robots. The indirect way God works through us, by his spirit, may be evidence that he desires ministy to be just as personal as we sometimes experience it. I think both of these poles, the need to depersonalize ministry and the experience of ministry as deeply personal, can be seen in Paul, in different times and places.

    • Steven, I appreciate your comment. You make a good point. I don’t know that it is possible to entirely depersonalize what others say and do that in some way impacts a minister. You are also right about there being two poles and one often lives between these two. On other practice that has been enormously helpful to me is being very proactive about managing myself and my responses. While I may feel certain things, focusing on my own reaction/response helps me to take steps toward Christ-likeness instead of being paralyzed by the words of others. Thanks so much Steven.

  2. Great quote from Ortberg! I hope I’ll remember it when messing with all my GPS stuff.
    Thanks for writing.
    Chris

  3. God is working everywhere, we just need to join Him there! My discouragement comes from the pressures and expectations others have of the work that is being done. Chaplaincy and pastoral care are in one sense and my opinion, not measurable. Only the Lord knows what has been achieved in someone’s life because of a visit. The powers that be, however, want to see numbers – stats. Saying staff visited with 5 residents this morning is seen as more productive than simply spending an hour with one person who is facing a faith crisis. To me it is more important to spend time with the one who is spiritually ailing, than to spend social time with 5. Maybe my perspective is wrong, but that’s where my discouragement originates.

    • Karin, you nailed this one for a lot of people. Pressures and expectations that others bring to the table. And–how will I manage myself and my behavior in light of these. Thanks so much.

  4. At times the slippery slope of discouragement comes from lack gratitude by other’s gratitude of my “important” work. This may include specific “thanks,” but more it is seeing dynamic engagement with those we serve. [After laboring over a well-crafted sermon or lesson plan it is discouraging to see droopy, wandering or closed eyes.] Ah, thanks for this post, who are we to “know” the work of the Holy Spirit?! And, yes, it does start at home.

    • Henry, a lot of people, I suspect, can relate with your words over the discouragement of the lack of dynamic engagement by those we serve. Would be interesting to wrestle with the meaning of this both in terms of the inward struggle of the preacher and in those who convey such apparent indifference.

  5. I also do get discouraged with ministry at times. Many times wondering is it worth it. When I get to that place, I begin to worship, sing praise, pray in the spirit, and confess scripture. When I do this, its seems to bring me into that wonderful glory realm. I begin to loose sight of me and begin to bring my focus back on Jesus.

    Then I can say, “yes it is worth it.”

    • Carl, thank you for this comment. I appreciate what you said. You highlight the incredible importance of simply worshiping God. It is in worship that the mess of life (and ministry) is often put into perspective.