3 Thoughts on Being an Effective Minister
My nephew, Jordan Savage, inspired a little blog post, today. Last night, on Facebook, I posted a picture of myself with the following quote off to the side.
“I have delivered a sermon only hours from terrific loss. I have ministered to others in the wake of my own suffering. I have led the church in worship when I felt far away from God. I’m not a hero. I’m not spiritually tough. I am a minister of the Gospel and that’s the job.”
Jordan was a bit confused by the last two statements. This is his explanation copied from Facebook, “1.) you’re not a hero? How do you determine that? You’ve probably done some heroic things in your lifetime or could be a hero to someone in you’re (sic) life. 2.) you’re one of the most spiritually tough people I’ve ever met so to say you’re not spiritually tough blows my mind.” II have some thoughts about this that I would like to share.
We are living in a dynamic time when words are changing meaning rapidly. While the denotative meanings seem to be mostly fixed, the connotative meanings are shifting. This accounts for some of the miscommunication between conservatives and liberals, younger generations and older generations, and even between genders. For example, a young person on a reality television show might know a group of people for two minutes and then say, “I love you guys.” I can’t even imagine using the word love so carelessly. My own father, whom I loved dearly, only said that word to me a handful of times in my entire life. Recently, my mentor gave me a hug and told me that he loved me. We've known each other for nearly 20 years! It was a deeply moving moment. The word love means something to older generations. It means something to me.
Another word that has really changed and meaning is hero. I grew up in a time when there were a lot of World War II and Korea veterans running around. The Vietnam veterans had recently returned to the home front and were dealing with the consequences of a youth spent at war. These were my family, the families of my friends, and the men in my community for whom I had great respect. I knew guys who stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day. My father and my uncle both earned Silver Stars. My primary mentor in ministry has smuggled tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Bibles into restricted nations over the last forty years. He has done this at great risk to himself, and his inspiring wife who always serves right by his side. None of the aforementioned would allow themselves to be identified as heroes. The point is, I have known heroes. In my estimation, I am not one.
Today, we ascribe heroism to somebody who makes terrible life choices, hurts everybody around them, and then manages to somehow recover some semblance of a life. I have nothing but positive feelings toward such a person, but ascribing to them the title of hero diminishes the word to such a degree that it becomes meaningless.
As for spiritual toughness, I have spent some time around people who live in religiously restricted nations. They live the normal Christian life, hold church services, preach the Gospel, evangelize, and do other typically Christian things; all at great risk to themselves and their loved ones. I have never had to face my own death, or the death of my children as a consequence of preaching a sermon. Have you? Those guys are spiritually tough, but try telling them that and they'll deflect it and point to someone else.
I have been pondering Jordan’s comment and wondering how I could explain a mindset that comes to the conclusions to which I have come. I believe I have three truths that I can share with you that will clarify why I see things the way I do. Maybe they will be of benefit to both pastors, non-pastors, and aspiring pastors.
1. Live for an audience of One: All, and I emphasize the word "all," honor, glory power and praise belong to the Lord. All! He has shared more with me than I could merit in a thousand lifetimes of good deeds, bravery, and acts of spiritual strength. The only thing that He holds back from me is his glory. It is not mine to share. I’m okay with that.
Think about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is fully God, and yet an individual. He has all the aspects of person hood and all the aspects of being God. Where in the Scripture does the Holy Spirit ever point to himself? He doesn’t. He seems to be eternally pointing to Jesus. That should be quite instructive to us. Any good thing that I do, any heroic endeavor that I complete, any hardship that I am able to overcome while doing the work of the ministry, is all because I am walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, anything that the Holy Spirit does in me should rightly point to Jesus; not to me!
Did you get that last point? Anything that I do that is noteworthy should point to the Lord. If those things point to me as a minister, if I am the one labeled as a hero, if my victories are attributed to my own intestinal fortitude, then I have failed. All the glory is the Lord's.
When we respond to compliments by saying, “all glory to God, or God gets the glory, or praise the Lord,” it must mean something. It cannot be just a platitude that we say because it sounds spiritual. It must be a statement of truth that points an individual who is ascribing glory to me as a minister to He who is within me.
2. Know your identity in Christ: I know who I am in Christ. Like every other Christian, I was lost and beyond any ability to save myself. But God, in his sovereignty, reached down into the material world and pulled me up from the miry clay. He gave me eternal life and placed the Holy Spirit within me. I am welcomed in the presence of my Heavenly Father, as one clothed in the robes of the righteousness of Christ. I am a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven and therein lies my loyalty. I am called to be an ambassador, a minister, an evangelist, and a priest. I live under the Law of God’s Kingdom which is that I must love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love my neighbor as myself. The Law of love binds my heart.
Personally, I am called to be a missionary professor; a unique minister in God’s kingdom who lives as a foreigner in the nation of his birth, supported by God’s Providence made manifest in many ways and through many people, serving the saints by providing biblical education, tools for spiritual formation, and personal, biblically-based, Holy Spirit informed, counsel. I I have and will continue to perform this calling as a Bible college professor, the head of a free Bible college, a lead pastor, an itinerant minister, a counselor, a mentor, a father, a husband, and a friend.
Knowing your identity in Christ matters because if you do, it will be much easier to discern how you should be spending the limited time, and mental/emotional capacity that God has given you. Knowing my identity, helps me to know when to say yes. When I know where my yeses lie, the no’s come easily.
3. Live the normal Christian life: As I’ve grown in the Faith, I have come to realize that the normal Christian life was truly only led by one person; Jesus. His life is an example to us of what a life that is led by the Holy Spirit, a life that is led for an Audience of One (God) is supposed to look like.
Living the normal Christian life means that I am walking in the Spirit and going about our Heavenly Father's business just like Jesus did. When I walk in the Spirit, and listen to the Lord’s leading, it is amazing what things I can do. Somehow, I can muster the strength to minister to a person who lost their dog and is losing their mind over it just moments after finding out that my beloved grandmother has died. When I am walking in the Spirit, I can be God’s messenger to a person or to a congregation despite what is going on in my personal life. When I am walking in the Spirit, and living the normal Christian life, I can do the specific job and live the specific calling that God assigned to me. So can you!
I encourage you to put aside your hero worship, remove your adoration from those who are merely living the normal Christian life, and focus all of that on the Author of Life.
You may not have a full idea of your calling in Christ, it took me fifty years to fully realize mine, but if you know your Christian identity in general, you are way ahead of the game.
I’ll close with a biblical example. Consider Peter who denied Christ three times on the night before the Crucifixion, yet just a few months later, boldly stood before the Sanhedrin and took them to task. I believe that the difference, without getting into a lot of detail, was that Peter was empowered by the Holy Spirit to stand boldly before the Sanhedrin. I’m always encouraged by this because I know that the Lord is with me and that when I am supposed to be weak, I will be weak, and when I am supposed to have earth shattering strength and mind-blowing bravery, I will. In either case, God gets the glory.