The Truth About Ministry (and Life)

The anxious thoughts rolled in the morning after we got the big news. We finally had enough financial partnership to cover our budget, and we could start our next season of ministry. We’ve served with a large missions organization since 2004, and my new role in our org combines two of my greatest passions – writing and getting the Bible into the hands of women around the world. So what was I nervous about? Simply this: I might not be who my new team expects me to be.

When I interviewed for this position in March of last year, they made the decision to wait on me during our time of partnership development before our organization would move forward with the initiative I’ll be contributing to. I’m grateful to have the chance to be part of strategic planning from the ground floor, but the idea of a whole initiative being put on hold for me has been a bit overwhelming. What if what I bring to the table isn’t enough?

It wasn’t until a few days had passed that the “well duh” moment came. Here I was praying for confidence as I move forward, when what I really need is humility.

Confidence lands me in a place of feeling like I should be able to handle whatever ministry throws my way. Humility cradles me where it’s not about what I can do.

It’s never been about what I bring to the table. Not even kind of.

One of my favorite Bible stories when I was little was in Numbers 22, where God spoke through a donkey. He didn’t need elegance or eloquence or even humanness to communicate His message. In fact, the lowliness of the messenger made the words that much more attention grabbing. The Bible is full of stories of God using undeserving and even downright evil people to speak the truth. When Daniel interpreted a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, the violent Babylonian tyrant said, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret” (Daniel 2:46 NLT). Solid truth, but it didn’t keep Nebuchadnezzar from raising a gold statue of himself and commanding everyone to worship it. Then there was the high priest Caiaphas, who argued that Jesus should be crucified, prophetically telling the other religious leaders, “It’s better that one man should die for the people” (John 18:14 NLT). The fact that these men did not grasp the full reality of what they spoke does not change the truth of their words.

I’ve spent most of my life in ministry contexts, both in the U.S. and overseas, and here’s what I’ve seen: There are people in ministry positions – missionaries, pastors, elders, teachers, worship leaders – who are wise, gentle, talented, competent, humble mirrors of Jesus’ heart. There are people in ministry positions who are struggling, stumbling along, trying to do the best they can with what they’ve been given. And there are people in ministry positions who are seriously misguided, self-absorbed, wounded and bitter, unhealthy and tangled in sin, even abusive and dangerous.

The astonishing miracle is that somehow God’s work is still going forward, sometimes through His children, and sometimes in spite of us.

Because it isn’t about what we bring to the table. Not even kind of.

Destructive behavior in ministry and life creates all kinds of havoc. It can wound, divide, confuse, and deceive. It can create a tidal wave of suffering that wrecks hearts in a broad and far-reaching path. It can hold people captive and blow up relationships and devastate teams and wipe out ministry constructs and make God ache.

But it cannot ultimately derail God’s redemptive work. Nothing, nobody’s brokenness or incompetence or misunderstanding or weakness or pride or sin or absence can keep God’s Word from being spread or His Spirit from restoring lives.

We are simply invited to His table, where what we bring is wanted and celebrated, but not needed. We get to offer what we have with joy, knowing that it isn’t up to us how those offerings will be used and it isn’t within our power to stop the flow of God’s grace.

I can just about guarantee that I will disappoint my new team in some way, and they will disappoint me, too. Somewhere along the line there will be bumps that will require grace and some work to overcome. There will probably be broken expectations and sometimes a feeling of not-enoughness.

But that’s ok. Because the truth is that none of this – ministry, parenting, marriage, life – hinges on our ability to handle it. We get to just show up and be part of what God is already doing, to see healing in motion and allow His work to pass through our open hands, to see Him pick up pieces of hearts and families and communities and rebuild them in His own time into beauty we couldn’t have planned.

We get to let go of the thickness of pride, to fade transparent into glory, to become a lens through which people can see Him.

And the only thing we need to be is His.

 “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” ~John 3:30 (NLT)

“’Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!’ But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, ’Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!’ He replied, ‘If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!’” ~Luke 19:38-40 (NLT)

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