Churches and pastors are constantly asking themselves, How can my church grow? How can we be more effective in ministry? I believe the answer is found in Mark 3:14, 15: “He appointed twelve . . . that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (NIV).
Recognize who called you
The person who calls you is important! Jesus called His disciples 2,000 years ago, and He calls His disciples still, but we must be clear on the source of our call. We must understand that in order to get where we are going, we need to know where we came from. A clear sense of our call is especially important during difficult times, because sometimes all you have is your call. Even when there exists no visible manifestation of success, your call will sustain you through periods of hard economic times and with people who are hard to deal with.
Like a seed planted in the soil, results are often not immediate or visible. In the part of the country I live in, a church was visited by a conference representative. That particular Sabbath there was just one other person in church. The conference representative was preaching his heart out when the member excused himself to go to the bathroom. A short time later, the member returned and the sermon continued.
These are extreme cases, but the point is this: sooner or later, you will experience hard times. When those tough times come, you must understand clearly who called you.
When I had only four years of ministerial experience, I was asked to help a small congregation while doing graduate studies. The first day I was there, there were six people present. The lady who was directing Sabbath School would do the welcome, sit down, do the mission story, sit down, and do almost everything else. The church was far away from our home, extremely cold, and the basement would flood, resulting in a bad odor. The town existed in the midst of a large fruit orchard, had one traffic light, and most Hispanics that lived there came and went according to the harvest. Even though it was discouraging, particularly on Sabbath, we saw God working there. I was only there for a short time, but I experienced the power of God like very few places I have seen. The lesson learned in those hard, cold, winter months was very simple—God works everywhere. We saw drug addicts converted, estranged families reconciled, and an active youth group established. God works even when we do not see any results. He did not call you to fail.
Recognize why He called you
Why He called you is very important. On earth, Jesus primarily called His disciples to “be with Him.” I believe their miraculous acts came only as a result of a deep connection to Jesus. Their powerful preaching, timely healing, and other ministries were the result, not the object, of their ministry.
After their call, the disciples cast out demons, preached, and healed. These are great functions yet, do they qualify as the primary reason Jesus called the disciples? Is that the reason He calls us?
I am afraid that sometimes, in the modern statistics-driven Christianity we are part of, the real purpose why Jesus calls us gets lost. We are more interested in counting sheep than courting the Spirit. Yet, He calls us to be with Him. From the time He created us and forever more, God has a deep desire to be with us. It is crazy, I know, but true! The God of the universe—madly in love with you and me. What a concept. The whole purpose of your creation was not just that you spend time doing work for Him but that you spend time with Him. Do you remember how it felt to spend time with someone you were head over heels about? Remember the anticipation? The expectation? The satisfaction when your time was over?
Pastor Alejandro Bullón tells of an older woman who approached him after a sermon. She pointed to a graying gentleman and said, “You see that man over there? He is my husband of 40 years. I have never loved him.”
How tragic. Living with someone you do not love has to rank highest in my “I hope it never happens to me” category. Think about it. The woman of the story was a good wife. She never cheated on her husband. She took the time to prepare meals for him. She ironed his shirts so that he could look good. She entertained guests on special occasions. She went on vacations and celebrated birthdays with him. Yet, a key component was missing. She did not love him.
Could the same thing be happening to us? Are we too busy trying to preach impressive sermons about Him, bring healing to many homes for Him, even work to combat evil in society in His name, yet our personal relationship with God is lacking?
Recognize that He called others too
You should know that the people He called alongside of you are important to remember as well. From the beginning, Jesus instilled the team concept to ministry. This was not a one-man show even though it could have been, but was about community, collegiality.
A close look at the personality of the disciples reveals anything but uniformity. They were all different, and that was a good thing. Different backgrounds. Different social status. Different politics. Different jobs. A Hebrew revolutionary and a Roman sympathizer. One had a questioning mind, one spoke too soon, another hardly spoke. Some were more interested in position than preaching, and one was constantly taking a piece of the pie for himself. What message was Jesus trying to send us through the selection of those disciples? Simply this: it is not about you, it is about us.
Doing ministry alongside people of different backgrounds, race, and economic status reminds me of Noah’s ark. The similarities to a congregation are plentiful. The ark had many features that kept the comfort level low. It had only one window and housed married couples and their in-laws for an extended period of time. Closed quarters can bring the worst out of people, and I am sure that even though Noah’s faith was strong, a lot of questions went through his mind as he looked outside and saw his former home covered with water.
Ministry to people has its great days, but pastoring also has its rainy, depressing, run of the mill days as well. Managing egos, dealing with childlike attitudes, having difficult conversations with sensitive people, and being watchful of extremist tendencies on both sides of the theological spectrum can make for some uncomfortable days. Or nights. Or both!
The reality? We live in a polarized society, and that polarization sometimes seeps inside the church. We address and relate to people based on their affiliations and many times it is easier to label someone and be done with it than to engage. Yet this was not God’s way.
Now, imagine cleaning up after thousands of animals everyday for over 100 days. The odor would be enough to knock you over. The church is similar. Ministry is messy. People do not always come through and stay faithful or truthful. Planning can sometimes seem like a play, diagramed by the coach on the blackboard but then fails miserably when tried on the field. Adjustments have to be made and different options looked at. I cringe when I hear some “expert” saying that if you implement these easy principles, you will have the church you are looking for, but this would never be that easy. Doing church would be awesome, if it was not for the people!
As it relates to Noah’s ark, there were probably hundreds of people who helped build it, yet only eight were saved. Just because you are working for God does not automatically translate into a saving relationship with God. As a friend of mine used to say, “It is not as important to work for God as it is to work with God.”
As you go through this ministry season, please remember Jesus’ words and make them the primary object of your life: to be with Him.