Tuesday, January 10, 2012

This lesson probably saved my ministry

If I am to pastor God’s people with integrity and spiritual insight, prayer has to be the foundation of my life.

I wrote these words in my spiritual journal over 26 years ago. I was days into my first pastoral call. I always wanted to be a pastor. From the age of 18 years old I was already discerning a “burden” on my heart to serve God as a pastor. Back then, I thought the main tasks of a pastor centered around leading congregational meetings, doing activities in the community and preaching sermons.

The Problem
But within the first year I was convinced I was not pastor material. I was stressed, overworked, underpaid, busy trying to nurture my young marriage while consumed with growing this wonderful church on the city’s south side.

I expended tremendous amounts of physical, emotional, mental energy but couldn't figure out how to replenish and nurture my inner life. I was busy doing the work of the Lord and forgot the Lord of the work!

Two biblical solutions
Thankfully, the answers started coming.  In the book of Acts a potential conflict was brewing (Acts 6: 1):

Now in those days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (Acts 6:1). What would they do to solve this problem? Instead of panicking or being stressed by the complaints of the people, the apostles devised a plan.

First, clarity: they were not called to wait tables. “And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2 ESV)

It’s not that waiting tables was beneath them. They could have taken on this project. But given limited time, limited resources, and the need for the whole body to share in the duties of the ministry, it was not proper for them to wait on tables. Their priority would be the preaching and teaching of Scripture (It’s not right that we should give up preaching the word of God).

Second, shared ministry: they selected seven proven, trusted leaders to lead this emerging ministry, while they devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6: 4 ESV).
The next verse sealed it for me:
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7 ESV).

By doing less, or better yet, by doing what only they were called to do, they actually accomplished more. The church grew, disciples multiplied, the people were blessed, God’s word was preached with depth of insight and with power. The apostles took a decisive step to not dissipate their energies with many directions and competing tasks. God honored them with growth.

A key question
Would I use God’s methods or rely on my measly plans? Would I shift my timetable so that prayer and time in the word became the cornerstone of my life, or would I continue being dragged along like a tin can at the back of the car of ministry? This is always the question every servant of God has to answer.