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?

21 Century Ministry and 2 Corinthians (Part 5)

What is the dynamic in ministry that really changes people today?

Many people in churches are tired. Those who serve as church leaders often find themselves exhausted as they give the church their best effort and still seem to get nowhere. When I was a very young minister, I felt bewildered by the very nature of ministry.

I didn’t want to admit this at the time, but it seemed as if whatever happened in ministry was up to me.

Now I am not talking about an out – of – control ego or a desire to take credit. I am just saying that my ministry felt like a tremendous burden weighing on me and at times utterly crushing me. As a result, I was someone who loved Jesus but found little joy in my ministry.

So very often my ministry seemed like it was simply shoe leather on pavement. I had tools. I was a part of a church family. Yet, for a number of years, I felt very little joy in what I was doing. Ministry just seemed like a lot of hard work with impossible problems and long hours. Were lives being changed? Yes, God was very much at work. Yet, I was missing something. I was missing something in the way I approached this extremely challenging work. I later realized that what I was missing was a sense of the powerful dynamic that was at work in ministry. That dynamic is the work of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Jesus.

Paul stresses this in 2 Corinthians 3 as he contrasts the old covenant and new covenant ministry. In new covenant ministry, people are transformed as they turn to Jesus and the Holy Spirit goes to work on their hearts. The most impossible situation can become a situation with possibilities when the Holy Spirit is at work in the transformation. Because the Holy Spirit is the dynamic of ministry, I can no longer say, regarding another person, “He will never change.” I can’t say this because God’s Spirit has the capability of blasting away at the hardest heart imaginable!

Trying to minister without the presence and activity of the living, dynamic Holy Spirit is like trying to write this post on my computer without electricity. Don’t get me wrong, I like my Mac. I like it very much. No problem there. Yet, sitting at this computer for hours with the electrical cord unplugged from the wall will never produce very much. Trying to write this post with no electricity will never be very effective regardless of my intentions or best effort. It is the electricity that is the dynamic that makes all of this possible. I can have the best tools and make the best effort in my ministry, yet the Holy Spirit is the living dynamic who changes lives. He is the one, through Jesus, who really changes people.

Now perhaps you got this a long time ago. Wonderful. But please bear with those of us for whom this realization took some time. Bear with those of us who even right now feel crushed by the weight of ministry and who have long ago forgotten the good news of the living dynamic of God’s forever presence at work in our ministries.

I still work hard and give my work my best effort. Yet, I also live with the realization that God’s Holy Spirit is at work and is the powerful dynamic who does a work that goes beyond anything I could ever do. I want my reliance to be on him.

Question

What is your experience with this? Have you gone through seasons where you felt as if the entire weight of the ministry was on you? Have you ever found yourself depending on yourself to change people instead of the Spirit of God?

21st Century Ministry and 2 Corinthians (Part 4)

Many Christians feel tired and worn out. 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 contains an important reminder that the incredible change one experiences as a Christian is not an act of the will but an act of Jesus through the Spirit of God.   Great_Books.jpg

This means that being an effective Christ-follower in the 21st century is not a matter of you being smart enough, witty enough, or even insightful enough. Rather, the essence of what it means to live in Christ is produced by Jesus through the Spirit of God. Furthermore, this means that the essence of ministry is found in what Christ is doing through the Spirit of God. Our ministry is not based on ourselves and our ingenuity.

Jesus, through the Spirit of God, is writing a masterpiece.

Think for a moment about tattoos. What are they? Ink underneath the skin. The tattoo artist works for a while and then leaves the customer with the picture or the image. He may make a mark on the skin but it never goes beyond anything that is skin deep. When Jesus lives in you, he works on you through God’s Spirit. His work isn’t limited to the skin. No, what he is writing is not on stone or flesh but on your heart.

He is creating a masterpiece. Think for a moment about some of the masterpieces in the western world.   

·      To Kill a Mockingbird

·      The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

·      Hamlet

·      Gone with the Wind

·      The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

·      The Lord of the Rings

·      Winnie-the-Pooh

·      The Black Stallion

·      Charlotte’s Web

·      War and Peace

So let us think about this reality:

·      Jesus is writing a masterpiece: you. In fact, this is something that will be read by all who have the opportunity.   You won’t find this at Barnes & Noble or on Amazon. You will find this masterpiece by looking in the mirror. Don’t get distracted by your ears, skin, height or weight. I am not talking about self-esteem, either the lack of it or the importance of it. Rather, I am talking about you and me not minimizing what God is doing in our lives. You are God’s masterpiece because it is God who is writing on your heart. Once God through his Spirit begins to write on your heart, you will never be the same.

What can others read? The question is not just what are we telling. What are we showing? Our mission requires speaking and incarnation (Jesus living in me and in us).

·      Let us be cautious about telling truth while we neglect doing truth.

·      Our ministry is an incarnational ministry that displays God’s masterpieces. This means that we believe that Christ really does live in us individually and as a church.

·      What makes a church is not a building but a mission.

·      Our mission is expressed in both words (2:17) and transformed lives (3:1-3).  

·      Knowing that God is preparing a masterpiece gives us confidence.  

Question

Why do some Christ-followers seem to often feel overwhelmed, worn out, and exhausted than energized and refreshed?


21st Century Ministry and 2 Corinthians (Part 3)

Many of us have ideas about the way ministry ought to be. Perhaps as we reflect on ministry, we should begin by examining our own integrity.    200909301032.jpg

You may know what it is to have the best intentions and yet be misunderstood. In 1 Corinthians 1:12-24, Paul explains why he did not come to Corinth as he originally intended. Because of the situation of the church in Corinth, he decided that it was best to not go to Corinth at this particular time. Now, some evidently have seized upon this occasion, to accuse him of being fickle, lacking in integrity, and saying “yes” one moment and “no” the next.

This gives him the opportunity to speak about his personal integrity as it relates to his ministry. He speaks of his personal holiness and sincerity that comes from God (1:12). His own integrity is grounded in the work of the triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (1:18-22). For Paul, referring to God (as related to his ministry) is not a mere formality or a nice religious footnote. No, Paul understands that the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are critical to his ministry and the ministry of the body of Christ in that city.

What about ministry today?

Our personal integrity is no less important today. Note that Paul ties integrity to holiness and sincerity as being from God. Ministry is more than doing all the right things. It has to do with the holiness of my life-even when no one is looking. Why? God’s character and integrity shape our own character and integrity. Since God is faithful, everything about us must reflect such faithfulness.

This has many implications for ministry in the 21st century. Ultimately, I believe this suggests that our own integrity is very much tied to the character of God. Our churches and ministries can be creative, technologically savvy, and relevant to our culture. Something is wrong, however, if our lives do not reflect the character of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I love this quote by Gordon Fee ( God’s Empowering Presence, p. 289):

It should be noted, finally, that this is one of the most God-centered, God-focused paragraphs in the Pauline corpus. As such, it is a clear reflection of Paul’s essential theology and is even more telling because it is such an ‘off the cuff,’ non-reflective moment. Paul’s integrity-and their own existence in Christ that is so integrally tied up with that integrity-ultimately rests in the character of God (his trustworthiness, whose promises have been realized in Christ) and in the saving activity of God, which is but an overflow of his character.


The Take-Away

1. Ministry cannot be divorced from one’s own personal integrity.

2. Our ministry is tied into the character and saving activity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

3. God is faithful! What a difference this reality makes in the conduct and character of his people.


Questions

In what areas of life and/or ministry have believers sometimes done a poor job of reflecting the character of God? In what ways could believers take personal holiness more seriously?


21st Century Ministry and 2 Corinthians (Part 2)

Don’t miss the four realities of ministry listed below.2corinthians2.gif

Every would-be minister, pastor, church planter, missionary, or church leader ought to read 2 Corinthians.

Why? In this wonderful epistle, we have the opportunity to look over Paul’s shoulder in his most autobiographical book. We can learn much about ministry by observing this apostle as speaks to these people about his ministry and his relationship with them.

Ministry is tough. Don’t let any one tell you any differently. Now admittedly, what I have just said may baffle some. Some may perceive of ministry as simply the work of a career minister. Some look at ministry as simply one more career choice. “I thought about being a doctor, a lawyer, or a CPA. In the end, I decided to be a minister. i’ve always liked public speaking and leadership.” There is something about this approach that seems to have lost any sense of a calling.   

I want to first emphasize that all believers in the body of Christ are called to ministry. We are both gifted and empowered by the Spirit for ministry. Yes, there are some who may be called to lead, preach, teach, etc. in a congregation. There are certain leadership gifts and roles within the body of Christ. Maybe we should examine our own expectations regarding these roles.

Paul describes some of his experiences in this opening chapter:

  • Suffering (1:5-6)
  • Distress (1:6)
  • Hardships (1:8)
  • Under great pressure (1:8)
  • Despaired of life (1:8)
  • Felt the sentence of death (1:9)
  • Deadly peril (1:10)

Now do these words describe every ministry? No. Yet, something is wrong when we act as if we should somehow be exempt from discomfort, difficulties, and trying times in our ministry. Some ministers respond to the difficulties of ministry by constantly griping, complaining, and talking negatively about the congregation. Or, perhaps we talk about another minister or one of the elders and demonize the person. Perhaps, some of these difficult times are actually opportunities to share in the sufferings of Christ (1:5).

Now let me suggest this to you.

As a believer, you can find great encouragement in your daily ministry as a child of God by reading 2 Corinthians 1:1-11. Are you a pastor, minister, church planter, elder, or a church leader? Pay close attention to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1.

The following are some wonderful realities about ministry:

1. God comforts us in all our troubles and in turn allows us the opportunity to treasure his character (1:3-4) After all, he is “… the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort …” (1:3).

2. God ministers to us in our trouble. Consequently we are able to minister to others (4-6). He brings a new capacity for ministry into our lives.

3. God gives us the privilege of sharing in the sufferings of Jesus (1:5). What an honor!

4. God desires that we rely on him and not on ourselves in ministry (1:9). Such reliance is a proclamation of where we have set our hope (1:10).


Question

Which one of the four realities of ministry means the most to you?