When it comes to local church ministry, many would-be pastors go in assuming they need to have a vision for ministry. While this is well and good, too few ask if God has the same vision for their particular ministry.
The truth is that well-meaning pastoral ministry leaders want to be on the same page as God when it comes to the work of the Church. After all, there are clear examples of people in the Bible fighting hopelessly against the will of God. We don’t need to be swallowed by a fish to know we want to glorify God with our work.
But what if we viewed this as both/and rather than either/or? Instead of seeing this as one way only, what if we acknowledged God’s supreme ability to turn chaos into creativity, a mess into a method, and a good plan into a better one? What if we began to see the greater work being accomplished through us?
When God’s Plans Appear to Fail
God called Jesus Christ to what seemed like an unmitigated disaster. Jesus Christ called His disciples to see Him put to death; He led every one of them to the place where their hearts were broken. Jesus Christ’s life was an absolute failure from every standpoint but God’s. (Oswald Chambers. August 5 in My Utmost for His Highest).
One central reason that we are so fond of the story of Jesus is that we have tamed his tragic story by complete familiarity with the wonderful outcome. How about our story? How about our ministry?
I was a pastor of two remarkable churches for 16+ years each. I can tell you clearly what my goals and plans were for each ministry…at least after my long rookie years. In neither place did I really accomplish my goals. Did I fail? We all have fans and critics and our own conscience that weighs in on this question.
I can tell you that both churches still have active lead staff that were with me, including one from the late 1980s. Both churches were thriving (far beyond my abilities or gifts) five years after I left. It helped that I was gone. They continued to thrive.
Years after I left one church a new staff person explained to me in an offhand way what my impact on the church was. I was shocked. Here is the simple way to put it. I was working and praying to achieve ‘this’ while God was doing ‘that’. God did something much bigger than was on my agenda.
An Imagined Conversation with God
Me: “God, I’m working to do this and I’m praying about it and focusing every effort on my goals.”
God: “That is worthy, my child.”
Me: “But I’m not getting very far with my goals. I’m frustrated and some things are going badly.”
God: “That is all right because I am accomplishing something else through you.”
Me: “Something else?”
God: “You are working hard to accomplish this, but I am using you and your efforts to accomplish that.”
Me: “Wait, are you stating that we are not on the same page?”
God: “No I’m saying that while you are working to accomplish this according to your plan, I am using you to accomplish that according to my plan.”
Me: “But I am not getting much of anywhere with my goals.”
God: “I care about you, but I am not concerned about your goals compared to my goals. I am using you to accomplish my goals. You are actually doing just that.”
Me: “I am confused. What am I doing in ministry if I do not even know what I am accomplishing?”
God: “Just be faithful to me and keep up your ministry.”
Me: “But I’m way off base according to you.”
God: “I did not say that, and I do not mean that you are off base. I am using you to accomplish my plan.”
The problem is that we want to be a partner in determining what God is going to do or accomplish. We want to ensure our vision for ministry is accomplished. Rather, we should seek to be a servant.
Later Chambers continues in his August 5 text, “God is working out His purposes. If we are in communion with God and recognize that He is taking us into His purposes, we shall no longer try to find out what His purposes are. As we go on in the Christian life, it gets simpler….”
May we fail in ministry in a manner that is at least a shadow of the apparent failure of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
Would you like to learn more about our Master of Arts in Local Church Ministry? Grace Theological Seminary will equip you to create a vision for ministry that serves the greater purpose of what God is accomplishing through His Church!
John Teevan is the Adjunct Professor in the Seminary and SOMS. He has taught a variety of courses since 2000. He comes from two long pastorates and twelve years working for Grace College in the Indiana State Prison system as an educator/director. He also served in the four cities where Grace worked to open commuter sites. These diverse experiences along with community involvement have sensitized him to social side of ministering to people in a variety of situations. A five-year engagement with the Acton Institute led to the publication of his book on Social Justice.