There is a huge danger in full time ministry. Too many of us find a sense of worth and value in being needed. We like to help others. We like to be sought out for answers to life’s vexing challenges. This is all pretty heady stuff. We all know the danger in this dynamic. The risk of being sucked into this vortex is constant. Shepherd, beware.
The Greater Focus
I have clear memories of this truth becoming a personal reality in my life. I was part of a thriving ministry. Growth abounded all around us. At least numerically. But then an internal implosion happened. Under the intense pressure of “successful” ministry leaderships character was revealed and the walls caved in. It was ugly. It was painful. It was disillusioning. God taught me that competency is needed, but without character being shaped, it would not withstand the storms of life and ministry. Those were eye-opening days for me. God started by asking me, “Who do you want to be? From what do you want to minister to others – your own skill set and programs or from a well drilled deep into the Person of God?”
This is the lesson I was taught by God: We minister out of who we are.
Who we are becoming as God redeems us is far more crucial than what we get done.
The way we are matured is to soak ourselves in the Presence, Person and Word of God. There is no shortcut here. We become like the One we spend time with.
I imagine some readers responding, “But we are supposed to deny ourselves, lay our lives down.” Yes, we are to lay our lives down for others. But what is the state of your life that you are giving to others? There are too many of us who are literally hiding behind frenetic doing for others. God invites us to face our own hearts and lives and relational tendencies. As He matures us, then deep waters emerge from which others might be refreshed. These deep waters are not a new ministry technique. They are the very Presence and Person of God in and through us. We cannot gain such influence by attending another ministry workshop. We are shaped by God as we spend what will likely feel like an uncomfortable amount of time with him.
Reflection Questions on Becoming who God has Redeemed us to Be
- Who do you want to be in 10 years? What do you want your relationships to look like, beginning with your walk with God? What influence do you want to provide? In short, who do you want to become and how would you like that to impact others?
- How much time are you spending daily with God? How much are you studying the Word? “Study” does not mean reading a short devotional, it means rolling up your sleeves and digging in. Soak yourself in the word. Please consider this: 10 minutes in a devotional book is not going to feed your soul anymore than a box of french fries as your only meal everyday will feed your body. Read on “Spiritual Anemia” here.
- How much time are you sitting quietly and still with God daily? One of my personal dangers is to study the word, learn something, then walk into my busy day. The Word can become something I analyze and study cerebrally. The invitation is to go from study of Scripture to heart engagement with God. Allow the word to take you to your God and sit with him with whatever he has shown you. The goal is not knowledge acquisition, it is to be taught by God to walk with him in all of life. Bible knowledge without love will morph into arrogance (see 1 Corinthians 8:1). Start with sitting absolutely still and silent with God for 10 minutes everyday. Think about it, 10 minutes for nothing but sole attention on God per day. Do this for 30 days. You will want more.
- How much time do you spend reflecting on your life weekly? Take some time each week – go to a coffee shop or sit alone on your sabbath – and ponder what you have heard, seen, and felt in life, how you have responded, what others have said to you, and where God has tended to you. Life experience is one of the key ways we grow in wisdom, if we ponder and reflect upon it.
- How much time do you spend in solitude with God each month? Consider taking a 1/2 or full day of solitude and prayer every month.
- What are you reading that is feeding you? Stretching you? Growing you?
- Talk to wise people 10 or 20 years older than you and ask them what you ought to be paying attention to at this stage of your life. Listen carefully. Even if you do not like the answer, be not the fool of Proverbs and ignore their counsel. Who do you talk to monthly that serves as a mentor, counselor, spiritual director or guide? Seek God for these people and never cease looking for and pursuing them. Do not sit by hoping some wise sage will seek you out. You must seek them out and always take the initiative.
- How much time do you play? How about being creative? Personally I enjoy fly fishing and tying my own flies. This is a creative outlet that gets me outside, allows me to engage beauty (ever held a rainbow trout in your hand?), and be creative. What do you do? Paint? Bike? Write? Cook great meals? Give yourself permission to play. Be sure you are engaged in beauty, especially if you live in a dense, urban area. These are formative practices especially as we receive them as good gifts graced upon us by a Father overflowing in love. What does this have to do with “becoming”? It keeps our hearts soft, it makes us more fully human, and it allows us to engage God in environs that are outside of ministry. Our life is more than our work.
Beauty: Rainbow Trout Tail Pattern photo by Scott E. Shaum
These are but a few practices that will have a positive accumulative effect in your life lived over decades. Much of this takes planning, focus, and discipline. That’s the way God designed it. Above all else, do not seek to accomplish any of this in your own effort. Always ask God to allow you to know his presence and love; his instruction and guidance; his provision and care. 10 years from now, you will be excited about who he is shaping you to become.
Remember: We give to others are of who we are. Who are you and who are you becoming?