extraordinary moments in ministry

Mesmerized under the cadence of the pastor’s voice, the congregation silently absorbs a once-in-a-life-time experience. It feels like time has paused in this extraordinary moment. All the elements have converged: an excellent atmosphere, an expectant crowd, an engaging speaker, an enlivening message and an expressive response. Under these remarkable circumstances, the speaker and the audience are emboldened to act according to their beliefs and people are added to the church.

In many ways this describes a pastor’s dream for every Sunday. He longs for the weekend when everything goes right, his message connects, church members respond, and sinners repent. He does all that is within his capacity to make the ideal church service a weekly reality. Yet, he regularly experiences brokenness and failures that remind him of sin, that disrupt his efforts, and that tempt him to resign. And that is precisely the point: no one can manufacture God’s work in people.

All too easily pastors and churches shift their focus from “the power of God that brings salvation” to manageable methods that yield measurable results. Our information age provides a large space for “how to” blogs, books and conferences to share the latest church growth techniques. Yet, with all of our technological advantages, entrepreneurial achievements and breath-taking accomplishments, many times we minimize the simple power of the gospel. The Apostle Paul tells the Roman church that “…I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” He doesn’t reference the power of any method or any minister. It is God’s power alone.

So what power or whose example are you depending on for your ministry success? Do you long to create the perfect Sunday or do you patiently proclaim Christ each week? Do you look for an immediate emotional response or do you faithfully trust the Spirit over time? Do you wish for larger crowds and more sinners or do you humbly serve the congregation that God has given you? Even though I know the right answer to all of these questions, I continually struggle to find my hope in God rather than “results.” What about you?

Recently a friend gently reminded me that God chooses whomever he wishes to accomplish whatever he pleases. In other words, pastors with the same theological education, similar ministerial experience and identical work ethics, in nearly identical communities, may have completely different “results.” If we are honest, that bothers us. It doesn’t seem fair. It cannot be that simple. Surely there is a better explanation for why one pastor “succeeds” while another pastor “struggles.” One must be a darling and the other one must be a dud.

However, Peter makes it plain that “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms… so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 4:10-11). So it turns out that the extraordinary moments in ministry are actually when ordinary sinners magnify the immeasurable grace of God. Are you content to faithfully serve God’s grace for the benefit of others so that he alone may be praised? The Sundays that we serve God in this way are the days when all the elements converge for the ideal church service.

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