We are broken in the area of ministry. More specifically how we place people in ministry. Programs and structure often outweigh God given gifts, abilities, and talents. Tradition takes precedence over function.
If American Idol has taught me anything, which is very little, its that we do a great disservice to people when we make them something that they are not. When people fill roles that do not square up with their God given gifts and abilities they fatigue, become bitter, and could end up misjudging the whole of ministry based on the negative experience. Given the consequences of an unchecked and unexamined ministerial role, it is imperative that leaders surround themselves with mature brothers and sisters that will speak truth out of love. This is especially hard when the individual, and maybe an overly supportive friend, really believe they are in the correct ministry. It is good to try new things. That is how we learn and hone our gifts and abilities, but we must keep in mind that our past experience is a great tool that we have to determine our future success.
Acts 15:36-41 is an example of a good leader making a judgment call about the placement of an up and coming church leader. Based on Paul’s experience, Mark is not a fit for the upcoming ministerial journey.
The text does not tell us that Paul thought Mark was unfit for ministry in general. He was unfit for that ministry. Mark’s past performance indicated to Paul that he would likely hinder the ministry. Paul was shrewd, especially when it came to building the church. Many commentaries like to imagine a personal beef between Paul and Mark. They indicate that years later, when Paul was at the end of his life, they finally reconciled (2 Tim 4:11). When they do this they imply that Paul disliked Mark personally because he did not think him fit for this ministerial journey. This was not the case. Paul might have been tough, but Barnabas was perpetuating a slow-moving train wreck under the guise of being supportive. Paul was probably harder on himself when Mark departed from him on their earlier missionary journey. It seems clear that Paul recognized what Mark’s gifts and abilities were and were not. Perhaps he recognized that Mark was fit for another ministry. Maybe at the end of his life Paul needed not reconciliation, but someone to write down the events of his life so that they would be preserved. Or maybe he needed to make sure Mark was encouraged to write. Imagine if Paul allowed Mark to go on that journey. What if Mark failed again? Would that have been the final blow for him; pushing him to quit ministry all together? Would he have penned his gospel?
This is a difficult principle to live out. We have programs to run, ministries that must continue, and limited resources to accomplish these tasks. Alive, warm, and willing are often the only requirements we have when in search of ministerial partners and volunteers. Paul recognized this as detrimental to what the Lord would have him accomplish and so should we.
Pray with me. Father thank you for the gifts and abilities that you have given to us. Forgive us when we ignore the gifts of others and force our agenda on your ministry. Break us and remind us that it is your ministry. Heal us and give us your eyes to recognize what you have already blessed us with. To you be all glory and praise! We ask these things in the name above all names, Jesus Christ… Amen.