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.
7 thoughts on “We Are Broken in Our Ministry”
Hi Bob! Nice to “meet you” and thanks for your post.
While I’m not sure I agree with your take on Acts 15, I certainly feel that you are poking at an important issue here.
What do you imagine repentance might look like in a congregation that takes your admonition seriously?
Say a congregation had a ministry (that’s not necessarily biblical mandated), how would you suggest we go about finding someone to fill that role?
Dan, it is nice to meet you as well.
What might repentance look like? Well… it might look like removing someone from a ministry they do not fit. For example, if Martha is leading VBS but has a crazy amount of anxiety when kids run or yell in the church, maybe she is not the person that ought to lead VBS. The risk is that we go a season without VBS or, perhaps, not have VBS at all. I think it would be better to forgo this ministry rather than ruin ministry for Martha or the kids. Rather, we should walk alongside Martha, work to discover her gifts, and then encourage and equip her for that ministry.
Now if a congregation wished to have a particular ministry they ought to look for ministers that exhibit the characteristics that make that ministry successful. We should be honest with our expectations, limitations, and concerns. This requires prayer, patience, and love. Feelings are powerful and they are on the line in some of these situations.
Another piece of the puzzle is that we often become so committed to particular ministries that we act as though we MUST fill those roles. We MUST have that program.
Yet, I believe you are correct. Part of repentance might be taking a look at not only who’s doing what and whether it’s the right fit, but also what we are doing.
I believe that God has gifted people with what is needed to do what he’s asked of us.
But he’s not promised to fill all of OUR desires and expectations.
So Dan (and Bob), are you saying we may, at times, need to repent of hanging on to some good ministry things too long? How can we evaluate if this may apply in our lives? How do we discern the difference between struggling in ministry because the enemy of our souls opposes us, or if we are struggling (sinning even?) because we are in the wrong ministry? Can you give us some markers to help us evaluate?
One of the things I think we ought be do more of is to let people serve in different places / ministries / contexts for shorter periods of times and see what happens. Often in reality, once someone agrees to do something, they’re in it whether it’s a good fit or not, because we need to fill the slot.
Often these ‘slots’ are aspects of ministry that God’s not necessarily commanded us to do but that we choose to (which isn’t bad, but adds a layer of discernment.)
Personally, I think we approach things somewhat backwards at times. We have these ministries that need to be staffed rather than trying to help people discern where they are gifted to serve and grow.
Practically, there are a couple of things I look for in trying to discern a good fit. One is the fruit that comes from their involvement in that ministry. Does it bear spiritual fruit in the lives that ministry is trying to impact? The other is how the person feels about what they’re doing. We all get tired, but I find that for me and some others there is a spiritual energy that the Lord provides when we are serving in our sweet spot. When someone says, I’m tired but that was amazing…. There’s just an aspect that you can’t always discern on a test or survey ahead of time that comes out in the midst of serving. And when one thing doesn’t work out, it helps us further move toward understanding how God has gifted us…
Very good insights Dan. I hope everyone reads this and ponders the practical aspects of discerning one’s gifts. Our relationship with God should not be like taking a test. Our faithfulness should not be judged by the need to “get it right” on the first go. It is not about being perfect in our discernment process, but being open, faithful and ultimately fruitful.
Dan, Your comment “Often in reality, once someone agrees to do something, they’re in it whether it’s a good fit or not, because we need to fill the slot”, reminded me of something a Pastor friend of mine once said. “Just because someone agrees to serve in a particular ministry in the church doesn’t mean it should be a life sentence”!