Sometimes being the leader of the same ministry for 20 years is not a good thing! It could mean that you are holding tightly to a dead or dying ministry. So what makes us hold onto ministries that are perishing anyway?
Sometimes we have been doing something for so long, we feel it is the only thing we can do. We refuse to try to step out into a different calling because “this is what I’ve always done.” We may feel that God has equipped us to do one thing only. But God is more creative than that. He has so much to offer us, and He delights in promoting us, if we are striving to follow Him and listening to His voice.
Fear of losing our place can hold us back. We might feel like if we let go of the ministry we are currently leading, we will have to go back and sit on the pew with nothing to do. In other words our ministry becomes our identity. We may feel that if we are not recognized by the position we fill, we won’t be recognized at all. We have to remind ourselves that God is not in the business of demoting, but promoting.
God wants to see us grow, and in that process He wants us to train others to do what we have been doing. My Pastor/Mentor in Iowa always told me that I should be continually seeking to work myself out of a job. We are not supposed to hoard up all of our talents. We should train and mentor others to do what we are doing, and if possible to do it even better than we are!
We must train others to take our place. This lets others grow in their calling, and it allows us to move into the new areas of ministry God has planned for us. If you are not equipping others, you can be certain that you are leading a dying ministry. You will not be here forever!
How can we expect to receive greater things from God, if our hands are clenched tightly to a ministry that He has told us to let go of? Look at the picture above. If you will notice, when our hand is outstretched to release something, it remains in the perfect position to receive from God our next assignment. Do we doubt God’s ability to continue to use us, and lead us into greater ministries?
We only hinder ourselves and our own growth when we adopt the attitude that we are the only capable leaders. Instead we should be seeking to invest in the lives of others. This is how churches and ministries grow. If you can’t love your people and appreciate the gifts of those under your care, why would God lead other people to your ministry? If you know someone within your ministry or church that has a gift such as singing, speaking, teaching, preaching, praying with others, etc., and you are not willing to let them use that gift from time to time; they can become stagnant, and so will your ministry.
However, God often uses those He has gifted by opening other doors to them if we ignore them. He doesn’t neglect, or forget His chosen. And if we do, it is only our ministry that suffers. God uses variety. If He didn’t, He would have made everyone JUST LIKE YOU. But, guess what…He didn’t. Remember, if you close doors to those God is trying to use, He WILL open other doors to them, and it is often in another church.
Another thing that gets in our way is jealousy. The enemy loves to use this destructive tool between God’s people. We might start to think that someone will do a better job than we did. Or perhaps people will like them better than they liked us. Well, if that’s the case it’s a good thing! People will not forget you, and you can believe they will love you even more if they see your heart is for the betterment of the ministry as a whole. Hoarding a ministry because of jealousy is a major sign of spiritual immaturity.
Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to refresh and revive a ministry. If your heart is sincerely in the ministry because you love and want to serve people, then you want the best for them. I sent my daughters to school because I wanted them to get a great education. I would have loved to have kept them home with mommy. But, I realized my scholastic teaching skills were not the best—algebra comes to mind—so I entrusted them to the care and teaching skills of other teachers. Why? Because I love my girls and want the very best for them.
As leaders it is our job to see that those entrusted to us are taken care of Spiritually, and emotionally, and used in the way God chooses to use them. I’m often amazed by all the attempts and lengths some ministers go to in order to get more people in the pews. How many of the people in the pews do you know already? Do you know their needs? Do you genuinely care about their wellbeing? What are their personalities like? Do you have relationships with them, or, if they walked out today would you even notice or care? People know if they are cared for.
Do you really think God will entrust more people to your care, if you are not willing to love the ones He has already entrusted to you? We must LOVE people. All kinds of people. There will always be those we don’t particularly like. Everyone has their own different quirks and hang ups, but God has called us as leaders to love and care for His flock. If we can’t care for the flock He has entrusted to us, we shouldn’t think He will lead more sheep into our fold.
Time is running out. We want to reach the lost at any cost, but it requires caring for those God has entrusted to us already. Lead, teach, train up leaders. This is not a one man, or one woman show. God uses us in different ways. Think about this. Who believed in you? Who mentored you, and trained you? Where would you be without people who were willing to invest in you? Are you willing to do the same for others?
2 Timothy 2:2 ESV
And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
1 Peter 5:1-5 ESV
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Acts 20:28 NLT
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
When I was a young girl growing up in Tennessee, it seemed like nothing ever really changed. My home, and the landscape was seemingly much the same for many years. Even after I was grown I never really noticed a lot of obvious changes in my familiar environment. I grew up, time passed, life happened, and God moved my family and I, to Iowa for nine years.
When we moved back to Tennessee I began to visit some of the places that I frequented when I lived here nine years earlier. I was amazed by how drastically things had changed. Trees and vegetation seemed to be so much taller than before. Everything looked so different. Nothing looked the same as it had before I left. I was shocked by how much things had changed.
It seemed to be so much like the old frog story. We’ve all heard it. The premise is that if a frog is suddenly put into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in cool water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. Though the story has been passed on for years and years, it is not true. A frog will jump out of the pot when the water becomes uncomfortable. (But, please don’t try it. The frogs and I both would appreciate you skipping that experiment.)
But, the point the story was attempting to make is that we don’t always notice things changing in our immediate situations, especially when change occurs gradually. We get used to our surroundings, our habits, our way of doing things without taking a lot of notice of the subtle changes that are taking place. Just like as a young girl I didn’t notice how much my environment was changing daily. But, coming home after several years I was shocked to see so much change.
We live in a world that is changing on a daily basis, and unfortunately, most of it is not for the good. Some of the change has happened gradually over many years but it seems to be picking up momentum. The enemy of our souls is continually trying to lull us to sleep by making sin appear ordinary.
He would love to convince us that nothing is really changing. He uses so many different tactics to try to get us into a common routine, or a comfortable level of complacency. He causes us to be self-absorbed and focused on ourselves, our families and nothing more. As we get comfortable, we pay less and less attention to the changes happening around us.
Things that used to shock us seem to have become commonplace. How many of us can see a rainbow now without feeling uneasy, or having a sense of grief? We now see it so commonly associated with homosexuality, that we rarely appreciate what it was originally created for.
“I have set My rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. 14 Whenever I form clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember My covenant between Me and you and all living creatures: Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.…”
The sin of homosexuality used to be hidden. Now you can’t get through a single TV program without one of the characters proudly announcing they are homosexual. Society has accepted it as the norm, and so it is fed to us through every outlet available. This is only one of many sins that has become normalized in today’s society. If you don’t like your gender, you can change it.
Don’t misunderstand me, certainly not all change is bad, and certainly not all change is good. But how do we know how to accept the good, and reject the bad?
There is a standard. We must hold tightly to the Standard, or the Truth of God’s Word. One thing that will never change is God and His Word. We can count on Him to be the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) Sometimes the methods of sharing The Word have to change, but the Truth—The Holy Bible—never changes!
God’s opinion of sin does not change. He is a just God, and He will never condone sin. It doesn’t matter how widely accepted sin becomes by people of the earth, God has the final word, and authority. He demands justice, and He follows the standard He gave us. We can try to rationalize or make excuses for why we reject God, and His ways, but one day each of us will stand before Him. We will be accountable for ourselves and only ourselves. Excuses will not work. Why? We all have been given the same standard to live by. It is the Holy Bible.
No matter how much times change, God does not change. We must be aware of the changes taking place around us. We must be alert. Sometimes we have to return home to notice change. We have to look back at our lives, and how we desperately wanted to serve God when we first believed and accepted Him as Savior.
Our home should be the Bible. We must go there to see, and know the standard—the Truth— and then look at the changes that have taken place in our own lives. We may be shocked when we “go home,” and see the changes that have happened while we were away, or lulled into complacency.
We are often tempted to compare ourselves to others. “Well at least I’m not doing what Sis Snobby is doing. I’m not as bad as her.” Sound familiar? God isn’t going to compare you to Sis Snobby. Her life is not the standard. He will compare you to His Word. He will compare you to Jesus, His Perfect Son who died in your place to make atonement for your sins. He will compare you to the real standard—His Holy Word—the Bible. Have you changed, or do you need to make some changes?
This past weekend, I had the honor of wearing my “photographer’s hat” for a dear friend’s wedding in Iowa. The photo above of the groom and his father helping him attach his timepiece seemed so relevant to this blog, I just had to include it. I love photographing weddings. Each one is beautiful in its own way, and I’m always excited to see the new ideas and traditions that come together by the combining of families.
I love that moment when the groom looks upon his bride for the first time in her beautiful white gown. Times and traditions have certainly changed. It used to be taboo for the groom to see the bride on the day of the wedding, until the moment she walked down the aisle. Now, most weddings that I have photographed have what we call “first look” pictures done before the actual wedding. The groom waits in a designated location, and the bride arrives. On my cue, he turns to see her for the first time in her wedding dress, and I start snapping photos to capture the look on their faces. Traditions always change, and this is how its done these days.
If we go way back and look at the Jewish wedding traditions in Biblical times, we can really see some interesting things. Nothing at all like our weddings today, the Jewish wedding included a number of steps over a period of time.
First, the father of the groom made the arrangements for the marriage. At this point the groom would travel from his father’s house to the home of the prospective bride. He would pay the purchase price for the bride, thus establishing the marriage covenant.
Second, the groom would return to his father’s house, remaining separate from his bride for 12 months or longer, during which time he prepared the living accommodations for his wife in his father’s house.
Third, the father would release the groom to go back and get his bride at a time completely unknown to her. Because no one knew when the groom was coming, he would announce his arrival with a shout!
And fourth, the groom would return with his bride to his father’s house where he had prepared a place for her. The marriage would take place, and there would be a celebration with a great wedding feast.
Sound familiar? It really makes Matthew chapter 25 a lot more clear, doesn’t it?
Let’s read Matthew 25:1-13 NIV
25 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
We are all waiting for a grand wedding. Jesus is coming to take His bride—the church—back to His Father’s house to a place He has prepared for us.
John 14:2-3 NIV says:
“My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
We must be prepared. We must be sure that we have oil in our lamps, and are prepared to meet Jesus! We must keep watch because we do not know the day or the hour when He will return. But we do know that God cannot lie. Jesus will come to take us home one day. The groom is coming! Will you be ready?
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Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
I have been blessed with some amazing people who have been incredible encouragers in my life. I wish I could list them all by name, but I’m sure to forget a name, and I would never want to leave one of these precious ones out. Besides, you know who you are!
Life as a minister is not always easy. I’m certainly not complaining, because there is nothing I would rather do or be. There is nothing more thrilling than seeing lost and broken people come to Christ, and find Hope in Jesus. It is beautiful sight, and it is worth every second of discomfort or trial that could ever come my way. Nothing could stop me from talking about how wonderful my Jesus is!
But, at times ministry can be so discouraging I find myself wondering if I’ll even survive. Ministers rarely talk about the trials and burdens they carry, and the huge amount of discouragement that comes along with the assignments, but these things do exist. A big part of our job in ministry is to encourage, and lift up others. We often have a smile on our face when we are dealing with our own worries, frustrations, and feelings of just not measuring up. The enemy knows exactly how to hit us where it hurts the most, and he is relentless if he thinks he can discourage us in the least.
We sometimes deal with depression, and feelings of rejection. We often doubt our abilities, and we feel like our best efforts just don’t make a difference at times. We are human. But, most of the time we feel like we must be super strong for those we lead. Sometimes we pour out our hearts preaching on a Sunday morning, being careful to share exactly what the Holy Spirit has given us and no one responds to the altar call.
We then leave church wondering what we should have said, or what we shouldn’t have said, or what we said wrong. We feel that we were unsuccessful, and we spend the rest of the next few days critiquing and mentally replaying every word we said, looking for where it could have gone wrong.
We lead people to Christ, and are thrilled to see them growing and beginning to find their purpose and calling, and then they backslide and quit church altogether. We wonder if there was something more we could have done to prevent it. We deal with hundreds of issues, and counsel many, many people behind the scenes. And though we pray for God to take care of them, we still worry about their problems and their wellbeing, as well as our own.
Many times we are criticized about what God has called us to do, and how He has led us to do it. We hear about unkind words that others have spoken about us from people who call themselves our friends. Many times they don’t realize that what they are sharing with us is indeed hurting us. Sometimes it’s just better not to know.
It’s not always easy. But, then there are those times when out of the blue, I get an email or message from an encourager! They might tell me that something I said in a sermon really impacted them or was right on time. They might simply tell me that they are lifting me up in prayer, and thinking of me. They might tell me that what I’m doing is indeed making a difference.
I’ve been blessed by individuals who have contacted me to tell me that God has called them to intercede and pray for myself, my family, and my ministry. Just knowing that I have prayer warriors fighting on their knees on my behalf thrills my heart, and gives me strength! I’ve had friends who have shown up for out of town events just to show their support for me when I speak. Just seeing them sitting in the congregation has been an encouragement to me, and has strengthened me more than they could ever know.
I have a few ladies who are older and wiser than I am who have lifted my arms in the heat of battle more times than they could even imagine. I treasure these dear ones, and I know that their reward is going to be amazing in heaven. If God has called you to be an encourager, do NOT take it lightly. Yours is a huge job, and one of tremendous importance. You may feel that your words don’t make a big difference, but I’m telling you they do! We ministers depend on you, your prayers, and your words of encouragement.
In the New Testament Barnabas’ given name was Joses, or Joseph, but the apostles gave him the name Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement!” He left a legacy of being an encourager. Can you imagine having these things said of you?
Acts 11:23-24 says of Barnabas, “When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”
I am so grateful for all of my friends and encouragers. I hope you never feel insignificant or unnoticed. Your prayers, faith, and wonderful words of encouragement help me to remain true to the Lord, and continue to do what He has called me to do, with all my heart! You are so important to the Kingdom of God, and you are so important to me. I pray that God blesses you abundantly for being obedient to His call of being an encourager! I love you.
Donna Sparks is an International Speaker and Evangelist. She is the Author of Beauty From Ashes: My Story of Grace, and, No Limits: Embracing the Miraculous.