I once applied for a ministry position at church. I was asked some really practical questions during the interview and gave some answers that I knew weren’t what the interviewers expected.
I communicated clearly, passionately and with integrity in an interview lasting over an hour. I knew I connected with 3 of the 5 member panel. The 4th was unsure but still okay. But the 5th member, the one I knew held the most sway, struggled with the narrative and missional concepts I suggested the church explore.
I walked away from the interview feeling it was strange but unable to put my finger on why.
Then it hit me …
There were no questions about my character or in-depth about my walk with God.
The interviewer was primarily concerned with how I would do the job.
Relationship, not activity, is at the heart of ministry.
Therein lies the problem. We identify people by their roles, but people are more than what they do. When it comes to ministry, spiritual health is important.
One thing is true, ministry never ends – there is always something else that could be done. There will never be enough time. You could do more sermon prep, visit one more person.
However, when you base ministry on doing things you will always neglect your relationship with God. Ministry is born out of our relationship with the God we serve.
Author Jeff Goins writes about the brokenness of the world in his book Wrecked. He tells of his growing awareness of the poor and his efforts to meet their needs and share Jesus’ love. He writes the following:
‘If we are not careful, we may end up like Martha, the woman who was so content to do things for Jesus that she forgot why she was doing them in the first place. Yes, friends, compassion can become a distraction. The needs are so abundant that it seems selfish to consider our own spiritual health while seeking to do good in the world. But that is exactly what we must do if we are to be more than do-gooder in the world. If we are going to participate in redemption.’
The story of Mary and Martha serves as a reminder for us to stop and sit at Jesus’ feet. For Mary, the dishes will get washed after she spends time with Jesus. It’s not a matter of neglect but priority – a relationship with Jesus is more important than pots and pans.
This is a message for anyone in ministry. Prioritize time with God. Spending time with God doesn’t mean doing anything. Spending time with God is the unglamorous activity that empowers us to minister. Ministry flows from relationship. Ministry without relationship is draining and leaves us spiritually dry.
Here are 3 things I’ve found helpful:
1. Practice Gratefulness.
Life can be overwhelming. Ministry too. Let’s be honest, being in ministry has both joys and hardships. My personality tends to focus on what’s wrong. I need to remind myself to be grateful to God for the victories because I easily overlook them.
‘The human heart is sufficiently complex that we can be both deeply grateful for the good we experience daily and simultaneously mourn brokenness.’ – Tish Harrison Warren
2. Stop Often.
Busyness is a hallmark of our society. Ministry is no different – it may be worse. Try to stop often to deepen your relationship with God. Schedule it in the diary if needs be.
‘The Sabbath rest of God is the acknowledgment that God and God’s people in the world are not commodities to be dispatched for endless production.’ – Walter Brueggemann
3. Ask for Perspective.
Ministry often demands decisions. Sometimes we think we’re more important than we are. We can easily believe that without us ministry will fail. We strive so hard.
But ministry is about God’s redemption coming into the world through Jesus. It’s too easy to try to take center stage ourselves but this place is for Jesus. We can ask that God would help us to see things clearly – who he is and who we are.
‘Todd reminded me that this mission was not my work: “It’s not your church, Jeff. It’s Jesus’s. The weight doesn’t have to be on your shoulders. Jesus said he would build his church.” – Jeff Vanderstelt
The Final Word
There are heaps of other resources that can be found on spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines. Here’s some helpful advice from Nathan Foster:
‘I no longer see the disciplines as something unattainable, reserved for the super spiritual or stuffy monkish folk. Practicing the disciplines rather feels like a gentle and graceful attunement to seeking God in the everyday mess and simple things. Sometimes it’s as easy as being thoughtful and intentional in my actions, unafraid to try new things. I look to where God is already at work, and gently yet profoundly I push toward his leading to find the easy yoke and light burden.
I found that when I intentionally set out to practice a discipline, God was ready and willing to provide an opportunity to learn. I didn’t have to search long and far or create huge events. The openings were most always found in the ordinariness of everyday life.’
Go Deeper: What’s important to you − your relationship with God, or your ministry role? What action steps do you have in place to deepen your relationship with him?