The reality of ministry

Around three years ago, my friend – Mike Tindall – delivered an address at my pastoral induction. Ever the encourager, here was what he had for me:

He said a bunch of other things that you can listen to here. But this little clip is the highlight to which I regularly return.* I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be unique to me. The truth is, he was right. I regularly don’t know what I’m doing and it typically takes things going wrong before I know about it.

All too often pastoral ministry is described in terms akin to Alan Patridge’s take on Kipling’s If:

That is not the reality. If you do X, Y and Z, Bob is not necessarily your uncle. The scriptural criteria for organising the church is not a guarantee of church growth. Jared Wilson puts it this way in The Pastor’s Justification:

I was once in a place where many enjoyed the success of gospel-centred ministry, but I did not. The problem was not with the word. But in my particular ministry, the preached word was regarded like the arrival of a UFO, only much less interesting.

In my current ministry context, church attendance has increased steadily. People are finding freedom in Christ. Our giving frequently outpaces our budgeted need each month. People are excited, sparkling about the eyes and bringing their lost friends. We’re baptising adults and enjoying the gurgles of babies in the service.

And I am not doing a thing differently than I did in the lean days. I’m in a different place, sure, and I minister to different people, but my preaching, counselling, my leadership, and everything else is the same ol’, same ol’. I am the same guy stubbornly doing the exact same thing. I am insanely repeating the “methods” and expecting different results. And it appears to be working. This proves it has nothing to do with me (which is quite liberating, actually).

There is an “in season” and an “out of season”.

He goes on to state, ‘we are not charged with creating fruitfulness but preaching the Word’.

We are all familiar with the faithful ministry of Jeremiah. Unfortunately, his ministry coincided with a definite ‘out of season’ period of about 40 years. Not one single person listened to him. Like him, Isaiah responded to the call of God with a definitive, ‘here am I! Send me’. His bubble was immediately burst with this charge:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.”

In other words, go and speak to a people who will not listen. It wasn’t the fault of the Word and nor was it contextually inappropriate methodology on the part of the prophet. Isaiah’s ministry simply coincided with an ‘out of season’ period.

The point of all this is to say that we frequently don’t know what we are doing. Fortunately, the Lord knows exactly what he is doing. In the last three years of my ministry, we have baptised around 10 people and are just about to baptise a further four. The vast majority of these have been Persians who have simply wandered into the church. Neither I, nor my predecessor who experienced something similar, had a clue what we were doing. We reacted to the situation as best we were able, no doubt sub-optimally much of the time. But the call to faithfully preach the Word remained constant and, without a doubt in the eyes of any who care to look, the Lord gave the increase. We just happen to be ministering in a time and place where, for Iranian people in Oldham, this is an ‘in season’. We simply praise God for it.

*disclaimer: taken hugely out of context

2 comments

  1. ‘we are not charged with creating fruitfulness but preaching the Word’.?..I beg to differ,in preaching the word of God by the power of the HolySpirit,it leads to fruitfulness in ministry,and its evident for all to see,this is seen as your approval of your call to ministry..”for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord”(1 cor 9:1). ,because Christ the Lord over the house will come to check from time to time to see if the tree(ministry) is bearing fruits
    Life in Christ and fruitfulness are inextricably bound together. The Book of Acts offers powerful testimony to how the practices of faith and the fruits of faith are connected

    Jesus spoke about fruitfulness many times. There are stories and sayings about fruitfulness in all four gospels. It was that important.

    In Matthew, Jesus describes a disciple’s life in terms of fruitfulness. He says, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:17–20)
    Mark tells the story of Jesus being hungry and seeing a fig tree in full leaf. He comes up to it expecting to find something for breakfast. Instead, there is nothing but leaves. He says to the tree, “No one is going to eat fruit from you again — ever.” (Mark 11:12–14, The Message) That’s a pretty high price to pay for a lack of fruitfulness.
    Luke tells us the parable of the farmer who went out to plant some seed. Some seed fell on rock. They dried out. Some fell among the thorns. They were choked out. However, some fell on good soil. When they grew, they produced an abundant harvest. Jesus said, “Let those who have ears to hear listen.” (Luke 8:4–8)
    In John’s gospel, Jesus describes the relationship between life in God and fruitfulness. He puts it this way, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4–5)

    Another way ones call to ministry by the lord is to distinguish you from others..How?..evidence of fruitfulness..Num 17;1-8..” The next day Moses entered the tent and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the tribe of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds”

    .The apostles and earliest disciples of Jesus bore much kingdom fruit. They were able to do so because God, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, was in them, and they were responsive and obedient to the Spirit’s leading
    Fruitfulness is evidence that the branches are connected to the vine. Fruitfulness is evidence!!
    Depend on leading of Christ through his Holy Spirit and you shall surely see true increase(Fruitfulness)..”like peter nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”Luke 5:5.

    Be encouraged,God will bring the increase!

    Like

    1. Certainly if there is an increase to come, God will be the one to bring it. But, unless you think Jeremiah and Isaiah were somehow unfaithful, I think you expect fruit that the Bible doesn’t promise to give. We must accept the whole counsel of God.

      As far as numbers go, or even qualitiative spiritual response, both these men were unfruitful in their endeavours. Nobody listened. But they were faithful and did specifically what the Lord commanded them to do and brought the word he commanded them to bring. Even Jesus’ own ministry saw periods of apparent fruitlessness. By the point of his crucifixion, he had been abandoned by all of his followers. Was Jesus unfaithful?

      What this tells me is there is no direct correlation between faithfulness and fruitfulness.

      Like

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