In churches throughout the West there is a fear which is beginning to surface with greater frequency. Some ministry leaders are confused by it. Some have not yet been acquainted with it. Some dwell so near the precipice of hope lost that acknowledging this fear might very well be the last cruel wind needed to send them over the edge. It is the fear of increasing insignificance in our work, especially as the world around us is so quickly changing.
Now let me be clear. The significance and relevance of the gospel is not in question. Jesus saves. Powerfully. And that will not change. The insignificance we fear, I believe, is related to our specific ministries; especially those that have existed for any length of time and whose history is marked be great moments of grace and fruitfulness in the work of the gospel. Times are changing… rapidly. Many of us fear that the significance of our ministries (churches, non-profits, bible-study groups, campus outreaches, etc.) will fade and that we will be around to see it.
A sustained significance makes the dream of longevity in ministry possible, both for ourselves and the organizations we lead. No one wants to live long enough to have to bury something that they brought to life. I had to watch my dad do it once — shut down a ministry whose beginning and impact over 30 years was the stuff of Christian legend — and though he did it with the grace that only a man of true character could possess, it was painful to watch. That is the day we fear.
I’ve seen the fear of that day cause men and women to respond in three different ways.
- They go farther. They rage against the fear of insignificance. With their sights set on their goals, they move forward, striving to maintain relevance and significance for the duration of their ministry. Significance is measurable for these folks and they measure it often. The idea that they would ever bury the ministry they now lead is one they cannot accept.
- They go deeper. For this group, significance isn’t measured, it’s affirmed. In other words, the fear doesn’t move them to look to the numbers to determine significance, it causes them to lean into the relationships within the community they lead, buffering the fear through those relationships. They do not rage against the fear of insignificance. They simply refuse to define it in quantifiable terms, finding the affirmation and validation they seek in others.
- They go nowhere. The fear of insignificance is almost paralyzing for this group of ministry leaders. Resisting that paralysis, they will attempt to lead according to the methods of both of the previous two groups. They will try to “go farther” but quickly become discouraged when the numbers are not in their favor. That discouragement will then compel them to “go deeper,” seeking validation in the quality of relationships that they have and abandoning any passionate call to expand and grow. In the end, both efforts fail. The first because they do not naturally possess the rage that drives some to “go further”; the second because for them it is born out of discouragement and not true conviction. I have seen just as many ministry leaders in this third group as in the other two combined.
In reading this you may or may not identify with one group more than the others. To be totally honest, I was “going nowhere”. I was discouraged by the lack of numerical success I was seeing in the early part of my ministry. I decided that I was not going to focus on “going further,” I wanted what my discouragement told me was the path of “true ministry” — going deeper. But even my efforts to go deeper were inneffective in fulfilling the Great Commission, the commission to make and multiply disciples.
That’s when it suddenly dawned on me: we’ve all got it wrong.
All three types will ultimately create the thing that they most fear for one simple reason — it is that very fear that drives them!
Then I looked at Jesus’ ministry in the New Testament and I did not see someone who worked as if he was trying to prove anything to anyone, including himself. He neither raged against his own fear, sought validation in his relationships, nor was he paralyzed by doubt and discouragement.
He was not driven by fear, but by a deep devotion to the glory of the Father and the expansion of the Father’s Kingdom; not fear but a loving, all-consuming devotion. That devotion gave birth to the simplest and undoubtedly most effective strategy for ministry that one could possess. I am convinced that this same strategy will keep us and our organizations on the cutting edge of significance, despite the changing cultural landscape in which we live.
Love God. Be faithful. Don’t fear.
Love God with all your heart, mind and strength. Is it any wonder that the writers of the New Testament drew attention to the hours that Jesus spent in prayer? His love for the Father, nurtured and sustained through prayer, produced a passion for His glory unlike any other.
Be faithful with the moment. His ministry was marked by a keen ability to seize ministry moments whenever and wherever they occurred. I believe Jesus made travel plans and I believe those plans were based on a certain strategy he had for proclaiming the kingdom throughout Israel. But it seemed as if he possessed a great clarity around his mission that enabled him to say “yes” and “no” to opportunities for ministry as they presented themselves. This was an exercise of faithfulness to his mission given by the Father.
Don’t fear troubles that have not yet come upon you and may never at all. When fear is our motivation for ministry, everything we endeavor becomes tainted by it. Jesus ministered in total freedom and our ministry is to be a continuation of his. Fear makes that impossible. Don’t be scared.
In the end, there is no need to fear insignificance in our work. On the contrary, freedom from fear has never been more required of us. Let devotion to the Father Himself drive us. Let us mark our days by faithfulness to His mission for our lives. Let us minister in total freedom.
And let God be glorified in our generation and in those to come up until the day He returns to take us home.
This post originally appeared on www.chrisgreen.nl .