I don’t mean to pick on Desiring God. There’s another article I’d like to respond to entitled Fighting the Tyranny of Ministry Success written by Ben Stuart.
I largely agree with what Ben wrote here. Read the article for the details. So Ben organizes a ministry event and only one guy shows up. He confesses that he resented that God didn’t bless his ministry and that he didn’t even love the one guy that showed up.
Largely, Ben has in mind the sinful effects of the celebrity church culture. However, the pattern of sin of self-glorification that he addresses is applicable to more than just celebrity envy. And I have to think that this is one thing that I would or have been thought to be guilty of. Indeed, I wonder if I really am guilty of such things.
But here I am presuming to do ministry by writing a blog anonymously. So how much do I really want to be glorified?
On the one hand you can say that ministry is held back by some unconfessed sin. There are biblical examples of this. Whether sin holds your ministry back or not, you need to repent of your sin. So on the other hand, there are plenty of examples of people who ministered most effectively while harboring great sin. Who of us is perfect? What minster out there is not yet still being sanctified? We all minister with some sin in our lives. We all minister with some sin that we don’t know about yet or haven’t been sanctified of. Paul seemed to indicate that even he struggled with sin. The big thing biblically is that we rely on God’s grace rather than our ability to keep from sinning. Also, God can use even the greatest sinners to minister in his name. Even king Saul prophesied.
So in Ben Stuart’s solution, his first suggestion is that we repent. We should indeed repent! However, our effectiveness may not necessarily be tied to our repentance for the reasons I just gave.
Ben’s second point is to love the sheep that you have been given. That’s good. But what if we haven’t been given sheep? What if we are a sheep? To what extent is Ben’s advice here applicable to the idea that in the Body of Christ we each should have a ministry toward one another? I can’t point to anyone who would say that I ministered to them. It’s not because I haven’t tried. I know a man from my church who is an itinerate evangelist. I subscribe to his tweets where he is grateful for the people who respond to the gospel when he preaches it and the churches and individuals who invite him to come and preach. He can be grateful for the people with whom he partners in ministry and the people to whom he ministers. I don’t have anyone I can thank for partnering with me. I don’t have anyone I can thank God for being able to minister to.
Maybe you think that’s a little extreme. Surly I have someone I minister to. However, I’m socially awkward. I’ll write a post on that later. Suffice it to say that people aren’t lining up to minister alongside me or to be ministered to by me.
Ben Stuart has organized an event where only one person showed up. I’ve organized events where no one showed up. I volunteered to take over running a recurring event that was doing well. We had sound teaching and music, focused prayer and fellowship. As soon as I took it over, people stopped coming altogether. Not only can I not love someone who isn’t there, but I can’t follow Ben’s final piece of advice.
Ben said finally to enjoy the peace that comes from knowing that we are doing work that pleases God. Gifts should be exercised according to how they build up the church (1 Cor 14:26). If what we do doesn’t build up the church, we shouldn’t do it (1 Cor 14:28). Try as we might, some of us simply can’t do anything to contribute to building up the church. Some people build up the church with everything they do. So how can we who can’t seem to do anything worthwhile enjoy the peace of knowing that we are doing work that pleases God? Doesn’t that contradict the premise of Ben’s article?
Now Ben Stuart is a godly man, I’m sure. He had a bad experience that taught him a lesson of sorts. Nevertheless, I’m sure he’s successful now. Here he is writing for Desiring God, a great ministry, and serving as the director of a Bible ministry on the campus of a major US university. I know this because the short list of credentials are posted with his article. He has the satisfaction of knowing that he is ministering to the glory of Christ although he once had a difficult moment.
There are plenty of people who don’t seem to have even had a difficult moment who issue similar messages to those of us who are failing in the proverbial pews to be effective ministers of Christ. It’s little comfort to be admonished by someone who has never been there or who has not experienced sustained failure. So I appreciate the moment of ministerial dryness that Ben Stuart has had, but I need to hear what I should think about a life of perpetual failure to accomplish much at all in ministry.