26 June, 2014 Andy Mason
There are a large number of discouragements in ministry. It’s not hard to get a pastor or Christian worker to list the things that are difficult for them at any one –time – no matter how seemingly successful the ministry may look to outsiders. In fact, it’s often much harder to get people in ministry to see the encouragements. It is, therefore, absolutely crucial that we work hard to keep ourselves encouraged in ministry. One could even go so far as to say that 80% of ministry is simply remaining encouraged in Christ. Without this we will fold and give up what we’re doing.
A crucial factor in coping with the disappointments that come our way is realising that our expectations of success may be wrong. These expectations often operate at unconscious levels and yet they exert tremendous power on us. These expectations really do have power to shipwreck our lives and ministries if we get them wrong. I’m thinking here of expectations of:
• the Lord Jesus and what He will do through us
• how much our congregations should grow and develop
• our gifts and spiritual progress
• the people we work with.
We might mention other expectations as well. Consciously, or unconsciously, these hopes and standards set up criteria of success that can crush us if we’re not careful.
Now, I in no way want to suggest that we should have no expectations of success (!), but it’s important for us to identify wrong expectations. It’s good for us, for example, not to be terrorized by church growth/church planting books that assume certain levels of growth and influence. What we so easily forget is the reality of God’s providence and grace behind each one of these stories. In a sense, every book on church growth should be subtitled, “This is how the the Holy Spirit did it where I am”! How easily we forget that the very backbone of Scripture is the sovereign providence of God over every ‘success’ and every ‘failure’. Maybe we should read more of our Bible than Acts 2-4?! Think of Isaiah 6 or Jeremiah 1, where prophets are called to seeming disaster and failure. Think of the suffering pastor in 2 Timothy or the reality of the churches in Revelation 2-3. Most of all, think of Jesus Himself, who had a rather ‘bad’ congregation on earth.
We must keep ourselves encouraged. And one of the key factors in doing that is purging ourselves of wrong standards of success – standards that we often impose upon ourselves.