Usually I write about what I know. I write to bear witness of a lesson learned. I write to testify about an answered prayer. This blog post, however, is a work in progress. Centered around something I don’t always get right: the measurement of effective ministry.
Growing up in a charismatic church conditioned me to respond to God in a certain way. This way of praise and worship is not inherently bad, but if not put into cultural perspective, it can be portrayed as the only way to respond to God. For the past 2 years, since moving to Chicago, I’ve become a member of a non-denominational, multi-cultural church. Subsequently, I can no longer rely on my instincts to measure ministerial success. No longer can I rely on my “amen corner” to encourage me mid-way through my solo. No longer can I count on the first four rows to jump up as soon as I sing the first phrase of Richard Smallwood’s “I love the Lord.”
Sometimes I’m totally confused about my contribution to a service. Sometimes I wonder if I sang the right song or if I quoted the right scripture. But now I realize I’ve had it wrong all along. Effective ministry cannot be measured by the response of the crowd – that’s only a measure of the celebratory culture of the congregation. Effective ministry cannot be measured by how many compliments I receive after service – that’s only a measure of the approval of people. Effective ministry must be based on more than that.
Herein lies my latest pursuit. By studying the ministry of Paul, I’ve decided to consider alternative ways to measure ministerial success. These are the 3 ways I’ve gathered so far:
1. Effective ministry is measured by preparation. (Galatians 1:15-18)
I got a call one Saturday night from the minister of music at my church. She asked if I could sing the following day. Tears filled my eyes, because I wanted to do it, but I couldn’t. For days my mind had been bogged down, because I knew my boyfriend and I had not been honoring God in the way we should. We took God’s grace for granted and pushed the envelope as far as we could until we were right at the line of fornication. We’d tread the line and then jump back on the side of chastity, only to find ourselves right back where we started. In this space of sin and regret, ministry is not effective. Of course, God can use anything or anybody, but to be an effective minister of the Gospel, I had to make a decision to stay in the ready position. This means at any given moment I wanted to be able to minister, without the feeling of guilt and hypocrisy overtaking me. I promised the Lord after that dreadful Saturday night call, I would get ready, and stay ready.
After Paul’s conversion, he spent 3 years seeking the face of God. He, along with the other disciples, didn’t take days off. They were ready at all times to minister with conviction and with knowledge. The effectiveness of their ministry was in direct proportion to their preparation. How can I minister through song or through the Word without first studying the Word and spending time with the One I’m ministering about? How can I know what to say, if I haven’t been given a directive? How can I be successful in convincing others to submit to God, if I haven’t?
2. Effective ministry is measured by discernment. (Acts 22:1-2)
I have to admit, I’m a hand clapping, foot stomping, hollering (what my husband likes to call “loud Jesus”) saint. When someone says something that’s revelatory to me, they and everyone around me knows because I often let out a huge “YESsssss!” However, I have learned there are many ways to respond to God. Some people sit introspectively, some cry, others wail, so to measure effective ministry by the uproar of a congregation is not only immature, but futile.
Paul spoke Greek to the Romans and Aramaic to the Jews. He knew speaking the language of the people would make him more relatable and consequently more credible. This is not to say be inauthentic or disingenuous, but it is to say I have to know who I’m talking to! The gift of discernment is what I pray increases in me daily, because it’s discernment that sensitizes my spirit to the culture and needs of each congregation. It’s discernment that informs my ministerial approach and broadens my expectations. Discernment is key.
3. Effective ministry is an act of God. (I Corinthians 3:7)
I remember the first time I read Heather Lindsey’s blog about her decision to not kiss another man until her wedding day. I initially thought “yea, that’s a bit too far.” But with every passing day my heart started to consider making the same decision. Every scripture I read supported it. Every sermon I heard pushed me further into accepting the challenge. Even the songs I sang nagged me. 6 months after reading Heather’s blog I sat my friends down and told them to hold me accountable. I later wrote, I Kissed Kissing Goodbye. Now the world wide web held me accountable. There was no turning back!
Paul tells us ‘neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.’ In other words, it’s not the one that plants the seed, or the one that waters the seed that takes responsibility for the harvest. The sun has to shine. The soil has to be healthy. Rain has to fall, but not too much. Weeds and pests have to be managed. Who controls all of that? Seeds of faith are planted all the time by pastors, ministers, artists, poets, bloggers, children, social media evangelists and anyone else God decides to use. Then these same ministers water the seed someone else planted and God gives the increase. For that reason God is solely responsible for our salvation and sanctification. God, alone, makes ministry effective.
It’s easy to simplify effective ministry to focusing on an audience of One, but when standing in front of people, on a platform, with a microphone, under a spotlight, we are charged to communicate well. We are positioned to convey a message that can change the trajectory of someone’s life. Our focus cannot be on the reaction of the crowd, nor the compliments that follow, but on the Great Commission, which is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. When this gospel is spread, without compromise, effective ministry is inevitable.