Ups and Downs of Ministry

Remember when you started your ministry? Fresh from Bible college your dreams were high and your goals were worthy. You had notebooks full of ideas. You were a fountain of enthusiasm. You were going to pour your  life into the lives of others and, with God’s help, you were going to make a difference!

You knew your ministry might be small at first, but it would grow a little each year. You would be faithful. God would bless. Slowly your work would build to a peak and then you would retire or perhaps just move on to build another ministry.

After years of ministry, however, you found your work didn’t resemble the steady rise of a mountain as much as it did a roller coaster with continual ups and downs. The novelty wore off and you wondered why you were such a failure. In the dark of night, when you’re trying to sleep Satan whispered, “Why doesn’t God bless your ministry?”  Maybe you even wanted to give up.

It’s possible that who you are and what you are doing is causing your ministry to fail. You may need to change. But so often ups and downs are just part of ministry. We all see the high profile churches that are bursting their seams and we want to know their secrets. Comparison can rob us of our confidence and our joy.  The truth is, around the world we see some mission fields that seem to be wildly productive. Others seem to struggle no matter how faithfully the missionary serves.

Maynard Belt tells of a mission society who, in 1853, discussed closing a station in Ongole, India, because only ten people had been won to Christ in fifteen years. “At that time more than 167 languages were spoken in that area.  This area had been called the “Lone Star” church of India.  Only two men on the mission board pleaded not to abandon the continued support of this work.” But in time the others changed their minds. “The men voted unanimously to continue the ministry and because of this decision God worked and hundreds of people in India became believers.  Thirty years later the Ongole church had grown to 15,000 members.  The Lord had another plan for the “Lone Star” church and marvelously rewarded the efforts of all who had patiently labored in the region.”

Pastor Belt ends his article with these words: Are you discouraged because you may not be experiencing fruit in your God-appointed vineyard? Have you thought about resigning your ministry because nothing seems to be happening? Have you quit casting a vision before your people because no one seems to care?  Have you lost the excitement that you first had when called to your particular ministry? Yes, God does use such circumstances at times to nudge us on to different ministries, but sometimes it is just the devil discouraging us to the point where we just want to give up. Over the years I have learned that with God something is always happening, even if we do not see it. Maybe we need to pray more?  Trust more? Work more? For sure we need to wait more! While living in a “Hurry Up World” we must be careful not to forget that the Lord is patiently working out HIS plan. (2 Peter 3:8-9) The great believers have been unwearied waiters! There is no time wasted in waiting IF you are waiting on the will of God!

May these words encourage and challenge you today as you wait on the Lord.

*Maynard Belt is a retired pastor who writes articles of encouragement to people in ministry at: www.BarnabasFile.com

 

Keeping Joy in Your Ministry By Getting Others to Help

runningIn your ministry do you feel pressured into doing things you don’t want to do? Do you ever feel inadequate for the job? You need help, but the guilt trips you are offering at church aren’t producing eager workers. How can you get a little help around here? Here are some things to think about.

Can I get more people involved?

This sounds like an easy answer until you realize that, at the beginning, using more people will just make it more complicated. It’s easier to just do it yourself, your way, instead of having to explain yourself to others and having to give in to ideas you know are not as good as your own.

Training others takes time. Working with others takes patience and requires giving up on some of your best ideas. The initial training time, however, will pay off later when you have multiplied your workers. We all need to learn to give and take, and though it can be easier to do it ourselves, the Lord may want us to learn to work with others.

Am I sure God wants this done?

We’ve had some good years doing Discovery Club in our church in New Zealand. But some years we just didn’t have the workers to carry out the program, so we didn’t do it. At the time of this writing, we’ve had to revamp the whole program to include kids and teens. While the situation is not ideal, God is blessing it.

If you have the same few workers doing everything at your church, and they are struggling to keep up, maybe you need to take something out of your schedule. Don’t wait until your workers are so discouraged that they start sizing up churches which expect less.

Guilt is not a good motivator.

If people serve mainly out of guilt, they will resent it. Serving with resentment is dangerous. If you really need someone to do a task she struggles with, how can you help her? If a Sunday School teacher struggles to find time to prepare, maybe you can find someone to make visuals or cut out flannel graph figures. If a teacher feels inadequate, maybe you can meet with her each week and talk over the lesson.

Give them a break if you can.

Some teachers struggle to teach every Sunday, year after year, but would teach happily if they simply got regular breaks. You could rotate teachers if you have enough. In our New Zealand work we finally took breaks from Sunday School for about two months in the summer. During each two-week term break we didn’t have Sunday School either. This went against everything Art and I knew and believed in. You have to have Sunday School every week! But in time we learned we didn’t have to. Our teachers needed the break to serve happily.

Listen to their problems.

Is there a way you could change the things that really bother your workers? Church work today is made up of a multitude of details. There is the obvious way of doing things, the way you’ve always done them, the way that makes sense to you. But sometimes a worker could be quite happy in a job if you could just change a few little details. Can you change them? It’s worth considering.

Evaluate and don’t be afraid to change.

New Zealanders are often not comfortable evaluating things. I am told that Aussies are the same. It can be tricky to find out what people really think about church programs. But in some way we need to be able to figure out what is working and what isn’t and make changes.

In our church, our kids’ and youth program seems to need continual fine tuning. We tried the AWANA approach to memorizing verses—learning them on their own. That never worked. In Discovery Club we taught the verse each week. That worked a lot better. This year we have different challenges and are rethinking the process again. Just because something worked well in your church one year doesn’t mean it’s the best approach every year.

Train your workers and give them confidence and encouragement.

We often expect people to know how to do things without teaching them. Discovery Club became a good training ground for us. Helpers learned to teach and lead by becoming part of our program. We worked through problems together and modelled different ways of teaching and leading.

Don’t forget to thank your teachers and workers. Sometimes the ones who work most faithfully get little thanks. Each year my husband and I use Christmas cards to express thanks for the specific jobs our church people do.

Make it fun.

Enthusiasm is infectious. We work so hard to make our programs and activities work, that we can forget to make them fun. We especially need to put fun into our ministry so that our workers enjoy the work, not resent it. This may mean not pushing so hard. We need to take time to see our workers as friends. And we need to save some extra energy to make it fun.

 

[Image courtesy of yanlefv/Deposit Photos.]

 

 

Is God Smiling on my Ministry?

beautiful girl enjoying the summer sunI don’t mind pouring my life out for God as long as I know he is truly pleased. But how tragic it would be to spend my whole life, working hard for God, and find out I somehow missed the entire target!

Some people evaluate their ministry by results. If lots of people get saved and the church chairs are full, God must be pleased.  If hardly anyone gets saved and numbers are down, God must not be pleased.  Study Jonah, Noah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah and you’ll soon realize results are not always indicative of God’s approval. So how do you know if your work is good enough for God? How do you know if you are basically pleasing Him?

Warren Wiersbe says, “There is a difference between fruit and results. You can get results by following formulas, etc, but fruit comes from life. Results are counted and soon become silent statistics, but living fruit remains and continues to multiply to the glory of God.”

My husband and I have worked on two different fields for 35 years. We have been through years in which we have seen little visible fruit.  This question, “Am I pleasing God?” is crucial. If I’m not, I might as well go back to America and life a more comfortable life. If I am pleasing God, I will continue to serve in this place as long as He keeps me here. But how do I know?

Steve Saint must have had similar questions when he took his entire family to live, for one year, with a primitive tribe. His teenage daughter died shortly after leaving the tribe. As he reflected on her life he said, “Whenever I got terribly discouraged, she was the one who reminded me that we had not come for results. We had come for love and to be obedient to what we were convinced God wanted us to do. “

At one point, when our work seemed to be failing, I was desperate to know if God was smiling. We felt God had called us to our work there in Taiwan. We had worked hard, doing what we felt he wanted us to do. Our hearts are deceitful by nature and we can never completely know them, but we felt we were doing our best out of love for the Lord. God wasn’t showing us any major thing we were doing wrong, but, as far as we could see, the work was not moving forward.

I asked God to speak to me and show me if he was happy with my ministry. I searched Scripture for answers. This is what I came up with:

  • God understands. He knows what we’re like.
  • He’s not impossible to please.
  • If we are searching for what he wants us to do, he will let us know.
  • If we ask Him to show us ways that aren’t pleasing to Him, He will. (Hebrews 4:14-16, Isaiah 40:27-31, Psalm 103:11-14, Psalm 139)
  • Therefore, if I am serving Him the best I know how, depending on Him, following His guidance, and He doesn’t show me otherwise, He must be pleased!

God sees and rewards. Our labor is not in vain. God won’t forget our work when we serve Him out of sincere love. (1 Corinthians 15:58, Hebrews 6:10) God sees my imperfect efforts. He sees my heart. As an earthly father is pleased with his child’s best effort in drawing him a picture, however imperfect it may be, so our Heavenly Father is pleased by our best efforts to show our love for Him.

Have you been through times in your ministry when you struggled to see God’s smile? What verses helped you?

[image courtesy of EBreHNN ATamaheHko/deposit photos}

Patience in Ministry

Maynard Belt, Guest Blogger“Lord, give me Your patience, for mine is wearing out!”


Not a bad prayer.  F. B.  Meyer in his book, “Five Musts of the Christian Life,” tells of a meeting of ministers in the home of William Wilberforce where one of the pastors, well advanced in age, confessed that he was somewhat “short‑fused.”  Once, while teaching a Sunday School class in which the students were quite boisterous, his patience was stretched to the breaking point.  Just when he was about to lose it he said that he felt inclined to pray, “Lord, give me Your patience, for mine is wearing out!

 “One moment of patience may ward off great disaster; one moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.”  

Oh, how true that statement is. There are some outside of ministry today because “patience” was not their virtue.  Patient waiting on the Lord is just about one of the most difficult things that we have to do in ministry. It seems as though we are always waiting upon something.  I was encouraged once to hear that patience is simply accepting a difficult situation without giving God a deadline.  Whoever said that first, had me pegged perfectly.  For you see, I often have a tendency to set deadlines in which God must work out the circumstances in my life,  even though I know that His ways are not my ways…and His ways are always right!
I am still trying to learn that no time is wasted in waiting if I am waiting on the will of God!  Oswald Chambers once said: “Songbirds are taught to sing in the dark, and we are put into the shadows of God’s hand until we learn to hear Him.  ‘What I tell you in darkness’ ‑‑ Matthew 10:27.  Watch where God puts you into darkness and when you are there keep your mouth shut!  Darkness is the time to listen.”

Do you remember Moses’ impatient spirit in Numbers 14:27: “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation which complains against me?”  If, for some reason, right now, your patience is wearing out, just remember that the great believers have been the unwearied waiters!  A few years ago, during a very intense time in my life and ministry, the Lord impressed upon me a little acrostic that I have continued to keep handy  during the “waiting” times.  If these four simple biblical mandates might help you during your “season of waiting” then I would be most gratified.

W ‑ illingly…..“Thy will be done…”  Matt. 6:10

 A ‑ ttentively….“Cause me to hear Thy loving kindness”   Psalm 143:8

 I  ‑ ntimately….“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you”  James 4:8

 T ‑ hankfully….“In everything give thanks: for this the will of God in Christ
Jesus concerning you.”  I Thess. 5:18

“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” Galatians 6:9

 This blog comes from guest blogger Maynard Belt. He has served as a pastor, Director of the Michigan Association of Regular Baptist Churches and presently serves as a Representative with the Church Relations Dept. of Baptist Mid-Missions and president of Fellowship of Missions and continues his conference ministry both stateside and on mission fields.

You can find Pastor Belt here and sign up for his mailing list if you wish:  

www.BarnabasFile.comwww.fellowshipofmissions.org

Two Sides (at least) To Everything

two_sidesWe’ve crept around the year’s corner to 2013 and begin the year all over again. If I make it halfway through the year I will clock in thirty-five years in ministry. The view from 2013 doesn’t exactly match my expectations thirty-five years ago. I’ve learned to appreciate quiet miracles instead of just dramatic ones. I’ve sensed God is working even when I can’t see evidence of it. I’ve noticed that you learn more through failure and things that don’t work than successes and things that do work.

I’m still learning and growing and struggling through many issues, but the ups and downs of ministry on three continents (two islands) have taught me one lesson about life that rings true wherever I go. This lesson won’t give you all the answers, but if you understand this concept it is guaranteed to help your ministry and your personal relationships wherever you are.

Any situation can be seen from more than one perspective.

Sam and Suzy have been best friends with Max and Maxine for many years. Then Sam buys a new water blaster. Max borrows it. Sam waits impatiently for over a month for Max to return it. Finally he asks for it back. Max hasn’t finished using it, but since Sam is being grumpy about it, he returns it. Sam frets over the grungy condition of his nearly new water blaster, then discovers the adjustment knob no longer works. Sam criticizes Max for not taking good care of his equipment. Max accuses Sam of being a nit-picking control freak.

Then the wives get into the mix. Suzy excludes Max and Maxine from her next barbeque. Maxine complains to Sam and Suzy’s friends about their yapping poodle. The relationship goes downhill from there.

When the friendship dies, each person goes away with clear memories about what happened. All four are truthful people with good memory for detail. But all four go away with a different idea about what actually happened. Why?

Facts are facts, right? Max borrowed the water blaster and it wasn’t in as good a condition when he returned it. Those are facts. But Sam remembers all the other things Max has borrowed and some that he has forgotten to return. Sam likes to keep all his tools in mint condition. Max, on the other hand, spent many hours helping Sam paint his garage last summer. Max cares more about relationships than things. He feels Sam is materialistic and values his tools above their friendship. Besides, if Sam bought better quality tools, maybe they wouldn’t break so easily. Sam resents having to ask for his water blaster when Max should have returned it. Max resents Sam’s angry tone when, if Sam wanted it back, he simply had to ask for it. You can just imagine what the women feel about the whole situation.

Each person believes he understands the situation, that he remembers accurately what happened. But the bare facts are only a part of what happened. Proverbs reminds us that there is usually more than one side to a story:

“The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him. . . He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.” (Prov. 18:17, 13)

What did each person say? What did he mean by what he said? What did the other person think he meant by what he said? Before long each person will have processed his or her memories, replaying certain parts over and over again, forgetting other parts. Each person will put his own interpretation on the facts. Each memory will evolve. Likely the friendship will die because, even though all four think they remember and understand what happened, none of them remembers the exact same thing as anyone else.

Maybe someone has hurt you in a nasty incident. You replay the scene over and over in the video player of your mind. You try to make sense of what happened. You interpret what they said and how they said it and you come to conclusions—which may be wrong. We often bring the baggage of the past into current relationships, interpreting present events by other, unrelated events. Differences in personality, background, gender, and culture color our interpretation.

One of the most helpful things you can do in any relationship is to try to see events from the perspective of the other side. Could the other person have meant something different than you thought? Could your intentions have been misconstrued? Maybe the person expressed his complaint in anger and exaggerated his point, but is there a kernel of truth in what he said? Can you learn from what she said? Ask God to help you understand the other person’s viewpoint. What could you have done differently that might have been received in a better way?

I first learned this lesson in a very personal way. I worked on a mission field with five other missionaries. We bought some property together. When we first decided to buy the property we all wrote out the reasons for buying it and what we thought it should be used for. Five years later we did the same. It was amazing to see the variety of slants we had on these issues. But the most remarkable part of the whole process to me was this: In five years I had changed dramatically in what I thought about the whole process, but was totally unaware of the change!

After that I began to see that whenever a number of people view something, they view it slightly differently. Have you ever heard the minutes read from a meeting you attended and realized the secretary had come away with a different view of what happened than you did? I have. In counseling you may hear the wife’s side of a story and think the husband is a jerk. Then you catch a glimpse of the husband’s side and see that he has a valid perspective the wife needs to listen to. In fact I find that one of my main roles in counseling is to help the person see the situation from another perspective.

This is not a new concept. You find it in the saying, “Never criticize a man before you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” You can see this concept fleshed out in my fiction book Two Sides to Everything. I’ve taken the fictional excerpt above about Sam, Suzy, Max and Maxine from a Bible study book I hope to publish later in 2013.

We know it’s true.

Yet when I see something happen, I come away thinking the other person’s viewpoint is skewed while mine is spot on. Why can’t other people see things as accurately as I do? If they only had my wisdom people wouldn’t be so hard to work with.

In 2013 let us resolve to consider the viewpoint of others when we size up a situation.

Then we’ll be one step closer to responding in the way Christ would.