The thrill of God’s victories
For those called by the Lord into ministry—whether it’s vocational or volunteer—there are incredible opportunities to see God at work in the lives of His people. What other thrills in life can compare to someone seeing his need for Christ and surrendering himself to his Savior? Or what other thrills in life can compare to witnessing a Christian experience new freedom from a sin that had “so easily entangled” her? Rejoicing with the angels over such spiritual victories is phenomenal!
The possibility for the agony of defeat
To witness these victories of the Lord in people’s lives, of course, means you are deeply involved in their lives. Such involvement has several possible effects in your life:
- It requires you to use limited time and energy, which can crowd out other responsibilities and can exhaust you.
- It exposes you to many of the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. That is something you need to be aware of, because others’ temptations could become your temptations as well. Jude issued this picturesque warning: “Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 22–23). Paul concurred; see Galatians 6:1. In both of these passages, you are instructed to be involved in people’s lives in a meaningful way, and yet you also are instructed to be careful about your involvement.
Either of these effects can make you feel like you’re “going crazy.” Although life in a fallen world will never be easy for Christians, you would do well not to add further unnecessary complications or temptations.
The key is maintaining balance
In this article I want to address how to avoid unnecessary complications or temptations. I encourage you to strike a balance in three key areas.
Maintain a balance between your activity for the Lord and His activity through you
You have to be careful that your expectations for yourself are realistic. As a minister for the Lord, you are responsible for what He has called you to do—to be faithful in sharing His Word, love, grace, mercy, etc. (1 Cor. 4:2; 2 Tim. 4:1–5). Be careful that you do not allow a secular measure of success to creep into your thinking about ministry outcomes. Success in ministry is measured by your faithfulness rather than by particular responses from others.
Ultimately, it is the Lord who moves in people’s hearts to accomplish His purposes for them. It is His power that energizes you as a minister (1 Cor. 15:10; Col. 1:29). It is His power that produces the fruit you witness in their lives (e.g., Acts 13:48; 2 Tim. 2:25; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 2:1–9). Moreover, the time frame by which God works in individuals’ lives is set by His plan for them, and we do not know what that is. God knows what He is doing, and you can rest in that assurance. This is a crucial lesson that God has repeatedly taught His people, such as Joseph (Gen. 45:5–7, 50:20), Elijah (1 Kings 19:1–18), and Habakkuk. Therefore, do not attempt to coerce or manipulate people to conform to your expectations, even if your expectations are informed by the Bible.
Do not attempt to coerce or manipulate people to conform to your expectations, even if your expectations are informed by the Bible.
Maintain a balance between your responsibility and their responsibility before God
In addition, your responsibility to minister God’s Word to others is limited by their receptivity to it. Jesus addressed this in His instructions to His disciples when He sent them off to share His message with unbelieving Jews (Matt. 10:14). Even within the church, responses to erring Christians may occur repeatedly, but not indefinitely. Matthew 18:15–17 lays out three confrontations, as needed, based on a sinner’s willingness to listen.1 If the offender is divisive, however, the confrontations should be even quicker: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them” (Titus 3:10). Such decisive—and sometimes quick—responses to Christians’ ungodly behavior must not be interpreted as impatient or unloving, if they are carried out with the explicit desire to honor the Lord’s Word and to preserve the peace and purity of His church. With that motivation, you can rest assured that you are upholding your responsibility even if the other person is not.
Maintain a balance between ministering to others and being ministered to by others
People who are seen by others as spiritually mature are often assumed to “have it all together” and might not receive many inquiries about their relationship with the Lord. In addition, ministry leaders can have a “desert experience” when it comes to having relationships with people who might be able to sharpen them spiritually. Although this scenario might be necessary at times, it should not be allowed to characterize your life over the long haul.
Being spiritually mature enough to teach, lead, counsel, and evangelize others doesn’t negate the fact that you are still one part of the body of Christ; you are one child in the family of God; you are one participant among many in the covenant community of faith. You are part of the church, in part, to receive the encouragement, instruction, and admonition of other believers (Col. 3:16–17; Heb. 3:12–13). God works through their efforts to effect His will in your life, so that you can be used by Him in others’ lives. Not taking the time to seek and receive ministry from others assumes an invulnerability and autonomy that contradicts God’s design for the church. Without the shaping and sharpening influences of fellow believers, you make yourself vulnerable to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
If you are the most spiritually mature person in a congregation, then seek out someone of the same gender who shows an eagerness to grow. Nurture that desire, and as you see the growth, request a measure of accountability from that person. You need to gauge how much the person can handle so that he or she is not overwhelmed by this responsibility. You might start by requesting accountability in one or two areas of your life (e.g., having regular devotions or limiting the amount of time spent watching TV). Even such limited accountability conversations can serve as reminders that you are always maturing—and only as you mature can you continue to minister without “going crazy.”
- It’s also important to understand that a person’s willingness to listen does not necessarily mean lifestyle changes will occur right away. We should allow a learning curve in working with people, just as the Lord allows for us.