Our identity is often caught up in what we do. Sometimes it may be our career but other times it’s more subtle. Just think about ministry. When you hear the name Alan Hirsch, you think missional, right? Richard Foster – spiritual disciplines. Think about church. There’s the preachers, the pastoral carers, worship leaders, or the justice team. I’m guessing you’re matching the face to the roles in your context. We identify people by their roles, but people are more than what they do. When it comes to ministry, spiritual health is important.
One of the subjects I studied during my ministry degree focused on spiritual disciplines. The subject sought to help us develop patterns to bring us into God’s presence. A fellow student remarked how easy the subject was during a conversation. My heart dropped. He missed the point. Academically he was right. It wasn’t the most challenging. But this was a subject that could shape how we understood our ministry and more importantly spiritual life.
My friend wanted to be doing ministry. He wanted to serve people and share God’s love with them. This is a great thing, but he viewed studying was a necessary nuisance. He seemed to take his value from the ministry he was doing.
Relationship, not activity, is at the heart of ministry.
Therein lies the problem. People are more than what they do – even in ministry. One thing is true, ministry never ends – there is always something else that could be done. There will never be enough time. You could do more sermon prep, visit one more person. However, when you base ministry on doing things will you will always neglect your relationship with God. Ministry is born out of our relationship with the God we serve.
Author Jeff Goins writes about the brokenness of the world in his book Wrecked. He tells of his growing awareness of the poor and his efforts to meet their needs and share Jesus’ love. He writes the following:
‘If we are not careful, we may end up like Martha, the woman who was so content to do things for Jesus that she forgot why she was doing them in the first place. Yes, friends, compassion can become a distraction. The needs are so abundant that it seems selfish to consider our own spiritual health while seeking to do good in the world. But that is exactly what we must do if we are to be more than do-gooder in the world. If we are going to participate in redemption.’
The story of Mary and Martha serves as a reminder for us to stop and sit at Jesus’ feet. For Mary the dishes will get washed after she spends time with Jesus. It’s not a matter of neglect but priority – a relationship with Jesus is more important than pots and pans.
This is a message for anyone in ministry. Prioritise time with God. Spending time with God doesn’t mean doing nothing. It is the unglamorous activity that empowers us to minister. Ministry flows from relationship. Ministry without relationship is draining and leaves us spiritually dry.
Here’s 3 things I’ve found helpful
1. Practice Gratefulness.
Life can be overwhelming. Ministry too. Let’s be honest, being in ministry has both joys and hardships. My personality tends to focus on what’s wrong. I need to remind myself to be grateful to God for the victories because I easily overlook them.
‘The human heart is sufficiently complex that we can be both deeply grateful for the good we experience daily and simultaneously mourn brokenness.’ – Tish Harrison Warren
2. Stop Often.
Busyness is a hallmark of our society. Ministry is no different – it may be worse. Try to stop often to deepen your relationship with God. Schedule it in the diary if needs be.
‘The Sabbath rest of God is the acknowledgment that God and God’s people in the world are not commodities to be dispatched for endless production.’ – Walter Brueggemann
3. Ask for Perspective.
Ministry often demands decisions. Sometimes we think we’re more important than we are. We can easily believe that without us ministry will fail. We strive so hard. But ministry is about God’s redemption coming into the world through Jesus. It’s too easy to try to take center stage ourselves but this place is for Jesus. We can ask that God would help us to see things clearly – who he is and who we are.
‘Todd reminded me that this mission was not my work: “It’s not your church, Jeff. It’s Jesus’s. The weight doesn’t have to be on your shoulders. Jesus said he would build his church.” – Jeff Vanderstelt
The Final Word
There’s heaps of other resources that can be found on spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines. Here’s some helpful advice from Nathan Foster:
‘I no longer see the disciplines as something unattainable, reserved for the super spiritual or stuffy monkish folk. Practicing the disciplines rather feels like a gentle and graceful attunement to seeking God in the everyday mess and simple things. Sometimes it’s as easy as being thoughtful and intentional in my actions, unafraid to try new things. I look to where God is already at work, and gently yet profoundly I push toward his leading to find the easy yoke and light burden.
I found that when I intentionally set out to practice a discipline, God was ready and willing to provide an opportunity to learn. I didn’t have to search long and far or create huge events. The openings were most always found in the ordinariness of everyday life.’