“More than just keeping busy!”
We are an activist bunch really! There is a lot going on around OM these days. And we trust that most of it is making an eternal difference in the lives of people — both inside and outside our movement.
As we press on with our renewed vision, goals and strategies as a movement, the question arises: How can we save ourselves from falling prey to the ever-present threat of just spinning our wheels in an endless round of mission activities and new initiatives that leave us spiritually barren and also possibly emotionally burnt out?
What would Jesus Himself have to say in response to this issue? After all, He and His first co-workers, the Twelve, lived full and busy lives. How did He and His early disciples do it without losing spiritual touch and becoming emotional wrecks?
One over-riding observation from the four Gospels: Jesus kept Himself and His band of disciples to a careful balance of “going out” and “coming away”. Call it Jesus’ ministry pattern of advance and retreat if you like.
It is also very evident from our Master’s ministry patterns that He directed as much attention to His intimate circle of disciples as He did to the needs and demands of the many. Possibly far more time if we were ever able to calculate the actual number of hours spent in both aspects of ministry in those three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Jesus was primarily about equipping these men for that moment when He send them out in the power of His Spirit to evangelise the nations. He prioritised time spent alone with them. Training them was the fundamental ingredient in the Father’s strategy to bring the nations into His kingdom.
So the Jesus who is the same yesterday, today and forever would want to say to all of us OMers: Being trained, giving yourselves to be trained, making time to grow as persons (in faith and godly character, in values and attitudes) and as ministers of the Good News (in ministry skills) will ensure that you keep “on the growing edge” spiritually and emotionally in all your service for Me.
Consider the following illustrations of how Jesus kept TRAINING and MINISTRY together:
- He modeled His message. Through innumerable situations in everyday life, these early apostles were taught and trained by the life He lived before them. He lived and ministered — they observed and learned.
- He spent priority time instructing them in the truths of God’s kingdom. His teaching was profound. It was also practical, yet more spiritually penetrating and powerful than their minds could take in at the time. It was life-changing. Can we possibly imagine what kind of message these early apostles would have preached and taught if the focus of Jesus’ ministry was all action — the healings and the many other miracles?
- He rebuked and corrected His disciples whenever necessary concerning life and faith issues as well as their inter-relationships. He wasn’t about trying never to hurt their feelings. Rather about building rock-solid character into their lives that would stand the test of time. About seeing them set free from such natural weaknesses as their competitiveness and self-centredness in order to put on true humility and servanthood.
- He prepared them and directed them whenever He sent them out on a ministry assignment. It wasn’t just “get out there and do it”, but rather “this is what you are to do, this is what you can expect to face, and I will be with you”.
- He helped them evaluate their experiences in ministry after a ministry assignment was completed. He wasn’t just “task-oriented” — the next task! Rather their growth as individual believers and as servants was uppermost in His mind. His strongest desire was to help them to learn key lessons through all they had experienced in serving Him.
- He prayed and interceded for them. “Work” in Jesus’ mind and ministry wasn’t just what happened after saying a quick “help us” prayer. Praying in the secret place was every bit as much work in Jesus’ eyes. A kind of intercessory work that was even physically draining! But even Jesus’ prayer life was a part of training His disciples for their future ministries. Once having watched Him at prayer, they asked to also teach them to pray.
- He allowed them to make mistakes and to fail. He knew that they had definite character weaknesses. But He was committed to these character flaws change so that they would be ready to carry out the work of His kingdom.
So what about us, His twentieth century disciples and co-workers? What was on Jesus’ heart then and what He and the early apostles implemented cannot but be the basis for us also to carry out our ministries today.
TRAINING and MINISTRY (whatever nature that ministry might be in our individual mission work) are like inseparable twins in the eyes of our Master. To do one without the other is not only shortsighted but will inevitably result in our running out of spiritual and emotional steam for the long haul. To minister effectively requires that we continually give ourselves to be trained so that the following two key results are achieved: Firstly, our lives and characters grow more and more into Christ’s likeness; and secondly, our ministries and work produces more and more lasting fruit for His glory.
These seven observations concerning Jesus’ training ministry have clear implications for each of us as we examine how we spend our time in mission work and what we would like to achieve in the future. If our desire and longing is to be effective and to bring forth much fruit, then we have no other options but to receive training as we give out in service.
Consider the following points of application from each of the seven observations of Jesus’ life and ministry with His early disciples:
1) Right at the heart of true Christian service is devoting oneself to being a life-time learner from Christ, the Model Teacher, our Example. And also from those around us who follow His example and teachings. To be growing in ministry one needs people around us to guide us through the different mine fields along the way. Godly role models and people who care enough to challenge us beyond our comfort zones. All of us — leaders as well as followers — need such people to whom we give ourselves in order that we might keep growing and remain spiritually alert and alive
2) To be effective requires that we take time to let God’s truth change our thinking and our understanding of our faith. It demands that we give ourselves relentlessly to reflect on God’s truths, thus proving ourselves to be “workmen” approved of God, who know how to handle His Word and message correctly. To take time-off from the endless rush of work and ministry and fellowship and play and any other form of busyness in order that we dig deep and replenish the well-springs of the inner man and lay hold more firmly of biblical convictions as the foundation of all we do in God’s service. To labour on without such reflection and study is to head straight out into the desert of spiritual barrenness and intellectual superficiality.
3) Our effectiveness as God’s servants also requires that we give our leaders permission to rebuke and correct us. To seek it humbly. To receive their rebukes openly rather than personally. To listen to their counsel rather than reacting defensively, even if we may feel as if they spoke in tones that did not communicate love.
4) Sometimes we get caught up in a seemingly endless series of activities and ministries. But underneath we may question the significance of what we are doing or being told to do. And so we should. Serving Christ effectively demands of us careful and prayerful forethought. It requires that together as teams we seek and discover or rediscover God’s blueprint for our work and ministry — rather than just doing whatever comes into our minds.
5) What happens when a ministry task is over is as significant as completing the task. Christ’s pattern of ministry also calls us to take time off to reflect when a ministry task is over. To ask ourselves some hard, penetrating questions — motivated with the longing that our ministry for Christ continue to change and grow. To learn humbly both from the positive and the pleasant — the successes, as well as from the negative or painful — the failures. For leaders and trainers to lovingly and gently ask probing questions (without condemning), and for team members to allow them to make constructive comments on ways to be more effective next time.
6) It is not uncommon that we judge the effectiveness of a work or ministry for God from outward appearances. We think of how much time and effort we put into what we did. How many people came or responded. What people observed and said. Whereas in Christ’s eyes, the behind-the-scenes work of intercession as every bit as important as the out-in-the-open ministries. A primary focus on we DO in front of others rather than in the place of prayer will sadly leave us spiritually impoverished and also with minimal fruit for all our labours.
7) Because we are human, even those who are most “spiritual”, who spend hours in prayer, will make human errors. Growing in Christ and in His service, therefore, requires that we are open and willing to learn vital lessons from our mistakes and failures. Which also means that leaders give their team members the freedom to make mistakes.
If you and I want to build our ministries on strong, unshakable foundations for God’s glory, we will take to heart these key lessons from the example and Christ’s training of His Twelve.
Director, Missionary Training School — Central/Eastern Europe,
June 4, 1997