This summer, my wife and I will celebrate five years of marriage. It's hard to believe that we've been married for five years already -- we're still young enough to consider that a relatively big number.
And in those five years we've been active in ministry. God has been faithful to provide us with truly unlimited opportunities to serve Him and His people, ranging from scrubbing toilets in church buildings to counseling other people to putting on a church service at a high-security prison in Kansas. God is good.
[Putting on satire hat.]
But I've taught myself some amazing things through the years. I've basically become a professional at what I do. I've got the ministry stuff pretty well figured out and it's really not that hard. I should probably write a book about it.
Anyway, here are five awesome things I've taught myself about ministry.
1. I don't have to be filled with the Spirit
The Bible talks about the Holy Spirit a lot and how we're supposed to live under His power. But you know what I've found? I can make lessons, write sermons, pray with people, participate in the congregation, and do all kinds of other stuff without being filled with the Spirit. It's actually easier than you might think.
First, I just ignore any kind of conviction I have about being dependent on God. I mean, I still say it to other people and slide it into prayers when praying in a group, but I just forget about the truth of it. Then, I fall back on things that sound good or have proven to be effective in the past (ie, three-point sermons and order of service templates). I can always rely on those old standbys. Finally, I just pretend like I don't have any real heart issues that might require the Spirit's help. The Holy Spirit just makes me feel bad about selfishness and conceit, so if I neglect dealing with those issues and act like I'm not selfish or conceited, I'll convince myself (and others!) that I'm already perfect, not needing God to lead me.
2. Prayer is optional
All Christians know that prayer is important and the general belief is that prayer changes things, but most of us don't really believe that. After all, when you pray about something, you're letting go of control. And who should be in control at all times? YOU! The only one who knows what's best for my ministry, my family, and my life is me, so I don't bother spending a lot of time praying about it. Praying is basically the easy way out.
Instead, I fill my day with meetings and conversations. I don't waste time talking to God, I just talk to other people. Prayer is something that should come at the end of chatting with others (if there's time). A rule of thumb: Always blog, map out, and brainstorm first. Never waste the best part of a meeting in prayer.
3. The schedule comes first
There are unlimited opportunities to postpone my plans because people want to talk to me or need some kind of assistance; to blow past the normal "stopping point" in my message because there's more to say; to adjust the yearly schedule due to pressing needs that pop up. But my default posture is just to ignore all of that. After all, people aren't the priority, the schedule is the priority (see the next point). I'm on a mission to get things done and, more often than not, others will just get in the way.
Staying focused on the task at hand is the key. Since I'm not filled with the Spirit or in prayer anyway, it's typically pretty easy to ignore what's going on around me. I just have to keep the ministry ball rolling.
4. God's people are just a means to an end
Margaret is nice, but what does she really have to offer at this point in her life? She's essentially just an 80-year old road block and I've got things to do. The only people worthy of my time are the ones who are going to contribute to the mission at hand (the mission I made for myself, of course). Margaret is little more than a number to me at this point. She's a warm body in a seat.
And that's what's really important: the numbers. As long as attendance and giving are rising, I know I'm doing the right thing. If those start to drop, it's a sign that I need to change the game plan. Preaching, teaching, and all activities should be molded around what will get the most people into the building. After all, the more people who come, the more people will give. And the more people give, the closer I am to becoming the Executive Pastor of Strategic Vision (aka, God's COO).
5. It doesn't matter that the community is perishing
It's a sad thing that hell exists and that many people die each day without knowing Christ. Within a ten-mile radius of the church, men and women pass away all the time without being told to trust in Jesus. But, at the end of the day, I can't reach all of them and I'm way too busy to even think about it. So what's the point?
I've got enough going on in my own little world and there's just no room for the community. If they really want to know about God, they'll talk to me at their convenience. After all, isn't God the One in control of all of this? He'll figure it out. To give Him some help, I'll designate some time to hold outreach events on our property. That way I don't have to move and I can still say I tried. It's genius.
[Taking off satire hat.]
I've got a lot of growing to do. I suspect you do, too.
I wrote this because I felt convicted about the depth of sin found in my heart, how so often I don't truly live out what I believe. I'm selfish, prideful, and arrogant. I don't know just how weak I really am. I don't deserve God's grace but He's seen fit to keep me breathing.
It's hard to end a post like this so I'll just say that this will be a list I'll revisit. I want to constantly check up on my heart and make sure that I'm living life in opposition to the five items above. The truth is actually the inverse of each. And that truth needs to saturate my soul. Pray for me, and I'll pray for you.