The final session of the October 19th summit was delivered by both Stephen Witmer and David Pinckney, and focused on some of the ways our joy is hindered in ministry. This was not an exhaustive list--we were asked to discuss our own joy-killers in groups after the presentation--but they are common ones to arise in small-place ministry. This will also serve as my final post on the event; normal blogging will resume next week.
In almost every post so far, I've noted something that makes small-place ministry difficult. It's worth noting that I doubt small-place ministry is more difficult than any other kind of ministry, simply that there are difficulties one type of ministry faces that others may not. But when you're in the thick of one kind of ministry, it can become very easy to see the difficulties you face and not the difficulties others face. This is a fairly mild issue, and is common to almost any kind of work; the problem arises when our eye is pulled so often to the benefits of another's ministry that we grow envious.
The big question raised when discussing envy in the session was, "what does my envy say about who or what I actually value?" The very nature of envy is such that it reveals our desire for something other than what God has granted us, and this raises the question: are we seeking after Him and His glory, or are we seeking after something else? Are we more concerned with fame or money or validation than faithfully serving our Lord in whatever capacity He has determined? When we grow envious of the ministry someone else has been called to, we reveal that something about their ministry is so valuable to us that the gifts of God in our own lives don't quite make up for not having it.
So what do we do about it? Fundamentally, they said, envy has pride at its root. We fall into envy because our idea of ourselves says that we deserve what these other people have. So the first step in fighting our envy is to fight our pride.
How often do we fall into this trap? Even if we believe our work must make much of God, we can still think it should also make much of us. Are we willing to actually decrease if that will better glorify God?
But addressing our pride is just the first step. We cannot simply remove the desire to be great and not replace it with something else. That there is joy in serving God and serving others in His name, and we can pursue that joy as something greater than our markers for success or our own ideas on what a perfect ministry would look like. Ultimately, the cure for envy is the joy of the Lord in whatever we do.
Small churches also tend to have very few staff, so a lot of work falls on the shoulders of the people who are serving. It can be easy to get so wrapped up in all the responsibilities of the mission that we fail to take time to rest. Even taking one full day off per week can be difficult, but this is necessary. Our health, and our ability to do the work God has for us, rely on our taking time to rest. We must be good stewards of our time, and that includes not using so much of it up that we burn out and cannot continue.
Taking time to rest also glorifies God in its own way. It was noted that taking time to rest reminds us and others that God doesn't actually need us; He can see to it that the church is tended, even on our days off. It also showcases the fact that we, as Christians, rest in the completed work of Christ. We are not constantly striving and pushing and breaking ourselves to honor Him, but rather we can trust, and rest, and enjoy Him in all that we do.
Ministry is not a field that is designed to bring a lot of glory to the ministers, if it's done right, and small place ministry may be even less likely to do so. These do not tend to be the pastors who draw big crowds and have books to sign or thousands of devoted followers on their podcast and twitter. And, of course, limited resources in small places have led to the rise of the bivocational (or covocational, in some circles) pastor, who works part-time at a day job to pay the bills and ministers the rest of their time. If we let ourselves expect good things to come our way as ministers in small places, we will likely face much disappointment. Envy or disappointment, left unaddressed, can quickly lead to bitterness. How do we prevent that?
They pointed out that Jesus is, ultimately, the One who will both honor us and provide our needs. These are things He promises to do in His word, and when we put weight on our churches to do that beyond their ability (or ours, often in the case of honor) we feed that disappointment and encourage bitterness. Ultimately, what we want from our churches when we go down this road is something that only God can provide, and we need to repent and trust in Him to do what He has promised to do.
What things do we allow to steal our joy? What does it look like to repent, and to trust God?
Church planter and ministry student with a bad habit of questioning authority and writing too much.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation