I’ve been reading the book, “Growing True Disciples“, by George Barna, which was lent to me by someone at church. I felt that the book was good, overall, but it failed to address some of the pertinent sources of difficulty and (potential) causes of frustration that I know are faced by various ministries I’ve been involved with. This article is written as an addendum to Barna’s book, which is intended to help ministry groups think through their strategies from a bottom-up approach, as well as the top-down approach covered by Barna.
Many things can become detrimental to ministry, and it’s important to be conscious of these potential hazards so that they can be controlled and/or eliminated. I like to think of these things as “Roadblocks” presented by people with an unredeemed mindset. These Roadblocks include,
- Spiritual Roadblocks
- Organizational Roadblocks
- The Roadblock of Pride
- The Roadblock of a Sharp, Insincere Attitude
- Psychological Roadblocks
- Doctrinal Roadblocks
- Technological Roadblocks
- The Roadblock of the World
- The Challenge to Maturity in Christian Ministry
Each of these will be briefly discussed here.
Spiritual Roadblocks to an Effective Ministry
Pastors, missionaries, evangelists and certain “lay-ministers” have an extremely difficult job, which is full of daily temptations and persecutions in the spiritual realm, but the difficulty arises primarily because these men are ministering to everyone in their care, but very few people are ministering to them!
Pastors, missionaries and evangelists also need a church for feeding themselves, so that they can remain strong enough to give to others as well. These men feed other people with the Word, but they also need to be fed themselves. I always encourage people to pray for their pastors, teachers and government leaders for this reason.
In addition to the personal spiritual needs of those who minister, there is also a greater amount of temptation for these people. Why is this? It’s because Satan intentionally targets pastors, ministers and other men of God with a concerted effort, for the same reason that military snipers target the Captains and Colonels of the enemy.
If that was not bad enough, these servants of God must also endure higher risks, and take greater losses in the event of failure. How many ministers can you think of who got caught pilfering money out of the Church budget, or were found cheating on their wives? It appears “sort of” common, doesn’t it? That seems especially ironic, since they’re supposed to be “born again” and “sanctified” and such. But a lot of people have grown used to hearing about debauchery among church leaders. These things naturally become Satan’s justification for all his accusations.
No one will ever say so, but rest assured, Satan worked overtime to pull those stunts, because he knew the hearts of the masses would be hardened by the news. Perhaps, it took years of careful calculation and matriculation on Satan’s behalf to work those men into a situation or a condition where they would succumb to a very common temptation.
We shouldn’t put all the blame on Satan though. We all know that no one is perfect, but every imperfection gets magnified when your purity and righteousness are under public scrutiny.
Think about it. If you are a salesman or an insurance adjustor and you make a bad decision that costs your employer a lot of money, you can just quit your job before anyone knows about your error, and start working for a competing agency. But if you are a minister who gets caught with your hand in the proverbial cookie jar, you’ll never stand in the pulpit again! Such is the world we live in.
James 3:1 warns us about this situation.
“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”
Personally, I think the phrase “stricter judgment” is an understatement. I hope this doesn’t discourage anyone, but if you should choose to do any kind of ministry work, you might as well hang a bulls-eye target on a string around your neck. Even those who receive the benefits of your ministry will distort your character and criticize all your shortcomings.
Organizational Roadblocks to Effective Ministry
Barna mentions that Churches do not have an organized curriculum for educating and nurturing their sheep until they can attain enough maturity to care for themselves and others. I believe this DISORGANIZATION is a key point about why the church is so ineffective towards fostering the spiritual growth of its members, and thus, why so many Christians languish in their immaturity until mid-life.
On the other hand, a lot of churches that do have a well-organized structure have become so formal, that the curriculum has degenerated into a series of “hoop-jumping”, which is based heavily on Bible knowledge, and very little ministry is given to those who cannot jump through properly. The reward for successful hoop-jumpers is a plaque or a certificate of achievement, which I feel, is a smack-in-the-face cheap substitute for real spiritual achievement.
Other well-organized churches are strangled with bureaucracy, such that nothing is ever accomplished, even within the church itself. I don’t know why, but churches like this remind me of Jabba the Hutt – massive, slow, all-knowing, maladaptable, and having mysterious motivations.
But if bad organization is not bad enough, these kinds of church management systems are propagated by two kinds of people: (1) Complacent, disinterested members, and (2) renegade ministers who don’t want to become part of an organized team of stewards.
A lot of these ATTITUDES are rooted in selfish PRIDE.
The Roadblock of Pride to Effective Ministry
Many people have a root of pride that prevents a lot of potential ministers from ever producing fruit in their endeavors towards their fellow man.
Pride, in the carnal sense, basically says, “I don’t need you! I’m better than you are! I can protect myself and maintain my own interests, regardless of whoever you may be. I have no responsibilities to help you or to see to your spiritual needs. You should get serious about your relationship with God and what you are doing in life, and pull yourself together. Don’t look to me to dig you out of the mess you’ve created! I agree that I have my own problems, but it’s none of your concern.”
Pride, basically requires others to make some efforts towards making themselves “worthy” of receiving the benefits of ministry. But we must remember that our own WORKS will not benefit our spiritual lives or bring us one iota closer to maturity.
If we have such an attitude, no matter how justified it may be, it will always become a spiritual roadblock to effective ministry. We must be aware of our own brokenness, and the brokenness of the world that we live in, so that we begin to foster a sense of mutual good will towards our fellow man. We must become intimately aware of how we each contribute a small, but valuable service in the Body of Christ, and have the humility to see how we need the service of others, just as much as we need to contribute our own service to others.
“United we stand, divided we fall.”
Proverbs 13:10 – “Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.”
1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Moreover, pride will always cause quarrels and instigate divisions in fellowship, so we must constantly be on guard against the attitude of pride creeping into our minds and causing our ministry to disintegrate.
So what is the right attitude that we should have in ministry? Keep reading…
A Sharp, Insincere Attitude can become a Roadblock to an Effective Ministry
Please read, “The Attitude of Christ in Ministry” for a detailed description of the correct attitude we should have in ministry. The comments mentioned here are placed in contrast to the attitude of Christ.
In my concept of evangelism, following the example of Jesus, you need to find people who truly need help and guidance, go to where those people are, and then actively lead them towards God. You can’t just preach and teach, with the hope that someone might take time out of their busy schedule, really listen to you, and open his heart and change his mind.
Let me offer a couple examples of people who willingly minister, but whose ministry is hampered because of their attitude.
I have met several “free-lance missionaries” who have spent most of their lives helping others and sharing the gospel. I’ve also noticed that these same missionaries are very independent people. They have a very strong stand on their own beliefs but they cannot relate to others very well. I mean, they cannot put themselves into other peoples’ shoes, and as a result, they can’t actually minister that much, to very many people. They have a careless, “take it or leave it” kind of attitude about sharing the gospel.
No doubt, they are planting some seeds, and certainly, God uses their willing heart towards reaching some people, but once those seeds are planted, those new sheep need to be shepherded by a fellowship of more mature believers, i.e. a church. Otherwise, they will be swept away by the world’s onslaught, before their faith can take root, due to the neglect of Christian fellowship and ministry. It is like a spiritual abortion.
Another sort of person is not content with the viewpoints of others, and frequently objects with a “better and more spiritual viewpoint”. They might say things like,
“The best quality time with the Lord is when one meditates and spends an undisturbed quiet time with God alone. We must depend on God alone and focus one’s faith on HIM alone. Do not depend on other people nor on any Church to “shake up” your spiritual life. Remember that we are all sinners! Everyone has their own weaknesses and ONLY God can accept us just as we are!”
I find it strangely amusing, that people like this are spiritually mature enough to be totally content with the sufficiency of God, but still not able to recognize the fact that not everyone is so mature and spiritually stable as they are. I have found that their attitude encourages Christians to be isolated from one another. I fear that many of these people must have had a very isolated life as a Christian, where they cannot trust anyone. These people might be faithful church-goers, but they are not people who would involve themselves in any kind of ministry.
But in a way, this kind of attitude is right. I mean, human beings are incapable of truly helping each other in a spiritual sense. All men are incomplete spiritually – we all have needs. The function of fellowship is to serve as a SPIRITUAL MIRROR for grooming oneself with. When one person ministers to another, he is merely showing that person what his needs are. Once he sees his own inadequacies, then he can choose to receive from God. But even so, it is still a lot of work to minister to others, and it does not help to emphasize isolation and helplessness. “Total dependence on God” is certainly the goal, but not a present reality for everyone.
I hope that these examples make it obvious that a sharp attitude towards those who need the benefits of fellowship and ministry will only make them feel guilty and doubtful about receiving help from the community of believers. Thus, all ministerial efforts to these people will be hampered, if not thwarted.
We want other Christians to experience the goodness and glory of God whenever they are in fellowship with the Body of Christ. But most people who take the time to share the gospel or minister to someone never make themselves VULNERABLE. They would rather make their own comfort and self-protection a priority, and because of that, it’s hard for some (immature) people to believe on “the LOVINGKINDNESS of God”.
In summary, SINCERITY is everything!
For those people who do have the right attitude in ministry, try to focus on the people who are receptive to your sincerity, and don’t be discouraged by the sour cynics who only see you as an onerous, self-seeking, people-pleasing “do-gooder”. Those spiritual snipers will never say so, but you are shaming them out of their pride and complacency, and nailing them to the cross of Christ where they belong. Jesus had even worse things to say about such people, calling them a “brood of vipers”, “whitewashed sepulchers” and such. So beware that these “Pharisees” do not lay a mentality of “works” upon your shoulders.
This brings us to another roadblock – psychology.
Psychological Roadblocks to Effective Ministry
In the gritty work of an active ministry, it’s easy to lose focus on what we’re doing for the Kingdom of God. So, let’s state the goal and purpose of ministry right here and now, so we can all get on the same page.
The GOAL is for each person to grow into an individual spiritual entity in the presence of God, who is capable of maintaining his own spiritual vitality in the presence of this world.
The PURPOSE is for every person to learn how to actively love and be loved, in spite of the challenges presented.
So what is the purpose of fellowship in ministry?
- To learn attitudes, skills and habits from others
- To learn about ones self
- To learn to love and be loved
- To learn to serve and be served
Without fellowship, a real ministry can never have the opportunities needed to produce fruit in our lives.
We must constantly remind ourselves of our goal and purpose, and bring our minds back into alignment with the compassionate thoughts of Jesus whenever we are ministering to the needs of others in Christian fellowship.
While we are faced with these goals and purposes, it may empower us to be reminded of the differences between predestination and the freedom of choice.
PREDESTINATION is the reality of our SPIRITUAL IDENTIFICATION WITH CHRIST, which is largely in the heavenly realms.
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
The issue of our FREEDOM OF CHOICE is always in the here and now. We must make choices in faith and in freedom, in order to (1) attain spiritual maturity, (2) minister to others that they might attain spiritual maturity, and (3) “tap into” the promises and blessings of God in this lifetime.
14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says,
“Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Here, you must realize this key point – that to enact the freedom of choice, a person must first exercise their WILL POWER! Don’t be a waffling, jellyfish, democrat Christian who has no backbone! Try and try again. Make decisions, take responsibility for the results, and learn from your decisions. This is the process of growth, so get your mind used to these things.
Doctrinal Roadblocks to Effective Ministry
As a principle, evangelism and soul-winning cannot be accomplished solely through the presentation of Biblical doctrines and arguments, so it is a wasted effort to try pushing your beliefs onto others. The weapons of our warfare are spiritual, NOT Doctrinal or Psychological! Therefore, an effective ministry addresses the needs of peoples’ hearts, not the questions in peoples’ minds. (A teacher or a mentor should address those questions, and not an evangelist or missionary.)
But no matter what your personal views are, one should always be open in their approach to what other people believe, because this is also an integral part of ministry. Not everyone believes exactly the way you do, and this is to be anticipated. You should not let doctrinal differences inhibit your unified work for the Lord.
Catholics and Calvinists (e.g. Methodists and Presbyterians), in general, do not believe that they are personally accountable for their efforts in winning souls, and so their consciences are not heavily burdened for the enlightenment of the lost.
Baptists genuinely believe in the Divine Commission (see Matthew 28:18-20) concerning evangelism and ministry, and thus take the related responsibilities to heart, but their efforts are largely constrained to foreign missions, and teaching, since they cannot interpret 1st Corinthians 12 in a more liberal way that has a present-day application. By doing so, in my opinion, they deny the power of the Holy Spirit from working through the body of believers.
These attitudes are rooted in certain doctrines that are found in many large churches. While it’s tough to label these specific doctrines as being “heretical”, it is my opinion that people tend to lean so heavily upon them, that they become a sort of spiritual “crutch”. It increases their own sense of comfort and security, but also detracts from their ability to become effective in soul-winning.
People who have a self-protective sort of theology cannot be very effective in ministry with those kinds of attitudes. I know from experience that these people would sooner cast doubt on other people’s motives or even their “theology”, before they would open their hearts to receive others in a ministerial effort.
It’s time for a WAKE UP call.
Those people who need to be ministered unto, are suffering in their needs, so they will never care about how eloquently you can preach about… antinomianism, presuppositionalism, or transubstantiation, for example, or how accurate your exegesis, eisegesis or eschatology is.
The goal here is to TOUCH peoples HEARTS, not educate their minds with abstract principles.
Furthermore, anyone who wishes to argue points of doctrine does not belong in a ministry, but in a College of Theology. Ministry is about faithful service, bold action and personal sacrifice for the furtherance of the Gospel. The REAL Gospel is when your words and actions help others see Jesus – bottom line!
How many years of evangelism should it take to start a church?
It’s a bad approach when ministers blindly press doctrine into people with no discretion of their spiritual state. Instead, they should let people come and ask about those things, and use the scriptures to divide the Word of Truth in each persons’ particular circumstance.
Technological Roadblocks to Effective Ministry
Although to begin with, it is really difficult to effectively minister to others, it becomes more difficult with the advent of modern technology, especially when people don’t appreciate you and might even seem annoyed that you care.
For example, even though I might go to visit someone who is sick, I find that they already have cable TV with 120 channels, a large collection of DVDs’, X-Box, PS-2 and the great infinitesimal internet to entertain themselves with. So, by comparison, a real person who comes knocking on their door to engage them emotionally, might seem to be a tedious interruption and a troublesome distraction.
It is my opinion that perhaps it’s better not to choose such people as objects of ministerial efforts. Let those who are more interested in X-Box minister unto themselves!
“I don’t have time for people who don’t have time for me”.
By comparison, Jesus’ ministry always took him on a clear schedule, which was always interrupted by people seeking help. But in fact, those interruptions were also part of His ministry. If we follow Jesus’ example, then we should let those with needs come to us for help, and we should not turn them away, as Jesus instructed in Matthew 5:42.
The Roadblock of the World to Effective Ministry
The world presents an interesting challenge to any kind of human endeavor. No matter what one may make up his mind to accomplish, there will always be a myriad of small, unforeseeable interruptions that will cause serious delays to the progress.
Some people call this phenomenon, “Murphy’s Law”.
In my experience of ministry, as soon as a guest and I get down to having a serious prayer, the mailman rings the doorbell to deliver a package, my children begin fussing and crying for some mysterious reason, and the phone starts ringing. It may seem like a coincidence, but it is not.
We are commonly faced with these occurrences in the world that we live in, which is constantly presenting an infinite number of diversions and dissipations. We must anticipate these events, and plan our ministry to effectively take these distractions into account. Otherwise, we may never make any progress towards our spiritual and relational goals.
We cannot remove ourselves from the world, but we can construct plans and barriers to limit the unpredictable influences of this world, so that we may be more efficient towards our ministry goals. A wise minister will be aware of this, and take the necessary precautions to control the influences that this world might have on his ministry efforts.
The Challenge to Maturity in Christian Ministry
Every believer is challenged to attain spiritual maturity. This challenge can itself become a roadblock, if it is not clearly understood as such. So finally, I hope to elucidate some basic steps in the process of maturity, as they relate to social interaction with others. Being aware of the characteristics of these basic steps can help us identify and relate to others who are at different stages of growth.
I would like to point out here, that a good deal of maturity is necessary to minister to others. There are essentially three stages of growth in Christian maturity, and a fourth stage that only a few seem called to do. I’ll describe these stages by identifying brief logical statements that are typical of the psychological processes in each respective stage. (Stage 0 represents the spiritually ignorant person.)
Stage 0 – I have no life, except what little I can beg or steal from someone else. But even so, I’m better than you are. What can you do for me? How can I seek justice for myself, or otherwise, gain some advantage over others?
Stage I – I am so disappointed with life! The world is tough, and life is hard! It seems like everyone is an irresponsible liar! Who am I, and what is my purpose in living? How can I find hope and encouragement in the face of such difficulty?
Stage II – I enjoy life, but I am so disappointed with people! They are so immature, rude, selfish, mean and cruel! How can I make others observe my boundaries and respect my personal space? How can I protect myself? How can I prevent being discouraged by such people?
Stage III – I am thankful for my life, and I believe most people desire to have the same appreciation. But I know it is a difficult trick to find the Door of Life. People are full of needs and they must work so hard in a struggle to survive! How can I encourage the people around me, and make their days go by easier?
Stage IV – Few people have had the difficult experiences that I have had. I always have the right to cling to my rights, but I know I can accomplish more in the spirit if I willingly lay down my rights for the benefit of others. I know it is always a risk to trust, but still, I choose to trust because it is better than not trusting. People are like children – selfish, mean and unrealistic, but even so, they are still cute and loveable. How can I absorb the discouragements of others, and lift them up by dispensing God’s grace and truth, and thereby minister to their spiritual needs?
In addition, a Stage IV person will know that individuals may very well inspire others to an extensive degree, but even people’s best concerted efforts can do very little to help the spiritual condition of others. They know that it’s wrong to think that way – believing that other people need them in order to grow. That is a symptom of spiritual pride.
Most Christians are only at Stage I or Stage II in their maturity. Those who are in Stage III tend to be very popular and well respected. A Stage IV person is rather rare.
How can you discern a REAL Stage IV person, from a less mature believer who is making efforts in missions, evangelism and ministry simply because they think it is the “Christian” thing that they should do?
“You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
You will know them by their unswerving faith, their steadfast hope and their sincere love, just like a mother or father has for their child.
But perhaps the greatest indicator of these qualities is seen in how much time they are willing to spend mentoring less mature believers. I suggest that one who is serious about mentoring should spend at least six hours a week with the one being mentored, and also be actively seeking and introducing him to other support networks for him to get involved with. Also, the more mature believer should take some initiative to invite the less mature believer to share the bounty and the challenges of daily life with him.
Here are some admonishments to those who seek to become “better spiritual mirrors”. Stage I people should not become bitter towards the Stage 2 people, simply because they have not yet achieved Stage 4. The Stage 2 people need to go easy on their self-defense around Stage 1 people. Stage III people should challenge themselves to reach out of their comfort zone, and attempt to achieve Stage IV. Stage IV people need to know when to get back to the basics of rest and worship.
I hope that these thoughts and insights might help layministers to pinpoint the causes of inefficacy in their ministerial endeavors.
I wish you the best towards creating a positive impact in the lives of those around you each day, and in realizing all your hopes and dreams through Jesus Christ.