More on ministry: Sustainability in Ministry

This is the second of about three articles in the More on ministry series.

During his ministry, the apostle Paul is particularly focussed on finishing, and finishing well. For example, to the Ephesian elders he said:

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24

And again, to Timothy:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8

We often face the danger of being too myopic in our thinking about ministry. Maybe influenced by the modern, fast-paced world, we often want to do everything now, get them done now, and see the results now.

However, a lot of the time God's timetable runs very differently from ours. Often ministry is a (very) long-tail business, with "results" being seen only decades later.

Sustainability is another issue. I often fall into this trap. Sometimes one can work so hard at ministry that the amount of effort expended is simply unsustainable over the long term. I can't remember from whom comes this quote, but "Ministry is not a race; it's a marathon".

Sometimes one can forget that it is God who ultimately is the one who is ministering. We can fall into the trap of behaving as if we, and not God, are the ones who are really making a difference.

Here we have another quote, this time from Don Carson's A Call to Spiritual Reformation

[Broughton] Knox told his students, "God is not interested in one hundred percentism".

There is a sense, of course, in which that is the only thing God is interested in. He wants us to trust and obey him wholly; he wants us to serve him with 100 percent loyalty. But then the focus is on him. What Broughton Knox meant is that very often what we call "one hundred percentism" is not unrestrained allegiance to God and his gospel but merely a reflection of a perfectionist personality. ... This attitude may turn out to be nothing more than another form of self-worship---in short, a form of idolatry.

I told [a correspondent with Carson], I would rather listen to him preach for thirty or forty more years at 80 percent of his capacity, than for three or four more years at 100 percent of his capacity. If the choice is to be made on the basis of what is for the good of the church, of the number of poeple who would hear the gospel powerfully and intelligently presented, and therefore on the basis of what would bring most glory to Christ, the same decision would be called for.

Are we aiming to finish, and to finish well? Are our attitudes to ministry sustainable over the long term?

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