You’re not in the ministry role you thought you’d be in at this point in your life. The team you’re serving with is facing challenges you didn’t expect to encounter. Someone you’ve discipled and invested in has walked away from the faith.
Ministry can so often be a source of discouragement and burnout.
Where is the fruit? Why are there so many challenges? And when did this ministry start looking like such a failure?
Isobel Kuhn is a hero of mine who encountered challenges and setbacks in ministry. She was a very ordinary person in whom God instilled a great deal of grit and joy in the midst of obstacles.
In the 1920s she gave up her dream of being an actress on the stage and set off on a journey that eventually led her to serve as a missionary among the Lisu people in China.
She liked to quote 1 Corinthians 4:9, “For I think that God has exhibited us … last of all … because we have become a spectacle to the world.” Exhibited. As a spectacle. To the world.
In speaking of this exhibition, Paul was referring to the Roman arena of his day. Christians fed to wild animals were on display as spectacles to the crowds when they refused to deny their allegiance to Christ.
As believers, we also encounter arenas in ministry, and though they usually take on a different appearance than they did in the first century, our arenas are still marked by sacrifice, challenge, and what appears to be setback.
Isobel Kuhn wrote, “The purpose of the arena experience is not for our punishment; it is that God might be revealed.” As she encountered challenges and tests of faith in life and ministry, she liked to refer to them as “platforms” upon which she might testify to and display the strength of God enabling His people to overcome.
She said, “Platforms do not make us stronger Christians or better Christians, but they do make us richer Christians. Rich in our inner fellowship with Him. Rich in our confidence that He will be our Rock and our Deliverer in the future. Rich in the relaxation of the little child who leans back on his father’s breast, confident, secure, and satisfied.”
The question is not, “Will there be challenges in ministry?” but rather, “How will we respond to the challenges? What is our mindset toward it?” Are you praying for God to instill His grit, resolve, and humor in you through the difficulty and asking Him to bring forth fruit in His timing, or are you giving in to discouragement and wishing you hadn’t committed to serve where you’re at?
Ministry will certainly put us in unwanted circumstances. It is often there, in the arena, that the most significant and lasting fruit is birthed—in us and through us. That is God’s pattern to bring forth life (think of the cross).
God is able to take the messiness of your ministry, the unwanted challenges, and the unforeseen failure and turn it all into a stunning display of His glory. Through it all He is shaping you, your team, and those you disciple to become more like Himself and prepare you all to one day kneel before Him in perfect worship.
Don’t stop fighting for the truth to be proclaimed and the enemy’s plans to be foiled, but resist the urge to make your ministry all about your efforts and the seen results. Know that just because things are hard doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Jesus promised that in this world we would have trouble. He also commanded us to take heart—He has overcome.
“The important thing is—how are you acting? Are you bitter and resentful that you must live and work under such circumstances? Or are you asking to be conformed to His image, seeking fellowship with Him in this human suffering, watching for His resurrection power to be manifested, confident that you will know Him better when the discipline is past, and to be satisfied with that? The circumstance will pass in time, but the revelation you will receive of Himself, His love, and His power will enrich you forever. Do not misunderstand me. I did not say you will be a better Christian afterward. I did not even say you would be a stronger Christian afterward. I do say you will be a richer one.”
The reality is, Jesus has not asked you to create amazing outreach results or produce superhero converts or build a world-renowned ministry organization. He has only asked you to love and obey Him and leave the results of your service to Him. This is His mission, His ministry, and His kingdom that He is expanding with His power. We just have the privilege of coming alongside Him to join in the work.
His goal for your ministry is much deeper and more long-lasting and God-glorifying than your get-fruit-quick plan. He is accomplishing His goal through all the seeming setbacks and challenges in the arena.