by Lance Witt
Your ministry is not your life. Jesus is. In Colossian 3:4 Paul said “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (NIV). Notice the words “Christ, who is your life.” Jesus is my life. He is the center of my universe and everything revolves around my relationship with him. My whole life has been surrendered to him as my king and Lord. He is my life.
I was crystal clear about this when I went into ministry as a young man. But there have certainly been seasons through the years where I lost that clarity. My ministry became my identity. My ministry became my first love. My ministry consumed all my spiritual passion. My ministry (not Jesus) was my life. The unintended byproduct during those seasons was a slow disconnect from Jesus.
When you begin to disconnect from Jesus and ministry becomes your life, you begin to do ministry in the flesh. You begin to think that serving God is all about working hard, being strategic, developing leaders and executing vision. You fundamentally begin to believe that it’s up to you.
When you have disconnected from the vine (Jesus), ministry will become joyless striving and stressful pushing. It will become a hassle and a burden.
This is what happened to the priests in the book of Malachi. The whole book is a response to their spiritual drift. It is four chapters of rebuke. In chapters 2 and 3, the Lord rebukes the people (the congregation) for their disobedience.
In the opening chapter, God’s rebuke is not directed toward the congregation of Israel but toward the priests, the professional ministers. What was happening in the congregation was a byproduct of what was happening in the leadership. God was not pleased with their offerings nor with the attitude of their service in ministry.
In verse 13 Malachi reprimands them with these words: And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the Lord Almighty (NIV).
Carrying out the duties and responsibilities of ministry had become a annoyance. The result was that they began to despise their calling. Serving wasn’t a blessing, it was a burden. Ministry wasn’t an honor, it was a hassle.
I think that is a good picture of what happens to us when we get disconnected from Jesus.
Moses serves as a good example for ministry leadership.
God came to Moses at the burning bush and gave him the assignment of leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. Moses has a very predictable response. “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
God’s answer to Moses’ question was not very spectacular or dramatic. God simply says, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you”.
God says the people will follow you because you have my presence in your life. That is what qualifies you for spiritual leadership of the people. It wasn’t because Moses was the brightest, most skilled, or had the most winsome personality. The one characteristic that would give his leadership credibility and spiritual power was God’s presence.
But that wasn’t enough for Moses. Moses wanted something more tangible, more dazzing, and more spectacular. So God did the miracles with Moses’ staff becoming a snake, and his hand becoming leprous. He even gave him Aaron as a mouthpiece to help with Moses’ communication.
If you fast forward to Exodus 32, Moses has led the people out of Egypt and is now up on Mt. Sinai. Imagine this scene. Moses is on the mountain with God receiving the tablets. In Exodus 32:16 the Bible says, “The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.” Unbelievable. In this moment, Moses is in the very presence of God, and God is literally etching the Ten Commandments into stone.
Down below the people are making a golden calf. What a contrast to what is happening up on the mountain top. God is furious and wants to wipe them out. Moses intercedes, and God backs down from destroying the people.
As chapter 33 opens God says he will send them into the promised land. But there is one caveat. God says he will send an angel to accompany them, but that his presence won’t go with them.
In Exodus 33:3b God tells us why. “But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way” (NIV).
When Moses responds to God, Moses gives us some hints about how far his relationship with God has developed over the years. He has matured and his soul is deeply connected to God.
Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” Exodus 33:15 (NIV)
In Exodus 3, God’s presence wasn’t enough for Moses. He needed the dramatic and spectacular. In Exodus 33, God’s presence was all that mattered to Moses. Later in Numbers 12:8, it says of Moses that He had a face to face relationship with God.
I want that.
God was Moses’ life. He had learned the valuable lesson that relationship comes before responsibility.
If we back up a couple of verses we can hear Moses tell God what he needs for the leadership task ahead. His request might surprise you.
In Exodus 33:12-13 Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people. (NIV)”
Notice that Moses doesn’t ask for leadership skill or great charisma. He says “teach me your ways so I may know you”. It’s all about relationship. The relationship would give him the strength to carry out the responsibility.
This is exactly what Jesus taught us in John 15. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 (NLT)”
“Remaining” is all about relationship. It is about making Jesus your life and then letting the ministry flow out of that relationship.
The apostle Paul says it a little different in 1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT): “For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.”
As ministry leaders, we have been called to do a hard thing. We are kingdom bringers to a dark world. The battle is real. Add to this the fact that we are broken and frail and flawed. We desperately need the life of Jesus flowing through us in order to carry out our kingdom calling.
That is why it’s imperative for us to pay attention to our souls.
Jesus is an incredible gift given to us. And as people in ministry we get the privilege of carrying that gift to the world. Our ministry can be likened to the box and wrapping paper and bow. Our size and style of our wrapping paper and boxes can vary from ministry to ministry, but we are all trying to deliver the same gift (Jesus).
Never lose sight of the fact that the box (your ministry) is not as valuable as the gift (Jesus). And the only reason the box exists is to deliver the gift. You have dedicated your life to the gift, not the box.
Lance Witt is Lance is the founder of Replenish Ministries, an organization devoted to ministering pastors to help them become healthy, holy, and humble. He also serves as the Pastor for Strategic Development at Thomas Road Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. replenish.net