I’ve been in pastoral ministry for nearly 18 years. A life-long call to Christian ministry requires perseverance, which enables God’s people to be equipped for ministry and exalts Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).
You may be a pastor, a lay ministry leader, or a church member, but faithful perseverance in Christian ministry is needed by us all. Perhaps you preach, or you serve in other places within the church and have been wondering about your continued progress, whether you should continue to serve or take a leave of absence because joy has diminished.
Whether you are full-time or a volunteer, sustainability in Christian ministry should be the pursuit of every Christian.
Three Marks of Sustainable Ministry
1. Sustained by Christ
The greatest example of sustaining the Christian ministry is seen in and practiced by Christ (John 10:11). The Good Shepherd loves the people, the flock under his care. He leads the flock and gives his life for it (Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27). This Good Shepherd is personable and knows the flock (John 10:14). Earthly shepherds learn humility from Christ and are empowered by his life within them, never aspiring to be the top dog, but ascribing to the lower seat (1 Peter 5:2-4). When I am sustained by Christ in the Christian ministry, the work that is accomplished will not be my personal power, but the power of Christ in me (2 Corinthians 12:9).
2. Sustained by Scripture
Ministry (and all of life) is sustained by the scriptures. Life would be utter chaos without the sustaining work of the Bible. First, the promises of God are a sure hope during difficult ministry seasons. When I read the Word, I am held up by the Lord’s care over me. Scripture is an anchor for the soul as we rest our cares upon Christ (Hebrews 6:19).
Second, God’s Word grants direction when I’m faced with uncertainty and commands to heed and follow. A daily dose of Scripture lifts my spirit and directs me toward paths of righteousness (Psalm 23:3). Third, the Word is medicine for my discouraged heart (Proverbs 3:8). When I go a day without Scripture, I become easily discouraged by people’s comments, difficult moments at work, and my family needs. Discouragement comes quickly in this life, but God’s Word gives peace.
3. Sustained by Service
Over 18 years, I’ve learned that ministry is sustained through its service. Christian ministry flourishes when the leader and his followers seek to honor the Lord both through the preaching of the Scripture, the faithful teaching of God’s people, and the centrality of worship.
Sustainability in Christian ministry happens when each of us picks up the basin and towel ministry of Jesus (John 13), seeking to obey the Word. When we obey God’s Word, our motives become adjusted to his will and obedience is displayed. As a result, we sing like David, “I delight to do your will, O my God” (Psalm 40:8) in our service to the Lord.
Instructions for Sustainable Ministry
The New Testament is full of examples of fruitful, Christ-exalting, Word-centered ministry. Each verse displays the way of a servant:
- 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:18, 20: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation….Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
- Titus 3:1-2: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”
- 2 Timothy 2:24: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil…”
- 2 Timothy 4:5: “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
The Goal of Sustainable Ministry
Charles Bridges, a pastor during the 19th Century, writes this of Christian ministry:
Our plain and cheering duty is therefore to go forward — to scatter the seed, to believe and to wait. Yet must there be expectancy as well as patience.
The warrant of success is assured, not only as regards an outward reformation, but a spiritual change of progressive and universal influence. The fruit of Ministerial labour is not indeed always visible in its symptoms, nor immediate in its results, nor proportioned to the culture.
Faith and patience will be exercised — sometimes severely so. But after a painstaking, weeping seed-time, we shall bring our sheaves with rejoicing, and lay them upon the altar of God, ‘that the offering up of them might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.’
Meanwhile we must beware of saying— ‘Let him make speed, and hasten his work that we may see it.’ The measure and the time are with the Lord. We must let Him alone with His own work.
Ours is the care of service — His is the care of success. The Lord of the harvest must determine when, and what, and where the harvest shall be. (The Christian Ministry, p. 76)
We must come to grips that our service for the Lord comes with many hardships: “But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger…” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5). But the difficulties prove God’s sufficiency to sustain his people for ministry as we “scatter the seed” and trust him for the outcome.