My role at The Village affords me the privilege to interview candidates for the Groups minister or intern position at our campus. A frequent question applicants ask during their interview is, “What does advancement look like at The Village?”
It’s an interesting question—one likely learned in a corporate leadership seminar or college job fair—and I don’t fault them for asking. They want to know how to succeed in ministry. Not long ago, I asked the same question at the outset of my own ministerial path, and I remember expecting a very different answer than the one that experience has taught me. The four hard-learned “necessary qualities” I now regard as the ingredients for ministry success were there in front of me all along. I just had to learn them in order to recognize them.
Be overwhelmed by the fact that God calls you a “child of light.” Never lose the wonder of your identity in Christ. Be overwhelmed that the Savior of the world has called you to serve Him as a disciple and disciplemaker, first in your home and then in His Church. Be overwhelmed every day, lest you think more highly of yourself than you ought.
Be overwhelmed that God calls you to serve His church by giving yourself away. While preaching my ordination service, Dr. Calvin Pearson looked directly at me, charging me with the qualifications of a man who would lead God’s people. He charged me to live in these passages, to be overwhelmed by the qualifications and the calling—that apart from God, this is an impossible standard. He told me this foundation would keep me humble and needy for the Father. And years later, his words stand true and have saved me much heartache.
Be humbled by the task in front of you. As you are overwhelmed by the vastness and grittiness of ministry, find great courage and comfort in the fact that you cannot serve God’s church in your own might or power. Every hour you will need the Holy Spirit of God to be greater in you than the world you are warring against. Cultivating this attitude should lead you to humility before God and men.
And it is this humility that will stand in stark contrast to the snarky and coarse talk of the culture. Let your heart be formed by the meekness and gentleness of Christ. This will give you the grace to warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the timid, help the weak, and find patience in people’s disorder. Otherwise, you will learn some hard lessons trying to act in your own power. Be humble or be humbled.
Before you’re tested, fence yourself in with faithfulness. This might be keeping your wedding ring on at the gym, seeking accountability from those who ask hard questions or cultivating cultural discernment.
We see in the story of Daniel that he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” with meat or drink offered to idols. Daniel decided before the decision was upon him; he would be faithful. And he held fast, walking into rooms where he had much to fear, saying things he knew could get him marginalized (or killed). In all of this, his faith and faithfulness arrested the attention of the culture and of the king himself.
Very much of your future success in ministry depends upon the early days. Work with joy and gain wisdom, whether you’re the janitor, intern or associate minister. The faithful end often depends upon the faithful beginning. Who will you be?
A title doesn’t give you identity any more than walking into a room and declaring, “I’m the leader,” gives you leadership. Far too many young ministers believe their leadership will come from a title or platform. In fact, people follow someone who knows to whom they belong, how they are called and where God is leading.
Overwhelmed-ness, humility and faithfulness should lead to increased awareness of who you are before God—how He made you, wired you, gifted you and ultimately, how He’s called you. This should begin to show you the areas in which you are meant to lead.
Ask the people who know you best five questions that you don’t want to know the answer to. Hone the skills that are confirmed in you and seek development in the weak areas. It will free you to be yourself.
Being yourself breeds confidence and allows you to say “no” to certain things. Ministry may provide many opportunities to be “busy,” but the wise who know themselves, know where to spend their energies and where to employ the energies of others. Being yourself ultimately frees you to forget yourself (and be spent rightly).
In the parable of the wedding feast, those who choose to seat themselves in places of honor are quickly humbled and asked to move down. This parable is central to your understanding of success in ministry. Only by being overwhelmed, humbled, faithful and self-aware will you come to the end of yourself and seat yourself in the lowest place of “minster.”
After all, Christ took the lowest place for us. So what if you never get the invitation to the rooms or platforms you want to be a part of? To advance in ministry, retreat to the lowest place. It is the better place Christ calls you to, right at His side, to spend and be spent for the sake of making Him famous.