Some of the most common questions I have received from people who first enter vocational church ministry relate to their desire to make a big impact in advancing God’s kingdom. Many younger people in ministry are filled with a holy ambition to do great things for the Lord. And while the desire can become an unholy ambition where ministry success becomes the heart’s idol, usually the desire is pure.
My response and challenge is simple: Be faithful now.
Don’t fall into the temptation of merely dreaming about future ministry fruitfulness. Be faithful right now with what the Lord has entrusted to you.
When Jeremiah shares a complaint with the Lord about the wicked prospering, the Lord responds: “If you have raced with runners and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in a peaceful land, what will you do in the thickets of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5). Evidently the Lord had greater plans, and greater challenges, for Jeremiah, but He wanted Jeremiah to be faithful now. The language is compelling and could be applied with questions such as:
- If you have not led yourself or your family well, how can you lead others?
- If you aren’t faithful in preparing a Bible study for a group, how can you be faithful in developing a sermon?
- If you aren’t sharing the gospel with your neighbor, how can you ask for a microphone?
- If you are not feeding yourself the Word, how do you expect to feed others?
- So, because of God’s grace in your life, be faithful now …
In your marriage
Ministry will tempt you to neglect your family. The compounding effects of some church members’ expectations will be unrealistic and will threaten to steal your investment in your marriage. So develop a rhythm with your spouse now, a rhythm of regular dates and vacations and conversations about the Lord. Your marriage is a powerful statement of the gospel. Cherish your marriage now when it is not under the microscope so you won’t have to fake it later when it is.
In your service
Instead of leading some future ministry in your head, pour yourself fully into a ministry right now. If the Lord has truly melted your heart with His service to you, serve now. Don’t be the seminary or Bible college student who shows up one day at a church seeking a place to volunteer because he needs a “supervised ministry experience” and ashamedly has to admit he has been on the sidelines for the last two years “waiting for something bigger.” Volunteer in a Christ-centered, Bible-preaching church in any role they will give you. Be faithful in it. Throw yourself fully into that role, and the Lord will give you more and more responsibility.
In your study
Paul told Timothy to do his best to present himself to God as one approved, as one who could correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Don’t wait until you are given a date to preach/teach before engaging in study time. Cultivate healthy study habits now.
I heard Johnny Hunt, senior pastor at First Baptist Church Woodstock, talk about how he responds when people ask him how long it took him to prepare a certain message. Johnny Hunt’s response was “30 years—I have been studying for decades.” In other words, faithful study now will bear fruit for years to come.
I know of two men in their 30s who teach and write for thousands, but what many people don’t know is how incredibly hard they studied and labored in their 20s, when no one knew who they were.
The apostle Paul was able to say to others, “Follow my example as I follow Christ.” If you are not yet on staff but sense the Lord has led you to vocational ministry, be the type of church member that you will want in the churches you lead/serve one day. Be faithful now.
Eric Geiger serves as one of the vice presidents at LifeWay Christian Resources, leading the Church Resources Division. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church.