Without Vision, Ministry Perishes (Part 1)

“If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves;
But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.”
(Prov 29:18; The Message)

Some kids grow up dreaming of standing in the pulpit proclaiming God’s word, or teaching Bible classes that move people to tears, or writing that book that changes how people think about their faith. They studied preachers to learn their skill, they planned church services in their heads, they dreamed about proclaiming the word of God.

Yeah … those kids were weird! (No offense.) I never had any of that. I never wanted to be a minister. I had LOTS of other things I wanted to be and do with my life, but being a minister wasn’t on the radar. Don’t get me wrong: I wanted to help the church; I wouldn’t mind being a deacon or leading a ministry or going on mission trips. But I remember telling God multiple times, “God, I will do anything for you, but there are two things I don’t ever want to do: I don’t want to be a preacher, and I don’t want to be a teacher.”

God has a funny sense of humor.

I’ve now been in ministry for fourteen years. Fourteen years of class preparation, sermon preparation, meetings, late night phone calls, counseling sessions, weddings and funerals, meetings, lectureships and seminars, prayer groups, meetings, curriculum development, bulletin articles, meetings, conversations with happy members, conversations with irate members, conversations with people who no longer want to be members, and did I happen to mention meetings?

Strangely enough, though, I actually enjoy ministry. I love seeing people whose lives begin to look more and more like Jesus. When I see people who are deepening their connection to God and learning to love and serve others for God’s glory, it reminds me why I do ministry. And the opposite is also true: I lament those who have left faith, those whose decisions have little to do with Jesus, and whose lives no longer are given to the Lord. Regardless, I cover these individuals and situations in prayer and learn to trust God.

I enjoy ministry … but sometimes I wish I did something else. This isn’t because ministry is unimportant; indeed, I believe that helping people know Jesus more fully and intimately is the most important thing we can do. But sometimes I feel more like a shopkeeper than an evangelist.

Most of my time in ministry is spent in maintenance: building upkeep, convincing people to hold on to faith, marriage intervention, budget concerns, and keeping the peace. It is often more about status quo than “what may be.” I preach to the—well, I can’t say “choir” because we are the Churches of Christ—but to people who’ve heard more messages than they can count and often don’t do anything with the new ones they hear. I spend more time talking with the “faithful” than speaking with those who have no faith. Much of my ministry is about dealing with details.

These things aren’t necessarily bad. Indeed, many of them are good. Fiscal responsibility isn’t a bad thing, and it is helpful in Texas Julys to have maintained the air conditioner. These things are good … but they might not be what’s best.

And if I am honest, I sometimes worry that my ministerial life will be a fulfillment of Prov 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV). Just exchange “people” for “Daniel.”

That’s my confession today. And I wonder: am I the only one who feels that way? I don’t think so, but sometimes it feels that way.

You see, it is easy to talk about churches not having a vision … but I think many ministers often lose sight of their calling because we’ve gotten too tied up in our calling. We spin our wheels doing the things of ministry to the point where it is difficult to truly minister.

Listen to a few of these and see if they fit your situation:

  • You meet with people to hear about their lives … but you rarely share your own. This may be out of fear of what they might think, a reticence to be transparent, or an unwillingness to let your guard down.
  • You read your Bible and study all day … but primarily to be able to distill information to others rather than to still your heart and hear from God.
  • You constantly think about spiritual things … but in the context of how to help others grow.
  • You strategize and plan through Sunday’s worship … only to feel like you never really worship on Sundays.
  • You know everyone and church … but don’t feel like you have many (or any) friends.

I imagine many of us in ministry find ourselves in these statements somewhere. I know I do. I want to share how I am investing in my own ministry so that it won’t “perish.”

Recently, my family has started attending another church’s worship assembly on Saturday evenings. This has been a huge blessing for me, because I am able to worship, listen to someone else preach, and not feel “on call” for making sure everything goes right.

I have started trusting my prayer group more. I have been meeting and praying with these same guys for four years, and only recently have I been letting my walls come down in their presence.

I have started trying to build intentional relationships with other ministers so we can encourage one another, talk shop if necessary, and ignore questions about ministry in favor of other topics as often as possible.

I am “forcing” myself to read passages of the Bible that I am NOT going to preach. I am using a variety of methods (lectio divina, contemplation, meditation on a verse or phrase, drawing the scene, etc.). This keeps me from thinking about how I would teach it and, instead, calls me to listen to what God might want to teach me.

I am trying to be intentional about the time I spend with my wife and family. I want to make the most of these relationships, invest in my daughters, and see to their spiritual needs first. This has been incredibly life-giving for me, even though I feel I fail more at this than I succeed!

These are the ways I am seeking to have more clarity, vision, and intentionality in my personal spiritual vision for ministry. As I have done these things over the past month, I have found that I am gaining clearer vision for myself in ministry.

Over the course of my next few articles I want to dig deeply into this question of vision. I wanted to start with the “heart” of the minister, and then move to the “hands” and “head” in terms of my own personal work and then the congregation. I hope you will journey with me as I discern, discover, and dream what God has in store.

 

Daniel McGraw is the senior minister of the West University Church of Christ in Houston, Texas. He is married to Megan and has two daughters, Hannah and Lydia, who teach him more about the love of God than any of his theology degrees ever has. He is a passionate, but wholly average, runner.

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The CHARIS website hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. In partnership with the ACU Library and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX), the website is supported and led by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The Center’s mission is to renew Christian spirituality through engagement of Christian heritage, at Abilene Christian University and beyond. The views expressed on the CHARIS website are those of the various authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Abilene Christian University or CHARIS at ACU. Questions or comments about the CHARIS website can be directed to charis @ acu.edu.

2017-18 CHARIS Editorial Board:
Dr. Carisse Berryhill
Dr. Jason Fikes
Karissa Herchenroeder
Mac Ice
Chai Green
Tammy Marcelain
Molly Scherer
Dr. John Weaver

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