By Jake Hancock from Christ’s Church of the Valley
Why’d you get into ministry? Do you remember? Seriously, stop and think about those stories right now. Take a few seconds to remember some of the moments that led to your being in ministry right now.
While you’re doing that, I’ll tell you mine. For me there were two big moments that led me into ministry.
The first involved two guys, Willard Mott and Bruce Gregory, at college. They texted me every single week for what seemed like months reminding me to come to the 5:00 a.m. Bible study they were leading (Listen, 5:00 a.m.! What were they thinking?) But here’s the thing…
I eventually ran out of excuses.
They wore me down.
And once I started waking up early, Jesus became real in a way I wasn’t ready for.
Fast-forward four years, and moment No. 2 happens. I’m in a different state now trying my best to teach math to sixth graders who want nothing to do with it, while at the same time serving in the high school ministry at the church my wife and I had started attending. The student pastor Michael Cooper, akaCoop, told us we should spend a week of our summer at a church camp with the high school students. Hard no.
But Coop kept trying.
“Coop, Bri and I are teachers. Our summer is our time. No shot.”
Coop kept texting.
“Coop, Bri and I are back home in a totally different state with family that week, not gonna happen.”
Coop stayed on us, and eventually we ran out of excuses.
We spent a week with high school students.
And that week we realized that maybe God had different plans for our future.
So let me ask again: Why are you in ministry?
I love asking this question to people in ministry and watching their eyes light up. Watching them think back to their first love, watching them remember why they jumped into ministry in the first place.
I’ve asked a bunch of people this, and I’ve heard hundreds of stories, but what I find especially interesting are the stories I don’t hear.
I don’t hear many stories about a sermon making them go into ministry.
I don’t hear many stories about a book changing their vocation.
Or an app. Or a podcast.
I don’t hear about websites loaded with all the latest resources or a well-crafted onboarding process for new volunteers.
I don’t hear stories of the music being just right or the production team nailing transitions.
I don’t hear stories of the weekly parent emails or daily Instagram stories that took someone two hours per day to create.
I don’t hear any of that.
You know what I hear. I hear about people.
I hear the names of other men and women who stood in the gap for us current pastors.
I hear stories of moms and dads who took their kids to church weekly even when it wasn’t convenient.
I hear stories of volunteers staying up late and having intentional conversations.
I hear stories of coffees and basketball games with people they looked up to.
I hear stories of student pastors going out of their way to personally speak boldly into their lives.
I hear stories of the Bruce Gregorys, Willard Motts, and Michael Coopers of the world.
Stories of people that chased them down.
Stories of people who asked hard questions and invited them in. Stories of the people that they got to watch pursue Jesus in a way that they desperately wanted to emulate, even if they didn’t admit it at the time.
I hear these stories and can’t help but ask myself: If the No. 1 reason people are in ministry is because of other people, why doesn’t my current work schedule reflect that?
And I’ll be honest, that’s been a tough question for me to ask myself lately.
And to take it one step further, I’ve been wondering as a leader in my church: Is my calendar full of people or processes?
The Bible is pretty clear on what Jesus calls us to in Matthew: “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:34-40 NIV).
Love God. Love others.
What I find fascinating is that this is the exact formula that changed our lives. It’s the formula that landed us in the seats we are currently in. Someone in our life loved God like crazy, and then did a killer job of loving others. And we are in the seats we are in because of it.
It’s super convicting for me to realize that the longer we are in ministry, the easier it is to slowly start changing this formula. We start drifting away from relationships and get sucked into building resources. We slowly realize that we’re in our office all day instead of out in the community. We find ourselves spending days recreating resources that already exist, just because they aren’t exactly “our brand.”
When someone asks us what we’ve been doing lately, we are more excited to share about the thing we created or accomplished than a person we’ve personally pointed toward a life with Jesus.
We drift. And slowly, if we look around, our formula looks more like this:
Love God. Read more theology.
Love God. Listen to more podcasts.
Love God. Recruit leaders.
Love God. Write better sermons.
Love God. Build more resources.
Essh, have you been there? I know I have.
Jesus makes it so simple.
Love God. Love others.
But man, it’s so easy for us to complicate it.
Now hear me on this. None of those other things are bad. You are a biblical leader; you should read theology. You need to acquire information and be pushed spiritually. You should listen to good podcasts, meet with mentors, and read books. I know you want to change the world, and you need great volunteers to do it! If you’re preaching, you should do your best; it’s important. I hope you love your ministry enough to set up resources. All those things are good…until they take you away from the main formula.
Let’s be leaders in ministry who don’t tweak the formula.
Takeaway: Let’s Be Practical
It’s so easy for this formula to get out of whack, isn’t it? I’m realizing now that I have to work for it. I have to schedule it. I need to fight to put people back on my calendar. Leave my office. Go to a basketball game. Set up an extra coffee. Take it from me, your sermon will be just as good with eight hours prep as it would be with 16. And the kicker is I know there are eight hours worth of students in your ministry each week that would love to spend time with a pastor like you. They won’t remember your sermon; trust me. But I bet they remember those cheeseburgers you ate together.
Here’s a simple thing that we have been doing with our staff that serves as a healthy reminder to make sure our relationships (love others) are front and center. We call it the four vitals. We would say that if you are active in all four of these relationships, you are crushing it relationally.
Ahead of you – Find a mentor (Proverbs 15:22)
Who’s consistently making you better? Who’s discipling you?
Behind you – Find a mentee (Matthew 28:18-20)
Who are you personally making better?
Around you – Find accountability (Proverbs 27:17)
Are you on an island? Do you have people in your life asking you hard questions?
Outside of you – Find someone to evangelize (Matthew 9:12)
This is often the hardest when you work at a church (which is always a bummer to think about). Who do you consistently interact with that doesn’t know Jesus?
How are you doing at this? Which of these do you need to fight for?
Let’s be leaders in ministry who work hard at living out the simple truth we speak.
Love God. Love others.