Are You Settling for Ministry Without Jesus?

Major W. Ian Thomas was a 20th-century evangelist who was saved at age thirteen, devoted his life to ministry at age fifteen, and four years later, found himself debilitated by round-the-clock ministry activity with meager results. He loved the Lord but His soul was desolate. No one was more zealous than Ian Thomas but he was teetering on the edge of ministry collapse: 

I became deeply depressed, because I really loved the Lord Jesus Christ with all my heart; I wanted to be made a blessing to my fellow men. But I discovered that forever doubling and redoubling my efforts in order to win souls, rushing here and dashing there, taking part in this campaign, taking part in that campaign, preaching in the morning, preaching in the evening, talking to the Bible class, witnessing to this one, counseling with another, did nothing, nothing, nothing to change the utter barrenness, the emptiness, the uselessness of my activity. I tried to make up with noise what I lacked in effectiveness and power.¹

Thomas’ ministry didn’t lack passion or commitment. It wasn’t absent of focus or hard work. His ministry was missing Jesus. Self-driven ministry taught Ian Thomas a never-to-be-forgotten lesson we would all do well to learn: you can be busy doing ministry for Jesus and miss Jesus altogether.

Through personal defeat, this decorated British military officer learned ministry will only be fruitful if Jesus is the One in charge. Christ is the sole Commander-in-Chief, which means you and I must lay down our battle strategies and tactical maneuvers. Jesus fights and wins every ministry battle. Christ alone commands the victory and empowers us with divine fortitude to carry out His plans. We have the joyful honor of executing His bidding as foot soldiers in God’s army. 

I’ve met devoted leaders like Ian Thomas who are joyless and discouraged in ministry. Could it be we’re serving and doing the right things—without Jesus?

Ministry Without Jesus

There have been times in my ministry when, without realizing it, I forged ahead in my own strength proud of what I could accomplish for God. It grieves me to write it. The sickly assurance, “I’ve got this!” is a travesty I’ve committed more than once. When someone asks, “What is God teaching you right now?” and I struggle to answer, I know I’m traipsing down a perilous path of ministry without Jesus. When I cannot remember the last time my daily devotions with the Lord were unhurried, I’m settling for ministry without the power and presence of my Savior. 

The disciples experienced a similar learning curve.

Jesus gave them authority to heal the sick and cast out evil spirits (Mark 6:7, 13), but on one occasion their efforts famously failed. In Mark 9:17–29, they tried to heal a mute, demon-possessed boy without success. Jesus was the only remaining hope for the distraught family. The boy’s father begged, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (v. 22). Jesus' response was remarkable, “‘If you can’? Everything is possible for one who believes” (v. 23). He commanded the unclean spirit to leave the boy and never return. With furious convulsions and loud crying, the spirit left for good. 

The Savior used this opportunity to teach the disciples about the connection between faith, prayer, and relying on human strength. The disciples privately asked the Lord why they were unable to cast out this spirit as they had done many times before. In plain words, He stated, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (v. 29).

If we attempt to serve Jesus without intimacy with Jesus, we might as well post a “going out of business” sign. Nothing of eternal value will result from our calloused hands and feet. Ray Stedman highlighted this threat, “The danger that we constantly face is that we get involved in the things about Christ and fail to live in a relationship with Christ.”²

How Leaders Miss Jesus

Most of us have heard this warning before. Why do we need to keep learning it? I can think of a few reasons. The world, the enemy, and at times, our flesh deceive us about what a fruitful life looks like. We allow zeal to rob us of delighting in His presence. We also face a relentless enemy who plants decoys to lure us from the very source and sustenance of life. 

Our Captain is never in a hurry to dispatch workers to the frontlines until He has first filled our canteens with His life-giving water. The hungry are invited to come to Christ to be satisfied and saturated in His Word as our mighty weaponry. But be forewarned: Jesus is not your secret weapon to successful ministry. Neither is Jesus your helper in ministry. He is your life.

Leaders who disregard the truth that Jesus Himself is the essence of fruit-producing ministry will not be used greatly by God in the long run. Tragically, they become prime targets for Satan to disgrace, discredit, or render useless for the King. What does it look like when we serve without Jesus? We miss Jesus when:

  • We use Him as a means to our own ends.
  • Jesus is the subtitle and never the main focus.
  • Serving Jesus revolves around advancing a self-contrived agenda.
  • Professionalism erodes dependency.
  • Self-confidence robs us of seeing our desperate need for Him.
  • Prayer is relegated to asking Jesus to bless our ambitions.
  • We’re devoted to serving Jesus but have little devotion time with Him.

We never set out to consciously do any of these things, but without regular assessment and correction, we can easily make the subtle but monumental pivot. If you’ve fallen for the decoys, are you willing to admit your sin and ask Jesus to draw you back? Fellow foot soldier, He is ready to forgive and able to restore you to fresh intimacy with Him. He longs to reproduce His life in you if you will let Him. Whatever is keeping you at a distance from Jesus, lay it at His feet. Empty yourself of pride, self-sufficiency, shame, unhealthy busyness, selfish ambition, lifeless prayer, and come to Jesus.

Jesus Always Said He Would

Major W. Ian Thomas traveled throughout Britain sharing the gospel and teaching Christians how to live the secret life in Christ. He became an author and the founder of Torchbearers International. He never strayed once he discovered how to die to self so that Christ could live His life through him. Major Thomas prayed, “Lord Jesus, I can’t, You never said I could; but You can, and always said You would. That is all I need to know.”³ 

Don’t settle for ministry without Jesus. The essential source for powerful ministry is always available and accessible. It is Christ Himself.

Living Lord, help me get out of the way so that You are the One in control of each day. My life is Yours to do with it as You will. Make me nothing so You will be everything. Teach me what it looks like practically to die to myself. Allow me to be weak so that Your power becomes my strength. Consume my thoughts and attitude so my mind is fully occupied by You. Live Your life through me so every speck of glory is clearly Yours not mine. Thank You for the work You will accomplish today through my willing hands and feet. Wherever You send me, let me spread Your lovely fragrance and show people what a beautiful Savior You are. Amen.

V. Raymond Edman, They Found the Secret (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1984), 169.

Ray Stedman, “The Simplicity of Christ,” accessed November 27, 2023,

“Who We Are,” Torchbearers International, accessed November 29, 2023,

Scripture: Mark 9:17-29

About the Author

Leslie Bennett

Leslie Bennett has led Women’s Ministry in two local churches, and serves on the Revive Our Hearts ministry team. She connects with women’s leaders around the world in the Revive Our Hearts Leader Facebook Group and as host of online training events. A teacher at heart, she is devoted to training and discipling the next generation to treasure Christ above all. Leslie and her husband Mac live in S.C. where she loves spending time with family, and admiring Lowcountry sunsets.