In ministry, we face many problems and challenges. From little snafus—like running out of sweet tea during a women’s ministry luncheon—to bigger ones like a conflict between ministry leaders, problems are part and parcel in ministry life.
What are some of those problems?
Potential Problems of Ministry
- We hear grumbling about the Bible study that was chosen for the semester.
- It’s hard to find volunteers who will serve.
- There are women on the sidelines who never seem to participate. No matter how many times we invite them to something, they just don’t come.
- There is gossip spreading about one of the women in the church, and people are starting to take sides.
- There’s one volunteer who always seems to rub people the wrong way. More and more women are complaining about it.
- Everyone seems to have an opinion about what they think should happen in the ministry, but few people want to do the work to make it happen.
Problems can seem like distractions. Things we need to fix, obstacles to overcome, things to be solved, in order to get back to the real business of ministry. We might tackle problems by attempting to start another program or choose a different study that everyone likes or replace ministry leaders with someone new. We might try to placate people, smooth things over, or please everyone. We want to get beyond the problems so we can move forward with planning for a retreat or implementing the new discipleship program.
As we focus on the problems at hand, it’s easy to miss the real issues. It’s easy to miss the fact that the problems we face aren’t things to overcome so we can get back to ministry; problems are ministry.
People Are the Ministry
The truth is, the real ministry, the real work that needs to get done, is the people. The relationships. The conflicts and misunderstandings. The heart issues that lead to things like gossip, discontentment, and bitterness. The immaturity in the knowledge of God. The disunity.
This is ministry.
The apostle Paul used the image of a human body to explain how the church functions. Just as a body is made up of many parts which work together to make the body grow and function, so too is the church body made up of many parts which all need to work together to grow. In Ephesians 4, Paul describes what this looks like:
[Walking] in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (vv. 1–6)
Because we are united together as the Body of Christ, we are to labor to maintain that unity. We do so in our humility toward one another, in our gentleness and patience, and in our love for one another. Paul goes on to say that church leadership exists to equip the church body to do the work of ministry and build up the Body of Christ (v. 12).
And what is the goal of this ministry?
[That] we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (vv. 13–16)
Spiritual maturity. Growth in the gospel. Unity in love. These are the goals of ministry. The events we hold and the activities we do are the means to bring about change in people’s lives. They are the means to help women grow in knowledge of God’s Word. They are the means to open the door to needed conversations. They are the means to shine a light on areas into which the gospel needs to speak. They are the means to live out our unity in Christ.
So those problems we face? They aren’t problems, but people, and they are our ministry focus. They are part of the Body and like our human body, when something isn’t working right, it needs to be attended to—for it affects the whole church. The women who reside on the sidelines of our ministries need to be poured into. Those who gossip or grumble or cause division need discipleship, mentoring, and training. Those who hesitate to volunteer need to understand their essential importance as part of the church body. And all those we serve need to be covered in daily prayer.
When we face problems in ministry—which we all do—let us not be so quick to move beyond the problems, but let us see them for what they are: opportunities to build up the Body of Christ in love.