Lessons in Ministry Love

Ernest Thompson Seton was an adventurer, artist, and writer who recorded his journey to northern Canada in his book The Arctic Prairies. He tells the story of an Algonquin woman whose village starved to death in winter. She and her infant son, the only survivors set out from the camp, hoping to reach another village where there might be food. Along the way she discovered a cache of supplies in a hollow tree, including a small bone fish hook. She had nothing to use for bait so she used her knife to slice a strip of flesh from her leg, baited her hook with it, and caught a fish. They ate, and she used pieces from the fish to catch more, and so they survived the winter.

A mother’s love compels her to do whatever is necessary for the good of her child. Genuine ministry is compelled by love. When we love others we will do them good, even at great personal cost. The model for our love is not a mother, but Jesus.

In John 13 we find Jesus teaching His disciples lessons in ministry love. Notice how John sets the scene in verse 1. Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. John summed up the disciples’ experience with Jesus this way: “He loved His own.” Then he added another word of eyewitness testimony:  “He loved them to the end.”

This prepositional phrase, “unto the end,” can designate time, meaning up to the point of his death, or his departure for heaven. He loved them to the end of His ministry in their presence.

The Greek phrase eis telos can also indicate completeness, to the full extent, or even extreme. Several translations reflect this meaning with the phrase, “to the uttermost.” He loved them completely. He showed them the full extent of His love. He loved them to the extreme.

This may be one of those instances where human language struggles to capture the fullness of divine truth, and one word or phrase contains nuances of meaning.

Jesus loved His disciples while He was with them; loved them to the very last hour of His natural life; loved them to such a degree He died on the cross in their behalf; loved them as He was dying, loved them until He was dead; loved them with His whole person and every ounce of His being; loved them after He rose from the dead, and loved them until He ascended to heaven, and as we now know, that was just the beginning, because neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Loving them to the uttermost led to the cross. But there were thousands of instances before that when Jesus showed them His love. And there was one, just before the cross, that John wanted to be sure to include. He recounted an event so deeply impressed on the minds and hearts of these disciples they would never forget it. After Jesus and the disciples had finished what we call The Last Supper, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. Love elevated Him to the cross in the place of supreme sacrifice. But love also put Him on the floor in a position of servitude.

Jesus did this not only to show love to His disciples, but to teach His disciples how to love. There are lessons here for us as well. Love is produced in us by the Holy Spirit. But Jesus gave us a model to follow.

The Divine Servant teaches us lessons in ministry love.

This is the introduction to a sermon I preached at the Refresh Pastors Conference in 2019. You can listen to the full message here.

MONDAY MORNING DEVOTION – FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS

READING Exodus 7

Do what God tells you to do. Say what God tells you to say. Trust God with the outcome.

When facing an overwhelmingly difficult ministry responsibility, you can proceed with confidence by following the instructions God has given. If the Word of God gives steps to follow, you can just take those steps and trust God with the result.

For example, a church member persists in known sin. He or she may be part of an influential family in the church or community. What should you do? Carefully, patiently, prayerfully follow the steps laid out in Scripture (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-20). Or you believe you should develop disciple-makers in your church who can teach and mentor others in Christian growth, but volunteers are lacking. Select just one or two and follow Paul’s instruction in 2 Timothy 2:1-2. Or someone is infecting the church with discontent, gossip, and hostility toward the leadership. The instructions are clear in Titus 3:10-11.

Following instructions includes delivering the message God has given even when some people will not receive it. God told Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you” (v. 4) but instructed him to deliver the message anyway – “tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land” (v. 2).

There are certain people who will not listen to your message. Their minds are made up to resist and defy God. They may be in your church – the reluctant husband who attends because his wife nags him to, the surly teenager who comes to Sunday School and youth group because her parents make her. Their body language portrays the hardness of their hearts. In fact, it seems the more they hear, the harder they become. It is not your job, nor is it within your power, to make them listen. You cannot force conviction onto their hearts.

God made Moses’ responsibility clear: “You shall speak all that I command you” (2). He has made yours equally clear: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:1-5).

Deliver God’s Word faithfully and fully. That is your responsibility. How people respond is theirs.

PRAYER
Today I feel overwhelmed by some of my shepherding responsibilities, especially _____________________ . I am wrestling with what to do next and my willingness to do it. With your help, I will follow the instructions in your Word. With wisdom you provide, and with grace in my heart, I will deliver your message to those who need it. You are my Chief Shepherd, and I serve you. You are Sovereign God, and I am here to fulfill your purpose. I entrust the outcome of this difficult situation to you.

The True Measure of Church Growth

Facebook2The Thriving Church: The True Measure of Growth, will be released December 6. This interactive resource engages church members and leaders with the most detailed and complete biblical description of organic life in the church, Ephesians 4:1-16.

I invite you to work with me through this truth-packed passage of Scripture and find the answers to these questions:

      • What is church growth?
      • How is it defined?
      • Can it be measured?
      • How can you help your church thrive?

The first church I pastored experienced a steady increase in attendance, membership, financial resources, ministry pro­grams, pastoral staff, missionaries we supported, and facilities. People in the community were hearing the gospel, trusting Christ, and attending our church. Some who already knew the Lord were hungry for the Word and found their way to our fel­lowship.

Our auditorium was overflowing, so we started a sec­ond morning service, then a third. We rented classroom space in an office building across the street. Finally we relocated and moved into a newly constructed facility.

People in the commu­nity who knew about the church commented, “Your church is really growing!” Increase in the size and scope of ministry is one kind of growth. It’s the kind we usually desire, work for, and get excited about when it happens.

But is this the kind of growth Ephesians 4 is talking about?

The second church I pastored went through a period of in­creased attendance, financial abundance, and adding ministry initiatives. But the church also experienced periods of fluctu­ation in these usual markers of prosperity and growth.

If you were to look at the numbers from one year to the next during some of those times, you might not see tangible indicators of growth. Does this mean the church was not growing?

For our churches to fulfill God’s inten­tion, we must understand His template for growth and align our endeavors with it. In Ephesians 4:1-16, Paul tells us the areas in which the church should be growing and the standards by which growth should be measured.

Let’s dig in together and learn about the growing body and how you can help your church thrive.

The Thriving Church will be available at JourneyForth.com starting December 6 and soon after on Christianbooks.com and Amazon.com.

Adapted from The Thriving Church: The True Measure of Growth, by Dean H. Taylor, published by JourneyForth.