For many years, the imagery that ministry evoked in my mind could be likened to a scene described from a book on the tactics of Napoleonic warfare. I’ve imagined charging the battlefield William Wallace-style with sword in one hand and shield in the other while gritting my teeth as we slay the enemy one worldly influence at a time. Certainly the analogy has some truth to it, and yes, perhaps a little more grit and fortitude wouldn’t be such a bad thing in ministry. Scripture does seem to invoke these images in certain instances, after all.
Even still, I can’t help but entertain one nagging thought to which more and more ministry experience has lent credence. This thought just won’t let me embrace any mentality of triumphalism wholesale, even though I know the Lord’s absolute victory is ultimately guaranteed. Specifically, the hard truth for the minister is that he is altogether inadequate for the task he is given. What’s more is that the Christian in general is equally inadequate for the commission he has been given day-in and day-out.
I doubt I needed to tell you this. If you are a church planter, pastor, deacon, or elder, you likely have already felt the sting of defeat at one point or another. Maybe you, like myself, have felt disheartened because of the seeming ineffectiveness of our preaching or pastoring from time to time. Maybe a recent skirmish has left you without the sense of a clear-cut revival victory for which you had hoped and now that vigor for the fight you had has gone and you’re left feeling weak.
Truthfully, we feel weak… because we are weak.
That’s certainly not the message you are likely to hear in a church plant’s next Youtube fundraising video. It’s definitely not going to be advertised by most “personality” preachers who have veiled their need to tickle ears with a nominally Christian message. Even among the faithful, though, when was the last time you heard “Be weak for Christ” instead of “Be strong for Christ”? No, we routinely hear “Put on the armor and fight,” not “It’s ok to feel inadequate because, well, you are.” Such a message just doesn’t play well with our sense of pride, especially as ministers. And while the reality of our inadequacies often sounds fine to us as we preach our next salvation message, the pill is sometimes harder to swallow when we find out that they are just as prevalent in our ministries as well.
But take heart, because success in ministry, like our salvation, is not contingent on our adequacy. Amen.
In fact, an often overlooked tenant of Paul’s ministry was that the Lord desired that Paul be reminded of his weakness as a hedge against arrogance. Though we don’t know the specifics of the thorn in the flesh mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, we do know that this weakness was the very thing that put God’s power on a pedestal in the ministry and life of Paul. The sufficiency of grace became the unquestionable theme of the ministry of Paul, a man who found that his weakness is the suitable vehicle for the power of God to eclipse the inadequacies of man. For Paul, to be weak was to be strong in Christ. Therefore, weakness can be embraced. It is welcomed. It is celebrated, despite the sting with which it is packaged at times.
So, if you are feeling weak today, I want to leave you with a few thoughts for ministry:
- Embrace your weaknesses and inadequacies. Yes, the Lord empowers the man of God to complete the work of his calling, but there is freedom in knowing that the Lord does the empowering and it isn’t something we need to muster up from within ourselves.
- Don’t market your ministry or church as being without weakness. Why would we portray no weakness?! When we are weak, we are strong because that is when Jesus’ strength is all the more evident. It’s ok to want to do the best you can for the glory of God. Balance, however, is when you can see past the quest for a superlative to the higher calling of building the Kingdom, even when that means admitting that you are inadequate but Jesus is gracious.
- Rest in the knowledge that weakness is used by God. Moses had the speech impediment. Paul had the thorn. Charles Spurgeon battled deep depression. William Carey lost three children and faced his wife’s mental breakdown. Who among us is adequate? God uses the weak!
Josh Waltman is a preacher, writer, and evangelist at On Truth and Love, a preaching and teaching ministry based out of Lynchburg, VA. He is also a worship leader with The Worship Collective, an alternative worship band from Chester, VA.