Be Weak for Christ

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Doing “Less” to Do More

If you’ve never been there, you will. It will happen. You’ll feel the slow and steady hand of spiritual exhaustion gradually suffocate your fire to be on mission. You’ll feel yourself going through the motions of being “professional” in ministry and, yet, cold-hearted in your zeal for it. Your state of mind will be a breeding ground for doubt, insecurity, and apathy, and, yet, you’ll be inundated with a million churchy things to do.

I’m talking about burnout.

It has happened to every minister I’ve ever known at one point or another and I’ve seen ministries thrive or fall on the basis of how they handle it. For my small, but faithful, outpost church on the skirts of an otherwise forgotten trailer park in Chester, Virginia, burnout has reached our front door. I hope you don’t think I’m jaded when I say that the church is far from barren in its spirit to serve. In fact, I’m often flabbergasted at how much this small and humble church of less than 100 has accomplished on the mission field when neighboring megachurches, with seemingly unlimited resources, stay within their four walls with hands permanently fixed in their pockets.

However, burnout is an unwelcomed product of our ministry context, and there are, as far as I can tell, four broad-sweeping contributing factors—limited man-power, considerable budgetary restraints, exceedingly hard soil to till, and a pliability in trying anything to fulfill the Great Commission. They are all intertwined. To increase our budget, we know that the money is in reaching families with stable households and good jobs. Yet, the Lord hasn’t given us a church full of such people and many of those families are drawn to white-bread churches with a more respectable location and more impressive facilities. Thus, the same 20 people—those who are being discipled and growing steadily—are the ones who faithfully serve in every area of need. When coupled with hard ministry soil, (overly?) ambitious programming, and a resistance to more popular seeker-sensitive movements void of Gospel substance, this ministry context will inevitably take a toll on those who shoulder the burden.

Let me be honest—I don’t have the solution to these problems.

My suspicion is that many of you can relate. If not corporately, you may relate on a personal level. How easy it is to get spread too thin and feel overwhelmed by our circumstances! That fire that drives us and that feeling of being sustained by the Spirit can sometimes feel quenched in times like these. While I confess our leadership team has not come up with an end-all, be-all solution, we do believe we are on a trajectory toward a solution.

As we move forward on this journey, my intention will be to suggest movements both in ministry strategy and discipleship focus. In relation to strategy, the lesson we’re learning is that sometimes less is more. Since we already know our people have a heart for mission, we need to cultivate consistent excitement in ministry, at least on the whole, and the value it brings. We need to maintain a willingness to do anything for the sake of the Gospel while also balancing that with guarding our own affections for Jesus and people. Thus, there can’t be any sacred cows allowed in our church. Whatever fat that does not satisfy these requirements, must be trimmed. Programs can die and that’s ok. We may end up with fewer services, but we believe those services will be all the more impactful.

I’ve got to tell you—in my flesh, doing “less” doesn’t always sit well with me. It’s quite counter-cultural in a secular environment which views the notion of protecting margin in our time and services as a death wish for an organization wanting to expand its reach. What’s more is that church culture has adopted far too much from the business world’s paradigm such that cutting services is often assumed to be indicative of a dying church. The motto is usually “Bigger, Better, More People,” not “Less Programming, Fewer Events, and Strengthen Your Core.”

Yet, it’s in just this way that our discipleship focus may need to be tweaked. Dependency on Jesus is always the most accurate perspective when dealing with such problems. Abiding in the Vine is trusting in Him to produce fruit. It is most assuredly the only way the branches will bear fruit anyway. And it is exactly this grounding we need in our discipleship efforts. In this way “less” becomes more if doing “less” means helping the branches to stay wet with the blessed sustenance that flows from the Vine.

My prayer is that as we implement these changes, we will discover a new meaning for the idea of satisfaction in whatever the Lord decides to do in the place He has given us to serve. On the one hand, it is bright-eyed and Gospel-centered ambition that propels us into the Great Commission with vigor and stick-to-itiveness. I never want to lose that. Indeed, it too needs to be cultivated. On the other hand, we need to learn to temper our drive with the satisfaction of knowing that the Lord brings the fruit. We are obedient and He decides what may come of our obedience. So, may we celebrate even the smallest of victories as they come from “less” programming and more affection for our Vine.

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.