The last 5 months of ministry has been a bit of a whirlwind. Have there been hardships? Yes. Have there been blessings? Absolutely! Amidst the ups and downs of ministry throughout the past few months, God has been teaching my family a few lessons that I would like to pass along for those who may need to be reminded or encouraged in their own ministry context during this time.
My family ministers along the Garden Route of South Africa as church planting missionaries in the city of Knysna. We had originally planned to be in the States for a family wedding during the month of April with the intention of arriving back in South Africa around June/July. Those plans were drastically changed! Due to my wife’s pregnancy, it looks as if we will be here through October (at the least). We now find ourselves thousands of miles away from our ministry, home, and young church plant. While we are incredibly thankful and grateful to have ministry partners who have labored well in our absence, the reality of ministering from afar was not what we had on the church planting agenda for this year. Read any book on church planting strategy, and I guarantee it will not advise you to leave the city/country for an extended period of time after your first year together. Yet, this is exactly where God has us right now, in His providence, and according to His good and perfect plan. As we embrace this season of ministry life, here are five lessons that I am learning that I hope will encourage others to do the same.
Prayer is often assumed and rarely administered. I confess, one of my greatest spiritual challenges is consistent prayer, and sometimes, simply praying. But prayer is the ammunition by which the Great Commission battle is won. Yes, Gospel workers must go and the Word of God must be proclaimed, but these works done apart from a God-dependent spirit are futile and vain. We must seek to reflect the heart and practice of the Apostle Paul when he writes to the church in Philippi,
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel form the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who begun a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of of Jesus Christ (Phil.1:3-6 ESV).
Rely on the Spirit
This second lesson goes hand-in-hand with the first. If we are truly relying on the Spirit, we will pray. But along with our prayers, it is good for us to be reminded that God’s Spirit is the only One who can change a heart. The Holy Spirit possesses the power and grace to open the eyes of blinded hearts (2 Cor. 4:6), not our personalities or ministry strategies. It is such a great comfort to know that Christ did not give us this task to accomplish on our own; He gave us His Spirit. So as you worry about a struggling member or face discouragement from a wayward disciple, remember, God’s Spirit is at work. Trust Him. Rely on Him.
This lesson is not particularly fun, especially for a Western American. Innovation and change are our battle cry. We have been taught by the culture form an early age, “You can do anything,” and, “Follow your dreams!” In case you are wondering, this is not how life works. One of the realities and privileges of man in God’s creation is that he is finite. We cannot do anything we desire. Our “dreams” are vain apart from Christ. We were created with limits and that is a good thing (Gen. 1). As you seek to be creative in ministry for the glory of God during this time, don’t become anxious regarding your limitations. Embrace your limitations and look to Christ. Let your limitations drive you to your knees and before the throne of grace. We may be limited, but our God has no limits!
If you were a technological skeptic before COVID-19, chances are that you have at least softened over the past few months. God has been good to give us technological advances that have sustained some form of ministry in our current global situation. In our own ministry, we benefit from weekly Sunday gatherings online. I am able to tune into our South African church service, and even preach, because of technology. Is this preferred? No. Is it helpful? Yes. Other technologies such as blog posts, podcasts, and other various forms can be utilized for God’s kingdom work. This is a blessing from God.
Claim Matthew 16:18
The final lesson is to remember what Christ has promised in His Word and anchor yourself in His truth. Matthew 16:18 says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Christ promises to build His Church. Do we really believe that? Have we become so self-dependent that we have forgotten that Christ WILL build His Church. We labor in our church planting with the hope that Christ has already promised to do it. The work of Christ is bigger than you and me. We are but a tiny part of it, yet He is pleased to use us. This is marvelous grace!
My family still is unsure as to when we will be able to return to South Africa (although we hope it is soon), but we labor from a distance until we can. We are still learning these lessons and seeking to implement them, but I pray that all of us will remember during this time of uncertainty that we serve a God of certainty. He has promised to “build His Church,” and neither the “gates of hell” or COVID-19 will stop that!