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Three 'Aches' of Ministry, Part 1
by Tom Goodman
July 4, 2008

"Churches are like parking spaces," a young pastor friend told me after a long period of looking for a new church.

"Okay, I'll bite," I said.  "How are churches like parking spaces?"

He said, "The good ones are taken, and the rest are all handicapped!"

In truth, the Apostle Paul never met a church that wasn't "handicapped" in some way.  The Galatian church was filled with legalism; the Thessalonian church had screwy notions of the Second Coming; the Philippian church endured self-centered members; and the Corinthian church was filled theological and ethical knots Paul had to untangle.

So why should those of us on staff and in lay ministry positions think church work is any different today?

In 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Paul outlines three "aches" he got from ministry:

  • The headache of Christians who refused to mature (verses 1-2),
  • The backache of sacrificial efforts (verses 3-10), and
  • The heartache of rejected love (verses 11-13).
Across the next three editions of LeaderLines, I want to talk about those aches.  Let's begin with the first:  Sometimes those of us in ministry experience the headache of Christians who refuse to mature.  There's a difference between growing up and just growing old, and Paul had to deal with the latter more often than the former.  In the first two verses of 2 Corinthians 6, we catch our apostle urging the Corinthian Christians not to receive the grace of God in vain:

As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain.
For he says,
    In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.

I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.

In reflecting on that text, some people have thought that Paul was urging unbelievers to receive the gospel.  But the problem he wrote about was not unbelievers who had refused to receive the gospel; the problem was believers who seemed to have received the Gospel in vain.  There had been no effective change in their lives; they had not let the Gospel produce the desired results.

There are four "desired results" that we can expect when a congregation lets the gospel do its great work in their lives.  When these are not evident, church workers have to endure the "headache" of spiritual immaturity:

First, mature people honor the Lord of life.  They trust God's promise:  "Those who honor me I will honor" (1 Samuel 2:30, NIV).  So, they honor God with worship, prayer, stewardship, and lifestyle:
  • They love to worship with other believers, rejoicing whenever the Word of God is preached and the Name of God is lifted up in praise.
  • They have an active personal prayer life.
  • They "honor the Lord with their wealth" in faithful stewardship. (Proverbs 3:9)
  • Their lifestyle reflects their awareness that they are Christ's representatives.
Second, mature people invite their world to life They build relationships with nonbelievers, patiently working with the prejudices and misconceptions that their friends have of Christ and his Church.  They look for opportunities to invite those who are spiritually curious to join them in worship services (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).  They communicate their faith to others, and eagerly take courses that will equip them to witness more effectively.

Third, mature people love the fellowship for life.  The Bible says, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Galatians 5:6, NIV).  Just as we should build witnessing relationships with those outside the faith, we should improve our connections with those inside the faith.  Many of the New Testament letters are filled with commands to sacrifice for each other, encourage each other, serve each other, tolerate each other's idiosyncrasies, and forgive each other's faults.

Fourth, mature people live the Word in life.  The Bible says, "God chose you to be his people, so I urge you now to live the life to which God called you." (Ephesians 4:1, NCV)  The Bible has guidance about money management, parenting, finding a marriage partner, getting along with others at work, and many other practical things.  It is not enough simply to learn the facts of the Bible, but we need to put into practice the things we learn.

Honor.  Invite.  Love.  Live.  At Hillcrest we call this the H.I.L.L. of Christian discipleship.

But in the first two verses of 2 Corinthians 6, Paul wrote about people who seemed to have "received God's grace in vain."  They didn't exhibit the kind of results you would expect from people who had been gripped by divine grace.

If Paul faced it in the Corinthian church 2000 years ago, don't be surprised to face it as a church worker today.

Of course, there are two operative phrases in that sentence: "don't be surprised" and "face it."  On the one hand, church workers can't be disillusioned when they see spiritual shallowness in the church.  On the other hand, it's not right to simply shrug our shoulders and resign ourselves to the immaturity that we find.  We have to employ the same tools that Paul used to build people up: prayer, encouragement, patient teaching, and even authoritative reprimand.

It takes a lot of spiritual aspirin to put up with the headaches of Christians who have failed to mature.  Ministry ain't for sissies, and from what I read in 2 Corinthians 6, it's always been like that.  Next week we'll look at verses 3-10 to discover the backache of sacrificial effort.


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