The myth of ministry “success”

“The point of being an apostle, in any case, is not that one should be showy and spectacular; not even that one should be successful. ‘Stewards of God’s mysteries’, say some translations in verse 1; that’s fine, but the word ‘steward’ has been so overused that we may need to find other ways of bringing out the point. Apostles are like household managers, whose job is to look after the silverware and administer the domestic accounts. God’s ‘mysteries’ (see 1 Cor. 2:7) are like a rich storehouse of treasures, to be used appropriately. Apostles and teachers don’t own the treasure, they merely have to do what they’re told with it. What is required is simply that they be faithful with what’s been entrusted to them.”

Wright, T. (2004). Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (p. 46). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Paul, Calling, Servanthood, and Apostleship

Our journey through the New Testament takes us through Romans, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon.

Just starting with Romans 1:1, I am struck by how Paul describes himself.

A Slave
Many translations say “servant” or “bondservant.” The word can also mean “slave.” He is shackled to his Savior in service. “Slave” isn’t a very safe word in our modern world, but it is a necessary word. Paul knew he was not just in a volunteer proposition where he would be able to negotiate obedience. He had Christ as his Master. When the Master gave the command, he would be the one to respond as obediently as possible.

An Apostle
He also knew his authority. He would describe himself as one called “out of season,” but he knew he was called. He was driven in that call. The gospel was to be preached. As a Jew, he also realized the Lord had called him to the Gentiles. It was all new territory. Yet, that is often in the role of an apostle. They set new paths. They head into previously unmarked territory.

Set Apart
Paul was different. There are people who are different. They are hearing things on a different frequency. Paul was that way. Most of us hear noises and sounds around us, but there are some who hear at a different range and can pick up things. Most of us as believers will do good to read the Word, pray, learn to discern as best we can, and life in Christ is good. Then, there are others who are on a different wavelength. They have opened up their lives to God in a more intense way, and the Spirit seems to direct in a way that, quite frankly, most others just don’t understand.

I have a missionary hero I only got to know when he was retired from missions work. He wasn’t retired from prayer. The man was addicted to prayer. You could ask that man, “What is God doing in the world today?” and he would be able to tell you. He was on a different frequency.

Early on in his missions career, the Lord had called him to radical trust. In our denomination, missionaries raise their own support. They spend four years on the field and come home for a year of itineration. They are supposed to book church services and go like maniacs during that year raising more support. This missionary came home one furlough and the Spirit directed him to simply pray. If he would give his life to prayer, he would not lack for a service. He never made a phone call that year to ask for a service, and he was busy every Sunday of the furlough.

When the Lord told him to fast and pray, he didn’t negotiate for how long or what kind of fast. He simply started fasting and would go until the Spirit told him to stop. Church leaders actually tried to get him to stop that because they were concerned for his health. I think they should have been concerned with other things.

Set apart.

WE are set apart, or we are supposed to be. Set apart from this world. We are called to follow Jesus and by virtue of that call, we should be as odd to this world as that missionary was to most of the church. When we follow Christ, our cues are simply coming from another direction… or they should.

I pray for courage to be truly SET APART.

Apostolic Ministry

My life is challenged by modern-day apostles. True apostles. Not the ones taking out full page ads in magazines. The ones actually doing the work of an apostle, too busy to self-promote. They are affirmed in this ministry by the Spirit and the Church recognizes it.

The past few months we have had a few in that company visit our church. We support their ministries. They are plowing new ground in areas where the gospel may never have been preached before. These are people who are humble, yet have a clear vision of what the Spirit has ahead for them in their lives. I am deeply grateful for their ministry, their example, and their friendship. Their lives challenge me, calling me to refresh my own calling from the Lord.

I am grateful for the Lord stirring those gifts up in his Body in times like this.