Sometimes we need a ministry heart check. I know that several times through the years I’ve had to step back and reevaluate my attitudes, my perspectives and my motives.
When I first started working in church ministry as a wet-behind-the-ears youth pastor, I quickly found myself challenged. My struggle? I tried to figure out how to approach my relationship and involvement with some of the youth para-church organizations in our area.
(For those desiring a definition, a para-church organization is described as a ministry that comes alongside the church to offer assistance. By definition and design, para-church groups ought to come alongside churches to provide ministries those churches cannot fulfill alone. Such groups are meant to assist, not replace the work of the church.)
Here’s what caused me to feel rubbed the wrong way (both mentally and emotionally): As I heard it directly from the mouths of some of our local para-church leaders, their job was to reach kids for Jesus and seek to get them involved in local churches. From there, the local churches would support, disciple and equip these freshly regenerated students.
Sounded like a great plan to me!
But after some time I noticed that one or two of the para-church groups seemed to make no effort to guide kids toward a church body. To borrow an expression from the world of fishing, they did the catching, but they also got to business of cleaning. These actions made me feel like my toes were getting stepped on.
What made matters more challenging for me was this: some kids from our church sometimes went to the activities and events these para-church groups held to raise up these young believers. So, in my estimation, not only were these para-church groups not allowing kids to get to the churches, they were also willing to let kids from churches get involved in their discipling programs.
I had a hard time reconciling the fact that these para-church groups weren’t doing what they said they would do. Their actions made me feel both vulnerable and competitive at the same time. I wanted to love the leaders of these para-church groups, but I felt some frustration that, in my mind, they weren’t keeping their end of the bargain. I wondered: are we co-laborers or competitors?
What was I to do?
Rather than act rashly, I decided to run my predicament by a youth ministry expert.
I got on the phone and called Dewey Bertolini, who at the time ran the youth ministry program at the Master’s College in Southern California. I’d read Dewey’s books on youth ministry and figured he might be able to help me navigate what I viewed as perplexing, treacherous waters.
Thankfully, Dewey took my call and graciously listened as I described my plight. He acknowledged my frustration and affirmed the reality of the ministry disconnect I was experiencing.
He also made sure I knew that if I planned to stay in ministry for a long time, I had better get used to ministry relationships that didn’t always line up nice and neat.
And then Dewey asked me to take my Bible and look at Philippians 1:15-18.
The context of the passage had Paul sitting in prison, bound in chains. While Paul sat behind prison walls, some visitors gave Paul updates on how the Gospel was advancing.
They also added this tidbit of information: there were a few people faithfully spreading the Gospel, but at the vert same time they were bashing Paul. It seemed that a spirit of competition and exploitation had taken hold of these evangelists.
Imagine how such a dissonant report made Paul feel. They spoke well of Jesus, but of the world’s greatest missionary, they spoke dismissive words of jealousy and opposition.
Warren Wiersbe offered this insight into what was going on with those who were more than willing to speak badly of Paul:
In describing where Paul’s rivals were coming from, he likened it to “selfish ambition.” The word used in Philippians 1:16 carries the idea of “contentiousness.” It means to “canvas for office; to get people to support you.” Paul’s aim was to glorify Christ and get people to follow Him; his critic’s aim was to promote themselves and get a following of their own. Instead of asking, “Have you trusted Christ?” they asked, “Whose side are you on – ours or Paul’s?”
Who could blame for feeling a bit stung by such a dissonant report? It would seem that Paul would have every right to feel frustrated and angry with those who were willing to exalt Jesus, yet at the same time give Paul a black eye.
But look at what Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians:
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18 NIV)
At the end of the day, Christ being preached mattered more than Paul’s influence and reputation.
Talk about taking the high road! What a radical way of thinking.
It’s easy to get petty. It’s easy to get political. It’s hard to take the perspective of John the Baptist: “He must increase, I must decrease.”
As for me, I could have continued on with frustration toward my para-church brethren.
Instead, by way of a wise youth ministry expert, I was pointed to God’s Word, which in turn challenged me to cheer on these co-laborers because kids were hearing about Jesus.
Ultimately, our job is to see that God is magnified.
Even in less that perfect circumstances, we can rejoice when God get’s the glory due His name.