What does ministry mean to me? Recently, I was asked to give my testimony regarding the answer to that question at a gathering of my ministry colleagues. The catch? I only had 5 minutes to share. A preacher, a microphone, a captive audience, and just 5 minutes; this was truly the definition of “preacher torture.” What could I say about a, to this point, 22 year journey with God in ministry that would edify and encourage my colleagues while conveying ministry has come to mean to me? I was able to whittle it down to four words….surrender, sacrifice, service, and satisfaction.
My, and I believe all, ministry journeys begin with surrender. I know that mine did. I first had to surrender my life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That primary importance of that surrender, for any living person, cannot be underestimated. I next had to surrender my plan for my life, allowing God to exchange it for a much better plan. It was never my intention to pursue ministry as a vocation. In fact, church was never a primary focus for my life. Upon graduating from Hampton University I intended to make my fortune in corporate finance and money management. God clearly had another plan for me that I knew nothing of at the time. It was up to me to surrender to his will and plan. We are all, whether it is in ministry or any other area of life, confronted with the reality that we can either take the path that we have chosen for ourselves or surrender to God and follow his path.
Ministry is sacrifice. After surrendering our life design and plan for God’s plan, sacrifice becomes a regular part of a life in ministry. I, we, willingly sacrifice time with family, normal working hours, and a level of privacy. Sacrifice isn’t a bad thing and ministers are by no means the only people who sacrifice. But sacrifice, as in the life of Jesus, becomes a mark of a minister’s life. The Christian in general, and the Christian minister in particular, is called to a life of sacrifice. What are we willing to lay on the altar of our faith? What are we willing to crucify for our love of Christ? I have, through the years, come to see my life through the lens of Christ’s love and sacrifice for me. His love for me has nurtured in me a reciprocal kind of love and desire to sacrifice for him.
A minister is, at the core, a servant. To think, live, or believe otherwise is a falsehood and harmful to the mission of the gospel. A minister’s service is both private and personal, corporate and public. A minister serves in the town square and in the pulpit, in homes and in hallways. Jesus was able to point those he led to the importance of living a life of service by living such a life himself. In the gospel that bears the name of Matthew he admonishingly reminds them that he, the Son of Man, came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. In my decades of ministry service this notion has only reinforced my understanding of the sacrificial nature of Christian ministry. It isn’t, and neither can it ever, be about me. If Christ came to serve others, not making ministry about himself, then I am called to do the same.
Finally, ministry to me is about satisfaction. When I think of the life that I get to live daily I know that I am a blessed man. When I think of the people that I get to serve and serve alongside I am satisfied. I think of the life that I had planned for myself and I contrast it with the life that I now live, and all I can do is thank God. My life, as a minister of the gospel, isn’t filled with charm and status. My life, as a minister of the gospel, isn’t filled with extravagance. Honestly, sometimes it is a bare bones life. Sometimes it is a life lived on the margins. But when I remember the message that I am entrusted to carry to the world, when I think of the hope that I am charged to represent, when I think of the lives I am afforded an opportunity to interact with and possibly impact, I cannot be anything but grateful and satisfied.
Many may look and only see what my life may seem to be missing. I would tell them to look a bit deeper. This life I live started with a surrender, but I found that surrender made me a victor and not a victim. This life I live has demanded countless sacrifices, but the things I gave up are but rubbish when measured against all I have received. This life I live makes me the servant of others, but in serving others I have come into the presence of great men. When I think of this life that I have the blessed honor to live for Jesus Christ, as a minister of the gospel, I know that I would be a fool to be anything but more than satisfied.
Question: What does ministry mean to you? How has what ministry means to you evolved over time? I’d love for you to share your thoughts. You can leave a comment by clicking here.