How are you feeling about your ministries at church this year? In the life cycle of my church, the start of the year is when many of us recommit to areas of serving. Sometimes, especially if we’re returning to ministries we’ve been doing for a while, we can feel less than enthusiastic. Another year of teaching rowdy kids? Another year of leading a small group of complex people? Another year of coaxing a half-hearted congregation into singing? We can feel like the mythical King Sisyphus who was condemned by Zeus to eternally roll a boulder up a hill—only for it to slip and roll back to the bottom every time. Will this be our experience this year?
Happily, it needn’t be so. God has given us great teaching in the Bible to help us think rightly about ‘repetitive’ ministry. In addition, I think there are a few (biblically informed) strategies that can keep us fresh and enthusiastic as we serve.
The big idea from the Bible is that our ministries (whatever they might be) are a gift not a punishment. Just as we have received God’s gracious gifts of forgiveness, justification and adoption through Christ, so also have we received the gift of ministry. Paul had this perspective. His apostolic ministry was given him “by the mercy of God” (2 Cor 4:1) and he was thankful that God appointed him to his service (1 Tim 1:12). He puts it plainly in Ephesians: “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8). He saw his ministry as a blessing, even though it was incredibly hard.
But why was he so positive about it, even though it cost him his freedom and comfort? The main thing, I think, was that Paul saw it as a great honour to be entrusted by God with a significant task. Being entrusted with something (the gospel, a stewardship, preaching, etc.) is how he often described his ministry (1 Cor 9:17; Gal 2:7; 1 Thess 2:4; 1 Tim 1:11; Titus 1:3) and for him, this, in itself, was a reason for thankfulness. In our western culture we no longer think a great deal about honour, but for Paul it was a great honour and privilege to serve his mighty God and Saviour.
Secondly, Paul saw what a positive impact his ministry had. His explained that his work brings righteousness (2 Cor 3:9) and ultimately brings glory to God: “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:15). If anyone ‘made a difference’ in this world it was Paul in his gospel ministry. Serving, for him, was a gift not a punishment.
Our ministries, though not the same as Paul’s, are still a gracious gift. According to 1 Peter we are to be good stewards of God’s varied grace, using whatever gifts we have received to serve others (1 Pet 4:10). Archippus, a friend of Paul’s in Colossae, was urged to fulfil the ministry he had “received in the Lord” (Col 4:17). We may not feel it all the time, but it is an honour to serve God; our ministries do bring about good for people and glory to God. If we can think in this way, rather than with an attitude of begrudging obligation, we will find fresh enthusiasm for the hard work ahead of us.
With those big ideas from the Bible in mind, what other strategies can we use to stay fresh in ministry?
The start of the year can be a tough time as we brace ourselves for all the hard work ahead. But ministry and serving need not be a drag. Remember Paul’s perspective on the blessing of ministry—it’s a gift not a punishment—and try these strategies as soon as you can. This year could be your best yet.