Ministry is midwifery

  • Jean Williams
  • 21 November 2016

I met with a woman today. She is growing in leaps and bounds. I’d like to take the credit: “It’s because you’ve been meeting with me.” I think her friend feels the same: “It’s because of the things I’ve said to you.” Or perhaps our pastor can take the credit: “It’s because of my sermon that impacted you so greatly.” But the truth is, ultimately, that it’s none of these. She is growing because of God’s work in her heart through his gospel. 

Ministry is midwifery. It is God who gives new life—all we do is assist in the process. I read the story of Jesus with a friend who is won by his beauty. I cry and pray with a woman grieving the death of her child. I watch the gospel uproot a young woman’s perfectionism. I read the Bible, pray, speak of God’s grace, but it is God who changes people’s hearts. I often go away from meeting women with a sense of immense privilege that I get to witness his work up close in people’s lives. My midwife hands assist, but life is from the Lord.

A similar truth came to me earlier this year, when a ministry bore unexpected fruit. Once again, the temptation was to claim the credit; but my euphoria was tempered with caution when the Spirit brought these words to mind:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep.
(Ps 127:1-2)

I was reminded that this is God’s work, not ours. He is the one who brings growth. If I am ever tempted to run too hard and too fast; to lay all my energy and effort on the altar of my ambition; to let pride in my hard work and achievements creep in, as if growth comes through my effort—then may I humble myself deeply in repentance. I am not the Saviour of the world. There is only one Messiah, and that is not me.

And so I can sleep, knowing that God alone doesn’t slumber. That he alone runs the world. That he alone saves. That in his mercy he may invite me to be part of this work but he doesn’t need me. If I ignore this—if I start to think that I don’t need rest, that I can do it all, that it rests on my work—then I do so at my peril. God is God and I am not. 

As I reflected on these truths, another passage came to mind:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth… According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 3:6-7, 10-11

We may plant or water, but it is God who gives the growth. We are mere servants, our tasks assigned by God. He gives us the privilege of being his fellow-workers, but we work with the grace he supplies. We are nothing; he is everything (1 Cor 3:5-10).

Let us beware if we are ever tempted to build on another foundation besides Jesus Christ! If we choose to build with anything other than the gold of the gospel, we will see our work burnt up on the last day (1 Cor 3:12-15).

And so I am left with six great imperatives:

  1. Build on the gospel: All true ministry is founded on the gospel, and all true growth comes by grace. There is no other foundation. There is no other work. We build in Christ’s name and for his glory.
  2. Work: And so we work hard. God calls us to assist in the process of new birth, to plant and water with diligence, to build with wisdom and care, trusting him for the results.
  3. Rest: There is only one God. There is only one Saviour. We can rest and sleep, entrusting the growth to him. Indeed, if we want to keep serving, we must rest and sleep, for we are creatures, not the Creator.
  4. Pray: Since this is God’s work, not ours, we pray. We don’t fret, rely on our own efforts, or become weighed down under others’ burdens, but hand our cares and theirs over to God in prayer.
  5. Trust: Sometimes, people and ministries grow with unexpected speed. At other times, people reject or turn from Christ, or a ministry we started collapses and dies. We may never see the fruit of our work. But that does not mean that God is not at work. His gospel, his Word, his Spirit, are doing their quiet work in people’s hearts and lives. We can trust him to bring new birth and growth in his own timing and his own way.
  6. Give thanks: When we do see new birth and growth, there is only one proper response: thanksgiving. For all this comes from the merciful and generous hands of God. He doesn’t need us. He could do his work without us. Yet he gives us the privilege of sharing in his work and the joy of seeing him work through us. The proper response is not pride, but thanksgiving. So let us give thanks.

Midwifery. Farming. Building. Whatever the metaphor, the truth is the same: we may work, but the results belong to God. He is the one who grants new birth, who gives the growth, who establishes the work of our hands. Let us build, work, rest, trust, pray, and give thanks, for this is God’s work, not ours.