Stay fresh as you serve this year

  • Richard Sweatman
  • 7 January 2019

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? 

  1. Recover a thankfulness for your ministry. List out the many things about your particular ministry that you are thankful for. This could include things like the opportunity itself, the team you work with, the fun and joy you’ve had from it, or the reward of seeing things go well (at times). Thankfulness sometimes requires deliberate thought. While listening to the cricket this summer I heard one of the commentators speak about how he always tried to be positive about playing cricket for Australia. No matter how hard the situation was he always reminded himself that spending his time playing a game he loved for his country was a privilege and he was thankful for the opportunity. We can do the same with our ministries.
  2. Recover a prayerfulness about the ministry. Ministry seems an even heavier burden when we tackle it alone. Remind yourself that all ministry we do is in partnership with God and we express this partnership primarily through prayer. As I reflect on my upcoming year, the things I feel least enthusiastic about are the things for which I have rarely prayed. I need to be faithful in prayer for all my ministries.
  3. Try to improve on last year. It’s a common trap in ministry to just go through the motions. We are familiar with professional development at work or skill development with hobbies. My kids are commended at school for having ‘a growth mindset’. We can do the same in ministry. Try to do better compared to last year. Consider reading a book about your ministry, going to a conference, or trying something new. As a simple example, I’m hoping to find and learn a new song for the kindergarten Scripture class I teach.
  4. Start training someone this year. I’ve often seen people in church ministries invigorated by training someone to do what they’ve been doing for years. There’s something exciting about having a new person on the team who is interested and curious about how things work. It’s rewarding to see them grow in their skills and confidence and sometimes end up doing better than you. Pray that God might provide a trainee and try to find one (with your pastor’s help if need be). It will make for a better year.

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.

Being a Small Group Leader