Over the past several months, several pastoral friends have prayerfully asked this question, “Do you sense the ministry move from ‘here to there’ would be a faithful transition for me?” This is always a deep trust question that I prayerfully attempt to honor. But this faith adventure with Jesus also has imbedded within it presuppositions that should be identified before moving forward. Simply, let’s look back and in before leaning forward. The best way for me to do this is using a Socratic approach; let me ask you some questions to help you discover truth. So please overhear me talking to a friend about one of the most pressing decisions any pastor can and will make.
First, “Do you assume that the location of your ministry calling is paramount and of primary concern to your faithfulness to the Lord?” (Theology question, “Is the Lord’s working in and thru you restricted by location?”)
Second, as an extension of the first question, “Is there only one place where your gifts can be utilized by the Lord?” Rephrase it this way, if your answer is yes, then you must be assuming that one response you will make is the faithful one and the other must be resulting in your disobedience. (Now, the theological question, what does this reveal about the nature of God and His character and the manner He employs spirit-filled people in Kingdom work?)
My friend…you know my desire is not to gain the right answer but to ask the right question that prepares the “way of the Lord.” So, here we go…
In seeking the Lord’s will, especially for questions that involved significant life change, my questions in prayer are these:
- Will this decision and the journey it may take me on make me more servant-like? More humble? (And not just “look” more like a servant but will this serve as a catalyst for my own real transformation)
- Will the Imago Deiin me continue to be shaped into His?
- Will your mind become more like that of Christ Jesus? (Phil 2)
- Will your “thinking like men diminish as thinking like God will increase?” (Mark 8)
- Will this action (obedience by either “staying” or “going”) display to my family, friends, and faith community a movement of the Spirit in my life?
- Will my Kingdom influence increase as my needs of self-interest diminish?
- Will God the Father and His Son be glorified? Will the Spirit find pleasure in me as His home?
- Does this time of “seeking His Face” (not just His will) cause me to fully submit to Him in prayer, searching the Scriptures, and practicing the means of Grace. (Read it this way: Is the delight of being in His presence so much better than merely gaining information about my “next steps”?)
- Finally, have I already said “Yes” to His will BEFOREI know what it is? Do I so trust Him that I am already leaning towards His voice even before He speaks?
Response from my seeking friend;
Wow. That is a lot to take in. Thank you for your guidance Dave. I needed to read all of these. I am not sure it’s possible to answer some of them fully until you step out in faith. How is it possible to know how you will be shaped in the future by decisions that must be made on the present? How do I know if the Imago Dei will be formed in me? These are all great questions. I would expect nothing less.
Try to re-read my questions without implying that you are merely seeking to make a ministry placement decision. For the questions are not segmented or focused on making a “right choice” (or the fear of making a “wrong choice”) but making a godly “life choice” (and read that as a Resurrection life-choice). Huge difference. The questions are intentionally designed to get you into the Presence of the God of all Wisdom, not merely making a list of spiritual pros-and-cons for a choice. That, my friend is secondary at best.
In my life there have been rare occasions when the Lord has so powerfully intervened and invaded my world that He has sovereignly taken me out of my current ministry context. Maybe 5 times in my entire life. Mostly I sense He is about changing me IN my current location and making me salt and light to broken and lost people.
In the end, I really think we have historically asked the wrong question: “Lord, what is Your will for my life?” For as a whole, doesn’t that sound self-centered? Rather, why not ask a larger Kingdom-minded question: “Lord, what is Your will, for the world!” Thus, we think global in scope and transformational of our heart.
If “spiritual unrest” is being stirred up in our ministry and maybe you even feel as if you are currently living in the land of ministry-wilderness, maybe it’s not so much to move us out but to change us from within. Let’s get that part right first…before we begin thinking that simply a change of location will fix everything. Otherwise we take our same spiritual-relational problems into a new setting…and maybe actually contaminate that place with our pain and shame. I want to be a contagion of grace and peace. I do not want to make bad people good…or good people better; I want to be part of making dead people ALIVE. Jesus, start with me.
My friend, a ministry move may be in order. I’m just begging you to ask the first-order question; “Am I running from something (pain, ministry disappointment, financial hardship, lack of divine trust, pastoral leadership issues, laity problems) or am I submissive to the Holy Spirit to use all this to prepare me to be more Christ-like than I ever imagined. Remember, all of life and ministry is preparing us not just to “do something more effectively” but also to “be with Him” and to live in the presence of the Triune God for all eternity. So, the true location question of ministry should not be “here or there” but “in Christ.”
This is the worst “non-answer” I have ever given. But He-Jesus is the best answer to any question you can come up with.
In Jesus’ joy,
REV. DR. DAVID SMITH