I’ve wondered if this series of posts is nothing more than a sly cover — a way to weasel out of courageous/extroverted ministry. But after some reflection, I think it’s safe to say they are not. Here’s my short answer as to why that’s the case:
God usually works through a means
You and I see this everyday. And it’s so beautiful and common that we don’t even notice it. You might go to lunch with a person who is an unusually (yet wonderfully) attentive listener. The conversation is easy and natural, and you unravel your past week in front of them. You notice how they lean forward, calmly acknowledging your struggles and sincerely celebrating your successes. And you walk away refreshed because you sense that you were cared for. You’re sure that this person was a means of grace — an answer to your prayer that very morning for companionship in this desert-like season.
Most of us have had conversations like that. But only some have eyes to see God himself healing and building up a fractured heart during that time. It’s God’s goodness and kindness (sometimes his loving discipline) finding its way into our lives through his appointed means. And sometimes that means is another person. But it’s God’s work – it’s the Holy Spirit stirring up love in another person’s heart toward us.
God usually works through a means.
In relation to ministry, my point is this: no two ministers (anyone called by God to Christian ministry) will work out their calling in the same way because they must do so through their own unique capabilities. And this is always the case because God works through them.
If your hypothetical lunch partner approached the time together simply wanting to bless you with an attentive ear and heart, they probably didn’t transform into a pastor-robot as soon you started speaking. It’s more likely that they simply focused on you, and directed their skill of listening onto your conversation.
This is why the church has a variety of gifts: because when we use them, we do so within the constraints of our own person(ality). God works his will through the manifold means of the Church’s members. Eyes seeing. Ears hearing. Feet walking. Each in accordance with its design.
With his usual clarity, John Piper makes a similar point about Charles Spurgeon. How easy it would be, he says, to try imitate this incredible man.
He [Spurgeon] read six serious books a week and could remember what was in them and where. He read The Pilgrim’s Progress over 100 times.
He added 14,460 people to his church membership, and did almost all the membership interviews himself. He could look out on a congregation of 5,000 and name the members.
He founded a pastors’ college and trained almost 900 men during his pastorate.
Spurgeon once said he had counted as many as eight sets of thoughts that passed through his mind at the same time while he was preaching. And he often prayed for his people as he preached to them. He would preach for 40 minutes at 140 words a minute from a small sheet of notes that he had worked up the night before. The result? Over 25,000 copies sold each week in 20 languages, and someone was converted every week through the written sermons.
What do you do when you stand before a man like this? Courageous but desperate imitation is my gut response. Piper crafts a metaphor to illustrate how dangerous simplistic comparison would be in this situation,
If you try to make your Minnesota hill imitate a mountain, you will make a fool of your hill. Hills have their place. So do the plains of Nebraska. If the whole world were mountains, where would we grow bread? Every time you eat bread say, “Praise God for Nebraska.”
Remember that God works through ranges of people, whether mountainous or level. I look at the ways (the means) that God works through other people, and I rejoice. Praise God that there are extroverts! I need those hills! And so do others. But I am a valley through and through. And that’s okay. God will work his will through my folded and falling landscape. God will work through this means he has given me.