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Leadership in Ministry

Success In Ministry isn’t the same as Success in the World

What Is Success in Ministry?

You have this calling God has given you. Whatever that role is, it is one of leadership – whether you’re a small group leader, deacon, church staff, pastor, or CEO of a ministry organization. If you’re new to this calling, how would you define a successful ministry? If you’ve been in ministry a while now, think back to when you just started out. Is ministry what you imagined it would be? If not, how is it different? Here’s a few things the Bible tells us about leadership:

  • Matthew says that a leader must be confident, but James tells us that a leader must be humble.
  • Mark teaches us that a leader must be a man of action, but Luke teaches us that a leader must be a man of prayer.
  • Luke says a leader must have a strategy, and James says a leader must submit to God’s will.
  • 1 Timothy says that a leader must rule, and Matthew and Mark say a leader must serve.

Leadership in the Corporate World

In the corporate world, successful leadership is measured by the “big office,” the bigger paycheck, the perks, the ability to delegate to others, and the luxury of others being at the leader’s beck and call. Success in the world is synonymous with glory, fame, riches, and power. Leadership in ministry is often hard, stressful, and looks very different than leadership in the corporate world. And if you want to guarantee that Satan will target you with his fiery darts, then leadership in ministry is just the job you’re waiting for.

In ministry, the best leaders are those who understand their calling is one of service, not glory. It’s a position in which we serve through teaching and guarding doctrine, leading missions and evangelistic work, loving all people, discipling God’s people, effectively managing resources in a Godly manner, strategically plan for the future through the leading of the Holy Spirit, and we do it all with compassion, empathy, and sympathy. Often, we take on the burdens of others and feel their pain. This is what it leadership in ministry looks like, because if we lead like Jesus, then we lead by serving.

Sometimes leadership in ministry means being alone

Christ Walks into the Garden

In Mark 10:32, Mark wrote: “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.

Why is this verse significant? Because Jesus is coming towards the end of His ministry and the road He was walking on would lead Him to the cross. But notice that Jesus was walking ahead of the others. He didn’t put his disciples out in front as a shield. He led the way – even though the way ahead would end in torture and a very painful death.

Yes, Jesus led the way, but he was out front, alone on the road with the others following behind– reluctantly. In John 11, Jesus is on his way to raise Lazarus from the dead. His disciples knew that going posed a threat to Jesus because the Pharisees were already plotting Jesus’ death. So, they tried to talk Jesus out of going. Then in verse 16, we read, “Then Thomas (called “Twin”) said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go so that we may die with Him.” Often in ministry leadership, we find that those we lead do follow, but they follow reluctantly. Reluctant followers will usually be the voices that try to talk us out of the path we are on. They can be discouraging nay-sayers. They can make us doubt if we’re on the right path. So, we find ourselves walking ahead, alone on the path.

Sometimes in ministry, we have to go alone. Sometimes that means we lead the way and others follow. And sometimes it means that we are alone with no one but Holy Spirit walking with us. Leadership can be lonely.

Are you prepared to go alone, if necessary, to be a leader in ministry?

Leadership in ministry takes courage

In Mark 10, this is the third time Jesus tells the disciples that his ministry led to the cross, not a coronation. Basically, he tells them that he will be “handed over” . . . “condemned to death” . . . “made fun of” . . . “spat upon” . . . “scourged” . . . “killed”! And yet – Jesus is out front – leading the way.

Think for a moment about a commander in the military. He issues orders and the soldiers under his command carry out the orders, even if it costs them their life. But Jesus is our commander and he has promised to go before us wherever we go, even when it is through the valleys, the fire, the shadows of death. Even there we do not need to be afraid because he is with us.

Leadership in ministry takes courage. Why? The more effective you are in ministry leadership, the more you will draw the attention of Satan and he will attack you and your ministry in every way possible. It takes courage because sometimes God asks us to do the impossible and to be obedient can cause others to try to stop us or they will ridicule, discourage, or try to change our plans.

So if you are on the road with Jesus, where would you be? Would you have the courage to walk alongside of him? Would you continue following him? Or would you go back home? It’s important to know where you stand because ministry is hard. It’s a spiritual battle every moment of every day. We can often be like Peter and declare we’d never leave the Lord’s side but when it’s all laid on the line, would we stand on trail with Jesus or deny him?

Being a leader in ministry takes courage.

Leadership in ministry is not about position and power

After Jesus’ very frank discussion about what lies at the end of the road, the disciples finally understand that Jesus’ kingdom isn’t going to be an earthly kingdom but a heavenly one. So two brothers, James and John, make a request to Jesus. In verse 37, they ask, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” If Jesus was going to sit on a throne in Heaven, they wanted to be sure they had the best position in the heavenly court and a position that would give them power.

Jesus responded that they didn’t really know what they were asking. There are no first, second and third places in the kingdom of Heaven. Anyhow, those positions are already occupied by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus then asks them a question: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They eagerly agree and Jesus foretells that they will indeed do so. But what do the “cup” and “baptism” Jesus was talking about mean?

Metaphor of the “cup”

At a royal banquet given to honor a king, it was customary for the king himself to hand a cup of wine to invited guests and ask them to drink of it. So, in religion, the cup became the symbol of a life experience that had been handed to him or her, or passed on to them, by the Lord God. In this instance God had handed Jesus the “cup” of the cross. So he was asking James and John if they were willing to lay down their life for the gospel – and eventually they would.

Each of us called to ministry must be willing to accept the role handed to them, or passed on to them, by God the Father – and to give it all we’ve got – Just as Jesus gave His all – even to the point of death on the cross.

Metaphor of the “baptism”

The other metaphor – baptism – means “dip” or “submerge.” It was not unusual for a Jewish person to speak of a family member or friend as being “submerged” in an experience of life – for example, “submerged in grief.” Jesus was saying, “Whatever God asks you to do, submerge yourself in that experience – to the extent that you go all out to accomplish the task.” Thankfully, Jesus did go all out to accomplish His task because if He didn’t we’d have no hope of eternal life.

How submerged are you in the ministry you’ve been called to do? Do you go all out to accomplish the task?

You can expect conflict when serving in ministry leadership roles

As you can expect, when the rest of the disciples heard about James and John’s request, they were not too happy about it. Jesus had to pull the team together and help them get their act together. Here Jesus is – on the road leading to his death – and the disciples are arguing over who’s going to be the greatest in His kingdom. Mark records Jesus’ response:

And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Many times in ministry conflicts arise, whether over doctrine or style of worship, or even the color of the carpets. Sometimes we just have to stop and get the flock together and help them get their act together. The family of God shouldn’t include sibling rivalry among our spiritual brothers and sisters, but rather unity.

The Point of Leadership in Ministry

The whole point of ministry is not position and power. It’s not about glory. The point of ministry is to lead like Jesus. It’s about serving God’s people and Jesus told the disciples that is why He came – to serve – by giving His all and laying down His life.

called to serve

If you’re not willing to serve, you’ll never have a truly successful ministry. You might lead a large mega church, but you’ll just be a leader like any other corporate leader. Jesus calls us to serve. He calls us to be last.

If you are in ministry for what you can get out of it or for what it can give you, then you’re in ministry for the wrong reason and you miss the whole point of ministry. Whether your ministry is leading a small group or children’s class, deacon, serving on a committee, playing an instrument, office staff or pastor – you’ve been called to serve others, not to be served.

What’s your motivation to lead in ministry?

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