“How’s ministry going?”
I confess I never know how to answer this question. I sometimes offer the response I once heard: “Reasonably well, all things considered.”
If I had the time to explain, I think I’d offer a three-part answer: it’s hard, joyous, and difficult to measure.
Ministry Is Hard
I’m preaching through 2 Corinthians right now. A group of super-apostles invaded the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 11:5). They were powerful, impressive, and successful.
Paul confronts the Corinthians with the truth: ministry is rarely impressive. It’s hard. It’s supposed to be. “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself,” Paul writes (2 Corinthians 1:8). “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). Paul’s ministry looked nothing like success.
The call to ministry is a call to suffer. We follow a Savior who served through suffering, and we can expect suffering too.
So how is ministry? It’s hard. It involves “fighting without and fear within” (2 Corinthians 7:5). It’s supposed to be that way.
Ministry Is Joyous
Suffering and joy belong together in ministry. In prison, Paul wrote about our call to suffer to the Philippians (Philippians 1:29), and yet his overwhelming message was one of joy.
Paul couldn’t believe that God called him to ministry (1 Timothy 1:12-13). I can’t either. How God could choose to use someone like me is beyond my comprehension. I get to spend my time studying God’s Word and loving God’s people. I get a front-row seat to see God at work.
Right now I have the privilege of planting a church near downtown Toronto where no church existed before. Every week I see the people God has gathered, people I’ve grown to love. I can’t believe I get the privilege of serving and loving these people.
I’m frequently overwhelmed with joy: I get to serve God, and it’s a privilege that I don’t deserve.
Ministry Is Difficult to Measure
In the end, I don’t know how my ministry is going. Only God does. “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself,” Paul writes. “For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
The real issue isn’t what I think of my ministry, or what anyone else thinks. It’s about what God thinks. Ministry will only be measured by God when the Lord returns.
So how is ministry going? It’s hard. It’s joyous. It’s difficult to measure. That may not be the answer people are looking for, but it’s the most accurate answer I know how to give.