Have you ever been disappointed with how small your ministry is?
Perhaps you’re a mom with little children or a small town pastor with a few dozen people, and every once in a while you get an overwhelming sensation of disappointment with how small your ministry is.
This feeling is only multiplied when you are a missionary overseas. Recently, a team from my church was able to go on a mission trip to Rome, Italy. With millions of people living in Rome, only 0.01% are evangelical. This means that Rome is one of the most unreached cities in the world.
Our team of nine people made up about 40% of the Sunday morning church attendance on the Sunday that we were in Rome. The church of about 20 was missing a family of four, and any time that happens they lose 20% of their congregation. Nonetheless, it was an incredible service. People sang with all their hearts, they enjoyed their fellowship together, and—most of all—they loved hearing God’s word. Perhaps I’m biased since the preacher was my father, but they got to hear an incredible sermon. They sat under an expositional feast. The sermon was about Christ’s humiliation out of Philippians 2. They were fed and fed well. The most interesting response came from our team. We were all a little annoyed that only 14 or 15 Italians heard the message. Thousands upon thousands were living within a square mile of the location where this was happening, but only 15 got to hear this great exposition. The preacher had spent hours studying the Greek of this passage, hours working on crafting a message and applying a message for these people, and we couldn’t help but wonder was it a waste?
Have you ever felt that way?
This type of thinking is not only wrong and sinful, but it is dangerous, and we really need to check our hearts and learn to be satisfied with the “talents” that God has given us. Here are a few reasons why we should find satisfaction in whatever ministry God has given to us.
One of the reasons we become unhappy in our ministry is pride. We believe that we are capable of more. We watch other pastors, or other people with successful small groups or Sunday school classes, and we instantly think that we could do the same or even better, and we become bitter. What we are forgetting is that God hasn’t entrusted us with these other ministries, but instead he has given us what we have. The parable of the talents is a great reminder of this (Matt 25:14-30). God has given each of us talents and gifts, and it’s fascinating to put ourselves in that story. If I was given the three talents, I’d be complaining about it. I would be wondering why I wasn’t given the five. It would be easy for a missionary to believe he could pastor a bigger church in America, or a VBS leader to look at the VBS program at the big church down the street and think they could do a better job, but ultimately it is prideful to think that we know better than God about what we are capable of. Perhaps we would do a better job, but God wants us to be satisfied with what He gives us and trust in the amount of ministry he gives us. Besides, we are dealing with souls that will live forever and will have to give an account for each one (Heb. 13:17).
We know the dangers of jealousy. We know from Christ that jealousy is hateful and, ultimately, it is a form of murder. When we look at what someone else has and covet it, we are telling the Lord that we are unthankful with what He has given us. When we do that with ministry it is all the more dangerous. One reason is because it destroys the church. It’s fascinating to see the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). God takes their sin so seriously that he kills them. God was protecting the early church from selfish ambition. Desiring to rise the ranks through a lie. It’s interesting to see that their little plot to lie about their home sale came right after Joseph gave away all of the money from his land sale (Acts 4:36-37). The disciples loved Joseph so much that they gave him a nickname that stuck (Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement”). Luke puts these two stories back-to-back in the Bible, perhaps to tell us that Ananias noticed Barnabas, and noticed the recognition he got for giving so much money to the church and decided that he, too, wanted the recognition. Jealousy played a big part in their plot, and God, in order to keep the unity in the church, took their lives. Jealousy in ministry is only corrosive. It not only causes you to hate those whose ministry is more blessed by God, but it leaves you dissatisfied with yours and causes you to not put your best effort into what God has given you. It leaves you empty, angry, and murderous. And by God’s immense patience, he doesn’t treat us like Ananias but rather he gives us time to repent and change.
The sovereign Creator of the universe has entrusted us with ministry. Not only does He save us and cast our sin as far as the east is from the west, but He then entrusts us with serving Him. He doesn’t need us. He could make rocks serve Him, and yet has planned to use us to glorify Him and advance His kingdom. But here we are as little tiny ants in His sight, wanting a bigger and more prestigious ministry. We must remind ourselves about our situation before Christ. We must also remind ourselves that any capabilities we have, are gifts from Him that we didn’t earn, nor deserve. We didn’t choose how many chromosomes we were born with, nor did we choose our family, skin color, nor gender. God, in His beautiful sovereignty, will choose that for us and gift us in ways that please Him. And if our ministry is not the size we would like, or if we feel we are being wasted, then we must remind ourselves that it is God who gives sight to the blind, and work to His children, and we must the thankful and grateful for His blessings.
Few things say “I don’t trust God and His sovereignty” more than when we are dissatisfied with our ministry. Spending 10 hours to work on a message for 15 people may seem like a waste to us as myopic humans, but if it is exactly what God wants for us, then it is what’s best for us and His church. The whole point about the parable of the talents is that they are His talents that he entrusts us with, and we are simply called to be faithful with what He gives us. He has the right to give it to us, and to take it away and give it to someone else. On the other hand, when we are satisfied with the works He gives us, we are telling Him that we trust Him, and we are probably going to work hard and not squander the ministry that He does entrust us with.
Of course it goes without saying that passion for evangelism and a desire to reach more people is of vast importance and should never be set aside. Every individual in the church must continue to strive for reaching the lost, but we must remember that at the same time dissatisfaction in ministry is harmful and always causes division. As the John Macarthur has said many times before, “If I take care of the depth of my ministry, God will take care of the breadth of it”. It was great to witness first hand a couple of faithful missionaries who are preparing for sermons, small groups, VBS, evangelism and one on one time with people in their church, with the same enthusiasm as anyone who has bigger ministries. Likewise, we should work hard to be thankful for what God gives us, and be faithful with it. God knows exactly what we can handle, and He only does what is good for us and His other children.