Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Andrew Purves' book, The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ, (InterVarsity Press).
You work hard in ministry, devoting lots of time and energy to your efforts. But no matter how hard you work, you won't see any true changes for the better unless Jesus shows up. And He won't show up if you're doing what you want to do, instead of what He wants to do through you.
Your ministry will change lives only if you crucify your own agenda and invite Jesus to resurrect His plans for your work. Here's how you can crucify your ministry:
Recognize the power source. Understand that, despite how hard you work, you don't have the power to make your ministry successful. Realize that only Jesus can convince lost people of the truth, forgive sinners, grow congregations, heal the sick, restore broken relationships, give anxious people peace, give depressed people hope, and accomplish any of the other goals you may have set for your ministry. Remember that the people to whom you minister don't need you; they need Jesus. Know that it's ultimately Jesus, not you, who does the ministry. Decide to rely on Jesus' power rather than trying to meet goals on your own.
Trust Jesus for the outcome. Don't burn yourself out trying to make the results you want happen from your ministry work. Avoid unnecessary stress that can harm your health, your congregation, your family, and more by realizing that the success of your ministry is not all up to you. Understand that the results are ultimately in up to Jesus, so place your trust in Him. Embrace the grace He offers you, knowing that even when you fail, He will use your efforts to bring about something good as long as you trust Him.
Join Jesus where He is already at work. Instead of expecting Jesus to join you where you'd like to work, figure out where He is already at work, and build your ministry work around that. Know that the issue isn't how to get Jesus in on your ministry, but how to join Jesus in His ministry work in the world.
Let your ministry take shape naturally. Rather than trying to decide on the right ministry strategies, programs, and processes, simply let your ministry work take the shape it naturally would as Jesus' ministry in your place. Understand that your ministry isn't about you and your skills; it's about Jesus' real presence in the lives of those to whom you minister.
Kill selfish ambitions. Invite God to strip away the ways you've used your ministry work to bolster your ego, impress others, satisfy your desires for power and success, enjoy personal affirmation and professional success, and fuel your needs to feel competent and in control. Repent of using ministry to benefit yourself so you can be free to use it to serve Jesus. Ask God to purify your motivations for ministry.
Abide in Jesus. Realize that, apart from Jesus, you can do nothing. Determine to stay closely connected to Him, abiding in that close relationship. Practice spiritual disciplines (like prayer, Bible reading, Communion, and worship with others) often. Invite Jesus to transform your mind. Read, meditate on, and study the Bible daily so its truths will saturate your mind and help you start to think more and more from God's perspective. Ask Jesus to convert your will. Get rid of wrong motivations and be intentional about fulfilling God's purposes for your life and ministry. Live with integrity. Put your faith into action in every aspect of your life, and seek to have your private actions be just as faithful as your public ones. But live in the power of the freedom you have as someone whom Jesus has forgiven and deeply loves. Know that nothing you can do in ministry (or in anything else) can cause Him to love you any less or more than He already does, so don't try to earn His love. Make everything you do in ministry simply an expression of your love for Him.
Be grateful. Regularly remind yourself that it's Jesus who makes your ministry work possible. Thank Him often for His work in your life, and the work He's doing in other people's lives through you.
Be joyful. Remember that your ministry isn't an obligation to fulfill, and that you don't have to prove anything to yourself or others through it. Rejoice in the freedom of Jesus' love and the power of His Spirit at work through your ministry.
Bear witness to Jesus' presence. Before entering any ministry situation (a hospital room, a counseling session, a worship service, a committee meeting, etc.), pray and ask Jesus to reveal what He's doing there and how He wants you to cooperate with His work. Discern what Jesus is up to in the specific context of a certain person on a particular day in a given situation. Ask Jesus to help you figure out how His story relates to the story of the person to whom you'll be ministering - and how He wants you to help join those stories together. As Jesus' ambassador, help each person experience His love through your words and actions. Make sure the person feels cared for by meeting him or her at the point of need with Jesus' grace. In relevant and appropriate ways, point out what Jesus is already doing in the situation, and present the hope for redemption in the situation.
Interpret situations in light of the Gospel. Help the people to whom you minister examine and reflect on their life circumstances in light of the Gospel, to gain deeper insight into how its truth relates to them. Help them discover a new perspective, based on the Gospel's message intersecting their lives.
Use symbolic actions. When you're ministering to people, sometimes do more than just talking with them, praying with them, or reading Scripture. Understand that, while those are valuable pursuits, you can enrich your time with people even more by engaging in some actions that symbolize the faith. Consider celebrating Communion with people, anointing people with oil, singing songs with them, or other creative actions that express faith. Let the Spirit guide you to know what actions would be most appropriate in what situations.
Adapted from The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ, copyright ©Andrew Purves. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
Andrew Purves holds the Hugh Thomson Kerr Chair in Pastoral Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He is the author of numerous books including Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation.