Today’s lesson covers chapter 1.12-14 and answers the question of what you should count in the ministry to know whether you are succeeding or not.
Paul starts out by owning something that is a bit embarrassing to talk about. He wants to discuss boasting and its prevalence among those who are engaged in doing ministry. It’s weird, but there’s this dark history within the Christian movement of boasting and rivalry among ministers and their organizations. Imagine monks at war! Seems comical, but there have even been fist fights and worse.
Paul brings up the habit of boasting about your ministry before others, being proud to announce some form of success connected to you. I think its all about validation. Most pastors who have large crowds cant resist dropping the number in conversations with other ministers at some point. It’s usually in a sly, spiritual way, like “the Lord is really blessing us and we were able to break the 1,000 mark last Easter.” Success. Validation.
As we said in episode one, it’s hard for some people in full time ministry to get a handle on their personal identity. They don’t know who they are in Christ. They aren’t clear of their calling. They might not even walk with God in such a personal way, so they slip into worldly ways of thinking and behaving, even in the service of God and his Kingdom.
When I was in seminary Charles Gerkin came to speak to us. He said something I’ve never forgotten, “the church is always seduced by the culture in which it is embedded.” It is easy to let the world around us influence how we think about success, even in the ministry.
What to Count
In order to judge whether you are successful in this strange ministry life you’ll have to decide what to count. What is the standard of judgment so you’ll know how well you’ve done in the performance of your service?
Some people count the size of the crowds. You’ll only mention the number of your attendance unless you feel good about it.
Others talk about the status level of the people they are attracting. Something like, “We have some very wealthy people and movie stars in our church.” I remember someone saying to me, “Wow, Manny Pacquiao goes to that church!” When I hear the good news about a famous person following Christ I always hope they are in the hands of a minister who has his/her self esteem needs met already so they don’t need to validate themselves by parading their celebrity Christian in front of the cameras. I think all high profile people should be instructed to avoid all interviews for at least one year, maybe two. If not, they become the instant poster child for Christianity and get tapped by Christian orgs to be their public spokesman and they never have a chance to take deep roots. Their faith becomes another role to play. Some people count a celebrity as a huge sign of personal success in their ministry.
You could be more down to earth and count results either as the number of people coming to the altar each week or number of churches planted or number of missionaries sent out.
Size and value of the properties and buildings you might own. I know of church buildings costing over 50 million dollars.
You could count the size of your staff: 70 being more successful than 7 obviously.
You could count money. Money received. Money given away. Size of the budget. Growth of the budget over time.
You could count the apparent impact of your good work on the lives of others, but that’s tough to quantify.
I had someone write to me two weeks ago asking me to help him book some churches to speak in. He immediately went into a sales talk about the healings and miracles that happen when he visits a church. So, I guess you could also count miracles if you wanted to.
Basically, there are lots of things to look at to see how you are doing. Some seem to be legitimate ways to “take the pulse of a ministry” to see whether it is really making a difference in the lives of the people they aim to serve.
See, I know about all these things because I am in perhaps the most spiritually dangerous career of all: Self funded full-time missionary. Raising funds is half of my job as a director of a non-profit and as the one responsible to provide for my wife and children. I am, in one sense, a professional religious person, a full-time good works doer. Showing the impact of what we do is part of the reasonable reporting we provide to our donors. The problem is that you always need to show the positive side of what you are doing and don’t get a chance to share much about the struggles. It’s dangerous to do your own PR.
Paul Under Scrutiny
In our passage today, Paul’s effectiveness and even his legitimacy as an apostle is being questioned by a group of troublemakers who seem to crave the spotlight in the house church network Paul and Timothy planted in Corinth. Since Paul is always traveling and planting new churches across the middle east and those guys are from Corinth they have lots of time to poison the minds of Paul’s spiritual children. The situation has grown to the point that Paul isn’t sure he’s welcome in his own church.
Part of the reason behind the writing of this letter is for Paul to defend himself. As he does so he takes the opportunity to teach the church people what ministry is anyway and how to judge it properly.
Christ-like, Kingdom-based Leadership
Paul says, in a nutshell: “If I must be compared against other ministers, boast against my critics’ boasting and validate myself as a minister of God I just want to focus on two things:”
1. How we have lived among you. It’s really amazing that Paul doesn’t want to boast about his results (roll off some of them). He could crush those guys with a list like this but he doesn’t even bring it up. Instead, he talks about his character—the manner and tone of his daily life among the community there in Corinth. Did he swagger with his authority? Did he demand to be pampered? Did he train them to treat the “man of God” like someone above them? Did he live lavishly on their donations? Did he treat people roughly? Did he treat himself to special privileges because of his position?
It’s really smart that Paul goes here because his opponents are fleshly people. Their mindset and value system is that of the world. What they cannot fake for long, is a authentic Christ-like spirituality, especially servanthood, because that runs opposite to their reason for becoming religious leaders in the first place.
Paul mentions four characteristics that not only he but also his entire team manifested in their unguarded daily lives among the Corinthians:
In Verse 12
1. Simplicity: What I am is plain. What I say is simple to understand. I’ve stripped away all the trappings of success and wealth and sophistication and I and my team live simply among God’s people.
2. Godly sincerity: the word sincere means “unmixed.” (Added things like conflicts of interest)
3. Resisting the world’s corrupt way of thinking and judging and (ROI)
4. Pouring out grace on others
V 13 “And we’re not sneaky, writing private messages to others different from what we say to you openly here.”
*God help us to get more people into serving positions who truly have the spirit of Jesus in them and hang heavy with the fruit of the Spirit. These are the kind of people others feast on—you nourish them. Maybe that’s why its called the fruit of the Spirit. To truly be Jesus among the people of the world, living as the image of God. See me, think Him. God help us all to focus more on this than any other thing so we can live out of the overflow of our own healthy soul.
The second thing Paul points to as his validation in ministry, or the source of his bragging is
2. Them. He’s so proud of how big and strong they are and he knows that he and his team have had a hand in that reality. He says that he not only brags on them here but on the day of judgment he’ll brag on them again.
I can completely understand this point from Paul.
Building Big People
We’d been serving at the seminary in Manila for 12 years when I was asked to take over as president. It was a new experience for me in many ways, most notably, in that I was inheriting the work of others. Pretty much everything we have led, we’ve also founded. In the seminary we were inheriting a large operation that took 30 years to build. I felt things were in need of some pretty radical modernization and I was busy getting my plans made when I had a conversation with our dear friends who relayed to me the wise words of their pastor to them as they began their own career as church planters. “Remember, anything you build organizationally can be destroyed in six months by your successor, but the work you do in the lives of your people can never be erased, even by death itself.”
That story rang true with our experience of life and we determined that we would always keep our focus on what we came to call “Building Big People.” We would use the challenge of advancing the seminary, planting churches and launching new training and media initiatives as simply the environment in which to build up the skills, character and spiritual depth of the people involved in the work with us. The result of this focus is our true life’s work, the confidence that is in our own children and the hundreds of other young people we’ve worked with through the years.
There is a confidence that only comes from being well trained. You see it in the bearing of the 20 year old when he comes out of Army boot camp on his first home leave.
If I had to answer for our ministry to our supporters who said, “Prove that you have been worth supporting for these 30 years, I would simply point to our inner circle and school graduates.”
This year we are leveraging the priceless ministry asset of 100+ MediaLight graduates from nearly 40 nations. We and our dedicated MediaLight staff with work with them to launch independent training programs contextualized for Vietnam, India, the Philippines, Ethiopia and Italy, God willing. It’s only possible because we have graduates who are strong enough to lead and because we have developed a core staff with extremely high competence in building big people. Our staff has grown each year, built on the initial group of students who attended our first school in 2010.
So Paul says to his critics, “I admit that we all need validation. We all need some objective standard against which to measure ourselves so here’s mine:
Not the money, crowd size, miles travelled, converts-made or any other thing you might want to count.
The proof is not in the tallying of the volume or size of my work.
1. I will boast in the life I have lived each day among the people and boast in the equally high standards of those on my team.
We all lived like servants of the Lord with the welfare of the people foremost in our minds.
2. I will boast in the Big People that flow out from any place where we are allowed to do our work for a good while. People grow when we’re around them and I feel good about that.
On a very transparent note, in v. 14 Paul hopes that his spiritual children will feel the same way about him that he feels regarding them. He says, perhaps with a wink, “You can brag on me as I brag on you.” He is honest that he needs their validation. He knows better than most of us who he is in the Lord, but he’s still a human and member of their circle and he wants to be seen as a valuable member of this Christian community he and Timothy founded years ago. He hopes to be welcomed home with joy.
So, that’s Paul’s take on how to know if you are a success in the ministry: The life you manage to live over time and the champions you raise up through your intervention in their lives. Food for thought.
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You are the light of the world. So shine on!