TRA Wordtalks

TRA 24th February, 2002
Effective Ministry

1 Timothy 4:1-5

I was visiting Port Arthur penal colony in southern Tasmania a couple of weeks ago. Beverley and I stood inside the magnificent ruins of the convict built church. For fifty years the most hardened criminals in Australia and their guards sat each Sunday hearing the word of God, each hating being there. The minister also hated being there. He was as much a prisoner as any felon, although his quarters were much more comfortable than those of the convicts. He prayed that revival would come upon the convicts and their guards.

  1. He wanted to see his compulsory congregation fully committed to God and the Gospel. He wanted to minister in a church on fire for God. That happened in 1884. He was burning undergrowth in his parsonage backyard, and sparks fell onto the dry shingles of the magnificent church. His prayer came true. He was minister of a church on fire! It was never rebuilt. He should have studied the scripture James 3:5 "Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark." 

    In the same year, 1884, in Sydney, Rev William George Taylor, prayed that his run-down church, under consideration for closing because of lack of numbers, would catch fire among the unemployed, the poor, the slum dwellers of inner Sydney. Catch fire it did. With his team of evangelists, he set about winning souls for Christ. Within two years, two thousand people were attending Central Methodist Mission, now Wesley Mission each Sunday. The church was on fire! And we in our turn meet as leaders of that church in an act of dedication that our church remains on fire for God.

    John the Baptist looked forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus. John said Matt 4:11 "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." On the Day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus, the believers were so convinced of the presence of the Risen Jesus, that God's spirit came upon them like a fire. That experience of Pentecost is still required among us. The Apostle Paul urged: 1 Thess 4:19 "Do not put out the Spirit's fire within you." Paul knew the difference in congregations when the ministers were effective and enthusiastic in their ministry. He charged the young ministers he had trained: 1 Tim 4:1- 5 "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your minis-try." There are no better words for those who minister among God's people. We may use contemporary words, but the message is still the same: "Preach the Word; .. rebuke and encourage .. careful instruction .. keep your head in all situations, .. endure hardship .. do the work of an evangelist .. discharge all the duties of your ministry."

    The American researcher, Christian A Schwarz surveyed five thousand churches in thirty-two countries for what makes for effective ministry. He discovered eight essential qualities. I believe two others are essential, making ten ingredients for effective ministry: 

    Empowering leadership. Empowering leadership is found in every great and growing church. Where leadership is poor, the church is poor. No sustained ministry develops without empowering leadership. That leadership must empower others to develop their gifts and skills in freedom to minister so the whole body is built up. I found a press photograph this week of myself and my two predecessors, Dr Walker and Dr Rayward. Together we provided the leadership of this church for more than sixty years. Together we had ministry experience of one hundred and seventy years and between us we covered the twentieth century. That is a record unparalleled in Australia and the main reason why this church in that time has grown to be the largest ministry in the nation. Each man had the gift of attracting others and empowering their ministries. 
  2. Gift-orientated ministry. Ministry must be based not on the completion of tasks, but on the development and use of each person's gifts. Many gifts are required to be exercised for the building up of the body. Most people have only one gift, therefore we need each other, and we do not need to envy another's gift. 
  3. Passionate spirituality. Key to all ministry is the ability to grow personally and help others grow spiritually. That requires regular times for prayer, meditation, Bible study, witnessing and developing a holy and devout life. Christians differ because of their spirituality. Talent never replaces passionate spirituality. 
  4. Functional structures. Churches need structure, but those structures must meet the needs of people not just keep traditions going. Congregations and denominations die when they are not flexible and functional. 
  5. Inspiring worship services. We all try to make our worship inspiring. But many people think that means making them entertaining. That has the wrong focus: that means centering on making people feel good. Our purpose is to focus on God and His goodness. 
  6. Holistic small groups. Every Christian needs to belong to a small group within a church. But each group should be a mixture of people of different cultural, racial, social and economic backgrounds. Holistic small groups are never a huddling together of the like minded, because growth requires difference. 
  7. Need-Orientated evangelism. No church can grow without reaching people who are not-yet Christians, and no ministry is effective unless the minister personally has a concern to win people for Christ. That evangelism is no slick presentation, but a concern for people and their need to be one with Christ. 
  8. Loving relationships. Within the church, an effective ministry aids the building of loving relationships between people. That will take time to help people overcome differences, learn to trust others and to be healed of hurts. But love must be the end result. 

    I believe two other qualities are needed for effective ministry such as we seek here.
  9. Social justice. Every effective ministry must have a prophetic cutting edge seeking justice for all of God's children, especially those powerless and voiceless. When did you last speak out against the government or church bureaucracies when they were wrong? 
  10. Practical care. This of course, is where we have developed more caring centers and services, now over 450 ministries, to the poor and needy in the name of Christ than any other congregation in the world. But practical care is only one essential for effective ministry. We must make sure the other nine are practiced. 

These core values are tested and true. Your ministry will only be effective if all ten are seen within you and your congregations. They are not gimmicks nor the latest fad concocted by out-of-touch ecclesiastical theorists. They are Biblical based essential ingredients for effective ministry. Such a ministry maybe costly. 

A few days ago, a stone monument commemorating the deaths of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, was unvielded in their home town of Beaudesert in southern Queensland. The Staines were burned to death on January 23, 1999, in Orissa, India, by Hindu extremists. At the ceremony it was said: "This is not only a memorial just to them, but also to what they represent - the Gospel of Christ; to sacrificial and humble service". Mrs. Gladys Staines said, "How easy it is to become discouraged and how important to find hope in Jesus Christ. Graham shunned recognition and publicity. His aim was to serve God. Philip, like his father, was always thinking of other people. Tim used to hold little church services where he would sing his songs and pray to the Lord. In spite of our sadness we can rejoice that they are rejoicing with Jesus in heaven. We need to make sure that we are ready for when the time comes for our death". 

Mrs. Staines and her 14 year old daughter Esther, now return to India to continue the Lord's work in the leprosy mission where Graham Staines served since 1965. Every ministry is costly and every ministry faces hardship. That is why Jesus said: Luke 9:62 "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." That is why Jesus said, Luke 9:23-24 "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." The ministry of Jesus Christ is hard and holy, but it is the most rewarding work of all. 

I have worked for years with teams of ministers who represent a great variety of cultural, racial and theological backgrounds. That has been my preference and deliberate choice. I believe that mono-cultural churches die, but our multi-cultural ministry team meets the needs of the heterogeneous congregations of Wesley Mission. It always takes patience and skill to work across the barriers that divide.

In movie theatres around Australia, audiences are enjoying Remember the Titans. It is based on a true story. In 1971, the city of Alexandria, Virginia, was under a court order to integrate its two schools and two football teams. The popular head coach of Williams High School, Bill Yoast, who is white, was replaced by a black newcomer, Herman Boone. To put it mildly, Boone faced a daunting task. If he lost a game, he would be in deep trouble. Boone convinces Yoast to remain as his assistant and to help turn two teams, one back and one white, into one harmonious team.

Their cooperation became a symbol for the way black and white players could come together. They succeeded. The Williams High School Titans won the Virginia state championship. It is a "feel-good" movie. But a large part of the movie's appeal lies in what you and I might call its "moral universe" - the things that it assumes are good and true. Such as, it is possible for people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds to communicate with one another and work together for a common purpose. It is possible for sports athletes to be normal instead of being egocentric messes that most have become today, where players think of themselves as bigger than the game and standards of behaviour are so low. It is possible for a team of people to really burn with desire to achieve a high goal, provided they have the right leadership. The film is an example of how our diverse ministry members might become more effective as a ministry team.

Ministry is team work beyond the differences between us. As spokes of a wheel draw closer to each other as they come close to the hub, so the closer we come to Christ, the closer we come to each other. When we come close to each other and closer to Him, we become more effective in our ministry. When we become more effective in our ministry, we become a church on fire!

That kind of ministry is costly and disciplined. But that is the ministry to which Jesus Christ called his people and His leaders. When we pray and work together, we become effective and on fire for the Lord. 

Gordon Moyes

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