Give Your Best
Church leadership is a huge energy drain – especially when sending workers into other ministries. So how can we find the energy to keep going?
I want to offer a biblical response to the notion that sending members of your leadership team into other ministries contributes to your energy drain.
When we talk about energy, we mean physical stamina, emotional loading, and above all spiritual devotedness. Church leadership places massive demands on all three areas. We know that because they are mentioned so often in Scripture.
Paul talks about Christ’s energy working in him; about working harder than others; stirring and straining; keeping spiritual fervour and zeal; about heightened anxiety levels, about watching life and doctrine closely. On and on the list goes (Col 1:28-2:1; 1 Cor 15:10; 1 Cor 9:24-27; Rom 12:11; 2 Cor 11:28, 29; 1 Tim 4:9, 15-16).
All those references point to the reality that church leadership is demanding, even exhausting. It will require an energy input that isn't just a strong person putting their will to work. Rather it is a moment-by-moment spiritual dependency on God’s grace and energy. Ministry is not just the determination of a wilful person riding roughshod over others.
The energy we need comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17, 18). As we commune with Christ, we are filled by his Spirit and then reflect that in our lives.
A lifetime of giving away
A truly insightful passage in this regard is Philippians 2:19-30. Coming just after that magnificent hymn of worship that points to Christ, and because it contains (on the surface) details of people and places seemingly irrelevant to us, it can be a tad neglected. But we would miss some treasures.
We know that the apostle Paul hated being alone; he was not a one-man-army, and he often remarked upon his nervousness of being isolated in ministry. Yet here we find him giving Timothy away to the Philippians. Added to that he is also sending them Epaphroditus. He speaks of him in the warmest of terms – brother, fellow-worker, fellow-soldier.
Timothy is a rare breed, for Paul says, “I have no one else like him who takes a genuine interest in your welfare.” Yet he sends, he gives away, he experiences personal diminishing for their corporate replenishing. It may sound easy, but in hard-pressed ministry it is a challenge to give away your best, and to keep going yourself.
So how do you develop a lifetime of giving away in ministry without your own energy batteries being utterly depleted? The answer is found in versus 22 and 23. Paul says that, “as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope therefore to send him…”. Of course, these words describe the closeness forged in the fires of challenging gospel ministry, and of the experiences they have both shared.
But these words describe a deeper pattern.
For Paul has just described gospel realities. There the Father gave – that's the heartbeat of the gospel: God gave. So anyone working ‘as a father with a son’ will realise that role will always imply a giving; you are mirroring God our Father who gave the best at ultimate cost to himself.
If we are to keep giving, giving, giving in ministry we must keep feeling the Father’s heartbeat, and experiencing the indescribable grace that comes to us in the gift of his One and Only Son.
And ‘spiritual sons’ will leave safety and go on mission, for that's what ‘sons’ do in the gospel. Paul talks about Epaphroditus nearly losing his life (vs 27, 30). Indeed he risked his life for the gospel, and their sakes. You will only leave relative safety and take risks in gospel ministry if you find a force of strength, energy, and above all grace, from way above yourself. Of course that is the Lord Jesus himself. He did not just risk his life for the gospel, he knew he came to give it. And what a giving – the infinite horror of Golgotha so that you and I could be brought from the outer darkness into his wonderful light.
Follow gospel patterns
As Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus believed the gospel, and then as they lived and breathed these gospel realities, they were empowered to follow gospel patterns. They were remembering that in the work of the gospel, fathers keep giving, and sons keep leaving and risking. Spiritual energy flows when we are in genuine communion with the Godhead, mirroring Trinitarian roles, and receiving divine grace in a world that otherwise would drain us of all energy.
Of course we will feel tired in ministry – we are allowed to feel tired (Mark 4:37, 38; 2 Cor 12:9, 10; 1 Tim 5:23). But that will be more a weariness inthe work, not a weariness of the work.
Passages like Philippians 2 show how we keep our spiritual fervour and our energy levels topped up. We experience and model a spiritual renewing as we sense the glorious God in all his amazing grace is for us – we ourselves – in the gospel.
When we do that we will “save ourselves and our hearers” and we will find energy to keep going (2 Tim 4:7; 2 Cor 12:9).