August 20, 2012 by Dennis C. Cook
One of my long-time ministry mentors was my first mentor. Dr. Glenn Armstrong, was the long-tenured pastor of my home church (Beaver Dam Baptist Church) for 40 years. He retired on his 40th anniversary in May of 2007. He has been honored at Georgetown College with an “Armstrong Festival of Preaching” as seen at this link.
(from the link) Glenn Armstrong began his pastoral ministry 50 years ago at the Spring Street Baptist Church in Mount Sterling, KY—the first Sunday of November, 1961—while a student at Georgetown College, and continued to pastor that church throughout his years at Southern Seminary until his call to the Beaver Dam church in 1967.
Personally, I have been blessed to say the Bro. Armstrong was my pastor throughout my entire childhood and young adult life. Many people cannot say that about their pastor…and even the church staff. BDBC held the church staff together for around 20 years. Today, the average tenure of a senior pastor is 3.6 years, as noted by this blog. Bro. Armstrong led me to Christ at the age of 10, assisted me through my calling into the ministry, officiated my wedding and has led in many of my ministry events throughout the years.
It is a blessing for me to share with the readers a glimpse into one of those events. in 2008, Bro. Armstrong shared the “charge” of my ordination message called “How to Succeed in the Ministry.” In this guest blog post, Bro. Armstrong will share insight on things we can do to keep God first in our lives and ministries.
The desire to rise to the top, to get ahead of the rest, to become #1, or as near possible is a common human ambition. I doubt if we will ever hear anyone say, “How about those Kentucky Wildcats! Worst win-loss record in the SEC! I’m so proud of them!” Or, “My son has the lowest GPA of anyone in his freshman class at Western Kentucky University! I must brag!” No, we want to get ahead professionally and financially, and if we can’t be #1, maybe we can at least be #2 or #3.
The desire to rise to be #1 is not just a 21st Century ambition. Soon after Jesus announced His approaching death, Salome, the mother of James and John came to Him requesting a personal favor (Matthew 20). A case of parental ambition! “Possibly, one of my boys could be Chief of Staff in your kingdom, and the other, maybe, Secretary of State.” A father may have been behind the scene: “Salome, why don’t you go talk to Jesus about the boys. You know they are better qualified than any of the other 10.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus replied. “Do you know what success in ministry really entails?” We want to succeed and the Lord wants us to succeed, but all too often our definition of success and His are miles apart! James and John were not the last ministers to pray for personal advancement. One might pray, “Lord, let me be a success in ministry. Let me lead a mega church. Let me be invited to pastor’s conferences to tell other struggling pastors how to do it.”
“Prayer,” someone said, “is the soul’s sincere desire.”
Another might plead, “Lord, my gifts can be best utilized in a church with at least a 140 voice choir and a full orchestra.” Still another might pray, “Lord, let me build one of the largest youth ministries in the state.” Nickels and noses, large buildings, budgets, and attendance is for many evidence of success in ministry. Proof positive that we are successful! Jesus responded: “You don’t know what you are asking.”
“How do you measure success in ministry?” That is a good question to pose. I have two suggestions on how we can be successful ministers:
POINT ONE: CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS
A young man approached Jesus with a question. ”Teacher,” he asked, “which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus’ response can be found in Matthew 22:27-38. It’s all about relationships! Loving God and loving your fellow man.
Cultivate your relationship with God. Don’t become so busy with the doing that you neglect the being. Don’t get so busy working for the Lord that you forget to cultivate your relationship with him.
Strive to cultivate relationships with difficult people in your life. Maybe you don’t have any difficult people where you currently serve, but we’ve all known some. They frustrate us, irritate us, and infuriate us. Peter Lord wrote, “Difficult people are the sand paper God uses to sand off our rough edges.” In my experience, difficult people can be classified into at least three categories:
1. The Tactless – Some folks don’t know what the word “tact” means. They are abrasive! Just like a piece of sandpaper, the “rub us the wrong way!”
2. The Temperamental – Marked by excessive sensitivity…people wh are always getting their feelings hurt! I was tempted to put a sign outside my office door: “Just Get Over It!”
3. The Totally Self-Absorbed – those who seem to think everything should be all about them (the kind of music, worship style, clapping, not clapping, etc).
If you have not already had them, in time you will – those who oppose you, your programs, and your ministry. The Apostle Paul as well as our Lord had their detractors. It’s a challenge, but you must love them. Jesus told us to love our enemies in Matthew 5:44.
Once during a difficult time in my ministry, I was thinking about the people that didn’t seem to like me or anything I was doing, when the thought occurred to me, and I think the Lord told me, “It’s not your responsibility that those people love you; that’s their responsibility. It’s your responsibility to love them.” And, love them I tried to do. Loving people is more about how we treat them than it is about how we feel about them (Romans 12:20).
When it comes to loving and leading, there are dangers to avoid:
1) Trying to please everybody is an attempt to accomplish the impossible. Abraham Lincoln: “You can please part of the people all of the time and all of the people part of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
2) Failing to confront problems and problem people will only make things worse. Bite the bullet; tackle the unpleasant; grab the bull by the tail and face the situation.
3) Saying only what people want to hear is a demonstration of hypocrisy. In the words of John the Apostle, “Speak the truth in love.”
POINT TWO: MAINTAIN A HEALTHY BALANCE IN ALL OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
Once Jesus was asked: “Is it lawful (for us Jews) to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus responded: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Give everyone what is due them. That is good advice for us.
There are several areas in the minister’s life that demand time and attention and it is essential that we maintain balance and give what is due in each area.
1) Don’t become so preoccupied with the congregation at your church, that you neglect the smaller congregation at your home. Success in ministry is certainly no more important than success as a husband and father. Once when I was contemplating the possibility of moving to a larger church and community, a friend asked me: “Have you considered the possibility that the Lord may be more concerned about your four children than he is about your ministerial ambitions?” We have all known workaholics who succeeded professionally, but whose families fell apart. Out of balance!
2) You will also have a responsibility to your co-workers that must not be overlooked. ”…when the 10 heard about James and John’s effort to get ahead of them professionally, they were filled with indignation.” Self-promotion, pushing one’s own agenda, looking for a throne, always leads to indignation and strife on the part of co-workers. Be a team player! Churches are blessed when they have team ministers who respect one another and who get along with one another.
3) You will also be expected to give that particular congregation that pays your salary their due. Jesus measures success with a different standard. There are ministers who aspire to be celebrities, but few aspire to be servant, many who want to exercise authority, but few who want to take a towel and basin and wash feet. I knew students who gave so much time to the Baptist Student Union that their grades suffered. Out of balance!
4) You cannot afford to neglect your responsibility to God. Your ministry is empowered and made effective by your being with Him, listening to Him, walking with Him. In an effort to balance all of the demands made upon you, if you are not careful, your personal relationship with the Father will be the first area to be neglected.
We’ve all driven automobiles when the wheels were out of balance. It’s a bumpy ride! Unless you keep these four areas of your life in balance – family, relationships with co-workers, church responsibilities, and your personal relationship with God – your life and your ministry will be a bumpy ride.
How do you succeed in ministry? Build relationships, maintain balance. Jesus summed it up, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Take up the towel and basin. Serve your God, your church, and your community with all of your heart. Then, you will be a success.