The past year has been a refreshing year of ministry. As part of a recent training time, where I was privileged to observe and learn, I said to my host, “I wish I could take a brain scan right now.” I felt like my brain was in overdrive, processing a multitude of new and renewed ideas about ministry. Some leaders and ministries have been a huge catalyst for new thinking and I praise God for their generosity. I’m more convinced than ever that partnerships matter and that individual leaders, churches and denominations who isolate themselves from others will end up in ministry ‘cul-de-sacs’ (or for my English-speaking colleagues, ‘dead ends.’
In the process of training leaders, Jesus provided huge learning opportunities in a variety of settings which pressed home God’s truth into the hearts of the Twelve. Take for example the feeding of the Five Thousand. Let’s not simply notice the physical details so we could ace a quiz on the passage, or beat our friends in the all-too-common trivia approach to the Bible. Let’s note the bigger issues.
1) Ministry leaders report to the One who sends them out. In Mark 6:7 we read, “Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.” He added precise instructions and in obedience to His direction, “they went out and preached….they drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”
In Mark 6:30 they return. “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.” The energy in the room must have been electric. One team after another (remember they went out by twos), reported back how they had used their time and energy. One victory after another victory, one opportunity after another, deliverance upon deliverance, sermon upon sermon, healing upon healing.
2) Ministry leaders need rest with the One who sends them out. The promise of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 is not primarily about physical rest, but that’s a topic for another day. Here in Mark 6, many people “were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat.” Busyness does not equal godliness, but there are times when the urgent ministry needs demand life-draining energy from diligent workers. Jesus notes their real needs and invites them to join him in a quiet place and renew their weary bodies and souls. “Come with me by yourselves…”
3) Ministry leaders must manifest compassion like the One who sends them out. Though anticipating rest and refreshment with his team, Jesus seeing the gathering crowd “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep have without a shepherd.” What was Jesus doing, if not training shepherd-leaders, men who would feed his sheep and care for his lambs. Genuine shepherds manifest genuine compassion and respond to real needs as they arise. People are not ‘problems’ or ‘pains’ to the true shepherd of God. They are ‘privileged’ partners who look to God for their provision.
4) Ministry leaders are pressed into new areas of growth by the One who sends them out. Nothing the setting sun and the massive multitude the disciples press Jesus for a decision. They haven’t had the rest they needed. The ‘retreat’ quietness has been postponed. Surely Jesus can see this, and so they urge him – “Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
The answer of Jesus I’m sure shocks the group when he directs them to provide for the crowd. “What? Spend 8 months wages from our account for one meal? Is that the plan?”
Jesus will not be deterred from his growth plan for these developing leaders. “How many loves do you have?” “Go and see.” The answer comes quickly. “Five–and two fish.” You can imagine shrugged shoulders as they line up their resources with the overwhelming need. I find myself in the story, at this point, on many occasions. Opportunities are endless. Opportunities are not callings but when God compels me to step into the game, I protest with my inadequate skills. I forget His power. I foolishly think ministry is all up to me.
The story continues. There is enough food, if God blesses it. There is more than enough if the Son of God, directed by the Spirit of God is used of God to demonstrate God’s abundant provision! And so the crowd is organized quickly in groups of 100s and 50s, and the miracle happens.
5) Ministry leaders should document for God’s glory what He does in their lives. I was challenged by a dear brother in Christ, on Thursday, to document some of the first hand experiences of miracles I have witnessed. “Don’t forget,” he urged me, “these stories need to be shared.” God centred testimonies fire me up. God’s provision and amazing use of what I too often reluctantly offer, has staggered me.
I’ve reread and reread this miracle repeatedly. I think I’m slowing grasping faintly what the Lord was doing and teaching those who were following in His footsteps. I want my life to be given to ministry under the direction of my Master, Jesus Christ.