IVP - Online Pulpit - Time Will Tell

September 17, 2012

Time Will Tell

by Eddie Gibbs

Looking back over fifty years of ministry provides a perspective that eluded me when in the turmoil of daily ministry demands. Some projects we thought highly significant for the future vitality and direction of the church outlived their shelf life to leave little if any lasting impression. Perhaps they were of value at the time, but with a changing spiritual climate and the cultural marginalizing of the church the day came when they had to be laid aside without regrets.

On the other hand, other projects that were puny in comparison and we thought were making little impact have in the long run assumed strategic importance. Perhaps that’s what Jesus had in mind when he described the kingdom of God as a mustard seed. Never underestimate small beginnings. The Journey of Ministry is indeed one of surprises and has to be traveled with a lifelong commitment. We cannot chart the course beforehand, and there are many twists and turns that we were not able to anticipate. That is what it means to walk by faith.

This is not to cast doubts on the vision of those leaders who had a clear and unswerving sense of direction throughout their ministry. They were privileged to see the end from the beginning, which provided them with both focus and resilience. If such describes your own journeying experience, then I rejoice with you. However, I have become convinced as I have reflected not only on my own past experience but also on the ministry journey of other church and mission leaders that this clear and specific sense of call toward a defined goal is the exception rather than the rule.

The reasons for these contrasting experiences are many. Some are given a specific sense of direction and a clear destination to enable them to survive the many obstacles that lay along the journey. For those of us who have stumbled along with the Lord surprising us with each new challenge, it has been a case of learning to trust him at each stage. If the Lord had revealed the whole course of the journey, we might have recoiled in horror or fright. We could never envision ourselves in any of those future scenarios. We felt so utterly inadequate. In response the Lord has graciously dealt with us at each stage, giving us the opportunity to learn the lessons and gain the necessary experience to function in that role, until we were ready for the next challenge.

In my own experience, I have always felt ill-prepared for that next stage, whether it is an overseas missionary assignment, an administrative and vision-casting role in a major Christian organization, a seminary professor or a leadership trainer in other parts of the world. Christian discipleship entails a lifelong apprenticeship. Any worthwhile accomplishment is due entirely to the grace of God, which includes both his provision and his patience.

GibbsOP.jpgEddie Gibbs is senior professor in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and a senior adviser to the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts. His new book, The Journey of Ministry, is available now from InterVarsity Press as part of the launch of IVP Praxis.

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