Faith for the Low-Yield Years

At times, I have felt that my work in ministry was wasted. Even in the areas of my strongest gifting, my efforts have occasionally looked utterly ineffective.

Most who have ministered in churches for any length of time have known a stirring sense of call and a frequent sense of futility. We do the most important work in the world with the greatest resources imaginable, yet we sometimes feel as though we are accomplishing nothing.

As I have mulled over this paradox, I have come to some conclusions that help me to persevere even when tangible results are few and far between.

1. I can influence, but I cannot control. Spiritual work has limits. For example, consider the difference between the work of a farmer and that of a cabinetmaker. With tools like saws and routers, a cabinetmaker directly and immediately molds his product to conform to his vision. A farmer, on the other hand, works in partnership with a host of forces: soil, sun, seed, weather, pests, fertilizer , and, ultimately, God. Because he deals with living things, a farmer cannot directly shape his crops. He must wait patiently for the process to be completed.

2. Any growth in righteousness is of infinite value. If one sin — a bite from the forbidden fruit — could be so cataclysmic as to send Christ to the cross, then it is worth preventing even one sin. If one act of righteousness — Mary's anointing of the body of Jesus — could lead to her story being told wherever the gospel is preached, then one act of obedience is of immense worth.

3. Ministry is measured in many ways. The evaluation form from my denominational superiors for the annual review of my ministry at our church asks for data on attendance, income, missions giving, etc., for the previous three years. I add an additional sheet on which I rate our church in other areas: the quality of our worship and our relationships; progress on our vision; our effectiveness in evangelism; our spirit of giving; the degree to which members responded to my leadership; the levels of unity, joy, faith; and morale among the congregation. By these measures, we see results, the kind that I trust will eventually lead to tangible fruit.

4. Spiritual ministry requires faith from beginning to end. Some pastors must plant themselves in a community — like Abraham in the Promised Land — and pray and believe despite a season without tangible results because God delights in their faith in the same way he delighted in Abraham's faith (which waited a long time before seeing results!).

5. Spiritual seeds have enduring power. While the soil may be hostile to growth now, while birds may carry some seeds away, in many people the seeds will someday germinate and take root. Thus, I can endure even in the seasons when I see little or no results.

6. Each step people make in God's direction should be celebrated. Individuals usually move closer to the Lord one commitment at a time, and the church moves toward greater fruitfulness one step at a time. If I save my sense of satisfaction until the ultimate goal is reached, I will be a frustrated man. I have learned instead to celebrate every bridge we pass over.

7. Spiritual ministry is a mixture of muddle and glory. There is a lot of muddle in ministry. Occasionally, though, I see moments of glory so joyful they make the muddle worthwhile. Someone commits his life to Christ. A marriage is saved. Someone becomes a sacrificing servant of the church.

If I could see from heaven's perspective, I would know that, in the spiritual realm, when progress appears slowest, kingdom movement is actually occurring.

Article copyright © 2003, Craig Brain Larson.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

Adapted from Pastoral Grit by Craig Brian Larson, copyright 1998 Bethany House. Used with permission.