The Need for Significance

The need for significance is a driving force in all of our lives. Near the end of his ministry, we hear the apostle Paul poignantly wondering if indeed he made a difference in lives. He questions if he has helped them become committed followers of Christ.

We pastors are like the great apostle Paul when we desire for our ministry to make a difference in the lives of other people. Current research at Focus on the Family indicates that 90% of pastors work more than 54 hours per week. That is well beyond the average American work week. About one-half of all pastors feel that they are unable to meet the needs of their job. With pastors working long hours and having little confidence that they are doing well, it is difficult for them to believe that their ministries are very significant.

I pastor a small congregation located between two mega-churches. Is my ministry in a small church significant? There are certainly days that I look for any affirmation of my work. It is easy to overlook signs that inidcate my ministry is effective. Of course, when I compare my ministry to the work of other people, I fall into a trap with a negative message.

Even when Jesus healed ten lepers in His ministry, only one was thoughtful enough to return to Him with praise for the miracle of healing. As much as we may desire to be affirmed by people, sometimes it simply may not happen. So, how can we know when we have had a significant ministry?

I believe that there are biblically based qualities that affirm the signficance of our ministries. The following is a partial list:

Obedience to God

The scriptures make it clear that obedience is more to be desired than a special sacrifice. Obedience is not optional for Christian significance but is critical. The stories of disobedience resulting in moral failure are far too familiar. When the moral failure of an outstanding leader that has received recognition becomes public, the stain splashes over to all the ministries identifying with Christ.

Obedience to faithfully proclaim the "whole gospel" and apply it in our personal lives is an important measure of our ministries. If our families recall that we were obedient to God and honored Him by our life and personal ministries, we are placed in a "significance hall of fame."

Humility in servant leadership

Jesus illustrated the significance of humility by taking time for the children and for the disenfranchised from society. He would take the place of a servant when he washed the dirty feet of his disciples. Jesus handled praise by honoring God the Father rather than bringing attention to His own great abilities.

Servant leadership empowers others and brings signficance to their lives. Many of the college students I have worked with over the past twenty-five years have pointed to a pastor who has worked in relative anonymity. It is that pastor who made a significant impact on their lives.

Invest in lives of people.

People are the basis of our significance. Our significance does not depend upon the grateful appreciation of individuals. But rather, it comes from the fact that we have touched one of God's creations in a personal way. Jesus illustrated this by taking time to converse with a Samaritan woman at a well. He called down the "vertically challenged" Zaccheus from a tree and joined him for dinner. Jesus took the children up in his arms and blessed them. These acts were hardly headline news. All were acts in a ministry of signficance.

Jesus faced people who questioned his methods and his ministry. Many thought he should have spent more time with the religious and less with the sinners of life. Some thought children should have been removed from the Savior, but Jesus saw them as living illustrations of the kingdom. We need to realize that criticism may be applied to any ministry, even that of Jesus.

Significance is desired by all of us. But we must be careful to not let ungratefulness or unexpressed appreciation control our lives or our commitment to ministry. We need to be careful that we do not simply evaluate the significance of our ministries by the number of "products" from our efforts.

We need to return to the Biblical evaluations. Praise and thanks from those who have been touched by God through us is just an added bonus. The real measure of worth will come when we hear those words by our Lord, "Well done, you good and faithful servant …" Live for that day — because it has real significance.

Article copyright © 1999, Focus on the Family.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

Eldon Fry was the manager of pastoral care with Focus on the Family's Pastoral Ministries department when this article was written.