The Ministry of Critics

When we think God has called us to the ministry we think of words like the Gospel, the lost and those needing discipleship. We imagine walking together to establish the kingdom either where Christ is not known or clarifying the Gospel where there exists confusion. I don’t think any of us comes along to be a troublemaker. None of us starts off wanting to put others down. But along the way we might find ourselves raising eyebrows on how things are done not because we are against the ministry but because we think there’s a different way to do things. This is always helpful because nobody has a monopoly of good ideas until we lose faith in the ministry and especially those in leadership. At that point, we might find ourselves doing more harm than good. But it never needs to reach there.

What surprises me is that the Bible records this happening in that first missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas are set apart by the Spirit of God to reach the nations with the Gospel. They go out planting and strengthening churches and all with the help of others like Silas and John Mark. It’s clearly not a ministry of one man. But then something happens along the way. For a reason, John Mark decides to go back in Acts 13. We don’t know exactly why and speculating is not always helpful. But we know the story when he comes back. Such a disagreement ensues between Paul and Barnabas that they decide to break camp and head in different directions. The beautiful thing is that the Gospel still advances and Paul will come to acknowledge the ministry of John Mark later in his ministry in 2 Timothy. But you can be sure this was not easy. If it was in our cancel culture today Paul would have considered John Mark dead to him. But what are we to do when disagreement and criticism arise in our own ministry?

Remember we are all sinners

It’s easy in a disagreement to think of others as heretics or even doubt their faith. We might actually think of them as Christians but doubt their maturity. In truth, we need to remember we are all works in progress. None of us has fully attained the level of maturity that Christ has otherwise we wouldn’t need his discipleship. We are not complete and that’s why we need to keep coming back to the word for our growth and sanctification. That’s easy to see in others, especially those we disagree with but if we look at the mirror of scripture keenly we’ll see just how far we fall short.

Sin is always the problem. It’s why we set out to do ministry but also what ails us in ministry. The same disease we diagnose in others deeply affects us especially when we can’t see it. So often in ministry, we forget that the minister is a patient too. We disciple others and forget to disciple ourselves. We point out the speck in another’s eye leaving the log in our own eyes. But if we remember who we naturally are we’ll know for sure we are part of the problem when there’s conflict. We’ll see each other as two sinners who need Jesus above all. I know it’s never easier than that but most often it’s as easy as that.

Remind ourselves of our shared identity

Although we are sinners who don’t always know the extent of our sin, the Bible tells us we are also saints. That in Jesus that brother you currently can’t see eye to eye is a holy child of God on account of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. They are a righteous fellow and that is guaranteed by the blood of Jesus. What’s more? We share an eternal home with them because God has invited all those in Christ to his heavenly home. If you think that’s enough, consider this, the spirit of God dwells in them declaring they are indeed legitimate children of God. When you remember that it changes how you see a brother and sister. It tells us we are more alike than we are different. This doesn’t solve all disagreements but it tells us we need not see others as second-class citizens.

Reminding ourselves of these truths gives us a different lens to see our brothers and sisters because that’s who they are in Christ. This doesn’t mean we excuse their sin, it doesn’t mean we sweep things under the carpet or even overlook their error. But it gives us a different viewpoint as we try to engage with them and it ensures we don’t walk away with hatred. It means whatever happens I know this indeed is my brother and sister because we share more than our work, we share our identity in Jesus. It means I won’t wish them to fail so I might say I knew it or said so. I won’t bring enmity within the fellowship to gang people against them. It means whatever happens I still appreciate the gift they are to the church of Christ even when I may not always appreciate their approach.

Evaluate our motivations

But once we remember our sin and our precious identity it’s also good to evaluate our own motivations. So often in ministry, we are driven by selfish agendas in the name of advancing the kingdom. Actually, it’s hard to go out purely for Gospel motivations. I think most often there’s something we seek to gain. When we want to go where no one else has been it might be to reach a bigger need but also to build our profile. Because we are sinners who happen to be saints our motivations are often double-sided. There’s a call of the spirit in there but there’s also a human kingdom we are building. The hope is that continually the self decreases so Jesus’ Gospel vision shines brighter in our work.

When we find ourselves in a ministry disagreement it’s good to remember our motivations are not necessarily pure. Yes, we might see the other person is at fault and we might have others who agree with us. But we need to ask what’s in it for us? What do we seek to gain ourselves? That’s a difficult question to ask because though we don’t like to admit it there’s always a selfish motivation. All I’m trying to say is let’s not imagine we are always right. Let’s not assume others are to blame and imagine we’d do a greater job. If anything we are all works in progress. We all need discipleship and yet we are completely righteous on account of what Jesus has done if we truly believe in him. Before we badmouth another and pull down a fellowship let’s remember who we are naturally, let’s remember our glorious and shared identity in Jesus. But let’s also examine ourselves and put aside our motivations in the name of building God’s kingdom.

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