Chapter 3: Personal Ministry Success vs. God’s Sovereignty
An uneasy Paradox
An uneasy Paradox
Dr. Samuel Rima opens up this chapter with a recount of his experience of leaving one church in California and going to another church in Midwestern USA. He relates his vision for this new church and his desire to succeed in that vision. He says “I didn’t move my family across the country and leave the denomination which I had been ordained just to survive and maintain the status quo at this new ministry” (46). He left this church after six years in spite of his personal determination. He actually made several good if not exciting achievements, but he became depressed and disillusioned. He had envisioned what success would look like for that church. He states, “I had established predetermined benchmarks for my success in that ministry setting” (48)
During the last 30 years it seems success had become something that must be quantified to be real. It use to be that just having a healthy marriage, possessing a good work ethic, being honest and moral, etc. were indisputable indicators of success. But now Christian leaders can no longer just serve, they now must pastor a large rapidly growing church. Being exposed to ministry stars doesn’t help either in this emphasis. Pastors must ask themselves “Why do Christian leaders not experience the level of joy and serenity in ministry the apostle Paul wrote about while sitting in a Roman prison cell waiting for his head to be removed” (Philippians 4:11-13)? When will strivings for personal success collide headlong with the realities of God’s sovereignty?
For too many spiritual leaders, ministry is just another career or profession. We must come to the place where we acknowledge the role of God’s sovereignty in our ministry because it is not up to us to determine what will ultimately take place in the church we serve – that is God’s job. We forget or neglect that reality at our own emotional and spiritual peril. It is because God is sovereign in and over his church, that he doesn’t feel compelled to produce growth simply because we have determined that our church should grow , nor does he do things according to our timetable or because we happen to be applying the latest church growth theories. God is not all that concerned with our own personal definition of success, but is concerned with His name being glorified. Dr. Rima states, “God grows the church to fulfill his own purposes and for his own good pleasure” (53). He does leaders a great service by encouraging them to seek God direction by listening, reflecting, seeking spiritual direction, letting go of a personal dream that might be blocking us from seeing God Direction, or by allowing our dream to take a different shape.
Dr. Rima uses the Biblical example of Saul of Tarsus to illustrate how God causes us to relinquish our personal plans. It is in Act 9:15 that the Lord reveals his plan for Saul’s life when says to Ananias: “God and do what I say. For Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for me.” He also shows Paul also experienced the pain and frustration that comes from fighting against God’s sovereign will. This section is full of great Biblical reminders and personal reminders about why we should come to grips with the tension that exists between our own personal plans and God’s sovereign plans for us.
In understanding our drive to succeed, we will become convinced that our passionate desire for success and significance are among God’s greatest gifts to us. He has planted deep within us the desire to succeed and make a difference. And if God is the source of our passions and aspirations, we can be sure that he has given them to us for a reason. In Ephesians 2:10 Paul’s says, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Dr. Rima believes that it is this passion and drive within us that God uses to keep us moving toward discovering his sovereign purposes and plans he has for us. During this process we need to hold our dreams, aspirations, plans, and visions loosely.
None of what Dr. Rima has said in this chapter should be interpreted that he is suggesting that we should simply slack off in ministry under the guise of letting God be God. We should put for much effort with what God has given us but at the same time recognize that God is sovereign in all of these efforts and that the outcomes will not always be what we had hoped for. We can enjoy the amazing journey that is ministry, regardless of the size of our church or how wide our popularity, when we finally allow ourselves to rest in the sovereign movements of God.