by Fred W. Anson and Jackie Davidson
She was a really nice lady and a wonderful friend. But she wouldn’t stop talking about her “ministry”. He was a really great guy, warm, friendly, outgoing and really, genuinely cared about people. But he couldn’t stop talking about his “ministry”. I could stop right now and you could give us names, places, and “ministries” couldn’t you? That’s right even if we’ve never met, even if we live in different states, go to different churches and are theologically at odds we could both tell each other stories about Christians we’ve known that fit the scenario that I’ve just described. Isn’t that interesting?
Or how about this one?
She had a dramatic, born again experience. Her life was dramatically changed and she became a different person it seemed, almost instantly. There was no doubt that God had intervened like a bolt of lightning and performed a miracle. That was a month or two ago and now she was telling me, “I’ve just got to find my ministry!”
Maybe it was you.
Maybe it’s you right now.
Modern American Christians (we can’t speak for other cultures, we don’t know them well enough) are obsessed with finding, having, and growing their “ministry”. The lady that we described in our opening couldn’t tell you if the Book of Hebrews was in the Old or New Testament, couldn’t tell you why the doctrine of the Trinity was important, and thought that Joel Osteen was a wonderful man of God and gifted Bible teacher – and for the record, he’s a heretic. Another lady that we knew was bouncing from one seminary to another trying to get her credential so she could have a public “ministry” and start preaching at churches. All this while divorced and the single mother of two kids who, we suspect, were feeling the neglect that comes from being sacrificed for “ministry”.
Fred Anson was one of those kids. His father was in many ways a wonderful man but everything and everyone got sacrificed for his “ministry”. As his mother used to say, “Why is he down at the church building repairing a pipe when our pipes are leaking here at home? Why is he over at the house of the co-worker doing a remodel so he can witness to him when our house is falling apart?” And Fred would add, “Why was he always off doing volunteer work for children’s charities rather than explaining to his own kids how to survive in this broken and fallen world?” Oh yes, friends, we know all too well what happens when “ministry” becomes the ultimate thing in a Christian’s life. As well known Presbyterian Pastor Timothy Keller notes:
What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. . . .
An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.
A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.1
Isn’t this really what’s so often happening with “ministry” these days in modern American Christian culture? We’ve turned a good thing into an ultimate thing – and by doing so have turned it into an idol. Thankfully Keller also gives the solution to the problem:
Idols cannot simply be removed. They must be replaced. If you only try to uproot them, they grow back; but they can be supplanted. By what? By God himself, of course. But by God we do not mean a general belief in his existence. Most people have that, yet their souls are riddled with idols. What we need is a living encounter with God.2
OK, the concept is good but how can we make this real? What worked for us was thinking through this whole “ministry” thing and coming to realize that the the word “ministry” simply means “to function in the office of a servant”. So if we’re “ministering” I’m really doing nothing more than serving – which is biblical, just as Bob Deffinbaugh explains:
The predominant word for ministry in the New Testament is diakoneo (the noun form of which is diakonia). From this root, the term, deacon, (in Greek, diakonos) is derived. One of many possible expressions, it most accurately conveys the New Testament function of ministry. Our Lord and the apostles employed diakoneo to invest ministry with a meaning to both the Jews, and the Greeks.
To the Greeks, there was no dignity in service. In the words of the Greek sophist:
“How can a man be happy when he has to serve someone?”
The only service deemed to be of high value was that rendered in behalf of the state.
How different was our Lord’s concept of the ministry:
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served (passive form of diakoneo) but to serve (active form of diakoneo), and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Jesus taught His followers that serving was a vital part of discipleship:
“If anyone wants to serve (diakoneo) me, he must follow me, and where I am, my servant (diakonos) will be too. If anyone serves (diakoneo) me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26).
In the teaching of Jesus, greatness was to be measured in terms of service:
“Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. But it is not this way among you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant (diakonos), and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44).
All of this invested New Testament ministry with a dignity unimagined by the Greeks of that day.3
So if one wants a “ministry” for any other reason other than out of an attitude of service something isn’t right. Further, the question is this, “service to who?” Trust us, we speak from hard experience when we say that it’s entirely possible to think that you’re serving others when you’re really just serving yourself. And we will state plainly that the praise and gratitude of those people that you help can be intoxicating! It can be easy to serve to get the high that comes from it. And yes, the recognition that one can get from “ministry” have you breathing rarefied air if you’re not careful – you might even start believing that you actually deserve the praise that you’re getting.
So tell me friend, who’s getting the glory there?
And here’s a question: Who gave you the talents that you’re now sharing with others? Remember this?
For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.
(Matthew 25:14-15 NKJV)
We are, of course, only speaking to ourselves since we know no one else has ever forgotten or taken for granted the fact that without the Master we would be nothing and have nothing. He owes us nothing, and we owe Him everything. So it’s only logical that when in service our attitude must always be, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NKJV) Friend, without Jesus we are nothing!
In the end the real question is this: Why do you need a “ministry” if you have a Master?
The Way of The Master
Now here’s the thing about having a Master: He gets to tell you what to do when to do it, and how to do it. And, here’s the part that modern Christians don’t seem to like much, He can tell you when to stop or not do it all. Example, let’s consider the Apostle Paul.
While the exact chronology and dating of the events in the Apostle Paul’s life are still a topic of dispute among biblical scholars,4 the fact remains that there was a significant gap between when Paul became a Christian and when he became a missionary. Remember the Book of Acts covers events that occurred between around 30-62AD.5 That puts Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-9) around 33AD and his first call to missions (Acts 13:2-3) at about 47AD. Folks that’s a 14-year gap!
Think about that! Here is a guy who was schooled by one of the most famous and respected Jewish Rabbis not just of his time but of all time, Gamaliel (see Acts 22:3). A man to whom Jesus Christ personally appeared to in a vision and whose life Christ completely overturned and transformed. This is a guy that today would be on the Christian talk show, church, and book circuits within a year or two of his conversion. Yet what was the Master’s bidding during that 14-year period? What “ministry” did he have? Apparently, it was the “ministry” of being trained, equipped, and prepared for what was to come because once the Master said, “Go!” he went – and he performed masterfully when he did.
Still not convinced? Then let’s talk about this guy called Moses who spent 40-years exiled in the wilderness until God called him to his “ministry”.6 Or how about Abraham who had to wait for 19-years from the promise of Isaac until his birth?7 Or, last but not least, how about Christ – God incarnate – who had to wait for 30-years for His “ministry” only to have it last 3-years? The way of the Master is not our way my friend – it’s far better!
Yes, it’s tempting for a new Christian to want to go into some sort of ministry. Baby Christians are on fire for the Lord. They want to spread their new found joy to everyone. And this is especially true for former Mormons or those who come from other works-based religions. Ex-Mormons are used to having their Bishop tell them what to do – and remember in Mormonism if you say no to a calling there will be hell to pay down the road. So when Ex-Mormons become Christian, if they’re asked they just say yes to everything. Their pastor loves it! However, a year later they end up with too many ministries, an overloaded plate, and none of it being done well. Plus they are not doctrinally trained enough to actually minister to others.
And we could talk about all those “zombie” Facebook groups that were started and then abandoned because someone who just had to have a “ministry” created the group on a whim. Then they discovered the hard way that they weren’t equipped to lead or sustain such an endeavor either practically or theologically. So there the group sits, doing nothing, going nowhere, benefiting no one, crickets chirping, existing but not alive. If there were dust, rust, and wood-rot in cyberspace it would be covered with it.8
Finally, since it’s so common, we want to warn our transitioning Mormon friends about well-meaning Christians who will try to turn them into weapons against Mormonism immediately after they leave the LdS Church. This isn’t idle speculation – expect it, it will happen. Simply put, don’t listen to them.
Consider this: Could Christ have had a better weapon than Paul against the apostate Judaism of his day? Or a better weapon than Moses, a former Prince, against pagan Egypt for that matter? Yet the Master waited until they were properly equipped and trained before He missioned them – think about that my friend. We know that it is so, so, so easy to pick up the sword against the LdS Church after you exit and even easier to swing it, but here’s a word of advice learned from hard experience: Don’t.9
Equipping the Saints (and Other Stuff That Everyone Seems to Want to Ignore)
We have seen a lot of harm come from Baby Christians (and sorry Ex-Mormon but after you exit you are a baby Christian no matter how long you were in the LdS Church and what your callings were) who have no firm theological foundation, don’t know their Bible, have no knowledge of proper hermeneutics, Christian Church history, historic Christian orthodoxy, modern Christian culture, or even proper Christian terminology, create a “ministry” for themselves. We have seen them destroy their own faith while they’re destroying the faith of others – usually taking themselves and their parishioners and into the morass of atheism. We have seen them alienate themselves from the community of saints due to their unteachable attitudes and recalcitrant behavior. We have even seen them end their own marriages because they were so driven to have a “ministry” that they ran over their spouse. We have seen them do exactly as Jesus said they would:
“They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”
(Matthew 15:14 NKJV)
Ironically, even the infidels know better than to act with such folly! One of Fred’s mentors – an apostate, cultural Jew – once challenged him with this, “How do you know what to do about what’s going on until you know what’s going on?” And in a similar vein, a secular, materialist, agnostic mentor, counseled him to, “Do nothing for the first 90-days except watch, listen, and learn. That way you’ll know exactly what to do on day 91.” This, of course, is nothing more than an echo of the biblical wisdom which says:
“Fools think their own way is right,
but the wise listen to others.”
(Proverbs 12:15 NLT)
“A wise man doesn’t display his knowledge,
but a fool displays his foolishness.”
(Proverbs 12:23 TLB)
“Sensible people always think before they act,
but stupid people advertise their ignorance.”
(Proverbs 13:16 GNT)
“Become wise by walking with the wise;
hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces.”
(Proverbs 13:20 The Message)
“Fools have no interest in understanding;
they only want to air their own opinions.”
(Proverbs 18:2 NLT)
So you want a ministry? Here’s a tip, change the 90-days to 9-years from Fred’s secular mentor’s advice and wait patiently on the Lord while you’re doing it. And if you have any questions while you’re waiting just open up your Bible and start reading. But trust us, friend, while you’re waiting you will still have plenty to do – life happens!
Equipped But Not Called
It’s also common for mature Christians to try to make those that they haven’t really been called to, a target for “ministry”. They do so by not spending the time required to learn the worldview and theology of the people that they’re approaching. Instead, they just go out and act as if these people are clones of them self. As Nancy Pearcey observes:
What would you think of a missionary in a Muslim country who refused to learn about Muslim culture? He would not be very effective in communicating a biblical message. Cultivating a missional mind-set means being willing to learn both the language and the thought patterns of our mission field.
When Paul said, “I have become all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22), he did not mean dressing like the locals. Nor was he embracing cultural relativism. Instead he was taking the assumptions of his audience into consideration in his language and approach. He tried to see the world through their eyes so he could communicate more persuasively.10
The harm that this presumption causes is unbelievable. We have seen one transitioning Mormon after another driven into atheism due to well meaning but ignorant and culturally insensitive Christians disrespecting and offending them in this manner. They figure that if Christians can’t be bothered to learn about them then obviously Christianity doesn’t have anything to say to them. And frankly, we don’t blame them having once been on the receiving end of this closed-minded, myopic, and often bigoted, behavior ourselves. If you have any doubts about this just go up on just about any Mormon/Evangelical internet discussion board and you’ll see it. If that doesn’t do it then go on YouTube and watch the “Street Screechers” driving Mormons away from God and deeper into Mormonism on Temple Square.
Simply put dear mature Christian brother or sister, taking it upon yourself to go into “ministry” without the proper equipping, training, and divine calling is not only poor stewardship of your talents, it can actually harm the very people that you think you’re helping. Whether it’s people in Africa, the homeless, or well to do Ex-Mormons, they are precious souls to be loved and cared for. It is extremely important that the person who is shepherding these people be prepared to shepherd them in accordance with the Golden Rule. And if all this has made you realize that you need more time to prepare yourself for the mission field then just sit back and rest in the arms of the Lord while He prepares you like He did Paul.
Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!
(Psalm 27:14 NKJV)
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:28-31 NKJV)
Further, the Bible tells us both plainly and repeatedly that we are to be under pastoral oversight not just in our ministry but in general.11 Be accountable, be teachable, be shepherded yourself. Never stop researching and pray for God’s guidance constantly. If and when the Master says “Go!” then go. If and when the Master says, “Stop” then stop. If He says, “Speak” then speak. And if He says, “Be quiet” then stop speaking and remain silent. After all, friend this really isn’t your “ministry” at all is it? It’s His, always has been, always will be. So say it with me, dear Christian:
“I have no ministry, I have the Master. And that’s enough.”
1 Timothy Keller, “Counterfeit Gods”, pp.xvii-xviii
2 Ibid, Chapter 7
3 Bob Deffinbaugh, “The Meaning of New Testament Ministry”
4 Timeline of the Apostle Paul
5 Chronology of Acts and the Epistles
6 Exodus Bible Timeline
7 Complete Bible Timeline
8 And by the way, before you start one yourself, speaking as people who have been administrating multiple Facebook groups over a number of years (and have the scars to prove it) please know there’s a reason why they call Internet administration, “feeding the beast” when it comes to providing content and “taming the beast” when it comes to monitoring and administrating it. It’s not for the fainthearted or ill-equipped!
9 Please see Fred W. Anson’s article, “On Taking Up The Sword” for a fuller explanation and caution on this. Want to guarantee that you will remain a Baby Christian forever our newly exited Ex-Mormon friend? No problem, just pick up that sword and start swinging it!
10 Nancy Pearcey, “Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes”, p.250, Kindle Edition. In specific regard to Mormonism, the reader may also be interested in Fred Anson’s article, ‘Weak Arguments #9: “I don’t need to understand Mormon culture or learn how to speak like a Mormon…”’
11 Please consider the following:
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
(Hebrews 13:17-21 ESV)
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
(Proverbs 27:17 ESV)
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
(Galatians 6:1-2 ESV)
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
(Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
(James 5:16 ESV)
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV)
“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
(James 5:19-20 ESV)
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
(Ephesians 4:25 ESV)
“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
(Romans 12:3-8 NKJV)