Tag Archive for ministry

Customer-driven Ministry

During my 34 years with a major church music publisher, we were primarily customer-driven. Like most of the rest of the business world, we tried to learn what the customer wanted and then provide it with the best product we could. Obviously there is some economic logic behind being customer-driven.

It is often defended on a ministry basis as well. We all want to minister to real customer needs. Therefore we must learn what the customer wants, then provide it as best we can, right? Customer-driven publishing, or customer-driven ministry, seems to make a great deal of sense.

But over the years, I’ve experienced serious flaws in that approach.

1.       Often customers don’t know what they want until they see it. Needs and desires tend to be limited by past experience. True innovation demands more than an analysis of past buying habits. True innovation requires vision.

2.       As Christian publishers, we serve a God who is NOT customer-driven. Yes, He deeply loves people and meets their practical needs where they are. He is intent on effectively communicating with them and helping them. But He doesn’t follow their lead: they must follow His. He tells them what they need to know, not what they want to know. He doesn’t cater: He ministers. He challenges. He leads His people beyond their experience, beyond their desires toward something better. He is focused on what can be. When His people are in need, He creates something new:

“Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19, NASB)

This is the God we serve. God offers people something better than they know to ask for. And we are ambassadors for Him.

Customer-driven ministry easily turns to catering to the customer. Selfishness subtly moves in and takes over. We end up simply appealing to the customer in our own best interest rather than serving his or her long-term best.

Read John’s gospel, and note Jesus’ focus. He focused on the Father. His one desire was to speak His Father’s words and do His Father’s works. That must be the focus of each of His disciples as well. He calls us to focus on speaking the Father’s words and doing the Father’s works. Focus on the Father.

What’s more, imagine what the Bible would be if it were customer-driven. Tied to the fads of the times, it would not be the source of timeless truth that every generation and every culture desperately needs it to be.

As a creator, as a communicator, as a servant of God, let God’s burning love for His people inspire and lead you. Don’t just follow what is. Imagine what could be. Imagine something better. Imagine springs in the desert and roadways through the wilderness. Follow the God whose zealous love is forever creating something new, leading His people beyond their self-imposed limitations.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Lead Me On
Printed Music & Lyrics

God Himself Is Our Inheritance

I’ve been reading recently in Deuteronomy. What a wonderful book! Israel had been in the wilderness for 40 years. About to enter the promised land, Moses was reminding them of what God had done for them and what He expected of them.

One of the recurring themes I noticed was God’s treatment of the Levites. As one of the twelve tribes of Israel, God set them aside to serve Him in a particular way. As one called to full-time service, I couldn’t help but identify with them.

God gave them specific duties. They were to take charge of the tabernacle and its furnishings, caring for it, setting it up, and tearing it down. No small task! They were also given other responsibilities, such as assisting the priests, teaching God’s law to the people, and acting as local judges.

I was particularly struck by several aspects of God’s relationship with the Levites. As a servant of God, do you identify with any of these points?

1. The other eleven tribes each received an area of land within Canaan to call their own—land that was to remain theirs forever. The Levites were given no land. The Lord repeatedly told them that He Himself was their inheritance (Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 10:8-9; 18:1-2; Joshua 13:33).

2. God brought the Levites near to Himself. That nearness, which was inherent in their work, was part of their privilege and reward (Numbers 16:9-10).

3. One of the duties of the Levites was to bless God’s people in His name. What a wonderful privilege! (Deuteronomy 10:8-9; 21:5)

4. God placed His servants, the Levites, at the very heart of His people. When they camped in the wilderness, the Levites were right in the middle of the camp, with the other tribes distributed around them (Numbers 1:47-54; 2:17). When they settled in the promised land, each of the other eleven tribes allocated certain cities for the Levites, so that the Levites were intentionally scattered among God’s people (Numbers 35:1-9).

5. Levites were also scattered among the various towns throughout the country, and the local people were to make charitable provision for them, just as they did for the widows, orphans, and aliens among them. Because the Levites had no land inheritance of their own, they were dependent on the charity of God’s people (Deuteronomy 12:12, 18-19; 14:27-29; 16:11, 14; 26:11-12).

God’s servants, the Levites, were privileged to bring God to the people and the people to God. They spoke God’s blessing on the people and taught the people about God and His ways. But as part of their calling, they were dependent on God more constantly and completely than His other people, and God made them dependent on the piety and generosity of His people.

Their inheritance was not houses or land or riches, but a special relationship with God Himself. God considered their service to Him, their close relationship with Him, and even their dependence on Him to be a profound privilege.

Reflect on all this. Does it help you understand how God treats you as His servant?

Doubting Your Call

Some of us, though not all, know that we are called of God to a specific type of ministry. At some point we became unmistakably aware that He was asking us to follow Him into that work.

But over the years, have you ever come to doubt that call? The witness of scripture and the experience of many testify that following God’s call is not easy. Struggles, failures, frustrations, and financial pressures may drag on for years. Some friends and family don’t understand. Those closest to you are forced to share your hardship, and that increases the strain. You get weary of feeling out of step and swimming upstream. At some point you begin to fear that your call was nothing but a personal delusion. You suspect that it came from your own mind or heart, not from God.

How do you respond to such doubts? Here are some things that have helped me.

1.       Realize that long-term struggle and suffering are common to all God’s servants. You are not alone! The Bible teaches that patient endurance is one of the most precious Christ-like virtues, and it can only be acquired one way: by having to patiently endure. When the difficulty absolutely MUST stop but doesn’t, patiently endure!

2.       Realize that you will never graduate from God’s school of dependence. You might as well get comfortable there.

3.       Remember! Intentionally call to mind your past experiences with God, His leading, His providing, and His faithfulness. The Psalms consistently remind us that when we can’t see or feel God’s deliverance, we need to remember it from the past and continue trusting it.

4.       Recommit yourself to following God anywhere He leads you. Make yourself completely available to Him. Specifically, focus on following Him day by day, step by step. Our turning points, our “important” decisions, are actually part of the fabric of life. If you are following Him day by day, you’ll be following Him when the crisis points come.

5.       God has given you that specific ministry as your unique opportunity to glorify Him. It’s your best chance to help people know and feel how wonderful He is. Thank Him for your task and treat it as a great privilege, as a personal gift from Him, for that’s exactly what it is!

Ministry by Numbers

I spent 34 years working for a major church music publisher, with most of that time spent in management in one form or another. Numbers were an integral part of my job. We constantly measured our ministry by numbers—sales, profits, overhead, budgets, projections, etc., etc.

I carried that mindset over into my personal ministries and was concerned when the numbers just wouldn’t come. After all, isn’t “numbers” one of the reasons we writers want to get published? Publication helps us reach more people with the message, right?

But several years ago, after failing yet again to connect with a book publisher, the Lord clearly told me, “Focus on the people I have already entrusted to you.” I was teaching a Sunday School class at the time (I still am)—15 to 20 mostly-older adults. So I started a weekly email to them which included a devotional reading that led into a recording of one of my hymns. The email was called, IMAGES OF CHRIST in Word & Song. In surveying what people God had already entrusted to me, I sent the email to family and friends as well. That weekly email ran for over four years before becoming this blog.

Still, much of my creative work starts with my modest-sized Sunday School class. I not only provide them with weekly Bible lessons but with a hymn, a devotional piece, and daily scriptural readings, all interwoven with our Sunday lesson. Sure, I’d love to see the material reach beyond them, and I follow the Lord’s leading in that regard.

But God has been weaning me off the numbers game as a measure for His ministry. Remember, He created the universe from a word. He doesn’t need more “stuff”. He can make more of that anytime He chooses. What He prizes are not quantities but love and trust. That’s what I focus on giving Him.

Whom has the Lord already entrusted to you? Focus your ministry on them.

Fulfill Your Ministry

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus . . .
Be sober in all things,
endure hardship,
do the work of an evangelist,
fulfill your ministry.
(2 Timothy 4:1, 5, NASB)

in hardship, when you are discouraged,
fulfill your ministry.

In comfortable times,
be careful to
fulfill your ministry.

When you seem to be a success
or a failure, just
fulfill your ministry.

Be alert to your Lord’s leadership.
He will surprise you
with opportunities to
fulfill your ministry.

Time is so short.
You will soon stand before
the One who called you
and give personal account.
Everyone around you
is facing that judgment.

every day,
while there is time,
fulfill your ministry.