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God's "Little" Surprise

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div, M.S.A.

Number 243

Often when pastors and other church professionals enter the ministry they are excited, eager and ready to minister to the fullest of their talent. They look to their congregation or area of ministry and see it as a ministry which God has called them to change.
 
As they seek various ways to change the ministry for the glory of God, they look to ways to address and change the spirituality of the people belonging to and affected by the ministry. Exceptional energies may be exerted for that end. Sermons, worship services, a multitudinous variety of ministries, discipleship efforts, mentoring sessions and spiritual growth opportunities of many kinds will be directed toward the one goal: changing the people.
 
Of course, ministers desiring to see the change in people and the congregation are engaged in a noble effort. They understand the power of the Word. They understand that God's power alone is that which really propels the Word and changes lives. But it is often directly singularly at one goal: changing the people.
 
When They Don't Change
 
Sooner or later the inevitable happens. The people don't change. The dysfunctional organization resists the change and attacks the change agent. Criticism, conflict and antagonism all begin to rise up in the congregation.
 
Internally, frustration and bitterness grow in the heart of the Christian leader. "Why won't they change?" "What's wrong with them?" "How can they call themselves 'Christians?!'" and other righteous sorts of anger responses are spoken or muttered. 
 
The harder the leader pushes, the more insistent the pastor becomes, the greater the continuing frustration. When they don't change and appear as if they never will change, the pastor responds in despondency and failure. "What's wrong with me?!" "What did I do wrong?!" "I thought that if I preached and ministered in a dedicated way that God's Word would change them! What went wrong?!"
 
God's Little Surprise
 
Just at this point is where pastors and Christian leaders may begin to experience a deep restlessness and anxiety they have never before experienced. It doesn't seem like any previous experiences. It doesn't seem to "fit" into anything they have heard at seminary or read in Scripture. But the anxiety, grief, confusion and uncertainty of one's identity, calling, effectiveness and future can be overwhelming. 
 
It is in this deeply emotional and despondent spiritual state that God begins to work His "Little Surprise." That surprise is that your calling to ministry is primarily God's way of changing you.
 
The Purpose Of Ministry
 
Too often we consider the ministry exclusively from an external perspective. We consider it and define it as a Divine calling, a noble function, a Biblical task, and an essential fulfillment of God's purpose for each one of His called servants.
 
This external purpose of ministry is focused on ministry externals. It is focused on a faithful congregational ministry. It is focused on leading a congregation toward greater effectiveness in sharing the Gospel. It is focused on discipling and changing people to the grace of God by the grace of God. It is focused on renewing every single aspect of ministry so as to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as vigorously as possible.
 
The Ministry: The Internal Perspective
 
God's little surprise is that there is an internal purpose for ministry too. That purpose is to change the heart of the minister.
 
Even as congregations are resistant to change, so are the pastors who have preached change and transformation to them. When God works to transform His leaders they often refuse to see, accept or humble themselves to the internal purpose of ministry.
 
The purpose of this is nothing less than to transform God's leaders by grace for a more profound experience and understanding of God's grace.
 
About The Transformation
 
The transformation is like a continuous "Twelve-Step" process of renewal. Ministry Health's "Twelve Steps Of Spiritual Transformation" (#146) describes this process in greater depth. However God accomplishes the transformation He desires, it is always unique to the individual but results in certain common character transformations.
 
Some of the results of transformation related to this inner transformation may include:
 
1) A greater sense of ministry weakness before God and a correspondingly greater sense of God's strength for ministry;
 
2) A greater conviction that God shall build His Church and a corresponding recognition that we don't build the church. Like Paul and Apollos we just plant, water and wait (I Cor 3);
 
3) Learning what Christian leadership really is. Christian leadership isn't about getting more
power;  it's about letting go and letting God's power really direct the ministry (cf. Ministry Health's "Sixteen Lessons Of Leadership" Article #136);
 
4) Shifting ones focus from physical resources to a recognition and trust of God's illimitable resources for His Church;
 
5)  Growing in a profound recognition of how difficult forgiveness really is for us to give and a corresponding recognition of how profound God's grace is to accept others and our unworthy selves;
 
6) Recognizing that a one's ministry without God is powerless, no matter what the appearances;
 
7) Realizing that there are really no "chance" happenings or "fatal mistakes" in the Church in God's broader, gracious providential perspective. He makes everything (even sin) work out for the good for those who love Him long after we've given up hope;
 
8) Understanding that there's never a time without hope in God's gracious plan for us;
 
9) Experiencing unparalleled transformation of character to make us more suitable for ministry (Cf. Ministry Health's "Conflict: Ten Tests Of Character" Article #127);
 
10) Becoming aware of the "theological habitude" (habitus practicus) which embraces the ability to suffer for the sake of Christ and His word. This awareness makes us aware of a sense of Christ-likeness of bearing the wounds of Christ (Cf. Galatians 6:17 (NIV) "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.")
 
11) Beginning to move beyond a perfunctory spirituality toward a "practice of the presence of God." This does not mean a full-scale adoption of  Brother Lawrence's theology or meditative techniques. Nor does it entail a full-scale engulfing by mysticism.
 
What it does mean, however, is that we begin to realize that God's working in our ministry and our lives is transcends what we see and experience with our senses. For further reading see Ministry Health's "Ministry In The Fourth Dimension."( Article #172);
 
12) Appreciating the full effects of original sin and the power of the Gospel which alone can confront and do away with sin;
 
13) Recognizing that our ministries are not "careers." They are "callings." Whatever our aspirations might be, when we understand God's little surprise of our internal calling we can accept that we may stay in "What-Good-Can-Come-From-Nazareth?" ministries for the rest of our lives. Or we may suddenly find ourselves over our head in a ministry we never dreamed of but, when we see it, recognize it as God's special calling for us--internal and external. For more information see Ministry Health's "How's Your Career Path Going?" (Article #120).
 
14) Discovering that God has created us, gifted us, and led us in such a unique way that to deny our essential uniqueness for external ministry is one of the greatest failures in ministry;
 
15) Having to confront those developmental personality issues and dysfunctions which though you think strengthen you, really hinder God's greater working in you;
 
16) Releasing you from the shame-based ministry which depends upon externalities, achievements, recognition, etc. which had been the basis of the value of your ministry and of yourself. Our value is always rooted in the unconditional, overwhelming love of Jesus Christ for us, not on externals. Period!; and
 
17) Giving you the experience that no matter how great the grief, God is there and He will bring healing. When the healing comes you will have a joy in His grace never before experienced.
 
God's Little Surprise For You
 
There are certainly a number of other possible things which occur when God works in our internal calling. It is surprising for two reasons.
First, it is surprising because God's little surprise can be so very, very painful. It traumatizes, causes doubt, frustration, alienates family, causes one to withdraw, may lead to depression, et al.
 
Second, it is surprising because God's little surprise is always followed by God's greatest surprise. He was there. He was with you. He has healed you. Now you really know His grace and what God can do. The very heart and spirituality of your ministry has been deepened and transformed.
Don't Resist God's Little Surprise!
 
It is for this reason that many resist God's little surprise. They get scared and frightened. Sometimes they resign from ministry, from faith, and sometimes even life.
 
Not understanding the spiritual process of God's internal re-working and renewing of their faith, they throw their hands up in disgust, anger, frustration and failure. If they resign from their ministry in the middle of this process, they may face greater guilt and feelings of unworthiness and incompetence. This, unfortunately, may come as a very unwelcome surprise!
 
It happened to Peter. But Jesus restored him and so many, many others who, in weakness, have given up in their greatest hours. Regardless of Peter's response, Jesus' response was sure. "I love you, Peter. I really, really do!" It happened to others, too. Jonah and John Mark are just two examples in a very long listing of invaluable leaders who, resisting the internal calling, were restored by God for His ministry.
 
However, we need to remember that it is our nature as sinful human beings to resist God's working in us. Just because we're "called" doesn't make us immune. In fact, it may make us even more susceptible to such intense and severe testing.
 
It is for this reason that the joy which God gives to us at the end of our "little surprise" experience is so important. It fixes our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). He does forgive. His grace is always given...even for you.
 
God's Surprise Is No Surprise At All!
 
Virtually none of the results of "God's little surprise" are surprising. But what may be surprising is how much deeper they are in our lives and how they alter our leadership. However God comes with His little surprise to you, the end result will always be related to God's words to St. Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you" (II Corinthians 12:9).
 
Now, does that surprise you? It shouldn't...especially after you experience God's little surprise. The more you experience it over your tenure of ministry, the more you realize how true it is for you, too.
 
Remember it, think it, pray it, meditate it, preach it, speak it, live it, and boast about it. God's grace is sufficient for your ministry in Jesus Christ.
Thomas F. Fischer

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:09 PM