The Secret To Effective Ministry
by Chris on June 24th, 2013

"The secret to effective ministry, is to take that which has applied to you in your own life, that which you have experienced, and that which has become food to you to give to other people."--Frank Viola on his blog at http://bit.ly/17xEOrO

This quote from Frank Viola (not the baseball player known as "Sweet Music" that pitched for those dastardly Minnesota Twins who beat my beloved Cardinals in 1987) in a recent post on his blog resonated with me.  Throughout a lot of my life and ministry I have violated that maxim, and I have seen many in ministry do the same.

Again, let me confess, that I have often been guilty of this.  I also believe this offense is rampant in the body of Christ.

Why Not?  If we know it, but don't KNOW it, what harm can come from offering well-intentioned advice, common sense, or "discipleship"?

First, it is a spiritual and intellectual stretch.  It is the equivalent of giving someone directions to a place we have not been, giving the recipe for a dish we've never cooked. We give the false impression that we have experience enough to offer insight.  It's taken as "gospel".  And we are out on a limb in that relationship we cannot be certain will hold.

Once out on that limb we're distanced from those we intended to help.  This inhibits connection, friendship, and intimacy.  If what we've offered doesn't prove to be helpful the person is left to think either that we don't know what we are talking about, or more harmfully, that they somehow fouled it up (again).  It doesn't leave a lot of room for deepening relationship or meeting each other in our broken places, when we speak with confidence on trails we haven't traveled.

There are some things only old people know.  There are some things that can only come in time.  Morgan Snyder says, "There are no shortcuts in the Kingdom."  When we speak with authority on things that haven't yet "become a part of us" we make others think that fruit can grow without roots. In the natural world things take time to grow.  Apple trees take years to bear fruit.  An acorn dives a deep tap root down looking for water long before it is a sprout, much less a full grown tree.  Jesus was prepared for ministry by 30 years of life.  His disciples were covered in the dust of this Rabbi day in day out for 3 years.  And they still didn't get it.  Those same disciples wrote their accounts decades, lifetimes later, I believe, in large part, because they needed that long for their experiences to take root in the deep, healthy soil of a long life. 

Giving information and advice to people when we haven't yet walked that road encourages the  Questions/Answers Education model rather than the Process/Wisdom Experience path.  It is prevalent inside institutions to give answers to questions and call that education.  But that way (Q&A/Education) is an elementary process which doesn't produce good students, learners, or disciples.  It produces people dependent on "others" and commonly held notions rather than a lifetime process of organic intimacy with God.  Scripture implores the older to share their experience with the younger (not that the younger have nothing to offer, see Timothy).  Paul spent an extended time after his encounter with Jesus before beginning his outward ministry.  We can offer truth, grounded in scripture coupled with our experience walking with God. Thereby we encourage the idea that entering into a process gives us wisdom from the pairing of our knowledge with our experience.

I find it interesting that Jesus' invitation to learn was "Follow me."  It was an invitation to come  and be discipled by means of hearing his words, walking his paths, and sharing his trials alongside him rather than into anything that resembled a modern-day classroom or church.  Somewhere along the way we (as individuals, and certainly inside the institutional church) have lost that kind of "knowing".  We've settled for educators who teach our leaders by passing on knowledge.  Those leaders then pass on that knowledge to others.  And few of us have much experience with God.

Gordon Dalbey says in his book Healing the Masculine Soul, "Godly instruction only hits its mark after an encounter with the Living God."  In other words, all the teaching without experience with God  misses it's mark.  It can't take root. 

And so, I ask forgiveness from God and my brothers and sisters in Christ for the times I offer advice rather than that which has taken root in my life.  And I pray that we'll allow God to teach us in a new way, and in turn share with others the things we know not the things we think we know.

What about you?  Thoughts?  Confessions?  Questions?

Posted in not categorized    Tagged with Real Transformation, Christianity, Christian Life, Church Failures, Confessions, Spiritual Health


Garry - June 25th, 2013 at 7:52 AM
This is great stuff! There are a number of tremendous truths touched on in this blog regarding the oft-reckless way in which we, in our desire to "help," speak to situations with which we have little or no experiential knowledge. I've often felt the pressing need to apologize to folks whom I've attempted to console after someone dear to them has died, for example. Only after experiencing that shocking reality, did I realize how superficial my words of comfort really were. I've now learned to carefully, sensitively, with deep humility, speak to anyone about deep things of the heart. Like you, I repent of speaking our of my head, rather than my heart, knowledge.

I also really liked what you said about discipleship, particularly since I've just started a series wrestling with this concept. I'm going to quote you and take credit for it :-). Keep up the great work!
Leave a Comment