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The Stages of Ministry

Jun 12, 2008
It has been said, "Any new venture goes through the following stages: enthusiasm, complication, disillusionment, search for the guilty, punishment of the innocent, and decoration of those who did nothing." Stages are simply the acknowledgement of certain points of passage that one experiences on his or her journey. Understanding these passages, whether they relate to learning, aging, or grieving, brings us a sense of perspective and provides us insight into how we react while in the midst of them. Over the years I have identified, through personal experience and the coaching of others the following stages of ministry.

First is the romance stage of ministry. Romance is that stage where we fall in love with the idea of ministry. It is the unbridled enthusiasm one brings after a fresh experience of God's call and the affirmation from others to pursue this calling. It is during this stage our vision is clear, our dreams are big and our expectations are high. During this stage our energy level is revving with great intensity. It is here that we minimize the difficulties and get caught up with only the possibilities. But like many things, this stage it is short lived.

The second stage is what I like to call the reality stage of ministry. Just mentioning the word reality stirs up all sorts of emotions in people. For some of us we have vivid images of when we were overwhelmed by the difficulty of the task. For some it was the first fundraising call that raised nothing but disappointment. For others, it comes after you find out that it is only a small minority of people that are interested in your dream. Still, for others, the reality sets in when we realize that the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. My experience of reality set in when we received our first monthly support check of only $50.00 to fund our church plant when we were expecting a lot more. Some would call this a Kadesh Barnea experience, referring to the location where the 10 out of the 12 spies talked the people of God out of moving into the promised land because of their own fears. (Numbers 13-14) They were so overwhelmed by their circumstances that they lost sight of God, the same God who brought them out of Egypt, led them through the Red Sea and provided for them in the wilderness. The longer a leader lives in the reality stage, the more probable his move into the next stage, which I identify as the resentment stage.

In the resentment stage of ministry the leader experiences some level of anger. To understand this we need to look at the three chief causes for anger in our lives; Hurt: being personally attacked. Disappointment: being let down by others. Frustration: being let down with the response or result.

The reality is that resentment is going to touch the life of every leader. The key is in our response. We can choose to respond positively or negatively. If a leader chooses a negative response it could lead to the rebellion stage of ministry. Rebellion rears its ugly head in subtle and overt ways. Subtly, the leaders make choices to quietly live a self-reliant life by ignoring their practice of spiritual disciplines or choosing to quietly rebel by not cooperating with superiors. They overtly rebel by taking unnecessary moral, relational and financial risks that could disqualify them from ministry. Rebellion will also lead to the ruin stage of ministry. In this stage, regardless if the leader has crossed the line once or has habitually chosen to disregard the ethical and moral standards of his position, he risks ruining his reputation inside and outside the church. He puts his closest relationships at risk and is in danger of having his soul polluted by sin and being disqualified from ministry! Not to mention the ripple effect his fall can have throughout the kingdom of God, touching people he has never met. This why people need to understand the power resentment can have in a leader's life! Someone once said, "That anger is just emotional energy." When that energy is turned inward it becomes a burning furnace of resentment. The key is to challenge that energy through the eyes of faith. I like J.I. Packer's thoughts on this subject:

"We may be frankly bewildered at things that happen to us, but God knows exactly what he is doing, and what he is after, in his handling of our affairs. Always, and in everything, he is wise: we shall see that here-after, even where we never saw it here. Meanwhile, we ought not to hesitate to trust his wisdom, even when he leaves us in the dark. But how are we to meet these baffling and trying situations, if we cannot for the moment see God's purpose in them? First by taking them as from God, and asking ourselves what a reaction to them, and in them, the gospel of God requires of us: second, by seeking God's face specifically about them." (Knowing God, p. 98)

By taking these steps the leader can move on to the resolve stage of ministry and the resolve stage (faith) always leads to the rebuilding stage of ministry. What do you rebuild? You rebuild romance. You rekindle your love for Jesus, your love for the church and your love for the community to which God has called you to serve. Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, "You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first." (Revelation 2:4-5 NIV)

The grind of ministry is going through these stages of romance, reality, resentment, revolve and rebuild over and over again. Sometimes the process occurs daily, sometimes weekly or maybe even monthly, but the fact is that it happens and it will happen throughout our ministry. It is only when we have successfully navigated this process that we begin to experience the reward stage of ministry.

Here are three rewards that every faithful leader will experience:

1. The Master's Approval and Blessing. One day as we stand before our Master we will hear these profound words, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your masters happiness." (Matthew 25:21NIV) There is no reward greater than to know you have pleased the Father, that you have honored His name and executed His will.

2. Personal Joy and Satisfaction. The apostle John wrote these words, "It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk my children are walking in the truth." (3John 3-4 NIV) There is no blessing more profound than to see God produce spiritual fruit through you that will last. When I think of these verses I see faces and families whose lives have been changed through our ministry and continue to walk in the truth, and it brings a smile to my face and joy to my heart.

3. God's Blessing for Today and into Eternity. "I tell you the truth,' Jesus said to them, 'no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life." (Luke 18:29-30 NIV) In Thomas Constable's commentary on Luke he provides the following insights:

"Everyone who denies himself or herself the normal comforts and contacts of life to advance God's mission will receive a greater reward from God for doing so. First, that one will receive deeper spiritual comfort and more satisfying human contacts in the present life. (cf. Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-37) Second, he or she will receive an even better and enduring life in the coming kingdom. Jesus and the apostles spoke of eternal life as a reward for self-sacrifice (Matt. 19:29; Mark 10:30; John 12:25-26; Rom. 2:7; 6:22; Gal. 6:8) and as the gift of God that comes to everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ. (Rom. 6:23) Jesus mentioned it here with rewards because it provides the ultimate contrast with what disciples give up now. Giving up a wife may refer to giving up marriage rather than leaving a wife, or periods of separation to engage in kingdom business may be in view." (p. 214)

Knowing that all the sacrifices made to see God's mission advance are worth it, fills my life with hope and a resolve to press onward for my King.
About the Author
Gary Rohrmayer has a unique focus in mentoring leaders within God's mission. He is a sought after personal coach for pastors, church planters and missional leaders. He specializes in the areas of spiritual formation, church multiplication and church health.
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