Five Steps to Overcoming Ministry Obstacles

Ever notice that when God is blessing your ministry the most, troubles follow? Your church is growing, but you desperately need a new building. New people are coming to Christ, but you now need to disciple them. You're tackling some of the greatest evil giants of your community, and now they're starting to tackle back.

Maybe you're feeling like Joshua. As God was leading Israel into one of the greatest eras of its history – the conquest of the Promised Land – Joshua was chosen to lead the charge. Yet in the midst of this great time of success came one of the greatest challenges of his life. There were seven larger and stronger nations already there. If he was going to fulfill God's call on his life, he'd have a big obstacle to overcome first.

That's when God gave Joshua a five-point strategy for success that still works today.

Be clear in your direction.

In the first four verses of Joshua 1, God specifically outlines when and where Joshua is going. He knew exactly what God wanted him to do.

If you're going to be a leader that God can use, you must first be clear in your direction. I talk to pastors all the time who say, "I really don't know what I want in my ministry." They tend to just drift along. They don't know what they want for their church or family. When you ask them to tell you what their vision is for the church, they respond with something fuzzy and not specific.

We all need a goal, a dream. But those goals must be clear and specific. Nothing becomes dynamic until it becomes specific. And the more specific you are in your direction, the more you'll find a magnetic pull that'll take you along.

Every time I've presented Saddleback with a specific goal, the church has responded in a big way. In 2002 when I challenged the church to start 3,000 small groups, it was a nearly impossible goal. I was as specific as I could be, and the church responded. We started more small groups than we ever had before. Two years later I challenged the church to feed every homeless person in Orange County. That's no small task. But Saddleback reached the goal once I made it specific. When you get specific, people get excited.

Be confident in your desires.

Once you know the direction that God wants you to take, you must have the confidence to move ahead. You can't doubt what God's called you to do. Doubt is the opposite of faith. The Bible says, "Whatever is not of faith is sin."

Once you've set your goal the devil will get you to start questioning it. Is this really God's will? What if I'm wrong? Do I really deserve this? Am I just being selfish or prideful?

Evidently this was a real problem for Joshua. He lacked confidence. He felt inadequate in his leadership. Sound familiar? I've identified with Joshua many times. God had to keep giving Joshua a pep talk. Four times in Joshua 1, God says, "Be determined and confident."

Why? It isn't the obstacles that keep you in the desert. It's fear. Fear keeps you from being all that God wants you to be. It's fear that keeps your church from growing how God wants it to grow. You must be confident in your desires.

Be committed to your decisions.

Once you've started, don't look back. Joshua 1:9 says "Do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." God says stick with it. To be a success in life, you must outlast your critics. An oak tree is a little nut that refused to give its ground. Commitment is a key to accomplishment. If you don't have commitment to your ministry, you'll never finish anything.

What are you committed to? What are you willing to die for? Many people in your church are afraid to commit to anything. They begin one job and when it gets tough, they switch to something else.

When high achievers make a decision, they die by it. You can't just jump across a canyon with several baby steps. You have to commit yourself to your goal. If you're going to cross a canyon, you've got to go for it with gusto. It won't work until you commit to making it work.

Be corrected by your defeats.

In chapter 1, verse 7, God tells Joshua, "Be strong and courageous. Be careful to obey all the law. Don't turn from it to the right or to the left that you may be successful wherever you go." He tells Joshua not to get sidetracked. When you have a failure, get back on track. Let God's Word help you reorganize your ministry and your priorities. Mistakes are a part of life. You're not perfect. The pencil eraser industry was built on your mistakes. If there weren't such things as mistakes, we wouldn't have any need for erasers.

The difference between successful and non-successful people is not that successful people don't fail. They do. It's just that successful people learn from their failures. Corrections after defeats are the key to the future. Thomas Edison once said, "Don't call it a failure; call it an education." At Saddleback, our staff is highly educated! We've done more things that didn't work than did. We're not afraid to admit it when we've made a mistake and to learn from it. The road to success is paved with failure. But we've learned from those failures.

Joshua did too. Remember the story of Ai, the little dinky town that the Israelites came upon after their great victory at Jericho. They'd just taken on the greatest, most fortified city in the land (Jericho) and God had given a tremendous victory. They were getting a little confident and cocky. Then they began to presume upon God's grace. When they had to take the little city of Ai, Joshua said, "Go out with a small battalion of troops." They went out and were absolutely wiped out. When the news came back to Joshua, he threw himself onto the ground and prayed. He asked God what happened.

God tells him to get up, dust himself off, and get the sin out of the camp. Don't just pray – do something. They later discovered that Achan had stolen three things even though God had said not to take plunder. Because he hid those things, his sin was causing the entire camp to suffer.

But Joshua had to discover the problem and take appropriate action. He learned by his defeats.

Be conscious of God's dependability.

God promises enormous benefits in his Word as we trust him and follow him. Joshua 1 is full of God's promises. He specifically promises Joshua four things:

Power: In verse 5 God says, "No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses so I will be with you. I will never leave you or forsake you." God tells Joshua to trust him and he'll provide all of the power he could ever need.

Protection: He tells Joshua that nothing can harm him. In verse 5 he says, "I will never leave you or forsake you." He'll be with him always and protect him.

Prosperity: God says in verse 8 "Don't let the book of the law depart from your mouth. Meditate on it day and night. Be careful to obey everything written in it. Then you'll be prosperous and successful." Prosperity is being everything God wants you to be, having God's blessing your life, and using the talents he has given you. God guarantees that you'll have more than you need if you trust in him.

Presence: That's the best promise of all. In Joshua 1:9 God says, "I will be with you wherever you go." Many times I've felt lonely in ministry, but God always gives me a new sense of his presence when I trust him.

God wants you to have success in ministry. He may not define it the way you do, but he wants you to have his best. As a pastor or key leader in your church, he wants you to help lead people to tackle the great giants of your community. Follow these five principles and he'll give you everything you need to succeed.

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Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved