We hang on to a lot of models in ministry – our pastor growing up, a Christian leader we respect, and sometimes our own parents, for example. As much as I want to encourage all of us to have mentors and models in ministry, it's a matter of fact that at some points every one of them will let you down – everyone but Jesus.
Jesus is our ultimate model for ministry.
More than anything else in my life, I want to be able to say that I've grown more like Jesus in both my character and my ministry. Here are 10 principles in Jesus' ministry that we need to incorporate into our own.
1. Identification: Know who you are
If we're ever going to be effective in ministry for Jesus Christ, we must know who we are. That involves knowing our strengths and weaknesses – and knowing our limitations. Identify who you are – your S.H.A.P.E. (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences). That's why we spend a lot of time talking about S.H.A.P.E. at Saddleback. (See C.L.A.S.S. 301 for more information.)
In John 8:18 Jesus said, "I am one who testifies for myself." (NIV) In John 4:10 he said, "If you only knew ... who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water." (NLT) Jesus had no self-doubts. He knew exactly who he was. Eight times in Scripture he said, "I am" and then defines himself.
If you don't know the kind of minister God made you to be, you're going to fall prey to two traps – comparison and copying. Some of you will get into the habit of comparing your ministry with someone else's. That's a bad idea. You can always find somebody who is better than you (causing envy) and you can always find someone who is worse than you (causing pride).
The other trap you'll fall into is copying someone else's ministry. It's crucial that you get this. God gave you specific spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences for a reason. He wants you to use them in ministry. He wants you to be you.
I've been helping pastors with their ministries for more than 25 years. I've never had the goal of trying to turn other pastors into me. My ministry has always existed to help you fulfill God's purposes within your own particular context.
If your goal is to turn your church into another Saddleback, you've missed the point.
2. Motivation: Clarify why you are in ministry
This is a settled issue for Jesus. He dedicated his entire life to pleasing God. In John 5:30 Jesus says, "I seek not to please myself but him who sent me." Jesus' sole motivation for ministry was to serve God. He wasn't trying to please himself, other people, become popular, or make a lot of money. He wanted to please God.
Ministry is too costly to be motivated by anything other than pleasing God. Learn to live for an audience of one. I'm learning more and more about the importance of that statement. No matter what I do, what matters is what Jesus thinks about what I'm trying to do.
3. Dedication: I must keep my life pure
Jesus said in John 14:6, "I am the truth." He didn't say, "I tell the truth" or "I have the truth." He said "I am the truth." Why did he say that? Integrity is the basis for all legitimate ministry. You need to constantly ask yourself, am I exactly what I appear to be? Or is my home life and ministry life like Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde?
You may fool your church, but you can't fool God. As ministers of the Gospel – which every born-again believer is – we must dedicate ourselves to God and attempt to live a holy, pure life of integrity.
Paul says in 2 Timothy 2: 21, "If man keeps himself clean from the contamination of evil, he will be a vessel used for honorable purposes, dedicated and serviceable for use by the Master, ready for any good purpose." (Philips)
Paul tells us in this passage that to be dedicated and serviceable so that God can use you, you need to keep yourself clean. If I keep myself clean, then God can use me. God can overlook a lack of intelligence. He can overlook a lack of gifts and abilities. But God will not use a dirty vessel. When I allow sin to stockpile in my life, or when there are relationships that are not right and I let them fester, or when there are habits in my life that need to be changed and I know it, those things keep God from being able to use me.
4. Concentration: I must focus on what is important
When he was only 12 years old Jesus said, "I must be about my father's business." (Luke 2:29) To be able to say this before he was even a teenager, I'd say Jesus had his purpose clarified early. Then, some of his last words recorded in the Gospels were, "I have completed the work you gave me to do." (John 17:4) Those are bookends on a successful life. At 12 Jesus knew his purpose in life, and near the end of life, he says that purpose has been completed.
There are many, many good things you can be involved in your life and in your ministry that aren't going to be worth spit five years from now. What counts is what's important.
When Jesus says he had completed all the work God had given him, had he healed everyone? Of course not. Had everyone become a Christian? No. Had everyone even heard the Good News? Nope.
What does that mean? It means that God doesn't expect you to do everything. We have just enough time to do the will of God. He does not have more will for your life than you have time to do it. Learning to minister like Jesus means focusing on what's most important – what changes people's lives.
The people who make a difference in the world are the people who are the most focused. They focused their lives around a few goals – not 20. You need to set some goals. You need to set some priorities, plans, and targets. If you don't live by priorities, you'll live by pressures. Either you determine what's important in life or other people will determine it for you.
5. Delegation: Involve other people in your ministry.
God has called you into ministry, but he has not called you to do it alone. In fact, Lone Ranger ministers burn out. They don't last. Mark 3:14 says, "[Jesus] appointed 12, designating them apostles, that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach."
One of the reasons people burn out in ministry is that they begin to believe it all depends on them. Jesus himself, who was perfect, enlisted and trained 12 people. That in itself shows the need for partnering together to do ministry. He needed association. He needed community. So do you, or you won't make it in ministry.
Saddleback outgrew me a long time ago. If I tried to control everything, the church would have stopped growing at about 300. Your ministry needs to outgrow you. You must be willing to share and delegate your ministry. D. L. Moody said, "I'd rather put 10 people to work than do the work of 10 people." There's wisdom in that.
Next week, I'll share five more principles from Jesus' ministry that we need to incorporate into our own.
Until next week,
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.