(Photo: Paul Tripp)
If your ministry relationships will be healthy in God's sight, you must commit to intentionally planting good seeds into the soil of those relationships. This will take understanding, commitment, discipline, and perseverance. Galatians 5:13 is very helpful here. Paul delineates this relational lifestyle this way: "Serve one another in love" (Galatians 5:13). Then he says something startling: "The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" If you'd written the words, "The entire law is summed up in a single command," what would you have written next? I'd have written, "Love God above all else." But shockingly, that's not what Paul writes. Instead he says, "Love your neighbor as yourself." How does love of neighbor summarize all that God calls us to? The answer is both simple and profound. Those who love God above all else will love their neighbor as they love themselves.
This is a diagnostic insight into ministry relationships that every pastor needs to hear. The problem in our ministry relationships isn't first that we don't love one another enough; no, the problem is that we don't love God enough, and because we don't love God enough, we don't love one another as we should. Could it be that we're so busy loving ourselves and making sure that others "love" us in the way that we want to be loved, that we've little time and energy left to love them as we should? Could it be that we're so busy working to co-opt the other into the service of our wants, needs, and feelings that we're too distracted to notice all the opportunities to love that every day gives us, and too busy making sure that we're loved to do anything about these opportunities even if we noticed them? Why does this happen? It happens because we've replaced love of God and rest in his care with love of self and the anxiety of "neediness."
Vertical, Not Horizontal
Again, this means you don't fix ministry relationships first horizontally; you fix them vertically. Only when we've confessed our lack of love for God – his plan, his purpose, and his call – and only when we admit that we've replaced his agenda for us with our selfish agenda will we then be free to love one another in the way that his grace makes possible. Then manipulation gets replaced by ministry. Rather than working to co-opt the people you live and work with into your service, you find joy and satisfaction in discovering ways to serve him or her. You want to look ahead for impending needs. You want to do things that bring them joy. You want to share their griefs and carry their burdens. When these desires are mutual, your ministry relationships don't become perfect, but they become a place where real unity, understanding, and love have room to live, breathe, and grow.
This kind of service isn't natural to us, because we all have the residue of sin, and the DNA of sin is selfishness. So if we are going to live this way, each of us needs the rescue, intervention, and enabling that only God's grace can give. We need to hear these words: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). Be honest: you tend to believe you're the strong one in relationships, burdened with the weakness of others. But sin leaves pockets of weakness in all of us. No one reading this article is proud of everything he said this week. No one reading is proud of everything he has done this week. No one would defend everything he's thought or desired. So change isn't found in defending our righteousness, but in admitting our weakness and crying out for help, which God, in grace has promised us.
Enough of pointing the finger. Enough of listening to your inner lawyer defend your cause. Enough of carrying around a record of the other person's wrongs. Enough of judging, criticizing, and blaming. Enough of holding the other to a higher standard than the one you hold for yourself. Enough of complaining, arguing, withdrawing, and manipulating. Enough of the self-righteous standoff that never leads to change. Enough of hurt and acrimony. Enough of painting yourself as the victim and the other person as the criminal. Enough of demanding and entitlement. Enough of threats and guilt. Enough of telling others how good you are and how thankful they should be to live with a person like you. Enough of angry, self-righteous silence. Enough of hyper-vigilantly watching others to see if they're delivering. Enough of riding the roller coaster of their ups and downs. Enough of looking to others to be your personal messiah, satisfying the longings of your heart. Enough.
It's time to quit pointing the finger and start confessing your deep and pervasive weakness. Change in your ministry relationships begins with confessing your need. It's time to say, "Lord, there are times when I get it right, but so often I get it wrong. So often I let impatience and irritation get the better of me. So often I'm jealous and unforgiving. So often I fail to find joy in serving and satisfaction in giving. So often I'd rather win than have unity and peace. I tell myself that I'll do better, but I fall into the same old traps." We all need to pray, "Lord, won't you strengthen me today by your grace so that I can love as you've called me to love?"