One of the most important principles of ministry for the Lord that we can grasp is the absolute necessity of healthy relationships as the basis for effective ministry. In other words, we can have everything else right in terms of skill, giftedness, and knowledge, but if our relationships with each other are wrong then our ministry will be wrong. And we will undercut the very message we are trying to convey. Let me share some quotes I have heard that emphasize this.
God will not bless a divided church, said by a well-known pastor.
Your family is not a part of your ministry; your family is your ministry, said by Howard Hendricks to young men preparing to be pastors, including yours truly.
The first one about a divided church that is racked by dissension and unforgiveness is that it undercuts the very message we proclaim. Paul writes in Philippians 1:27, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Clearly here, the gospel of Christ is not only what we believe but also how we behave. Paul is saying that we can conduct ourselves in ways that deny the gospel we claim to believe. One principle of the gospel is that we are reconciled by Christ in one body unto God, Ephesians 2:14-18. If that is what we proclaim but then live unreconciled to one another we are teaching a different gospel – one that does not reconcile believers to each other nor heals relational breakdown any better than the unsaved world.
Consider a church I know in Lower Michigan that at one time was the largest church in our Baptist conference in all of Michigan. Over a period of many years that church was so racked by various squabbles that they split three times with three new churches splintering off of them. An interim pastor said right from the pulpit in a sermon that they had better change the way they operated because they were getting a reputation. Can you imagine driving by that church with its glorious past only now to think, “That’s the church that split three times? I wonder what’s wrong with them.” Doing the hard of working through disagreements, respecting one another, and “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” could’ve spared that church and its testimony, Ephesians 4:1-3. We must do the hard relational work if we are to adorn the gospel.
Consider the next quote by Dr. Hendricks. It’s easy to separate what happens at home with what we do in our ministry. It is easy to think we can be at odds in our marriage but still do “our thing” effectively at church. But my old professor was right. In fact, Peter says to husbands that the way they treat their wives will determine whether God answers their prayers or not, 1 Peter 3:7. That’s how seriously God takes this. Again, if the gospel reconciles us to each other as well as to God but we live in perpetual unresolved tension at home we are living a gospel opposite of the one we are proclaiming. It will not only catch up to us but repel the world we are trying to reach.
Because of quotes like the two above I became aware of this for which I thank God. At times in my ministry because of my wrong reactions before church I have had to apologize to Ellen right during worship before I preached. I knew that not to do so would render my sermon offensive to God. I thank God for those humbling experiences. I thank Him for helping us do the sometimes very hard work of being reconciled. Remember, effective ministry is always based on right relationships.
Thanking God for you, Pastor Brian (:-}).