Recently, I was preparing a sermon about Ananias and Barnabas, those unsung heroes who played a major role in the Apostle Paul’s life (he was Saul, at the time). I was particularly struck by Jesus’ description of Paul’s call to ministry.
God sent Ananias to search for Saul, the persecutor of the Church, who was praying, at the time. Ananias protested, of course, but the Lord insisted, saying …
Go! This man is the agent I have chosen to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name. (Acts 9.15-16, CEB)
While this is a statement specifically about Paul’s ministry, Scripture seems pretty clear that ministry is challenging. There’s certainly no indication in Scripture that ministry is easy!
It’s not easy for any of Jesus’ followers. Jesus said …
All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. (Mark 8.34-35, CEB)
Jesus is talking about self-denial, taking up your cross, and losing your life. That’s pretty intense!
We know from Paul’s story that he certainly suffered. In a letter to the Corinthian Church, he described it this way …
I’ve been imprisoned much more often. I’ve been beaten more times than I can count. I’ve faced death many times. I received the ‘forty lashes minus one’ from the Jews five times. I was beaten with rods three times. I was stoned once. I was shipwrecked three times. I spent a day and a night on the open sea. I’ve been on many journeys. I faced dangers from rivers, robbers, my people, and Gentiles. I faced dangers in the city, in the desert, on the sea, and from false brothers and sisters. I faced these dangers with hard work and heavy labor, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, and in the cold without enough clothes. (2 Corinthians 11.23-27, CEB)
The call to ministry is a call to suffer!
I love what Paul says elsewhere in the same letter …
7 But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. 8 We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. 9 We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.
10 We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies. 11 We who are alive are always being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies that are dying. 12 So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4.7-12, 16-17, CEB)
The call to ministry is a call to suffer. It’s important to remember, though, that Paul describes what he and other leaders endure as “temporary minor problems” compared to what is accomplished!
Well, in many cultures around the world, Jesus followers experience the kind of suffering Paul describes, and even worse. But in present-day North American culture, the Church enjoys a much more culturally-friendly status.
But even in this culture, the Church needs to be counter-cultural. And, when churches more counter-cultural, Jesus followers, and especially leaders, will encounter hardship (both inside and outside the church)!
What do you think?