I was sitting in a meeting at Calvary Baptist Church years ago with a room full of seminary students aspiring to pastoral ministry. Dr. James Means who had an incredibly powerful ministry in both serving as a pastor and professor had come to speak with us all about his deepest lessons on life and ministry.
I remember asking him what was the most important thing to remain in ministry and thrive for the long haul. I wanted to know from a man who had run the race well what it was going to take (2 Tim. 4:7). Maybe because I am an information and theology nerd, I was eager to hear all the skills and competencies I needed to continue to develop in order to be a Pastor for the long haul. Yet, what he said was so much more impactful that it still sits in front of my mind on a regular basis.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord (Rom. 12:11).
Dr. Means recited this verse and told us that what he saw take more pastors out of ministry was that along the way they slowly and unintentionally lost their zeal and passion. I’ll never forget the deep conviction and earnestness with which he said this. He was absolutely adamant that what takes so many out of leadership is they lose their zeal and spiritual fervor for Jesus.
No one makes it through life or ministry unscathed from the thorns of discouragement and sorrow. Even David at his absolute worst moment knew that the way back was to fight for and plead with God for his spiritual fervor: “restore to me the joy of my salvation and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:12). In fact, it could be said that repentance is truly just begging God to reorder our affections and what we find ourselves truly in love with and worshipping. You can work harder than Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs and be gifted beyond belief in all the ways the church will give you accolades for. But if you lose your love for Jesus you are not going to make it.
This is not to minimize all of the efforts that need to be put into developing our ministry skill set. Figuring out how to preach, administrate, counsel, lead, fundraise, cast vision and carry out leadership development are awesome tools for your ministry toolbox. But if we forget to taste and see that the Lord is good, all of these things will be for nothing. Sound extreme? Just read John 15 and Revelation 2:1-7. Jesus is quite the absolutist on the uselessness of all our accomplishments outside of a consuming love and zeal for him.
The worst outcome is when Jesus actually lets us run ourselves ragged with our own abilities and eventually emotional burnout sets in, depression overtakes us and ministry seems more like a Pharaoh than invitation to join our Father in the family business.
Your Love For Jesus Is The Foundational Qualification And Commission For Ministry.
Love for Jesus is the only true commission any of us can have for ministry. Even the qualifications of being a Pastor that Paul writes so clearly about (1 Tim. 3, Tit. 1), are birthed out of someone who has first loved Jesus. Love for Jesus is the first and primary qualification of being a Pastor.
For the sake of emphasis, Jesus asked repeatedly just one question of Peter to restore and commission him for ministry after he had betrayed him, “Do you love me?” (Jn. 21) This was the question that mattered most to Jesus, because it was what was most important for Peter. You see, Jesus doesn't ask this question to get information from Peter but to give Peter information about himself.
Peter awoke each day to the rooster crowing. It must have haunted him how he had denied Jesus, and then reminded him of Jesus going right for his heart, “Do you love me?” This is the question you must come back to obsessively, because the answer will remind you that Jesus first loved you. And that, my friend, is as unshakeable, joyful truth as you will ever find to root your being in.
It has been said that what your people need most is your holiness. This is true. But your holiness is rooted in a love for Jesus that doesn’t waver when your ministry does. Your people, your church, need you to wake up everyday and answer the question Jesus asked of Peter, “Do you love me?” Do you really love Jesus? Is he enough for you?
Here is a helpful article by Matt Chandler I have read regularly to help me practically grow in my zeal and love for Jesus.
Ryan Kearns is a Pastor at Redemption Church in Seattle, Washington. He has had the privilege of getting to Pastor in church revitalization’s, plants, and large churches. He is a graduate of Denver Seminary. He loves hiking, reading, and hanging out with his wife and two beautiful daughters.