I hear honest, well-meaning pastors talk about wanting to focus on their personal relationship with God first, before they minister, so they be more effective and true in their ministries. While I appreciate their sincerity, this is thinking about the whole thing wrong in a couple of key ways.
This is not a before/after sort of thing. It’s not the case that a leader gets his or her relationship right with God and then they can minister. That doesn’t make sense given our theological commitment to grace. Grace makes it impossible for us to draw a line between before and after.
We place priority on wholeness in our relationships: with God, with others, with our own selves. We serve and care for others from that place of growing vertical, horizontal, and internal reconciliation so that what is happening in our lives becomes our ministry. We invite others to join us on this journey of reconciliation. These upward, outward, and inward healings happen together or not at all, and ‘effective ministry’ can’t mean anything other than this nexus of reconciliation.
The fix me first mentality also seems to betray a utilitarian spirituality. If our mindset is that we need to achieve one thing in order to be able to do something else, we’ve shown that we only value the first thing as a tool, as a means to some other end. But our relationship with God can’t be a means to some other end. It is the end, the destiny for each of us. I don’t value a good relationship with Amy so I can be a better dad. Growing my relationships with Amy and the kids are movements that happen together but one is not the tool of the other.
We need to rid ourselves of an instrumentality mentality (thanks Brian 😏). It goes right along with our obsession with doing and our neglect of being. None of us are called to “do” ministry. Every follower of Jesus is called to be a priest – that means an intermediary of the Presence of God. Not something we do, someone we are. Those of us who lead in our communities model this way of being and others join us on the journey.
If we can accept the grace God has for us and allow the Spirit to grow reconciliation in us up, out, and in, then we will become truly effective ministers. Not because we are obsessed with efficacy, but because we will finally be doing the work of reconciliation.