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3 Keys To A Successful Ministry

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4 Keys to Successful Ministry

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This is the last sermon for our TC time.

Remember when you graduated high school?
There was the speech from the valedictorian.
I’ve been to enough of graduations do feel like I’ve heard them all.
They are usually:
“We did it.”
“We made it.”
There is usually some inside joke about everyone’s favorite teacher, that receives some awkward chuckles.
Then there is the motivating part of the speech.
“We are the future ...”
“We can conquer the world ...”
Well here we are.
We made it.
But I’m not going to give a motivating speech like that.
Because we haven’t been guaranteed anything like that.
In fact, if we are faithful in our ministry, it will be hard.
We will be joining the ranks of other men who have gone before us … only to experience immense heartache.
There will be times when you wonder if you are doing any good at all.
You will be challenged in knowing if your time is well spent.

How will you find success in what you are doing?

Sometimes finding success in life is a difficult challenge.
There are some people who attempt things thousands of times … only to experience repeated failure.
It has been said that Thomas Edison tried 1,000 times to develop the lightbulb till he had a functioning lightbulb.
It took 1 successful attempt to validate 1,000 failures.
The Wright Brothers, the inventors of the airplane.
Their first successful flight was 120 feet … and that was considered a success.
If an airplane flying of 120 feet is a success, then it’s not worth what TSA puts me through.
Oh that first plane, the Wright Brothers Flyer … it never flew again.
I love baseball.
A successful baseball player gets a hit 3 out of every 10 at bats.
My favorite ball player was Tony Gwynn.
He had a lifetime average of .333, or one out of every 3 at bats.
That means a good ball player fails 70% of the time.
These are the world’s examples of steadfastness and stick-tuitness.
Trying and trying.
And only after immense perseverance having some success.
Success in the ministry is not always so rewarding.
As you graduate from TC, you are going to continue serving in the church.
You will have victories.
But most often … things will be ordinary.
You’ll teach a Sunday School lesson, and when the parents ask what the kids learned, they’ll forget the Bible Story.
Or they’ll only describe the snack.
You’ll teach a youth lesson, only to watch the very same students that were so captivated during your message, seem to throw total disregard to what was just said.
So what does success look like?
That is what brings us to tonight’s passage.
We will be in .
This is Paul’s farewell address to the Elders in Ephesus.
It also serves as Paul describing his own success.
It’s a job well done.
Let’s go ahead and read .
Read .
If it’s hard to see success in a baseball game where 7 failures is a positive, Paul’s life is even harder to find success in.
Paul is about to leave Ephesus and go to Jerusalem.
Paul is about to leave his Ephesus.
He is saying his goodbyes.
After this brief sermon, they will exchange hugs and kisses, and part ways with tears on their cheeks.
Look down at verses 29 and 30.
“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
Paul had spent 3 years with the Ephesians.
3 years serving them.
3 years teaching and preaching night and day.
He poured out his heart into this ministry.
He knew the people.
He was a good pastor.
He rejoiced with them.
He cried with them.
He gave his all.
And yet, do you see this very sad and pessimistic warning?
After he leaves, “fierce wolves will come in ...”
That’s a scary thought.
False teachers will enter the church.
They will come looking to devour and lead people astray.
But even worse, is that these wolves will come from the Ephesians.
They will rise up from within the Ephesians church.
These wolves are the very people that Paul has spent 3 years serving.
You have to wonder if Paul’s time was successful?
3 years invested and for what?
For the very people he invested in to be described as wolves bringing harm upon the church.
Was it worth it?
Paul who always spoke the Gospel so that people would never forget what he was about, would have frequently preached it to the Ephesians, saying it’s the most important thing.
And yet, if you fast forward to , Jesus will say of the Ephesian Church, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. ....”
They will one day be accused of having forgotten their first love.
So again, did Paul have a successful ministry?
You may at times wonder the same thing.
You will preach to the same people over and over again.
You will use the same phrases.
You will teach your children.
And you will wonder -
Is any of it working?
Am I just wasting my time?
Paul never says he wasted his time.
There are others in the Bible who had this same gloomy reality.
Moses was the man that God used to free Israel from Egypt.
Moses was given the Law.
Moses was the leader of Israel while in the Wilderness.
And yet, before Moses died, God spoke to Moses.
God describes what will happen to Israel when they are finally in the Promised Land.
Listen to these words, they come from , “For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. … For I know what they are inclined to do ...”
After all that work, God is saying the day will come when Israel will turn to other gods.
They will despise God.
They will break His covenant.
They will do terrible things.
How about that for Moses last message from God?
All that work you did … it was in vain.
Was Moses a success?
Because they will sin.
Joshua.
Joshua was the man who took over after Moses.
Joshua lead Israel into the Promised Land.
And before his death, he had a farewell address to Israel, very similar to Paul’s.
He famously asks them the question, “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
And he confidently says, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Do you remember Israel’s response and Joshua’s response to them?
They say, “Of course we will serve God.”
Then Joshua says, remember this his is farewell address.
Remember this his is farewell address.
“You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
Joshua says, in , “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
Do you think Joshua was confident in his work?
Was he a success?
These people were still worshipping foreign gods.
They’d experienced waters being parted, Jericho, God’s victory.
And they still worship idols?
In fact they had said they could serve God … while worshipping idols.
Friends you are graduating TC, entering the church, having gone through one of the greatest ministry programs in existence.
You will pour out your heart into ministry and often wonder … is it worth it?
Where is the success?
Back to Acts, I see 3 Strategies for finding success in ministery in our passage.

First, The Successful Minister Serves Christ.

If we go back to and 19, we see Paul’s driving thought, “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials ...”
Who was he serving?
Christ.
Paul is talking to the Elders, and in verse 28 he says, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
It tells us that Elders are appointed by the Holy Spirit.
This is not a ministry that we choose to do.
It is something that you are called to.
It is a responsibility that is given to you by God Himself.
As you read through Paul’s letters, he begins each one with a greeting, saying who he is.
Galatians begins, “Paul, an apostle - not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the father, who raised him from the dead.”
Ephesians begins, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:”
Colossians begin, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God ....”
And the epistles continue in this same pattern.
Paul’s main goal was to be a servant of Christ.
Paul was an apostle, a servant commissioned by Christ Jesus.
If we are going to serve rightly, we need to know who we are serving.
A basic thought, but if we get that wrong, the whole ministry goes haywire.
If our main goal is to serve people, or even worse ourselves, then who are we being obedient to?
Not Christ.
The successful minister serves Christ.
Too often, those in ministry succumb to depression and thoughts of failure because they lose their focus on Christ, and begin serving people first.
This means we must ask ourselves what did Christ command.
The minister who succumbs to depression, pride, or even a pursuit of power and popularity, loses this focus and he begins serving men.
Paul was no man pleaser.
When Peter was acting hypocritical, he was able to look Peter in the eye and correct him face to face.
But that might have hurt Peter’s feelings.
Maybe, but he’s a ministry of Christ.
Paul wasn’t trying to gain a fanbase or a huge Twitter following.
You see this described in .
While Paul was in prison, some people took this as an opportunity to steal some of his limelight.
They became bolder to preach the Gospel.
Was Paul upset?
Was he disgruntled because he was losing Facebook followers to these other people?
Paul saw this as an opportunity for more people to know the Gospel.
He said, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,”
Being a servant of Christ, means that obedience will place you in difficult situations.
Paul wasn’t a minister because he was soft.
He was not in the ministry because it offered:
A nice parsonage on the church property.
A lifetime supply of overcooked dry casserole dishes from the women’s ministry.
And a fat pay check.
Paul wasn’t in it for himself.
He was always a servant of God first, and was Spirit lead.
He was not in ministry for the physical comforts.
Look at verses 33-34, “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me.”
He never saw the Ephesians as people further his prestige.
It was not a 3 year vacation.
It was 3 years of teaching with tears, and all the while, working for himself.
He was not a burden to the Ephesian church.
This was hard work.
This was hard work.
How committed was he to this hard work? Look back up to verse 22-23.
“And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”
He lives as a servant of God first, and now he is being sent to Jerusalem.
But just to prove that he is not in it for personal comfort, he says that he doesn’t think he is going there for safety sake.
His future will include being put into prison and suffering.
A successful ministry sees ministry as a commission of Christ, and something that is equipped by the Holy Spirit.
He has gifted you for the building up of the church, not for your own personal comfort.
Remember Paul’s words to the timid Timothy in , “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”
Paul could leave Ephesus with a clear conscience because for 3 years he faithfully served Christ.
As you enter into ministry, you will face frustration.
You must push the frustration aside for the sake of obedience to Christ.
Obedience to Christ will mean difficult times, but we do this because we know that this world is not our final destination.
We look forward to the day either our king returns or we are brought into His glorious presence.

The next advice to the The Successful Minister is to courageously preach and teach truth.

Paul later told Timothy to preach in season and out of season.
He was able to give those words because he had to experience that same commission.
He brings to the Elder’s minds some of the troubles they’ve experienced.
There were plots against him.
There was pressure against him.
In verse 20 he reminds them that he did not shrink from declaring truth to them.
To be able to courageously preach and teach truth can only happen when you firmly know who you are serving.
In the Great Commission, Jesus called for his disciples to go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that He has commanded us to do.
You cannot do this unless you know exactly who you are serving.
Shortly after I became a pastor, someone came up to me one time and approached me on preaching.
He said I must really like what I do because it gives me a platform to speak my mind and my opinions.
That is not what preaching is.
Preaching is not a persuasive speech, or a lecture to try and motivate people.
If preaching is merely a persuasive speech, or an attempt to motivate people, then success is found in how well you persuade and motivate.
Success is only found in the preachers humanistic ability.
Remember, Paul isn’t ashamed of his time in Ephesus.
In fact he’s a man with no regrets there.
And when it came to preaching, look at verse 27, “for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
The successful minister sees all of God’s Word as good and essential, therefore he hides none of it.
This means that we will teach what God has revealed in His word to teach.
We will not feed people tiny appetizers of spiritual cliches, but will give them the full meal from God’s Word.
In , Isaiah has this amazing encounter with God.
You know it.
There are seraphim calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
God asks who He will send into the world to deliver His message.
Isaiah says, “Here I am! Send me.”
Do you remember how God described Isaiah’s ministry?
Do you remember how He was received?
He wasn’t going to be the most successful of preachers.
He wouldn’t necessarily lead a revival in the nation.
Instead, the message was this, “Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
And tradition has it that Isaiah was put in a log and sawn in two.
Isaiah’s job wasn’t to change the world.
It was to courageously preach truth to people who would not have listen.
Back to .
Paul is defending his time in Ephesus.
He used his time well.
And he knows that when he leaves, false teachers will invade the church.
People will rise up from within the church.
But Paul is not leaving the church unprepared.
He has no regrets.
He will never say, “I wish I said more.
In verse 26 he says, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
The Ephesians can’t say, “Why didn’t you teach us all of it? Why’d you hold back on us?”
Paul was faithful to the message of God.
Paul had a successful ministry not because of the end results on the Ephesian side, but because he had courage to preach and teach the full truth.
May you have that same goal in mind.
Teach the hard truths.
Prepare those that you are put over.
Teach all of it.

Next, Paul says that The Successful Minister is Spirit Lead.

That’s what we are commanded to do.
Paul wasn’t a minister because he was soft.
The Holy Spirit changes hearts.
He was not in the ministry because it offered:
We preach.
A nice parsonage on the church property.
A lifetime supply of overcooked casserole dishes from the women’s ministry.
And a fat pay check.
Paul wasn’t in it for himself.
He was always a servant of God first, and was Spirit lead.
He was not in it for the physical comforts.
Look at verses 33-34, “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me.”
He never saw the Ephesians as people to take advantage of.
It was not a 3 year vacation.
It was 3 years of teaching with tears, and all the while, working for himself.
He was not a burden to the Ephesian church, but instead purely desire their growth.
This was hard work.
How committed was he to this hard work? Look back up to verse 22-23.
“And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”
He lives by obedience to the Spirit, and now he is being sent to Jerusalem.
But just to prove that he is not in it for personal comfort, he says that he doesn’t think he is going there for safety sake.
His future will include being put into prison and suffering.
A successful ministry sees this as a commission of Christ, and something that is equipped by the Holy Spirit.
He has gifted you for the building up of the church, not for your own personal comfort.
Remember Paul’s words to the timid Timothy in , “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”

And finally a The Successful Minister Points to people Christ.

Look at verse 32, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
I used to love the opera, Phantom of the Opera.
And one of my favorite songs, was “Think of Me.”
The song opens with these words:
Think of me, think of me fondly When we've said goodbye Remember me, once in a while Please promise me you'll try When you find that once again you long To take your heart back and be free If you ever find a moment Spare a thought for me
We want to be remembered.
We want to have a legacy.
We want our name to go on.
But that was never Paul’s goal.
These are Paul’s final words to the Ephesians.
And he doesn’t say think of me.
I’m sure they’ll remember him.
I’m sure they’ll have great memories of him.
At the end of the chapter, there is weeping, hugging, praying, kissing, sorrow.
But Paul doesn’t call for that.
Instead he directs people to remember God and His Word.
In the future you will be blessed to influence people’s lives.
You will have a special place in their hearts.
A couple week’s ago on the Monday before the Shepherd’s Conference, I was up at Grace Community, and got to watch man after man commend one of your own pastors, Chris Mueller.
It wasn’t a Chris Mueller appreciation dinner.
But you could see all the men that he has impacted for Christ over the years.
This happens in ministry.
You will go through special times with people.
You will rejoice with them at birth.
And you will cry with them in death.
You will hug them when their parents divorce.
You will comfort them in death.
You will laugh and have joy at their weddings.
But resist the urge to ever serve for your own sake and your own glory.
Paul was never trying to have a following.
“And now I commend you to God ...”
Our glorious God is the spotlight.
I’m sure you remember John’s words to his own disciples.
John had pretty sweet and growing baptism ministry.
Jesus shows up and less people go to John for baptisms.
Remember John’s comment to those who wondered what he would do to revitalize his own ministry?
He said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
A successful ministry points people to Christ.
It’s not about you.
And we need to hear that.
We forget that we are just jars of clay.
We are not the fancy China plates.
We are the cheap, flimsy, paper plates with the crinkled edges.
The kind that you have to have a stack of 10 of so the baked beans don’t leak through.
Paul had plenty of opportunity to teach.
Teaching is a wonderful thing.
It’s so fun to speak wisdom into people’s lives and see them change.
It’s a great treat when you get to encourage someone, admonish someone, and have them actually listen to you.
The danger is that you see that happen a few times and you think that there is something magical about your voice, your logic, or your ability to persuade.
Paul never said he was the smartest or the brightest.
He pointed people to God and, look at verse 32, “to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
It’s not about Paul.
“It’s not be like me.”
“It’s not listen to my smart sounding big words.”
It’s look to God’s Word.
That’s where the value is.
When you teach and when you preach, remember where the true wisdom is.
There is a certain level of skill in being able to craft a message.
Find the perfect illustration.
Get a real tear jerker here.
But the real wisdom … comes from God’s Word.
We are directing people to God and His truth.

I don’t think anyone of us would argue whether or not Paul was a successful minister.

But the pattern displayed is to direct people to God.
Don’t be fooled by the world’s standard of success.
A faithful and successful minister:
Is first a servant of Christ.
Then he courageously preaches and teaches truth.
And he points people to Christ and His Word.
May God be glorified in the use of fragile jars of clay.
Now
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