Ministry: It's Not About You!
Daniel Smitley, Senior Cross-Cultural Major
I'm sitting in a very small apartment living room, jam-packed with about 25 people for a Sunday evening service in the city of Manila, Philippines. I've never been to this church before, and I am enjoying being able to meet and worship with them. Then the missionary hands me his phone with these words written, “Can you preach?" In less than five minutes, with basically no time to prepare, I was up preaching. I wish I could say this experience was the exception to the rule, but I learned to always be prepared for anything. In fact, when people usually think of missions or internships, these kinds of experiences are the reason they go. The purpose is to minister to others and to gain the experience of teaching, preaching, and jumping into any ministry you can. While I enjoyed many of these kinds of experiences, the greatest blessing I received was not the ministry I was able to have, but the ministry that I saw and personally experienced from those on the field.
While interning in the Philippines this summer, I was able to experience an up-close look into the life of a missionary. I was privileged to learn from and be mentored by a man deeply devoted to his ministry. But to me, what might have been the most influential part of his ministry was his personal life. His walk with the Lord and love for His Word was evident and personally convicting. It was also clear that his “ministry” was not separate from other areas of his life. A major part of his ministry is teaching Bible classes at a Bible college. He himself practiced what he taught in the classroom. The truths he was teaching were clearly being played out in various areas of his life. It’s so easy to act one way while you’re ministering in church or at a Bible club but live differently at home or around family. The missionary I was with exemplified what it looks like to live the same way both in ministry and in family/personal life. Sure, I went as an intern seeking to be able to minister and be a blessing, but I believe it was me who received the greater blessing!
During my internship I was also able to spend some time with local pastors, both in the Philippines and in Singapore. During my time with them I was able to preach in their churches, sing special music, work around the church buildings, and lead Bible studies. But by far the most memorable experience I had with them was observing their ministry and not my own. With one particular pastor in the Philippines, his love for people was obvious. Ministry was not just on Sunday for this man—it was every day! One evening, he traveled out to another city to meet with two separate groups and lead Bible studies, and he even made another stop just to pray with a church member whose relative had cancer. This made for a very late night, but if there was an opportunity for the Gospel and ministry, he took it. He was always looking for a chance to share the Good News, even while in the local hospital waiting room or on a dirt road on the side of a mountain buying fruits. Another big influence was a pastor in Singapore. The church he was pastoring was a joy to worship with. It was neat being able to see how this body of believers applied the biblical role of the church into their specific context and culture. But his ministry wasn’t just limited to a couple days of the week either. I was thrilled to be able to see other aspects of his ministry, whether that was visiting with church members who had recently lost a loved one or taking a day off to bring the teens to a Bible seminar. Being able to talk about ministry and gain wisdom from a faithful man of God was great in shaping my own philosophy of ministry! Too often I see ministry as an event, such as singing in the choir or leading a Bible club. But what these men displayed was that ministry is people, and that should be happening all the time, not just at church. Again, I got the better end of this deal—the encouragement I received far outweighed anything I could have given!
Lastly, I had the awesome opportunity to live in the dorms of a Bible college for most of the summer. This meant I was able get to know and build good relationships with many of the students. As I grew to know them more, their testimonies and desire for ministry were inspiring and rebuking to my own life. As college students, it’s easy to focus on training now, ministry later. Maybe you’ve caught yourself saying, “I’ll start ministering after I graduate!” This is folly, and I was shown this by many of the students who were not waiting to minister. A number of the guys would travel for hours each weekend in order to preach in various churches. Other students would travel eight hours every other week in order to help with the music at their home church. But the weekend is to rest and get recharged! No, not for many of them. They had a chance to minister, and they took it. It was an encouragement to see many who were really on fire for the Lord’s work. This is something I hope I brought home with me!
Traveling and doing missions overseas is an awesome opportunity. The need for the Gospel is great, and many still need to hear it! The ministry possibilities in these places are almost endless as well. There will always be a Bible study to lead, a sermon to preach, or a kid’s club to help with. When we go on such a trip, we should most definitely jump into ministry and service. But the next time you get the opportunity to go minister overseas, don’t get so caught up in what you’re doing and miss the blessing and wisdom around you. Take a step back and learn from those who are there, and you may be surprised at the wisdom and help you will receive. But don’t take my word for it, go experience it for yourself!
The Value of Internships
Jake Jones, Senior Bible Major
Regarding my education, many people have given me the analogy of a toolbox. They have encouraged me to put as many tools (skills and knowledge) into my toolbox as possible. This admonition is usually followed up by an encouragement to apply for seminary. However, not as a fault of any, I have heard very little about the value of internships as a part of the educational process. From my experience, I want to share just a few of the benefits of being involved in a pastoral or ministerial internship.
During the past three summers, I have served in three different ministries. After my freshman year, I was a counselor at The Wilds of New England. After my sophomore year, I was a pastoral intern at Calvary Baptist Church in Simpsonville, SC. This past summer, I was a pastoral intern at Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, NH. Three different ministries in three different contexts taught me dozens of lessons. I would like to share the top ways that my internships have helped to grow me and prepare me for a future in the ministry.
We can easily involve ourselves in so many good things, that we end up losing sight of what is most important. When planning the order of service for youth group, setting out tarps for kickball slip n’ slide, buying snacks for the kids’ group, or dealing with other random responsibilities that come up, it is pertinent that we don’t miss the purpose of these program-oriented tasks – the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Learning this lesson in an internship context can help to establish a lifelong habit of prioritizing the Word of God in ministry. There is a daily juggling act between the program and the preaching. Never allow the preaching and centrality of the Word to fall while the program and games remain strong. Through the pastoral internships, I have learned first-hand that being intentional to keep the Word as the foundation is a necessity.
Internships teach the valuable lesson of flexibility, which is necessary before becoming responsible for the entire ministry. Most pastors go through countless interruptions during sermon prep or administrative tasks. A counseling situation arises, the phone rings, someone is on their deathbed across town, and the pastor’s to-do list collects dust as the people are prioritized. The intern doesn’t always get to do what he wants, and that is a very good thing. For example, in the last two summers, I have helped at least six people move, removed bushes, pulled weeds, set up chairs, and pressure washed buildings; none of which were on my “bucket list” of ideal internship experiences. However, with every one of these seeming disruptions, I learned a valuable lesson. With every couch, bed, and filing cabinet that I moved, I saw an overarching theme – I must be flexible in order to be people-oriented and need-focused in the ministry.
Being in two different church ministries and one camp ministry over the last three summers has uniquely benefited my personal development. While I was a counselor at camp, I learned the importance of discipleship and how to apply the Word directly to sin and situations in lives. At Calvary Baptist, I gained clarity to my calling and began developing my missions philosophy. While at Trinity Baptist, I learned the importance of intentionality and organization. (And that is just a sampling of the many things I have learned.) In every place, I saw things that I liked, and some that I did not; I took some, and left others. Evaluation during internships allows these experiences to shape the future ministry. This is something that is much harder after graduating. For most people, learning comes from observation and evaluation. Being in different contexts within a short amount of time gives the ministry student the great privilege of observing, evaluating, and comparing ministerial philosophies.
Pastors, counselors, future church leaders, and church members should never undervalue the importance of gaining experience and wisdom. For future pastors and ministry leaders, internships are a great way to gain that experience and wisdom. Being mentored by older men who are wiser and have ministry background is invaluable in the student’s educational process. In order to learn and grow, I believe everyone desiring to go into ministry should do church internships early and often. Being intentional with the Word, learning to be flexible towards people’s needs, and seeing diversity in ministerial views are just a few of the many lessons of a pastoral or ministerial internship.
Rebekah Daniel, Biblical Counseling Graduate Student
It was my second summer counseling at the Wilds. For the first time, biblical change had fully clicked in my own mind, and I could not wait to explain it to each of my campers. One week, a girl in my cabin had a birthday. I didn’t usually buy my campers anything for their birthdays, but I had told her I would buy ice cream for hers. I learned later that night that this girl was not saved and had some heavy burdens in her life. I soon found myself not caring about getting her ice cream for her birthday but wanting instead to find out what serious things were going on in her life and give her the gospel. The urgency I felt about this was consuming my mind. I talked with a close friend and explained I was considering skipping the ice cream trip and diving in with her to see what was going on in her heart. My friend encouraged me to celebrate her birthday as planned in order to build the relationship. With a renewed sense of peace, I met up with my camper, bought her ice cream, and played games for a while. I was still pained by an anxiousness to hurry up and talk to her.
As we left the snack shop to go sit somewhere quieter to talk, she turned to me and said, “No one has ever bought me anything for my birthday.”
All of my anxiety shattered in the wake of her statement. My noble plans completely crumbled. It was like God’s plans and intentions slapped me in the face when I realized that this was, in fact, His agenda. I was overwhelmed by a deeper love for my camper to know Christ.
This encounter marked the beginning of the story of discipleship the Lord has unfolded to me over the last few years. Discipleship and ministry are much more than one-on-one, heart-to-heart conversations. Ministry is life. Buying that camper ice cream was a bridge to a gospel conversation. The Lord also showed me this when I was an RA at Bob Jones. I learned that when I have a group of people that are my assigned ministry, I tend to get tunnel vision. Rapport is built, spiritual needs are identified, and truth is spoken, but I often limit ministry within the box I have allotted for it.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to co-lead a team at the Wilds. This was the opportunity to disciple and love twenty-five girls for eleven weeks. God taught me much last summer, and I still have awesome relationships with some of those girls even now. However, halfway through last summer, I realized I didn’t really know them well as people and hadn’t spent as much time having fun with them. I tried to adjust this mindset toward the end of last summer, but it wasn’t until this past school year that I began to see the fuller timeline of discipleship – truly a life on top of another life with influence for Christ integrated with the mundane.
This past school year I had the opportunity to be a mentor in a dorm at Bob Jones. What I learned this past year has widely shifted my view in leading at the Wilds this summer. Throughout the school year, the Lord gave a variety of kinds of discipleship relationships. I learned that ministry happens when a girl comes into my room and just uses my microwave and tells me about her day. I learned that counseling a freshman each time they fail a quiz is ministry. Listening to a close friend who knows God well but is struggling to believe His promises is ministry, even if truth never leaves my mouth. I learned that having discipline conversations with students who got in trouble was part of their growth, too; it all falls under the umbrella of discipleship. And YES, the conversations where I talked with someone about a habitual sin pattern or a lack of an in-depth knowledge of God are thrown in there, too, but discipleship is not exclusive of those ordinary-life opportunities.
While this may sound simple and already evident to some, this has radically reshaped my view of ministry and my role in it. I am a steward of each relationship God gives me. I’m a steward of the relationships with the girls on my team this summer, not an owner of them. It is not up to me to calculate the timeline of change in their lives or mine. God promises that what He began in me and them He will complete (Phil. 1:6). As a disciple and a disciple-maker, I am a steward in both roles. An owner will manage, and a good leader will lead in transparency. No matter my role or title, in God’s kindness He allows me to be a participant in His mission of redeeming and restoring His children by His precious grace for His glory.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.