Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

How to Make a Mess of Things Without Really Trying

  • Terry Hagedorn Today's Christian Preacher Magazine
  • Published Jun 28, 2005
How to Make a Mess of Things Without Really Trying

"The thing that thou doest is not good." (Exodus, 18:17)

"There arose a murmuring ... widows were neglected in the daily ministration." (Acts 6:1)


The minister can be his own worst enemy. Although his intentions might be good, he actually can hinder the work of God, hurt his family, and harm himself. How? He can do it by allowing a ministry to become more important than the ministry-allowing a Christian school, a mission, a camp, a board, or any ministry to become more important than "prayer and ... the ministry of the Word"-the ministry.


There are two great examples of this fact. One is in the Old Testament. The other is in the New Testament. In the Old Testament account (Exodus 18:3-27) we learn that Moses was about to burn out. His nerves were shot. He was trying to administer the affairs of two million five hundred thousand people all by himself. And he would have continued until he dropped dead if his father-in-law Jethro had not said something.


Many ministers confronted with a similar situation would be likely to have one of these responses: "No one tells me what to do! I am the pastor-right or wrong" (dictator's response); "Well, someone has to do it" (martyr's response); "I don't have anyone to help" (whiner's response); "I'll just do it myself rather than bother someone else with the problem" (the pseudo-Barnabas response); "At least if I do it myself, I know it will be done right" (perfectionist's response); or "I'd rather just do it than to listen to someone else complain about having to do it" (the easy-way-out response).


It was not true that there were no others to help Moses. In fact, the remedy involved judges over a thousand, over a hundred, over fifty, and even over ten. Literally tens of thousands of ready, willing, and able ministers were being kept from ministry by the naively monopolistic actions and attitudes of Moses.


If there are no workers in your church to take the ministries that you want to add, then have you considered that it might not be God's will for you to start a particular ministry at this time? Where God guides, He provides-right? If there are no workers, then don't just do it yourself. Do not get ahead of the Lord. He will not follow you. If it is God's will, there will be workers (Acts 13:1, 2). You do want God's will to be done, don't you?


Your priority must be the ministry-not a ministry. Even Jethro knew that! "Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do" (Exodus 18:19, 20). 


Jethro was intelligent, and he had spiritual discernment (not bad for a priest of Midian)! The first priority for the pastor must be prayer (I Timothy 2:1). The second priority must be the ministry of the Word. Jethro said it this way: "Bring the causes to God" (prayer), "teach them ordinances and laws" (the Word), and "show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do" (the ministry of the Word).


In the New Testament account of Acts 6:1-7, we have the Apostles focusing narrowly on a single ministry and failing miserably at the job-because they, like Moses, were neglecting prayer and the ministry of the Word. The failure of the Apostles to properly emphasize the ministry almost resulted in a church split.


The terms "Greeks" and "Hebrews" both refer to saved Jews. Some Jewish converts were heavily influenced by Hebrew language and culture. Others had taken on the language and culture of the Greeks. The Hellenistic Christian Jews murmured against the Hebraistic Christian Jews, alleging that all of the Greek widows were being completely neglected. This seemed like an intentional attack.


Do you think that the Apostles intentionally neglected the Greek widows? No! Do you think that any minister intentionally wants to mess things up or make problems for himself? Do you think that the Apostles were even aware that they were headed for a church split? No! The church was being multiplied; ministries were being added; everything was just great! They must have been euphoric with the successes they were witnessing. However, they were about to reap what they had sown-or not sown.


If you had asked the Apostles on the day before the problem and murmuring surfaced, "How are things going?" they probably would have answered in unison: "Super! The number of disciples is multiplying, so we must be doing everything right! And we are fulfilling the requirements of 'pure religion.' It's taking all of our time and resources, both physically and spiritually, but we have the 'Widows Ministry' covered." I can see it now: charts, graphs, delivery routes, delivery schedules, etc. They had that ministry thoroughly micromanaged-or so they thought.


In both accounts we learn that the minister is usually the last one to realize what he is doing wrong. Yet, to the credit of Moses and the Apostles, they were not so hardheaded that they would not listen to criticism, seek the Lord's will, and then correct the problem before there was a catastrophe.


How about you? Are you wearing out-about to faint? Ever known any ministers that wore out? Do you think that all is well; yet you are neglecting the ministry of prayer and the Word? You had better wake up!


If you do not want to mess things up:

  • Do not neglect the ministry of prayer and the Word.
  • Do not force ministries upon God. Wait for His leadership. After all, He is God.
  • Do not prevent others from fulfilling their ministry. Let God be God. Let God let others help.
  • Do not reject or resent all criticism. You are not perfect. There is only one perfect Shepherd of the Church. You need to get His advice and follow it-or you will mess things up.


Terry Hagedorn is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Reedsville, West Virginia.
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