It would be hard to find a more boring word in ministry circles than "balance." There is a lot of talk about being "radical", "edgy", "relevant", etc. But balance sounds rather unhip. But I'm finding this word may be the key to lifelong, steady, sustained ministry success.
There is a part of all of us in ministry that desperately wants to be noticed. And our American culture seems to celebrate such unbridled ambition. We want to be though of as being successful, even if we cover it with a nice Jesus gloss and call it impact. And so pastors are on Twitter crafting statements they hope will be retweeted. Or we are coming up with more outrageous ways to have our message rise above the cultural noise. I'm guessing most of the time this comes from a pure heart: we want to see a lost world embrace Jesus and we'll do anything to get them to notice.
But there is a cost to a sort of pragmatic, no-hold-barred, entertainment-is-the-answer approach. There's a cost to pastors being outlandish, carnival barkers, a bit crazy. Sure, you'll be seen as a different kind of pastor and you'll likely get written up in the latest ministry magazines. You might get a lot of traffic to your website or land that coveted speaking engagement. But the cost is something valuable: credibility. Maturity. Pastors, as God's representatives to His people, should, at the very least, be the adults in the room. We should be sober-minded, steady, strong. This is the kind of leadership every generation needs.
Now, to be balanced isn't necessarily the same as being "safe." To be "safe" is to shy away from the hard call of the gospel, it's to seek our own comfort, it's to bend our ear more frequently to the applause of the culture. To be safe is to do the same things, over and over again, without new results. To be safe is to preach only of the culturally acceptable parts of the Bible (love, forgiveness, justice, unity) and ignore those that sound like fingernails on a cultural backboard (Hell, sin, repentance, God's wrath, morality, forgiveness, grace). In it's own way, being the most obnoxious, radical, attention-seeking preacher is, in a way, safe. It's safe because you create a lot of easy heat without much light. It's safe because building a ministry by scheme and flash is a shortcut through a lot of hard, faithful, tireless ministry work.
There is something inside all of us who do public ministry that has to die. It's the desire to be someone, something. I must fight this regularly with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in me. We must make Jesus Christ the story of our ministries. We must work hard to create cultures where the gospel, not the leader, is celebrated. We must ask ourselves, with every new, creative idea we have: is this to make me more famous, is this to get other Christians talking about me? Or, does this have the intent of edifying the body of Christ and bringing those who don't know Jesus to Him?
This is why balance matters. One of my best friends, a ministry mentor, Dr. Rich McCarrell of Byron Center Bible Church, says, "Balance is the elixer of ministry." He has always cautioned me not to make one issue, one controversial position, one methodology the main thing. Keep Christ the main thing, he says, and that will give you wisdom in leadership.
As I look around the Church, I see that God has granted some of his servants favor and prominence. But mostly the Church is built by ordinary men and women, serving faithfully, day in and day out.
I know balance and maturity and boring old faithfulness are not the hot stuff of the Christian conference and publishing circuit. But they are vital, I think, for lifelong gospel ministry.