The world had just survived the turn of a new millennium, leaving people wondering what they were going to do with all those unneeded canned goods and jugs of water they’d hoarded in their basements or Y2K bunkers.
Like most other young adults whose optimism and naiveté deemed anything catastrophic practically impossible, we barely noticed as the world collectively exhaled and instead packed our bags to head north to Detroit. We were going to a Missions Conference for college and graduate students; the perfect way to start 2000 AD.
I don’t remember all the details of that conference, almost two decades ago now, but I do remember one message. The speaker for that session laid forth the creditials of a minister of the gospel from 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 and said if we were seeking to be one, this is what our resume would look like. I can still feel the same feelings I felt sitting in that church auditorium when I read his sermon text today. It was a mix of fear, sobriety, the stirring of spiritual excitement, and a commitment of assured resolve to submit for life to all that was required of me in gospel ministry.
The funny thing is, you and I had driven to the conference together and were friends, but weren’t yet dating. But there we sat, a few people apart on that church pew, together trembling and submitting to the call of God on our lives.
Two and a half years later, God joined those trembling, eager, and submissive hearts together in marriage and ministry. We’ve been serving the Lord together ever since, starting in your early seminary days working in the church youth group, then me in the ladies ministry, but always in relational gospel outreach.
If we survived seminary (and that if was palpable), we didn’t know what ministry would look like but we wanted to go and to go as far as he might send us. So we pursued the path of ministering to Muslims in Central Asia and as tent makers in China. But, with a somewhat disappointed and frustrated resignation, God instead kept us in our homeland, providing an Associate Pastorate at a church plant just outside the Metro Detroit area. To say we loved those rust belt downriver dwellers with a fierce grit only the Motor City itself can cultivate, is an understatement. (You can read about our heart wrenching goodbyes here, here, here, and here.) We rolled up our sleeves, learning from Pastor Ken and Kim, serving that church for five years until God called us to Orange Park, FL where you took the position of Lead Teaching Pastor.
This year marks 10 years of pastoral ministry for us and today marks 5 years of it here near the River City.
I’ve been revisiting those verses in 2 Corinthians again recently and, admittedly, it’s almost laughable at how some of those commendations don’t apply to American pastoral ministry. They leave me acknowledging that compared to other places in the world and to other points in church history, we have it embarrassingly easy. But yet, how some of the words in the text pour salt on the wounds caused by pastoral ministry, make my heart affirm that yes, indeed, God has been building our resume.
I would be lying to say I can still sustain that spiritual excitement I felt back in 2000 when I reread those inspired credentials. I would be lying to say I don’t count the cost dearer today than I used to. I would be lying to say sometimes the scales feel imbalanced like we’re dying, punished, sorrowful, poor, and not experiencing any of the converse positives listed in those verses. (It seems I’m in good company since, without looking for them, just in the past few weeks I’ve seen this, this, and this article by other pastor’s wives.)
But the commitment to keep submitting to the rigors of ministry doesn’t come from my spiritual resolve, as strong as it was in 2000. It doesn’t come from seeing the good things God is doing in our church and the sweet people who are there. It doesn’t even come from a noble realization of people’s spiritual needs and a compulsion to share the Bible’s answers to meet those needs.
The commitment to keep submitting to the rigors of ministry comes from our being united with the only servant of God who commended himself to ministry perfectly in every way. He can command his ministers to “c[o]me… not…with eloquence or human wisdom…[but] in weakness with great fear and trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:1-3) because that’s how he conducted his ministry. He was reviled and didn’t revile again. He was led as a sheep for the slaughter. He asked to be released from the obligations of his ministry but submitted to God’s will and sweat drops of blood in anguish because of what that meant. He resisted to the point of shedding blood in his striving against sin.
We can persevere in what ministry asks of us because he persevered for us. And because we are united with him in the sufferings of ministry (some of which we deserve because we are sinful, yet he didn’t deserve any of his suffering!), we also are united with him in the ultimate victory of ministry – his Spirit’s demonstration of power resulting in resurrection!
Therefore, I can give my ears to hearing slander. I can submit to lack in various forms. I can give my emotions over to sorrow. And, although unlikely, I can even bend my back to beatings.
The minister’s life is shaped by the message – weakness, misunderstanding, suffering, death but, too, resurrection! Because of Jesus’ perfect ministry, one day our very lives will fling off the light weight of struggle and power press an eternal weight of glory!
So, my pastor and my husband, I’ll continue to work together with you in ministry, comforted and strengthened by the truth that the surpassing power necessary for it belongs to God and not to us. I admit with the Apostle Paul that at times I feel afflicted, perplexed,persecuted, and struck down, like I’m carrying in my body the death of Jesus – because I am. But, I’m likewise carrying in me the life of Jesus and pray it will also be manifested in my body.
Honey, my heart is full of faith because we have the same spirit of faith that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us into his presence.
We can say to our beloved CBCers, and larger community of Orange Park, this is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Matthew, as God continues to build our ministry resume, we do not need to lose heart because though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
Let’s keeping reminding each other that any affliction we experience here is light and momentary and is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. And let’s keep turning each other’s eyes to look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
May God give us decades more serving him together in weakness, with trembling and fear, so that our message and, therefore, the very shape of our lives, might be in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
I love you!
The last few paragraphs are a paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 4:7-18.