On Ministry, Kingdom Building, and Grace

Perhaps the biggest personal frustrations in what we refer to as ministry—whether that be the ministry of marriage, or family, or missions, or church-planting, or teaching, or lay ministry—come as the natural results of our own striving selves.

So easily sidetracked from what ministry actually is, we get caught up in trying to fix and control people, rushing around in self-imposed busy-ness, convincing ourselves we are doing the Lord’s work. In reality we have forgotten about our Father’s kingdom altogether as we feverishly try to build miniature ones for ourselves.

God doesn’t call us to build our kingdoms, or platforms, or soapboxes, or legacies.

God doesn’t call me to fix anyone. To mold and manipulate them into my image. To make them think like me or look like me.

But how quickly and easily we forget.

Instead of loving people as friends, we turn them into projects.

Instead of giving them the Gospel, we give them a To-Do list.

Instead of pointing them towards a Savior, we jump into that heroic position ourselves, stumbling around in Shoes that are way too big for us to ever fill, and getting angry at those we are “helping” when we inevitably fall on our faces.

Instead of sharing a meal, or a laugh, or a sorrow, we share an opinion, or a pet peeve, or an irritated lecture.

Instead of walking beside them, we rush on ahead of them, keeping them at arm’s length yet nagging them to keep up, and will you please walk straight, and for heaven’s sake, why can’t you just do things the right way—like me?

When God calls us to pour grace over their (and our) heads, we instead heap shame and criticism.

When God says “Come unto me, all ye that labor and I will give you rest,” we say, “Go do that. Do it this way. No, that’s not the right way. Try harder. Work faster. Keep a smile on. Straighten that tie. Don’t let anyone know you’re tired. Never mind, I’ll just do it myself. I’m the only one who can do it right.”

Except that we don’t really “do it right” either.

And so, frustration becomes our daily song.

I don’t think anyone of us gets up one morning and says, “Today, I will build a kingdom filled with people who do everything the way I like it and who walk, talk, and think exactly like me.”

Maybe it happens one little sidetracked step at a time, when we stop feeding our own souls with God’s Word, ignore God’s instructions to rest, face the sharp criticism of other little kingdom-builders, give in to the temptation of comparison, or simply forget why we started all of this in the first place.

The good news is that no matter how we got to that point of frustration, God’s grace is abundantly and freely available.

Grace isn’t only for the unsaved. It’s for the saved, too.

For the parents.

The pastors.

The missionaries.

The leaders.

The teachers.

The speakers.

The writers.

Anyone who has taken the Gospel, turned it into an agenda, and stomped all over it with clumsy, prideful feet.

That grace is for all of us.

And it’s that grace, flowing freely and abundantly, that will transform us—not into little kingdom-builders, but into ministers.