Finding Success in Rural Ministry By Embracing Our Deficiencies.
By Glenn Daman
Read any book on management or self-help book designed to assist a person in maximizing their potential, and the focus will often settle on discovering your strengths and then effectively using those strengths to attain your goals to ensure success. However, if Paul were writing such a book, he would instead state, "Embrace your weakness, and then you will find true strength." " For Paul, true success is not found in our abilities or strengths but the context of our failure and inherent flaws. But this is not an easy lesson learned. From a human perspective, Paul undoubtedly was extraordinarily gifted and qualified to be a leader in the church. As he points out in writing to the church at Philippi, he was fully qualified and had attained respect and status among men (Philippians 3:1-6). He had all the attributes that we deem necessary to be successful: He was well educated from the most prestigious school in the land. Paul was highly driven and well connected, having cultivated close relationships with the powerbrokers.
However, in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul turns everything upside down. What others considered to be the keys to success, Paul saw as a hindrance. The very things that we could consider to be the shortcomings hindering our effectiveness, Paul considered to be his most essential qualities. However, this was not always the case. Early in his ministry, he viewed his struggles and weaknesses as a hindrance and barrier. They hampered his work and frustrated his plans.
Consequently, he begged (a strong, intensive word rather than a simple request) for God to deliver him from these weaknesses, these "thorns in the flesh." We can all identify with this struggle. What frustrates us most in ministry is the realization of our own failures and ineptness. As the sage Pugo (a comic written by Walt Kelly) famously stated, "We have met the enemy, and he is us!" My greatest hindrance in ministry is myself.
Nevertheless, Paul, in a surprising statement of sincerity, points us in a different direction. In his struggle with his proverbial thorn, he learned that the true strength for ministry and life does not come from innate abilities but inherent weaknesses. They serve to constantly remind us that our success is never attained because of us, but despite us. Success in life is not achieved when we learn to rely upon our strengths, but when we learn to welcome our weaknesses, for, in these, we understand the power and grace of God. Rather than becoming frustrated with his weaknesses, Paul learned to embrace them, for he realizes the more his weaknesses became evident, the more Christ's power became manifested in him.
As a rural church pastor, I sometimes find myself frustrated and even discouraged when I look at famous and highly respected pastors. They have more talent in their little finger than I have in my whole body. I marvel at their ability to communicate with clarity and skill, capturing the ears of their listeners with their ability to paint such vivid truths with words. I am envious when I see their staff, diversity of programs, and well-run ministries. When I compare myself to them and their church, I become discouraged because of my own lack of abilities and my own inherent weaknesses. It is no wonder that they serve in the public eye, and I serve in a backwater town in a forgotten corner of the northwest.
However, herein lies the problem: God looks at character and submission while we look at talent and abilities. This is not to say that this becomes an excuse for laziness, where we use our "weakness" to cover our poor work ethic. Laziness and idleness are just a much a character flaw as pride and arrogance. Nevertheless, my lack of skills and abilities is the very thing that reminds me that this is God's ministry, not mine and that success is not grounded in who I am but who he is.
The very nature of rural ministry is that it continually confronts us with our weaknesses. In the large church, people are placed in positions that maximize their skills. The other members of the staff then bolster their inadequacies. But in the small church, we have no such luxury. We are called upon to do various ministries, from preaching on Sunday to leading the youth on Thursday and providing marital counseling on Friday. All of which reminds us how ill-equipped we are. However, rather than this being a hindrance, Paul would say that this is the springboard for effective ministry, for it continually confronts us with our need for God's grace and empowerment. Instead of becoming discouraged because of our shortcomings, we can embrace them, for they serve to remind us that all ministry requires a complete dependency upon God. Like Paul, instead of groaning about our weaknesses, learn to boast in them. This becomes the springboard for true contentment in ministry.
Glenn Daman is the pastor of River Christian Church in Stevenson, Washington and has authored 5 books on rural and small-town ministry. His web site is www.ruralministry.net