by Brian Edwards
All of us have combed through the pages of the most recent edition of a ministry magazine and felt an overwhelming sense of inadequacy rush over us. Article after article highlights innovative ministry developments, massive attendances, and monstrous, state-of-the-art facilities. From the first page to the last we digest the accolades and accomplishments of those who are successfully doing ministry. Then, with our eyes closed and our imaginations engaged, we wonder what it would be like to walk in their shoes. Dissatisfaction with God’s assignment for us motivates us to visit churchstaffing.com and look for the church that’s located in the overcrowded suburb – with great amenities and plenty of expendable cash – where we could finally live up to our full potential. I know you can’t admit battling those feelings out loud, because those feelings are supposed to be beneath us. Yet those are the moments and feelings we keep securely hidden beneath a board in the floor of our hearts. If people knew we wrestled with something so silly, our image would be tainted in front of the people we work so hard to impress. We know our identity is found in who Jesus is, and what He’s done in our lives, but there are times when feelings of inferiority can momentarily blind our view of that reassuring truth. I know we feel spiritually obligated to celebrate the successes of others who are working to advance the Gospel and enlarge the kingdom, but their accomplishments can be personally intimidating. I am confident that someone reading this article is all too familiar with the struggle I’m describing. I know that because I’ve been there too.
There have been times in my last twenty-four years in ministry when my life’s sentences all ended with question marks and not one single By Brian EdwardsThe Importance of Achieving Celebrity Status12 SMG Solutionsexclamation point. Times when Philippians 4:13 seemed like an impossibility and 1 Timothy 6:6 seemed just beyond my reach. I’m sure there are a lot of pastors who would quickly point a pharisaical finger, and, like Job’s friends, condemn me for even wrestling with a moment of discontentment and inferiority, but there are times when ministry can make it extremely difficult to measure progress. A carpenter drives onto a vacant lot and eventually drives away from a completed house. A landscaper unloads his mower onto a slightly overgrown lawn and, hours later, observes the beauty of a freshly- manicured landscape. A farmer plows up a field of weeds and, months later, harvests an abundance of delicious vegetables. However, there are times in ministry when you pray, study, read, teach, implement, serve, disciple, vision cast and love with very little visible results. You try your best to execute the latest ministry trend correctly or employ the most promising campaign successfully, but at the end of it all things seem about the same as they were before. I’m saying this because I know there are pastors who romanticize other pastors’ ministries; and in the end they feel emptier and even more hopelessly discouraged. Even now Blessed Hope is receiving attention and interest because we appeared on Outreach Magazine’s top 100 list, but that doesn’t mean that Blessed Hope has sailed beyond rough waters.
Ministry in Danville, Virginia, has never been easy. I planted Blessed Hope with six people, in an upstairs room that was located in an older strip mall. Unfortunately, we were located right beside a karate class where none of the students believed in wearing deodorant and the stench was horrific. We scrubbed the worn, faded, dirty floors in our little space with so much Murphy’s Oil Soap that people walked through the back door and unexpectedly slid to the altar. Even worse, we quickly prayed over them and called them converts so it would sound like we had good news! My first paycheck was $50.00 dollars a week, and that barely even paid for the gas it took to reach my third shift job in a local factory. I can still remember the sound of my wife crying because she dreaded putting on the same clothes that she had to wear over and over again, and the days when our financial administrator would cry because we were surviving on the brink of disaster. Blessed Hope doesn’t have a fairytale story and we haven’t reached “happily ever after.” Ministry wasn’t easy then, and it isn’t easy now. Danville is one of the cities with the highest unemployment rates in our state, which means there is never enough money to advance the ministry as quickly as we would like. We also continue to know the hurt of watching some of the people we’ve loved, prayed with, and invested in walk away. Volunteers still quit, staff members still get discouraged, and families still fall apart, but you wouldn’t know that by momentarily glancing down the list of Outreach’s top 100. Ministry is never neat and tidy, and where there are sheep there’s always going to be…well you know.
Somehow we tend to lose sight of the truth of Ephesians 4:5 – that in God’s eyes there aren’t churches– there is only Church. The truth is, all of us are a part of God’s global Church. The pastor who stands on a dirt floor under a thatched grass roof and preaches to a small crowd of African villagers is significant in the Church. He isn’t inferior at all to the pastor who stands and preaches in an architectural masterpiece equipped with the latest technology, because they are both a part of the same Church. Five Chinese Christians huddled around a few tear-stained, torn pages of a Bible in a musty basement aren’t disappointing to God because they’ve failed to gain national acclaim in a Christian magazine. No! We have to change our perspective. If only we could realize that none of us have any ownership at all. Jesus clearly referred to the Church as His in Matthew 16:18. He lived for the Church, He died for the Church, He rose again for the Church and the Church belongs to Him. The Church doesn’t exist for my success, but exclusively for Jesus’ glory. Not one second of Heaven’s eternal worship will be directed toward any of us. Not one note of one song sung by the redeemed will exalt the name of any pastor. Billy Graham, Andy Stanley, Matt Chandler, Eric Mason, T.D. Jakes and Bill Hybels will only be numbered among the ethnically diverse masses offering their unhindered praise to Jesus. He was successful in completing the work of salvation and that is why we give ourselves to His cause.
Regardless of what I achieve personally, or what one of Blessed Hope’s local congregations accomplishes collectively, it is ultimately all about Jesus. If I fail to realize that, I am unsuccessful regardless of the building I preach in or the size of the crowd I preach to. Jesus didn’t suffer on the cross in unimaginable agony so we could be crippled by comparisons. The reality is that none of us should be entrusted to hold hands with Christ’s bride and direct her ever closer to Him. It is an infinite honor that is beyond our human capacity to earn. Your position as a pastor isn’t vindicated by your ministry accomplishments or by how well you measure up to the unrealistic standards of today’s consumerist church culture. There will always be a larger congregation, a more appealing building, a more “successful” pastor, and a more innovative ministry. I can prove this true by driving one hour north to Thomas Road Baptist Church. If I compare their massive facility and huge crowd to Blessed Hope, we are barely a decent-sized Sunday School class. Thank goodness I’ve realized it’s not about that! Even Lakewood Church seems small compared to Yoido Full Gospel Church’s more than 800,000 members in Seoul, South Korea. The road of comparison never ends and ultimately leads nowhere.
At Blessed Hope there is only one celebrity, and His name is Jesus. Our mission is to love beyond our limits, to give beyond our means, to serve beyond our walls, and to promote Jesus beyond our own identities. That is what has to captivate our attention – anything else is a distraction. So the next time you glance through the ministry magazine, be confident that you haven’t failed in ministry if you’ve led people around you to love Jesus more. Keep your eyes on the eternal prize! Faithfulness, not “fame,” will be rewarded in heaven–”Well done,” not “well known,” will be the highest honor.
Blessed Hope loves pastors! If we can serve you or encourage you, please don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected].
Brian Edwards is the founding, lead Pastor of Blessed Hope in Danville, VA. Blessed Hope is currently one Church in four locations with future locations on the horizon. Blessed Hope was also honored to be named as the 74th fastest growing Church in America, in 2014, according to Outreach Magazine. Brian’s passion is to lead people to live Gospel centered lives focused completely on the person and work of Jesus. He believes there is only one celebrity in the Church, and His name is Jesus. Brian’s journey in ministry hasn’t been alone, but God has placed a strong, ministry helper in his life named Denise. They have now been married for twenty-five years and have three daughters. Brian prays that God will provide for them to continue to advance the cause of the local Church for the purpose of advancing the cause of the Gospel.