Two summers ago, I traveled with a group of professionals for an evangelistic effort in Mzuzu, Malawi, Africa. At the time, I’d been Assistant Pastor for a major congregation for little over a year, so I’d been preaching to a “sophisticated” group. Thus, I felt fairly confident that I could preach effectively to the villagers we would encounter there on the country-side of Mzuzu, with little effort.
If you’ve been a part of such campaigns, you know the evangelist carries with them a laptop and projector and they use pre-written sermons that are provided for them. So, I’m even MORE CONFIDENT that I’m able to preach this meeting without even breaking a sweat. And I DID, I preached the meetings with relatively little effort and even less prayer.
About the second week of the meeting, in the middle of one of the most critical messages, the generator we’d been using gave out! There was no ambient light, ANYWHERE! Our site had the only electricity on the entire countryside! All that could be seen were the stars above. My translator and I fought through the message, shouting into the night, and both realized I was sinking, FAST! We made a B-line to the appeal and called the musician to lead the group in songs before we left.
As I reflected over the evening, I admitted that I’d taken the entire experience for granted. I’d done little homiletical preparation and even less spiritual groundwork. So, when the lights went out and the opportunity to flow in the Spirit (and not from the page) presented itself, I couldn’t. God turned the lights out that night to remind me that it wasn’t the pre-written sermon or images from the projector that would affect change in the lives of the people before whom I stood. Rather, the Spirit needed to permeate my spirit and then transform hearts of my hearers. In order for that to happen, I needed to be connected with the God I preached. It was easy to assume I was connected when everything was working, but when that generator blew…it was painfully obvious that not only was the physical generator on the blink, but I was spiritually out of juice, as well.
I heard a message last week that brought me back to this very notion; that the Pastor’s greatest temptation is to do the work of God without themselves being in ongoing relationship with the God they work for; and many of us are designing cleaner websites and fancier posters advertising more elaborate programs to mask the truth that we are operating with NO POWER! No wonder our congregations are the same, or more likely, worsening by the year…we have NO POWER! We have stagnant to declining growth, our health is failing and our families are falling a part over a ministry we barely tolerate, all because we’re attempting said ministry with NO POWER!
As excruciating as powerless ministry is, it is also a wonderful gift! Yes, I called it a “gift”. It serves as a wake-up call, as well as an invitation to a different experience. It signals to us that the way we’re operating is not good and nudges us in another direction. It’s a gift because it drives us back to God!
Don’t you want to regain the passion you once had for the ministry? To be bubbling with so much of God’s Spirit that you can’t exhaust your preaching ideas? To be a joy and not a terror to your family? The answer is not more preaching resources or new ministry opportunities but a renewed connection with our Lord.
No matter how long you’ve been preaching in the dark, I promise, a whole new level of ministry is waiting…you just have to get plugged-in.