With the new year comes the opportunity to reflect, dream, and plan for the new ministry ahead. Maybe it is just me, but January 1 always leads me to think more deeply about ministry successes and failures, both philosophical and practical, from previous years. This time around, a question keeps coming to the forefront for me: What is the foundation I’m building my ministry around?
Of course, we know that the answer to that question should be Jesus. But as I continued to reflect on that question, it helped me to analyze my core ministry philosophy. What is truly functioning as my ministry foundation? The answers for what it should be came easy, but after more time and introspection came an honest evaluation of the path I’ve taken throughout my ministry journey.
As a life-long people pleaser, I couldn’t ignore my tendency to build ministry around producing good people. It could be good students in a college ministry setting or good class members in a young adult situation or good fill-in-the-blank for whatever ministry setting you find yourself. Let’s be clear, the Bible teaches that good fruit and changed lives will be the result of genuine conversion and true discipleship. Those things are good, but they are not the goal. There is often an unfortunate twist in my ministry approach that makes behavior the goal rather than the pursuit of Jesus. I think it is a well-intentioned mistake. The line of reasoning goes something like “if a life transformed by Christ will result in actions x, y, and z then let’s just make my ministry emphasis producing activity x, y, and z.” Not a bad outcome, BUT we have to be careful not to leave out the One who can actually produce that kind of change in someone’s life.
I can’t manipulate the kind of transformation in people’s lives that will move them from death to life, from good fruit to bad fruit, or from self-centered to self-sacrificing. That kind of true, internal life-change can only result from the work of the Holy Spirit in consistently encountering Jesus.
So, as I’ve thought about that “foundation” question, four words continually come to mind, “Jesus in my place.” It is the heart of the gospel and it is the true power that transforms college students, young adults, and anyone else. That is the foundation that I want to build ministry around. That is the truth that I want to drive every conversation and event and Bible study. That alone is the truth that continually reminds me of my state without Christ, fills me with gratitude, and challenges me to see everyone I encounter as Jesus Himself would. That is the truth that changes everything.
I’m not saying we need to stop paying attention to the number of students serving in missions or attending Bible study or serving as leaders. But I am encouraging each of us to take a moment as we move into the new year to remember it is the truth of the gospel that fuels us as ministers and should be the very foundation of all that we do. I know it’s a reminder that I need (more often than every January 1), so I pray you’ll join me in that practice of ministry reflection as we enter the new year wanting to point people to the living, transforming Christ.
Bill Noe is the Collegiate Ministry Specialist at Lifeway Christian Resources. A former campus minister (and current collegiate ministry volunteer at church), Bill loves being a part of seeing college students grow in their walk with the Lord. Connect with Bill on Twitter.