(From Voice magazine, Nov/Dec 2015. Used by permission.)
People Will Fail. God Never Will.
As I said in Part 1, over the years I’ve deliberately surrounded myself with some of the finest people imaginable. Those great folks have given me so much that I’ve often felt overwhelmed with gratitude reflecting on the countless ways I’ve been blessed by others in my life. Yet I also know that people fail (including, and most especially, me). We are all fallen, feeble, frail and broken instruments—but God is great! This truth has helped temper my perfectionistic, unreal, idealistic expectations when I’ve directed them at myself and those around me. I’ve learned to be more patient and forbearing over the years knowing all of us need to receive grace and extend forgiveness each and every day. People are great; people are frustrating. People help us up; people push us down. My actions are good; my actions are bad. In all the variations of our humanity, this one thing is certain: God never changes and He’s always dependable. He will never fail and so we should keep our eyes on Him.
Maturing and Growth Happened at the Same Time While Serving.
I’ve always sensed my own inadequacies and weaknesses and need for personal growth and maturing. I know I have so much to learn and so I’ve devoted myself to life-long learning. Even after four decades in local church ministry, I still want to be a better pastor and I try to take every opportunity to improve my ministry. And I understand that my own personal development and maturing and growth have happened all at the same time while I’ve been serving. So my frequent counsel to young men is to jump in and serve in whatever church you’re a part of and don’t wait to become mature. That will happen as you faithfully serve wherever you are, in whatever ministry assignment you are given.
Don’t Be Afraid to Labor Unknown in Obscure Places.
Since I became a Christian, I have attempted to do the greatest possible good that I could for the greatest possible glory for God. But it is a difficult balance between seeking greatness for God and seeking greatness for self. Because our God is infinitely glorious, we should take on goals and objectives worthy of a lofty view of God who wants to be glorified in all the earth—and this I have sought to do.
But I also have sought to guard against my own self-centered ambitions. I have deliberately sought obscurity and trusted that God would expand my ministry in His time and in whatever way He determined. Jeremiah cautioned, “Do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them” (Jeremiah 45:5). Personal ambition is such a shallow, empty motivation. Yet it captivates all too many men in ministry whose drive for fame consumes them (yes, pastors can think that way).
Through the years I’ve deliberately taken entry-level ministry assignments in church, things like setup and clean-up, regular nursery duty with my wife, and teaching first through third grade Sunday school—and lots of Awana and VBS activities. Those ministries have been wonderful opportunities! They have also kept in check my sinful ambitions for personal ministry glory.
Upon seminary graduation, I assumed a church planting ministry in obscure Utah with just twelve people while many of my seminary classmates took large churches. Today I am always eager to speak at churches of every size, even if it involves just a handful of people. I think it important for me never to forget this principle: seek obscurity and humble service. Closely related to all of this is the issue of financial want. I have learned not to be afraid of poverty, which over the years has been another way God has
reminded me to be willing to labor in humility. I have made it my philosophy that if God chooses to give me money, position or honor then that is His doing and not because I made it my driving ambition.
The Indispensability of My Life’s Ministry Partner.
Three months after I was saved, I happened to discover a taped series of messages by Dr. Howard Hendricks entitled “The Christian Home.” It was basic Bible teaching to a group of young college-aged adults on marriage, family, the roles of husband and wife and children, parenting, communication, threats to oneness and the joys of marital love. I’d never heard anything like it and I was hooked. I must’ve worn out those tapes listening and learning. I remember Dr. Hendricks’ advice to pray for a godly wife if you were planning to be in ministry. So, for seven months I prayed quite specifically for God’s choice for my wife, and He sent her to me!
For these forty years Miriam has walked at my side as a faithful woman of God, trusting Him along with me through all the peaks and valleys of life in ministry. She has constantly been helping, encouraging, strengthening, counseling, comforting, sacrificing, teaching, serving, cooking, cleaning, disciplining children, discipling women, praying. She has been a noble servant and without my life’s partner I could never have made it in full-time ministry. And today I echo what Dr. Hendricks said those many years ago. You need a godly wife if you’re going to be in ministry.
Without Love Your Ministry Is Cold and Lifeless.
The message of 1 Corinthians 13 has tremendous implications for those of us in ministry: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:12). That couldn’t be any clearer and yet sadly, I have met many love-less pastors and attended many love-less churches. And I’m even sadder to recall the many loveless moments in my own ministry life. D.L. Moody said it this way: “There is no use working without love. A doctor, a lawyer, may do good work without love, but God’s work cannot be done without love” (William R. moody, D.L. Moody. 1900, 2007).
Pastors should love people in the church hallways and in all the places we meet them like restaurants and grocery stores and hospitals. My ditch digging friend said that pastors, from the pulpit, should frequently tell their congregation that they love them—and I agree. Love is one essential characteristic that absolutely must be found in all Christian leaders.
Les Lofquist earned his BA at Grace College, and his MDiv at Grace Theological Seminary. Over his years of ministry, he has served as a missionary church planter, Bible college instructor, youth pastor and senior pastor. He has served as Executive Director of IFCA since 1999. He and his wife Miriam have been blessed with several children and grandchildren.