I can’t believe it’s already your fifth year!
A statement like that was recently made by a friend—with a sense of amazement—regarding the fact that I have now begun my fifth year as a church ministries representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.
Yes, four years ago at this time I was nervously pondering how to announce to church congregations (many of which already knew me) that I now represented FOI and—the most dreaded issue of all—was in the position of attempting to raise financial support.
In retrospect, it was an interesting and strategically important time to begin. Though none of us knew it then, the world was about to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in just over a year, and many aspects of everyday life would change significantly.
In hindsight, the shutdowns of 2020 gave us the opportunity to pause after a year and a quarter and focus on implementing many things we should have been doing all along—especially in the area of technology. Most significantly, that led to my presence at SermonAudio.com/pscharf and the origin of this column. We built on these efforts in year three with the launch of a weekly email—aided by an expert and faithful volunteer. Looking back, I cannot imagine attempting to go about our ministry the way we were doing it in 2019.
And that leads me to the first of several lessons that have been reinforced in my mind during these four years. I share them in the hope that others may find them useful.
First, I am struck by the importance of multiplying my effectiveness in ministry.
It is exciting to get to a place where the investment of one’s time can be magnified through the strategic and creative reuse of material and content. Perhaps nowhere is this illustrated more simply than by the example of placing a sermon online, where many more people can listen to it than those who were in the original audience.
Even more basic, I almost never preach a sermon just once. I will always redo it with a view toward building upon it and improving it. The reverse is also true. If I have a major speaking opportunity ahead of me, I will surely find a way to, in essence, practice the material ahead of time. This may be done in a midweek service, before a small home study group, or even with an audience assembled just for that purpose.
A sermon can easily become a column—or vice versa. A testimony offered in a church service can become the basis of an email. An insightful conversation can lead to an interview, which can produce an article. And, of course, once something is recorded and posted online, the means of multiplying its effectiveness are virtually limitless.
I realize that my role is different than that of a local church pastor, who must normally prepare one or more brand-new sermons each week. But I would encourage everyone, as much as possible, to look for ways to multiply the effectiveness of their service. This can almost always be done through some creative thinking, as we apply diligence.
Quality is always more important that quantity—but with that mindset, the Lord can easily give us opportunities to extend our influence. In being a good steward of your ministry, you may find a new use for something that will fit a specific need and make a huge difference as you build upon what you have done previously.
A second point of emphasis that flows out of the past four years involves seeing the profound significance of relationships in ministry.
My work revolves around the concept of contacting churches and asking for opportunities to speak and present our ministry. But pastors are very busy people, and churches are inundated with these kinds of requests. Many churches operate on tight budgets and, furthermore, evening services—often reserved for guest speakers in times past—have largely vanished. How can I hope to make any kind of impact—let alone stand out from the crowd?
The strongest connections in ministry are forged through relationships. Pastors have told me repeatedly that they want to know the people and ministries that their churches support. This aspect is often far more important to them than even the particular field of service in which the individual receiving support may labor.
We have seen the importance of building relationships time and time again. This occurs often through fellowship in a restaurant following church on Sunday morning. We’ve also witnessed it as financial gifts come to our account from people we have sought to encourage—but of whom we never asked anything. What a wonderful privilege it is to share such profound connections in Christian ministry, for the sake of the gospel!
For many, a call, email or handwritten thank-you note can make a world of difference. These are some simple ways to strengthen those relationships and show people that we really care about them.
I hope and trust that the Lord will use these thoughts to encourage others in various aspects of ministry. I will conclude them next time, looking at two more themes.
Paul J. Scharf (M.A., M.Div., Faith Baptist Theological Seminary) is a church ministries representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, based in Columbus, WI, and serving in the Midwest. For more information on his ministry, visit sermonaudio.com/pscharf or foi.org/scharf, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.