February marked our 9th year in Kaharlyk and our 12th in Ukraine. Before everything got crazy on Maidan I was thinking of writing a list of things I've learned and so I jotted down a few notes. Sunday marked my 33rd birthday and I realized I've spent more than a third of my life in Ukraine. So I'm going to write three blog posts this week about things I've learned about life and ministry living in Kaharlyk for the last 9 years.
It takes a long time for a church to really trust you
They may quickly trust that you are faithfully teaching the bible, that you can help them with theological problems but it takes years for them to know you and to really trust you in their deeper problems and struggles.
Loving the people you serve is what really matters
Yes, doctrine is important and is the foundation of everything. Yes, pointing them to Jesus is the goal of everything. But what really matters is that you love the people you serve. I'm talking about love that rejoices with them when things go well, love that weeps because things are difficult. Love that cares more about how they are doing than about finishing a bible study, starting a church service on time, making it through worship band practice. Love is the only thing that will really motivate you to pray for the people you serve, to build them up, to point them to Jesus, to care that they know the truth, to rebuke them when they sin. If I don't really love someone then I only go through the motions when I pray, my self-righteousness is what motivates me to tell them the truth or rebuke them, and my pride in having a church that follows Jesus is what motivates me to point them to Jesus. It is easy to get caught up in doing the right things and forget that loving people is what really matters.
God created the sabbath for man because we need to rest and we need to let go of trying to control our lives and trust him
Early on in our time in Kaharlyk we were told that it is a good idea to take a day off to rest and spend time together. After a while we realized that it is more than a good idea. Sunday is usually a work day for us: preaching, leading worship, members' meetings, worship team meetings, ministry meetings...most Sundays are 8 hour work days; not a "day of rest unto the Lord." So we learned to schedule a day in the middle of the week when we could stop remodeling our house, stop preparing bible studies, stop working in our garden, stop meeting with people and rest. It is really hard to say no to things when you are really busy but we realized that by not stopping and resting we were trying to make everything happen by working hard. It was exhausting. We need to rely upon God, and not upon how productive we can be. Sometimes the best way to force ourselves to rely upon God is to stop doing things for a day.
If you don't point people to Jesus in everything, then you aren't really helping.
If we aren’t showing people how Jesus died to set them free, to redeem their mistakes, to bring them into fellowship with the Father, to give them new life, to make them whole in Him, to change their hearts, to help them fight sin, to forgive their sins, to make them God’s people, to mediate before God on their behalf, to comfort them in sorrow and loss, etc. then whatever else we are doing is not really helping them because it is not meeting their deepest and most real need.
Fruitful ministry changes the minister for the better.
If I am not being changed to be more like Christ in all that I’m doing then no matter how much good I do my ministry is not fruitful. Fruitful ministry is not about doing good, not about numbers of people affected, not about productivity but about inward change of the minister that flows outward to help other people change in the same way.
Doing the small things is a good way to keep yourself from thinking too highly of yourself
Washing floors after an event, taking trash out, washing dishes, running small errands, and doing things that anybody else could do is a good way to make yourself remember that you are not above anyone else. I don’t need to always be the one doing the little things but sometimes I need to do the little things to remind myself that my job is to serve and not to fulfill the “higher office” of pastor.