Until Christ is Formed
Recently I attended a self-awareness retreat for church planters.
Just picture a bunch of pastors sitting in a circle crying.
During this time, our leader gave us some personal reflection questions to answer.
Here were some of my answers:
What do you want most from God? Success in ministry.
What is perfect happiness? A thriving church.
What is your greatest fear? Failure.
What is your biggest doubt? How the church will pan out.
What is your lowest depth of misery? Failure.
Notice a theme?
Through these questions, I realized that I have an “idol of winning” in my life.
Growing up with a twin brother, we were always competing. And now we are still leading similar ministries!
Also, being in sports, winning was everything.
When I got to college, I started focusing on ministry, but I transferred that desire to win to my ministry.
So now a lot of my identity comes from my success in ministry.
After this realization, I have been trying to approach ministry situations differently.
Instead of asking, “How can I win?” my desire is to ask, “How can I help?”
Slowly smashing the idol of success has allowed me to not worry as much about the low attendance days and keep more a level head with the victories.
It’s helped me to see visitors as people to love rather than prospects to pad my stats.
Instead of leading out of a fear of failure, I have been able to focus more on those in front of me.
God has been using this realization to grow the heart of a shepherd in me.
My main spiritual gift is not shepherding, but I have been called to shepherd God’s people.
It’s likely that if you are in college ministry you are one of the crazy apostles, prophets or evangelists that don’t fit the typical pastor/shepherd mold, but you are also called to be to “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
Recently the Holy Spirit has been bringing the phrase “until Christ is formed in you” up over and over again in my mind, so I googled where it was from. It’s from Galatians 4:19 which says, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.”
Galatians was written because Paul was upset with his spiritual children.
He had already given birth to them spiritually, but now because they were trying to earn their salvation through works like circumcision, he says it’s like having to go through the pain of labor again to get them back on track.
Working with students, I can really relate to Paul. Some are really faithful, but many are really flaky!
The price of working with people is that they are going to let you down.
Paul uses labor in child bearing as an example of the pain he went through for them.
I personally don’t know what it feels like to give birth, but I was in the room when both of my babies were born.
Our first pregnancy, Jessica gave birth naturally, which means I saw the full extent of how painful labor can be. I had never seen her act remotely the way she was acting and hardly recognized her because she was in so much pain. In between contractions my message to her was “the baby is coming, the baby is coming, the baby is coming.”
As shepherds of God’s people, this is what you signed up for. It’s hard work but it’s worth it.
Like child-bearing, ministry is extremely painful and very rewarding. The pain of ministry is worth the prize of seeing lives changed.
Our work isn’t done until Christ is formed in our people, and it won’t be fully formed until we get to heaven.
Knowing our goal gives us strength to endure.
Are you willing to fight to see Christ formed in your people?
If our goal is for Christ to be formed in people, then how foolish it would be to try and do this on our own.
You can’t form Christ in people without Christ!
Another scripture God has been bringing to my mind is the question, “Who is adequate for these things?”
In 2 Corinthians 2:15–16 Paul describes ministry this way:
“For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?”
Who is adequate for these things? NO ONE!
Every time we step up to preach, or sit across from a student to share the gospel, or lead a small group, if the Spirit doesn’t work we are wasting our time.
It’s comforting to know He is always working behind the scenes, but I wonder what we are missing out on by not depending on Him for the results more.
If anyone was adequate for the work of ministry it was Paul; he was the most equipped person on the planet to do what he was doing, but he remained desperately dependent on God.
If our task is forming Christ in people, how silly is it to think we can accomplish this on our own.
St. Francis of Chan says this in his book “Forgotten God,” “I don’t want my life explainable without the Holy Spirit… I want to live in such a way I am desperate for Him to come through.”
What about you? Does desperate dependence on God characterize your ministry?
I’m not talk about giving up your efforts or forgetting about strategy.
I’m talking about doing all those things with one ear open to heaven and being willing to adjust in the moment.
Colossians 1:28-29 explains how intense effort and desperate dependence actually work together.
“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.”
Paul was willing to do whatever it took to present people mature in Christ. But he did it with God’s energy and God’s power.
We can only do God’s work by God’s power.
Now I’m not talking about a mentality that just says, “Let go, and let God.”
Actually my twin brother, Paul, teaches our mentality in ministry shouldn’t be “let go and let God” but instead “trust God and get going.”
We are co-laborers with Christ, who must do our best, work hard, labor, contend, strive, and struggle so that Christ will be formed in our people.
But we don’t work alone!
In other words… Our work will only work when God works.
It’s going to take all your energy, plus all His energy to do God’s work.
You can’t work for God without God.
So how would your daily life and ministry look different if you were constantly aware of your desperate dependence on God’s Spirit to change lives?
It might not change many of your activities, but for sure you would pray more.
Recently, I’ve been convicted to start praying over the list of the attendees of our church everyday (it’s easier when you have a small ministry).
Other than prayer, this desperate dependence might not change much of what we do, but it will change the way we do everything.
The main difference for me is more of a moment by moment desire to rely on the Holy Spirit’s power in my teaching, in small groups, and discipleship or evangelism situations.
My prayer is that each of us would be desperately dependent on God’s Spirit until Christ is formed in our people.