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Intentional Intensity in Ministry

by Joe Pursch on August 8th, 2011

If you’re a vocational pastoral leader, no doubt you’ve had the same experience that I have of taking a new ministry assignment, only to sail into a sudden experience of trouble early in your tenure, a squall of difficulty that threatens to turn your honeymoon into a shakedown cruise. I’ve often wondered why God allows this kind of thing early in a ministry. Lately however,as I peruse the ministry practices of Jesus, I’ve gotten a helpful insight into the question. Let me explain.

What I’ve seen lately is this: it seems that Jesus had a practice of placing His disciples just on the other side of their comfort zone on regular occasions. We might say He put them into repeated episodes of what I would call “intentional intensity.” One such incident of this is in Matthew 14. It’s the familiar story of the disciples adrift on the Sea of Galilee amid a cresting storm. What struck me as I read the narrative this time through was the less than obvious fact in verse 22 that Jesus set up this whole event. The verse tells us, “Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side.” So the Master of the moment, the Curator of all nature, Almighty God the Son, with full knowledge of the meteorological future just around the corner, sent His disciples out into the storm anyway, with full intentionality. And He sent them out alone. Sounds like thoughtless or even cruel leadership doesn’t it? Was it really? Of course not.

Jesus knew that the depth of leadership that He intended to build into their lives was dependent on the depth of belief that they had in His authority over any and every event they would ever walk into as His disciples. That meant that He had to intentionally expose them to risk, danger, unexplained circumstances, and unpredictable events… events that only His supernatural intervention could rescue them from. In fact their entire ministerial careers would be populated with events like this in which they would need to know that the supernatural power of God in the moment could and would rescue them from danger. So Jesus, knowing that this kind of ministry life was to be theirs in the future, intentionally exposed them to dangers while He was with them, so that He could walk into each and every one of those situations and show his power. Of course, that’s exactly what happened here.

I’ll be telling you more about the story in a subsequent post, but understanding that as pastors we know how it all worked out, let me remind you of this: in order to build you for future ministry demands, the Lord will intentionally place you in times of intensity right now, so that you can road test His reliability. I believe that one of the reasons that unexpected times of challenge occur early in ministry assignments is linked to this process, this perspective, if you will.  The idea forming in my mind as I think back upon my ministry challenges and early tenure crises is this: the Lord takes me through intensity early in a new call so that I will be reminded of His power to carry me through anything that that call might engage. It steels me for even greater challenges that He knows are on the horizon later on for me in that ministry place. And, if I succeed in trusting Him to rescue me and lead me through that time of intensity before the eyes of other church leaders, an added bonus arrives for me: the confidence of lay leaders who know me very little, but have now had a chance to see how I responded early in my ministry life to a crisis in their church. If I respond well, I’ve created an understanding in their minds and hearts that this new leader, while not very familiar to them in experience, has demonstrated a depth of character that will allow them to trust him more quickly when things get more difficult down the road.

I don’t know if you’re experiencing a a real battle early in your current ministry assignment right now or not, but I know that if you stay in the ministry long enough, you’ll have that unique experience. If and when you do, remember that the Lord may be road testing your ability to rely upon Him early in your ministry assignment at that church, so that your leaders will know with confidence that you have the ability to trust God during intense times. And you’ll also be steeled in the confidence that you do have the ability to trust Christ as a leader in unexpected intensity. An intensity that was fully intentional in the  Master’s mind all along.

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