After decades of ministry, I am more convinced than ever that it is not what we do as Christians but what we are that has the greatest impact for Christ. It is not the number of people with whom we have shared the gospel, how many conversions we can number, how many churches we have planted, or the average attendance at our services, that matters for eternity. It is the quality of our ministry that makes a lasting change in lives.
After his resurrection, just before ascending to heaven, Jesus commissioned his disciples with these words:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
Certainly there is a commission to do something. The disciples’ ministry was to extend “to the end of the earth.” (Compare Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 24:47). But the emphasis in this last statement of Jesus’ commission was on being. “You will be my witnesses.” The power of the disciples’ words would be evident from their life. When Peter and John were called before the Jewish council for preaching gospel of Jesus and his resurrection, the council noted:
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)
I’m convinced that every Christian, especially those in full-time ministry, need to give more time and attention to being what God wants us to be. That means backing off from frenetic activity in the Lord’s name at the cost of neglecting a deepening fellowship with the Lord Himself.
An example of quality over quantity comes to mind. I know a missionary whose ministry for many years was in a support capacity. He rarely preached in Sunday services, but he always made sure he got to know every individual and couple who attended. One Sunday, a couple visited from a distant town because they had heard about the church through a radio ministry, a ministry that “support” missionary had helped set up and run. That humble missionary and his wife invited the visitors to their home for dinner, and they spent the entire afternoon listening to them pour out their sorrows. The couple shared they had come to the point of divorce, but they agreed to visit this church as the last hope for their marriage. What they found was new life in Christ. Not long afterwards that couple was baptized and became the nucleus for a new ministry in their town. It was the quality of life of that missionary, his being, that made the crucial difference.
The story repeats itself across history. I think of the Scottish pastor whose humble ministry had not produced many converts, yet one of them was a boy named Robert Moffatt, the great missionary who opened the interior of Africa to the gospel. We probably will not know until heaven just how many lives we have touched for Christ just by being faithful and by deepening our communion with Christ.
Among the people who came to Jerusalem for the Passover the week Jesus was crucified were some Greeks. They came to Phillip with this simple request: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” That’s exactly what people need today! They need to see Jesus in the lives of his brethren, those born of the Spirit God. People need to take note, as did the Jewish council, that we have been with Jesus.