Jesus Driven Ministry.
What is the secret to longevity in the ministry? How can leaders cope with the demands of the ministry? What does it mean to be a Christian leader?
These questions may be the most "frequently asked questions" by pastors, ministry leaders and lay leaders in church and parachurch organizations.
In their search for answers to the questions, leaders tend to seek after the best techniques to add value, excellence and "life" in the ministry. The author acknowledges the importance of acquiring the right skills and methods to do ministry and the Apostle Paul has also impressed upon young Timothy to pursue excellence in the ministry (I Tim. 4:11-15). But, Ajith has a deeper insight. The burning issue is not the lack of leadership skills,
I believe the greatest crisis facing Christian leadership today concerns lifestyle.Ö Christian leaders are failing in the way they live and are bringing great dishonour to Christ. Perhaps the greatest need in the training of leaders today is to provide guidelines to help them live as biblical men and women. But with the preoccupation of our present generation with pragmatic issues, insufficient emphasis has been given to lifestyle training (p. 14).
The assertion may be perceived as bold and judgmental but Ajith has earned his credentials to state a pragmatic concern that is not to be taken lightly. He has been the Director of Youth for Christ (YFC) in Sri Lanka for more than twenty-six years and has served as a pastor in a local congregation for over twenty years. He is also a writer and a teacher-trainer who has impacted lives in different parts of the globe. Ian Coffey who wrote the "Foreword" has one word to describe Ajith - "integrity" and "according to the dictionary this conveys wholeness of being and soundness of character. His life tells you he is a man worth listening to."
The book is developed from a series of Bible studies on "the Secrets of Long-Term Ministry" from the life and ministry of Christ revealed in the Gospel according to Mark. From the studies, he extracted the principles of Jesusí leadership model and presented them as "vital ministry basics" to those who are leaders or aspire to be leaders and want to lead well. The fourteen "ministry basics" discussed in the book have to do with personal lifestyle.
Jesusí first act of ministry is identifying with the people found in Markís gospel. Therefore, the first basic element of the Christian ministerial lifestyle is "identifying" with the people to whom the leader ministers. Identifying with people calls for commitment and it comes with a price of suffering and frustration because the leader is a "slave" of the people (pp. 23-27).
So if we are to truly identify with our people, we must expect frustration and pain. If we donít, we may be taken by surprise when we encounter it and be tempted to leave this work for an easier path or be so disillusioned that we lose the joy of ministry (p. 22).
Does commitment pay? The authorís answer, "Commitment does pay, for it begets commitment in others and makes our ministry more effective!" (p. 27).
The secret of staying committed and effective in long-term ministry is to derive oneís strength from God, that is, to be empowered by the Spirit following the example of Jesus who was anointed by the Spirit for his ministry (chapter 2). The analysis on the two aspects of "filling with the Holy Spirit" and the reference to the "fullness of the Spirit" in the Book of Acts support the authorís thesis to persuade leaders to exemplify a balanced Christian life. He has observed that the marketing orientation of the church has over emphasized the "aspect of the Spirit giving power for service" to draw numbers into the church but neglecting the aspect of the Spirit in forming Christian character. Therefore, the leader must keep a balance between his or her behaviour and ministry (p. 33). The balancing act is not an easy task. Therefore, the leaderís need to be "affirmed by God" to withstand difficulties and challenges in the ministry is discussed in chapter three.
The benefits of retreating from busy activity in order to be alone with God and to remain "fervent in spirit" are spelt out in chapter four. What was the purpose of Jesusí retreat in the wilderness? The answer is "temptation", and the value of undergoing testing for leadership development is presented in chapters five and seven. The priority and power of the Word, demonstrated in Jesusí "battle" with Satan, are indisputable. Likewise, Christian leaders must recognize and acknowledge the Word as their authority for life and ministry (chapter six). However, the authority of the Word as the absolute truth clashes with the "postmodern distaste for objective truth and rejection of the idea of absolute truth" (chapter seven). The leader is reminded not to compromise the "truth" in their lifestyle and in the preaching of the gospel.
In chapters 10 and 11, leaders are reminded to take heed of Jesusí call to nurture and train believers to become disciples of Christ. Ajith prefers to call the "leader who cares for the trainee the discipler and the trainee the disciplee as opposed to master and disciple (p. 153). To him, leaders are servants of God and servants of the people placed under their care and he defines servanthood as the "commitment to do all we can for the welfare of the people whose servants we are," (p. 164) that is; the ministry is relational, not project-driven. He is disappointed with leaders who
feel that, as CEO of the organization/church, they... cannot afford time to work toward the fulfillment of Godís best for individuals. They leave that to the human resource development (HRD) people in the organization. This is not the biblical model (p. 164).
The issue of ministering to the sick and demon-possessed is examined in chapter twelve. He gives a helpful overview of how the ministry is practiced in the New Testament. In exercising such a ministry in a pluralistic society, he highlights the potential problems and the cautionary measures to take,
We find people from other religions in Sri Lanka complaining angrily that Christians are "stealing their people" by bribing them through the promise of money and miracles (p. 204-205).