Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.
(Joh 4:1-3 ESV)
I have seen a number of ministries grow and become successful only to have the bottom drop out or else they simply die on the vine. What fascinates me is that it appears the ministry hasn’t changed anything along the way. The very pattern that grew the ministry also seems to be the thing that sinks the ministry?
I am beginning to see the value of Jesus’ statement “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” This was the defining purpose of His entire ministry. The apparent success of any single ministry initiative did not define or focus His ministry. His purpose was to do the will of the Father in Heaven. Thus, Jesus moved with confidence from one area of ministry to another, never getting off balance because both focus and stability came from His concrete foundation of being about the Father’s business.
Reflecting on Jesus’ short tenure in the Judean baptism ministry, I can easily see that I would have been tempted to stay there a little longer. It is my nature to look at the apparent success of a thing and believe that it should be established permanently.
I believe many ministry opportunities have outlived their effectiveness, because an apparent success was organized and established on a pattern that was more common sense than “Father’s Business”. Organizing ministries is the thing that we can best do without the power of the Holy Spirit. We like to organize and establish stuff, these are things that we are able to do. What we often forget is that we can’t give life. You can’t organize or establish life by skill or ability. Life comes from the Father, by His Spirit, Through His Son.
It is hard to leave success in ministry. This is in part because of all that we have invested in it personally. It is our nature to bask in the thrill of reaching the top of the mountain after the long climb. But we can’t stay on the top of this mountain or we will perish. And having reached this peak, we won’t be able to climb other heights unless we descend to the valley for another climb.
Too often we cling to what we have apparently gained at the expense of losing effectiveness. Those climbers who have mastered Everest generally started with significantly shorter peaks. The knowledge and skill attained at lower altitudes were necessary to scale and survive the rigors of the highest peak. And had they stayed on the shorter heights they could never have reached the higher peaks.
Ministry is much the same way, unless we are grounded in a purpose higher than our own, we will always be victims of outlasting our effectiveness in ministry. Christian ministry is only effective as those who engage in it are about the “Father’s Business.” It is our Father who gives us the nod on how long to stay.
Jesus, on hearing that a successful ministry of baptism was gaining momentum and popularity, found it expedient to move on. I don’t believe He moved because the ministry was rumored to be more successful than John’s. He moved on because The Father’s Business included much more than baptism in Judea. The Father’s Business was reconciling a lost world to Himself. This would include preaching, teaching, and healing in many places. Some of these places would be in obscure, some would be hostile, others would be notorious, but the Father’s business was the impetus for movement.
In today’s Christian culture, this would have been a good time for Jesus to pen the first of many “how to” books in ministry. He could have sat down and wrote the 7 steps to a successful ministry of baptism. But He saw a picture far greater than this. He was about His Father’s business and as such, the picture would have been far from complete with the first seven baby steps.
As I peruse the many, many books at the local Christian Bookstore, I wonder if somehow we have lost track of the Father’s Business. Not that I have a problem with books, I love reading. But I find that we are consumed with our accomplishments and milestones in ministry and often fail to move from Judea to Galilee when the time is right.
In this failure, we miss the “Woman at the Well” or the “Nobleman’s Son” because we are caught up in our apparent success and have derailed from the Father’s Business. How rare indeed is the ministry leader who can be uprooted from his apparent success to take a trek through the wilderness to minister to an individual rather than a crowd. Our whole paradigm of ministry has taught us that we progress from the individual to the multitude and when that happens we are too big to and our time is now too valuable to be wasted on the individual. We must now bestow our invaluable influence and expertise on the masses.
Jesus, about His Father’s Business, leaves apparent success with the masses and travels at the direction of the Father. Along the way He takes time to speak life to all that He encounters. Because He is about the Father’s business and not His own success, His ministry grows in its effectiveness and reach.
So here is the question I am pondering, “Am I willing to leave apparent success to be about my Father’s Business?” May God grant grace to your day. Whether you are on the climb or at the Peak, the Father’s business will add perspective to your next move.