“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)
One of the challenges we face in ministry is being problem solvers. That may sound counter-intuitive, because who doesn’t want to solve problems? Especially when those problems belong to people we love. Furthermore, can’t we be of particular help if we’ve been there, made the mistake and learnt from it? It seems pastorally neglectful not to give people the solution to their problems.
But if that’s our default approach to other people’s challenges, then (from one would-be saviour to another) we’re creating problems for ourselves and others.
First, we’re not the answer to other people’s problems, the gospel is.
I know no-one’s reading this thinking “actually, I do think I’m the answer to other people’s problems.” At least I hope not. But let’s just consider the process God has used to bring you and me to where we are now. When we didn’t know God, it was the gospel that brought us into a relationship with him (Titus 3:3-5). Was that quick for you? Did you hear the gospel and understand its implications all at once? Having heard the gospel and believed, was the path from where you were back then, to where you are now, linear? Or was it full of sidetracks, dead ends and pitfalls? And at those points, did God provide people to remind you of the truth, help you back on the right path, show you where you doubted God’s goodness, and build wisdom so you would do it differently next time? If you’re like me, it takes a few times falling into the pits before you realise you’re not the answer even to your own problems—let alone other people’s. And in all this, the path is rarely smooth, and never simple to navigate. Yet, at each point, God gave me people at different points to remind me through His Word, by His Spirit the truth of the gospel.
God will use us, but we are not the solution to other people’s problems: the gospel is.
God will use us, but we are not the solution to other people’s problems: the gospel is. The gospel meets people in their messiness, as it meets us in ours, and we need to be comfortable with that. Comfortable to wisely and lovingly speak gospel truth into people’s lives, and allow God to work in His time, and His way, to bring about His purposes.
Which leads us to the second issue.
If we don’t have a gospel-centred approach then, in the long term, we’ll do more harm than good.
Sometimes we need to point out the iceberg at the bow of the ship (think 1 Corinthians 6:18). But if this is all we ever do, our entire ministry is going to be spent jumping from ship to ship shouting directions. That might be great for our ego, but not so great for people trying to steer their way through life. To stick with the analogy, we can only be on one ship at a time. Sooner or later we’re not going to be on the right ship at the right time, and people won’t be equipped to know what to do. Therefore, we need to be willing to allow people to fail even when we can see it coming. What we need to remember are these things: we’re finite creatures; we serve a sovereign God; we’re under-shepherds (not the Great Shepherd); and we’re flawed brothers and sisters walking together on a journey of sanctification.
Our goal should not be merely to point to some possible solutions, but primarily to help them grasp the gospel so deeply that there is a renewal of their mind, resulting in the ability to discern what is the good, pleasing and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2).
When people are in pain or facing difficult situations, it’s hard not to solve their problems. But if that’s all we ever do, then we’ve probably got an inflated sense of our own ability to bring about change in people. Even worse, because of this we might be inadvertently doing what we fear most—creating people who follow after us, instead of following after Christ Jesus.
If we change our approach to conversations through a few small, deliberate corrections, we can nurture self-aware gospel problem-solvers. Our conversations will then help grow mature followers of Jesus, reliant on God in word and prayer. Wouldn’t this be a valuable skill to learn?
As it turns out, I am part of a ministry network called ‘Geneva Push’, which is running a ‘National Coaching Tour’ aimed at giving gospel workers and all Christians training in these valuable coaching and conversation skills. You can find out more here.
Geneva Push are an Australian church planting network that’s seeking to evangelise hundreds of churches into existence. In May 2019 they’re running a National Coaching Tour to provide the same training they give to the coaches in their network, as those coaches help planting couples navigate the challenges of planting and ministry in the different contexts they find themselves in across Australia.