Appropriate validation in the context of ministry can be a challenging road to walk. Ultimately our only necessary validator is God, and yet with an elder board or advisory board holding a leader accountable, a vocational ministry can require justification or measurement.
When it comes to personal spiritual growth I’ve learned to seek out a variety of voices. Whether my education comes from books, sermons via online streaming, attending conferences, or attending church one thing links these teachers together, my desire to learn about God from them. One of the things that draw me to them is the number of other people learning from them in addition to me. I like to think that in this “chicken and egg” scenario the reason so many people are listening to certain preachers or reading certain authors is that their words are so true and Spirit-filled. I like to think I’ve chosen to listen to certain theologians based on their beliefs and teaching, not their social media following…but it is hard to ignore the fact that somewhere along the lines our society decided a large following validated someone’s words.
For me accepting a speaker’s words or an author’s presentation is not limited to the opinion of the masses, but at the same time, those with large crowds are more likely to get my attention first. It is because of this trend of response in my own life that the measure for valid ministry has, unfortunately, had attendance attached to it.
On the practical side, numbers are necessary to know how much food to buy for a meeting, how many retreat spots to reserve, and how many resources to purchase. There is buying power in numbers with discounts for groups. Still, human practicality only carries us so far. God calls us to the least of these, He calls us to do what no one else is eager to do and because of that, validity cannot always be found in numbers.
Several months ago the Lord seized ahold of my heart in a new way. While reading Hosea these verses stirred my emotions in an unexpected way.
12 Though I wrote for him ten thousand precepts of My law,
They are regarded as a strange thing.
13 As for My sacrificial gifts,
They sacrifice the flesh and eat it,
But the Lord has taken no delight in them.
Now He will remember their iniquity,
And punish them for their sins;
They will return to Egypt.
14 For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces;
And Judah has multiplied fortified cities,
But I will send a fire on its cities that it may consume its palatial dwellings.
As I reflected on Hosea I realized there were large areas of sacrifice in my life God was not taking delight in and by extension, I was not delighting my Lord. My perspective on ministry had become twisted and was in danger of taking me down a path very different from the leadership path God had called me to. I was reminded that God calls us to sacrifice our best to Him, he delights in our obedience, not our earthly measured success.
1 Samuel 15:21-23
21 But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”22 Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
23 “For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He has also rejected you from being king.”
The more I reflected on what God delights in, the more I realized that for me, validation truly comes when God delights in me. When I remember that delight comes in our obedience to God’s call, my concern for larger attendance ceases to exist. When I surrender my hunger for human validation, instead of seeking the delight of my creator, peace and joy surround ministry regardless of attendance.