Spiritual Formation for Ministry (Part 1)
What would happen if everyone in the Assemblies of God pledged not to say anything bad about anyone — including criticism or gossip — for a week, but acted justly and fairly toward everybody? Suppose this were the response of every minister in the Assemblies of God.
Acting justly focuses on the will, so it is crucial that we understand how God wants to shape our wills to conform to His purpose. God does not desire to break our wills but to shape them. A formed person is the evidence of a process. A broken person needs to be healed. Healing occurs in the process of love through justice.
How does this relate to ministry in the milieus of today’s social pluralism? How does a pastor balance a personal spiritual focus with the tensions and demands represented by a contemporary congregation? Certainly the power of the Holy Spirit is available as needed. Further, the Spirit is present to develop in us the love and justice of Jesus Christ as the order for our ministry.
There is also an Old Testament guide for us. Micah, an eighth-century B.C. prophet, laid down several factors that actively accomplish the processes of justice and transformation by growth and development. He prophesied at a time when injustice and corruption were rampant in the government. The rising crime rate had created a national crisis — obvious parallels to our day. The storm clouds had been gathering for a long time and were about to burst over the land. Captivity was coming. Four times in this short book, Micah implored us to listen (Micah 1:2,3:1,6:1,6:9), the first step in spiritual formation that opens our understanding to God’s ways.
A look at the process that actively contributes to the growth and development in a person to produce the character of God recognizes two basic assumptions: (1) Each of us wants to know what God requires of us or pleases Him, and (2) none of us lives to himself.
Micah identified three common misconceptions people have about pleasing God:
1. We may be tempted to substitute ceremony for character.
“Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?” (Micah 6:6). It is convenient to bring things to God in ceremony in a public setting on Sunday without their actually forming spiritual character in us. Formation happens in a person’s spirit, not in ceremony.
We need ceremony that finds its meaning in the context of our character. Sunday worship doesn’t always produce the harmony we need in our relationships the rest of the week. For example, it is possible to have a great day on Sunday and a miserable Monday night board meeting. Attitude development is costly, not convenient.
2. Sometimes we replace grace with gifts.
“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?” (Micah 6:7). We may focus on some project, such as a building, to earn favor with God, feeling our significance is contained in our projects.
It is interesting that the ACMR, filed annually by Assemblies of God churches, asks questions about the value of real estate and attendance but does not ask, “How many laypeople are involved in ministry in the church?” This indicates the kind of formation going on in people.
3. Another trap is mistaking personal sacrifice for spiritual maturity.
“Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:7). Our priorities in ministry must be God, spouse, children, and then ministry. God’s measuring stick is easy to understand. If personal sacrifice means neglecting family and managing finance poorly, we have fallen into a trap.
With one strategic brush of the pen, Micah introduced a trilogy of spiritual qualities that are essential factors in spiritual formation. These help us avoid the temptation of making a mystery out of a clear message: “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). This mandate includes all three elements of personality — will, emotion, and mind — and significant principles apply.
How do we act justly so we focus on spiritual formation in our lives rather than on some outward ceremony? The Hebrew word for justice is mispat, which means the application of the principles of righteousness to concrete situations.
Micah placed justice first because the great sin against which he cried is the denial of social justice. In our everyday relationships we must treat other people fairly and rightly. People who know us best should believe in us the most.
Where are the principles of righteousness found in the Scriptures? The apostle Paul gave three bases by which God acts justly:
1. God’s actions are based on truth (Romans 2:2). Being in decision-making places without always having revelation about the truth forces us to lean on Him who is Truth. The temptation is to act on information that may be incomplete or incorrect. Therefore, we pursue the One who is Truth. As we pursue Him and as the nature of Christ is formed in us, nearness to Him becomes likeness. The nearer we are to Him, the more like Him we become. When we say we want to make actions based on truth, it presupposes that we will enter into a relationship with the One who is Truth.
2. God will give to each person according to what he has done (Romans 2:6). While our relationship should not be based merely on the performance of another person, acting justly means we look at responsibility and treat each person as an individual.
3. God does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11). It is easy to show favoritism to those whom we feel are on some lower or higher scale than we are, but in acting justly, justice sits down in the sanctuary with anyone irrespective of position or longevity. We must not show favoritism.
Real revival will be evidenced in our congregations and our Fellowship, not when we have accomplished certain statistical goals, but when the quality of our interaction is evidenced by acting justly, when together we practice Christ’s love.
The temptation is to live in anticipation of finding God’s will for our circumstances (Romans 12:3–8). We mistakenly seek to know the details first — what are my gifts, and where will I use them? God has a will for our character that focuses on our relationship with Him (Romans 12:1,2). We are to glorify God with our lives by acting justly, and out of this relationship with Him will flow the details of giftedness and ministry.
Spiritual formation for ministry will be considered further in articles two and three as we explore the other elements of personality — emotion and mind.
H. Robert Rhoden, D.Min., is former superintendent of the Potomac District of the Assemblies of God.