There is a tale of two churches in London, that during the 1970s and 1980s were pastored by two renowned preachers. Every Sunday their auditoriums were packed to overflowing with worshippers. Many thousands heard the gospel and were built up in the faith.
In time, both preachers passed away, revealing some interesting observations concerning their ministry legacy.
One of the churches continues to grow even to this day and has an international impact, the other has become a shadow of its former self with a much-reduced congregation and influence.
There may be many contributing factors that might explain these phenomena. Both pastors were passionate about the gospel and the need to reach the lost. Both were capable Bible teachers. Both were great communicators. Both were leaders of thousands.
When reflecting upon their ministries, whilst both were of considerable calibre it is apparent that one of the pastors intentionally sought to build into his listeners the ability to preach and to lead as he did. His aim was that they would have the skills to minister more effectively than him in their spheres of influence. The other pastor attracted many people to listen to his excellent preaching Sunday by Sunday.
A subtle difference in ministry intention, that was only visible after they had gone. Only visible when we examine their legacy. One of these churches has almost been forgotten whilst the other continues to grow and impact the world.
Paul when he wrote to the Ephesians, tells them that it was Jesus who chose some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in order ‘to prepare God’s people for works of service’ (NIV). Therefore, the objective of all ministry activity is the preparation of others for service. The pastor pastors, the teacher teaches, the evangelist evangelises, so that those who are ministered to are built up in the faith and thoroughly equipped to serve. The apostle/missionary goes to the unreached to prepare the people they minister to for works of missionary service. The focus of our calling is that others will be equipped.
It will be too late to examine our ministry legacy after we are gone! The legacy of the missionary doctor, teacher, church planter, agriculturalist, pastor or Sunday school teacher is not that they should shine, and do a great work, but that that those they minister to are equipped to do what they do and do it better.
I have found that a useful test to see where I am in this is to read back through my prayer letters. Could my readers be forgiven for thinking that it is all about me? About my sufferings, my triumphs, my ministry rather than those we are ministering among or with? Do my readers even know that in many places there is a flourishing church on the continent of Africa, that has millions of members, or could they be forgiven for thinking that I am the only one doing the work? How many times do I even mention my African or Western co-labourers in this work? It can be a sobering exercise.
For us to be involved in the missionary mobilisation of our partner churches in Africa, we must decrease, and they must increase. Our motivation, time, energy and resources need to be focussed on equipping, enabling, empowering and catalysing them for these missionary works of service that God is calling them to.