The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Church planter Ed Doepel on the meaning of success in ministry according to the Bible.
Every year, thousands of church workers resign from the ministry because the spiritual battlefield is very difficult.
According to pastor and church planter Ed Doepel, “if you are trying to advance the kingdom causes, expect the attack, because Satan does not want you to advance”.
He stressesthat “when we are down, when we feel that we do not want to that anymore, the best thing we can do is go and love people”.
The pastor pointed out that “sometimes we burn ourselves up because we do not take time down, and that is not being a good steward”.
Asked about success, Doepel says that “the one is what God celebrates, they are singing in Heaven when one gives his life to the Lord, I think we should join in that course as well”.
Read the full interview below.
Question. Why should ministry leaders expect serious adversity in their work?
Answer. The biggest reason is that we have an enemy named Satan, who wants to detour any work in advancing the kingdom of Christ.
When we stop and think about it, we realise sometimes the church does not even talk about this topic. And it is a very serious topic, because we have a very, very tough enemy. The more impact you are making for the kingdom, the greater the attack.
I always teach our folks that we need to know our enemy - not because we are scared of him, because we are victorious in Jesus Christ - but if we know our enemy, we can defeat our enemy.
If you are trying to make a difference, expect the attack.
You can picture two forces and a trench across each other in a battlefield. As long as they stay in the trench, nobody is a threat, but when one line goes out of the trench and tries to charge the other line, the gun starts.
If you are a church planter, trying to plant a church, an evangelist who is trying to share the gospel, or just someone sharing the truth of God Word, without apologising, which is very unpopular, be sure the attacks will come.
Satan does not like to see that kind of brightness, that type of light-shining in the world. So, if you are in church work, out there trying to advance the kingdom causes, expect the attack, because Satan does not want you to advance.
Q. How can ministry leaders prevent themselves from quitting for the wrong reasons?
A. Unfortunately, we lose thousands of church workers every year, because ministry is a very challenging thing. Even in a good day it is tough, because you have people that leave, people who simply flake off. So it can be very disheartening.
When that time comes, we need to remember one very important point on quitting the ministry: first of all, God called you to the ministry, only God calls us into the ministry, and only God can call you out.
My opinion does not really matter, God's opinion matters. That's why I always say: “Do not give yourself a vote”, because if you vote, you will probably say: “I pack up and go home”.
But the fact of the matter is that - if I am preaching the truth of God's Word - no entity or organisation has the right to tell me to stand out. But for that matter, I do not have the right to tell myself to stand out, because I am God's instrument and child, and I need to continue to be faithful until further notice.
Q. How can ministers stay focused on their mission?
A. Basically, I always try to keep it simple, because it is complex to stay on mission. In a mission it is very clear that you have an objective that you try to accomplish.
I learnt this when I was in the Army. I was a chaplain for 14 years in US Army reserve, and we were mobilised for operation Desert Strom. I was at Fort Campbell and I learnt this whole lesson on being on mission there.
I was kind of having a pity party for myself, thinking: “My friends are home, having a barbecue with their families, they are having a really good day, I am preparing for war and I may not come home”.
My children were young enough at that time, that they would not even know who I was if I was killed being there.
I called my wife and poured my heart. She said something that really impacted me for the rest of my life. I know it was God speaking through her. She said: “Act your best when you focus on other people, go out and love them, and God will lift you up”.
That is so true, because I did that. I loved those men, encouraged them, even joked with them, and I came back so fired up, I literally walked on air when I came back to the barracks.
Jesus teaches us the same thing: “Love one another as I loved you”, that is the mission we have. When we continue the duty, specially when we are down, when we feel that we do not want to do that anymore, the best thing you can do is go and love people.
What happens then is that you get you eyes out of yourself, your pain. God restores you, and you are blessing other people at the same time.
Q. How can ministry leaders maintain a balance between their work and personal lives?
A. This is a crucial point, I have been a pastor for 37 years and I learnt some very valuable lessons on that.
First of all, you have to remember that there is life outside being a pastor. But, unfortunately, many of us measure our worth in being who we are, what we are, thinking that we are pastors above anything else.
We are forgetting something important, our roles as husbands and fathers. We need to make sure that we take time down for that.
But we need to realize something even more important. If you are allowing the church to determine your worth, you might have an idol in your life. I know I did.
For my wife and I, everything rose or failed with what happened or did not happen at church. Then, I was preaching a sermon on the 10 commandments and I said : “That which determines your emotional state is an idol, or a god in your life”. I realised in that moment, that all those years I got an idol in my life, because every weekend I worried too much about attendance, budget, and so on. And what I had to do is to realise that there is a life outside being a pastor.
I am not measured by being a pastor, my worth is in being a redeemed child of God. Then I was able to lay the church on the altar and said: “God, this is yours, if you want to build it, build it, if you want to shut it down, do it. It is yours, I will be faithful and serve you”.
To survive for the long haul, we also need to be able to take time down. Lots of pastors are terrible at this, because we have been guilted into the feeling that we have to be there for our people all the time, and if we are not, we are some kind of failure, or sinners.
I have to challenge you, I think that not taking time off is a sin. If God took time off after creating the world in six days, I think we should too.
The fact is that we burn ourselves up because we do not take time down and that is not being a good steward, because, first of all, you are sinning against yourself, you are not rejuvenating yourself.
Secondly, you are sinning against your family, who needs the dad and the husband, or whatever might be in that case.
And finally, you are sinning against the congregation you serve, because you cannot serve when you are fatigue and burnt out.
When you get rest and relaxation, you are much more effective in the other six days.
Q. What is the biblical basis for measuring ministry success?
A. This is question that needs to be addressed in the Christian church as well. We have bought into the man-made measurement that a successful church is the megachurch.
I have served in both sides, in churches from 8 people to 3,000, and if we fall into that trap of measuring success by numbers, we will never be satisfied in ministry. That is not how God measures success.
In the Bible He said that, if you lose one sheep, you leave the 99 and go to seek the one. Jesus emphasises that he looks for the one, but he found the one, he came back and literally throw a party.
The one is what God celebrates, they are singing in Heaven when one gives his life to the Lord, I think we should join in that course as well.
ABOUT ED DOEPEL
Ed Doepel has served as a pastor for thirty-eight years. He has planted four churches and has led churches from eight people to three thousand in membership. He is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm where he served as a Chaplain in the US Army, planting two churches in the Persian Gulf region.
He is the founder of Lap 7, an organisation that coordinates multiple churches in a co-op, worshipping out of the same building and performing collateral ministries in a coordinated effort to further the Kingdom of God. He and his wife are residents of suburban Chicago.