Preached on 2022-7-6 at Dallas Theological Seminary.
I like you to think of a minister who had failed in his ministry and is well known in the Christian community. I will give you some profiles as examples. A world-famous apologist who believed in his own ability to convince the audience but had a secret perverted sexual lifestyle. A megachurch pastor who believed in his own ability to draw large crowds but had an abusive, authoritarian, bullying lifestyle towards his coworkers and the church members. Do you have a name in your mind yet? Good. You do not have to tell me who he is. Each of you might have different names in your mind because, sadly, there is no lack of ministers who failed in their moral conduct in today’s church. You can verify that with a simple google search for “pastor misconduct.” I am sure none of us want our name to appear in this google search. What can we do to avoid moral failures as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ? As I was doing the research, I noticed a pattern. They were successful in the past, and their success seems to contribute to their failure.
My subject for today is, “Ministry failure is doing ministry by believing in ourselves instead of believing in Christ.” Or, to say it in another way, “Ministry failure is doing ministry by trusting in ourselves instead of trusting in Christ.” The text I was assigned is Mark 9:14-50. Due to time constraints, I will be focusing on Mark 9:14-29 only. This is the story of the disciples failing to cast out an evil spirit from a boy. My devotion has three parts, the problem, the solution, and the application.
Problem: Disciples experienced failure in ministry because they believed in themselves instead of in Christ (9:14-19a).
What is the problem in this passage? To see the problem, we need to see the bigger picture of the book of Mark. In Mark chapter 6, verse 7, Christ has called the twelve, given them authority over the unclean spirits, and sent them out for ministry. And then we are told in verse 13 that they cast out many demons. Fast forward to chapter 9, after Peter, John, and James saw Christ’s transfiguration, they came down from the mountain. Mark wrote in verse 14, “And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Him, were greatly amazed and ran up to Him and greeted Him. And He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for He has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So, I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And He answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”
The disciples failed to cast out a demon in a boy and ended up arguing with the scribe, and the crowds were watching. Similar situations can be seen today. Pastors’ moral failure has caused arguments among Christians and non-believers on Television and social media. What kind of image is the church portraying to the watching world?
The rest of the story is mostly about the interaction between Jesus and the boy’s father. This is the pattern of the gospels; the Lord oftentimes uses His interaction with other people to teach the disciple what it means to follow Him and be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Brothers, can you relate yourself to the disciples? Have you had ministry failure in the past, and the Lord taught you a spiritual lesson through other people in your life?
Most commentators agree that “O faithless generation” was Jesus’s rebuke towards the disciples. Their previous success in casting out unclean spirits has caused them to have faith in their own experience and ability instead of faith in Christ.
Brothers, we are getting some of the best education in DTS, and some of you have years of ministry experience and success. However, as your knowledge and experiences increase, you will face greater and greater temptation to believe in yourselves instead of believing in Christ in ministry. If you ignore this problem, your pride will continue to grow, and you might end up in the result of a google search of “pastor misconduct.” The worst thing that can happen to you as a minister is not that you failed to grow the size of the ministry that you serve. The worst thing that can happen to you as a minister is failing to grow your trust in the Lord in ministry.
Solution: Jesus used the opportunity to teach the disciples to believe in Him instead of in themselves (9:19b-29).
So, what is the solution? Let’s continue to read the text. Verse 19, after Jesus rebuked the disciples, he instructed them, “Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
After Jesus rebuked the disciples, He instructed them to bring the child to Him. Brothers, we need to bring our challenges to the Lord. This will become harder as we gain more experience because we think we can do ministry with our own strength.
When the spirit attacked the boy again, the father asked the Lord to help his son, although he was not sure Jesus had the ability to help him. Interestingly, Jesus said it is possible for one who believes. Brothers, I think the Lord is teaching us to believe He is all-powerful but also trust Him with the result because He is sovereign. We need to ask Christ for help and also ask that His will be done in our ministry.
Then the father replied that he believed, but he was also honest in asking Jesus to help with his unbelief. Brothers, we as seminarians and ministers are very good at hiding our doubts in ministry. We do not need to hide our weaknesses from the Lord. On the contrary, we need to be real with Jesus. Jesus can handle our doubts. We need to frequently examine ourselves and ask the Lord to help us with our witnesses.
Application: Cultivate a lifestyle of believing in Christ for ministry through prayers.
We talk about the problem and the solution and let’s talk about the application. Let’s read the remaining of this passage. Verse 25 to 29 reads, “And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
Since most of us will not face demon-possessed situations, how do we apply this text in ministry? I think the application of this text to ministers of the gospel is we should not serve the Lord by believing in our own ability. Instead, we should believe in Him. Ministry failure does not happen overnight. It is a result of a lifestyle of trusting in ourselves. Therefore you need to cultivate a lifestyle of trusting the Lord starting from now.
Doing ministry by believing in our own ability is like running a marathon with illegal drugs as your energy drink. You will be disqualified. Doing ministry by believing in Christ is like running a marathon with the official sanctioned energy drink. Chris is our God-sanctioned energy drink. Disciples are called to live by faith in Christ, not faith in ourselves, “My righteous one shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38). “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6).
A lifestyle of dependency on Christ is cultivated and manifested in prayers, therefore don’t sacrifice your prayer life for seminary and ministry. I urge you can examine your prayer life right now. What is your attitude when you pray? Do you pray out of routine, or do you pray because you truly feel you do not have the ability to write the paper or serve in ministry without Christ? Do you just go through the motion of prayers, or are you honest with God? Do you bring your doubts to Christ, or do you hide from Him? Why don’t you spend some time tonight to pray about what is one thing you can improve in your prayer life to help you to depend more on Christ instead of yourselves in ministry? Maybe you already pray a lot. Maybe you don’t need to pray more, but you need to pray more sincerely.
In conclusion, my proposition is, “Ministry failure is doing ministry by believing in ourselves instead of believing in Jesus.” We have looked at the problem, the solution, and the application. The problem is as we continue to increase in our knowledge and experience in ministry, we will experience more and more temptation to trust in our own ability instead of trusting in Christ in ministry. The solution is to bring your ministry challenge to Christ, believe Christ is all-powerful but trust the result to Him, and be real to Christ by bringing your doubts and weaknesses to Him. The application is to examine your current prayer lifestyle and ask the Lord to reveal one area where you can improve in your prayer life to help you to depend more on Christ in ministry.
No matter how hard we try, we will inevitably experience some failures in ministry, but Christ will never give up on us. He will turn every one of your failures into opportunities to teach you to trust in Him. When the disciples could not cast out the demon, Christ came down from the mountain to look for them. It is Christ who took the initiative to tell the disciples to bring the demon-possessed child to Him. On the surface, the Lord was teaching the father, but what the Lord was doing was teaching the disciples who were watching. The Lord desires the disciples to trust in Him by telling them they need to pray. Brothers, none of us want our name to show up in a google search of pastor misconduct. Let’s cultivate a lifestyle of believing in the Lord instead of ourselves in ministry so that Christ will be glorified through our life and ministry.