Why Am I Disappointed in Ministry?

Written By Jasmine Koh, Singapore

I’ve always believed that hard work pays off. Sacrifices must be made—be it time, entertainment, or sleep—if results are to be expected. It is therefore no surprise to hear how many would stay up late to complete their assignments, edit their masterpieces, or study for an exam.

I apply this attitude to both my studies and my involvement in Christian ministry. Besides serving in church, over the past four years, I’ve been volunteering at a para-church organization for youth where I share the good news of Christ to unbelieving youths on the streets and disciple small groups of believers.

Occasionally, the time I invest into preparing Bible study materials and facilitating comes at the expense of sleep and social life. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about these sacrifices—after all, this work ethic has long been ingrained in me.

But, despite my efforts, my group members seemed to display stagnancy in their spiritual growth. On better occasions, there would be four to five of us. But academia and school commitments proved to be real competing elements, and whenever competitions and examinations drew near, there would be a drop in attendance. Week after week, Bible study sessions and prayer meetings would see a regular attendance of two attendees—myself and one other student.

It was extremely defeating.

I remembered seeking God intently for His direction and for affirmation, wondering if my work was acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. Was there something I had to do more of? Or did I have to let go of something?

But then I thought: It can’t be that ministering to others through Bible studies is not effective enough. After all, bible study is one of the most fundamental habits of Christian growth. So why did I feel that I was not doing enough?

Over time and after seeking godly counsel, I arrived at this conclusion: Either what I was doing was clearly against biblical principles, or my heart was simply not right with God.

I believed it was the second case. Clearly, my heart was not aligned with God’s. What I saw as the end goal in ministry was not what He saw. I had been unwittingly distracted by the things of God, instead of focusing on God himself. In other words, my focus on the attendance, the quality of discussion, and the materials had consumed my focus on the One I was doing all this for.

Psalm 37:4 (NASB) says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” When our hearts are aligned with God’s heart, we will naturally desire what He wants and experience joy. Yet, despite knowing this, I had allowed myself to be caught in a tiring, fruitless cycle of focusing on the peripheral things. I had held on too tightly to these aspects of ministry that while necessary, were not critical. My disappointments in ministry came because I sought joy in getting results.

Disappointment is a natural response to our unmet hopes and expectations. But it’s how we respond to our disappointments that reveal our intentions. Too often, I become despondent when things don’t go according to how I envision and I lose steam to continue—instead of  surrendering the work to the Lord.

Through Paul’s letter to Timothy in 2 Tim 3-4, I’m reminded that what God requires of us is to persevere and to hope in Him—regardless of the outcome. Despite Paul’s tribulations and persecutions, he fixed his eyes on Jesus and remained faithful to the task of advancing God’s kingdom work.

If there is one thing I need to tell myself when faced with disappointments again, it is to learn to let go and seek God. My prayer is to continually see the big picture that God has in His ultimate plan of redemption and salvation so that in any role I partake, whether big or small, I place my joy and assurance in the Lord that He will bring it to completion.

But while I pray that the Lord gives me the joy of knowing Him well, I must also not neglect taking concrete steps in improving how I teach and share from the Bible. For instance, I should communicate regularly with my students to get feedback on their challenges and ways to improve the sessions.

Psalm 127: 1 (NASB) sums it up well: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” A ministry can only grow if it is God-led and God-centered.

May the joy of knowing God spur us to excel in His work, and not the other way around.

 

Why Short-term Mission Trips May Not Always Be A Good Idea

Illustration By Marie Toh, Singapore
Written By Adriel Yeo, Singapore

Have you been on a short-term mission trip before? If you haven’t, picture these three scenarios:

1) You and your church mates are planning a cross-cultural mission trip overseas. You’re excited and raring to go. In fact, you’ve already found the church you want to work with, identified what is lacking in that church, and intend to start a new ministry for the church once you’re there.

2) You’ve heard about this place where the houses are in poor condition and they don’t have a local school. So, together with your friends, you make plans to support their cause by providing funds.

3) You’re a youth leader and want to bring your youths for an overseas cross-cultural mission trip in order to expose them to missions.

Been on such trips, or know of others who have gone for similar trips? I have.

While I do not doubt the good intentions behind such trips, I’ve found that they’re not always as effective and beneficial as we might think they are. In the above three scenarios, I can see where some short-term mission can potentially do as much harm as good.

 

1) When we create unsustainable work

In running a short-term mission, I believe we can sometimes end up creating unsustainable work unknowingly. Think about the first scenario. A new ministry needs not only money, but also manpower. After our short-term mission of two weeks or so ends, the local church will need to keep the ministry going on its own. But very often, the pastors of these churches already have their plates full. So who is going to run that ministry? Would we have given the church more work to do—without providing the necessary manpower to do it?

We can also make the mistake of failing to contextualize. This happens when we organize ministries or events based on what works in our own church, country, or culture. However, what works in one place may not work in another, simply because we are talking about different people in a different culture.

For example, a church staff in a northern Thailand village who used to work for a church in Bangkok once told me that the evangelistic rallies often held in villages would probably not work as well in a city. City folk, she explained, were more likely to ask questions that were apologetic in nature—for example, about the existence of God. Villagers, on the other hand, usually believed in some sort of a deity or worshipped such gods, and would not question the existence of God.

Likewise, when we plan an event or ministry without taking into consideration the differences in culture, we may end up doing work that is ineffective.

 

2) When we create a spirit of dependency

In addition, the way money is given or spent in funding ministries may create a spirit of dependency among the locals in the long run.

Once, my church provided some funding to help build a church building in a particular village. It was meant as a one-off gift for the construction of the church. However, we subsequently received requests for better guitars and sound equipment. It seemed as though it had become natural for the villagers to turn to us for help rather than to raise funds themselves.

Father Vincent J. Donovan, a Roman Catholic priest who served as a missionary in East Africa, also shared a similar account. He recalled that 100 years after missionaries entered East Africa, no single parish or diocese had actually become self-sustaining. What started out as a funding for the church in East Africa grew to become continual support and funding because the East Africans witnessed just how much the church could provide for them without them having to raise any money themselves.

I must clarify that I am not suggesting that we should never provide funding for the building of churches and schools or the support of local staff. But perhaps we need to give thought to the potential consequences that we may unintentionally cause. For example, instead of providing the full funding for a project, some churches pledge to match the amount raised by the local church. Adopting the right methods can help the local church in the long run, and is just as important as having the right intentions.

 

3) When we mix up God’s mission with our own agenda

Often, the purpose of our short-term missions is to give exposure or disciple youths. It is certainly true that short-term mission can produce our own growth as a by-product; in fact, I know of many who have grown in their faith through such trips.

But if we start to put our own exposure and discipleship as the goal of short-term missions, we will be placing the cart before the horse. Instead, we need to recognize that the purpose of short-term missions is to take part in God’s mission—not ours.

There are many different forms of short-term missions, such as those doing direct evangelism, medical missions, leadership training, or running camps. Regardless of their activities, all of them have the same end objective: to see the good news of Jesus being shared, and to help those who received the good news serve and grow in their faith. This stems from our biblical understanding that Christians are baptized into the body of Christ where they serve, learn the word of God, and build one another up (1 Cor 12:13, 27; 1 Tim 4:13; 1 Thess 5:11). As such, short-term missions should seek to contribute to local churches either directly or indirectly.

But sometimes, we get the order mixed up. Often, I have heard youths share about how much they’ve learned or how much they’ve been blessed. What I don’t hear enough of is how the church or Christian organization there has actually benefited from the mission team. I know this because I was one of those completely oblivious to what was going on in the mission field, and focused only on my own learning experience. If we want to do short-term mission right, I believe we need to prioritize the mission of God over our own agenda.

 

So Are Short-Term Missions Ever Good?

Well, the answer is yes! I believe that short-term missions, if done right, can be truly meaningful.

One way for this to be done is to put aside any desire to start something new and instead think of how we can assist pastors in their ongoing work. We can establish lasting partnerships with local churches, have regular dialogues with local pastors to hear about what the ground needs are and make frequent visits to follow-up on individuals who have heard the gospel. Such efforts will build upon ongoing work rather than create additional work.

On one of my trips a few years back, a lady from a local tribe accepted Christ as her Lord and Saviour. Because we were partnering a local church, we were able to tell the pastor about her so that he could invite her to his church. When we visited that village again the next year, we were overjoyed to find out that she had been attending church regularly.

Short-term missions can also be a great source of encouragement and a form of pastoral care to local pastors. Mission teams can help them reconnect with the larger church outside their country. They can also help to relieve the work of local pastors by taking over Sunday School programmes or perhaps even preaching. This can help free up the pastors’ time so that they can look into other matters—or perhaps just get a well-deserved break. On other occasions, short-term mission teams with a particular skill set like medical training may also help the church to meet the needs of the locals by providing health care services to them.

A biblical model for short-term missions that we can imitate is that of the church in Philippi which ministered to Paul’s need by sending Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25). His role was not so much as a standalone missionary, but rather that of supporting and assisting long-term missionaries. Epaphroditus was so helpful that Paul described him as a “co-worker”.

In a similar manner, let’s see our teams as co-workers of the local church we have partnered with. In practical terms, this means putting the needs of the church or missionary above our own and seeking to help in ongoing work. In the mission field, this would mean that we need to be flexible in our own plans.

While we may not be able to stay long term in the field, we can make repeated trips over a period of time to build relations and support local churches. In that sense, short-term missions are short-term only in terms of the duration; when done right, they can provide effective and beneficial long-term help.

Why Am I Getting Baptized?

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

I was baptized some years ago by immersion—but not for the reason you might think.

At the time, my fiancé and I were looking for a church to get married in. The church he attended was a beautiful church, the ideal setting for a wedding. But there was a problem: church policy required that both of us had to be baptized before we could get married there.

Although my husband-to-be had already been baptized, I was still exploring. Though I had said the sinner’s prayer earlier on, it was only to please my fiancé. I was not ready to commit to Christ, much less get baptized. But I decided to go through pre-baptism classes so that we could be married in that beautiful church.

It was not a true conversion. It was merely my way of getting a glorious wedding venue. But I hid my motive well and I was successfully baptized, but it was a baptism without meaning. My faith was dead; I had bluffed my way in. I had lied to everyone about my conversion.

Over the past few years, I have been attending another church, and through Bible study there, I was convicted that what I had done was wrong. I saw my former baptism as a mark on my sinful past―a lie.

But God did not abandon me even though I had lied. Even though I did not take Him seriously in the past, He was gracious to save me and make me His own. He led me to see that my baptism was not “the pledge of a clear conscience towards God” (1 Peter 3:21); it was the opposite of what God expected of us. Ashamed, I repented of my wrong motives in getting baptized.

A clear conscience towards God in baptism is to have no other motive aside from following Him with a sincere heart. It is important that we do not take God’s name and His grace towards us for granted. God cannot be mocked, and nothing we do can be hidden from His sight (Galatians 6:7, Hebrews 4:13). We should check our hearts and our motives in everything that we do, and in everything we should seek to bring glory and honor to God, including in baptism (1 Corinthians 10:31).

As I reflected on my own sin, I learned of other reasons we as believers could have when considering whether to get baptized.

 

1) To fit in. 

Some people get baptized so that they can better fit into a church culture where almost everyone is baptized. Some churches, for example, have a rule that only baptized members can come forward to receive communion. There may be many people who are already baptized, and it is easy for those who have not been baptized to feel left out.

Don’t feel pressured to fit in. God does not need us to fit in. He only needs us to seek Him.

 

2) To please family or friends.

Some people get baptized in order to please family members or friends, or because they feel pressured by others and do not wish to be a disappointment. However, these can become the wrong reasons for baptism.

Baptism should not be for the purposes of pleasing other people. If your family or friends are true believers, they would want you to please God instead of them.

 

3) To be saved.

Some people think that they can be saved by getting baptized. Before I became a believer, I had this wrong understanding as well. I thought that baptism was a means to salvation. However, our salvation cannot be earned. No deed of our own can please God or earn us salvation. Instead, salvation is a gift freely given by grace, and the only way to receive it is by the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Baptism is an outward declaration of faith to follow Christ. But it is not a requirement of salvation. The thief at the cross next to Jesus recognized that Jesus is God, but this thief was not baptized. Nevertheless, Jesus said that he would be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:43).

 

Baptism reminds us that our past is dead, and that we are now alive in Christ, redeemed, resurrected, and restored. However, if our heart is not ready and we do not have a clear conscience towards God, we should consider taking a step back. We should take time to prepare our hearts, to set it right before God so that we can truly enjoy the beauty and significance of baptism. God does not blame us for being slow, since He knows our hearts. He is pleased when we seek Him and honor Him above our own motives, and that is more important for our true salvation.

Our preparation for baptism should draw us closer to God, and help us to align our will with His will. We can ask God to search our hearts (Psalm 139:23), to weed out any of our own fleshly motives and turn our hearts to follow Him, so that we can be pleasing to His sight. Philippians 2:12 says we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. When our hearts are purified, God becomes our sole desire.

As I learned more about baptism, I wondered if I should be re-baptized. But a few trusted Christians that I talked to assured me that, by grace, God accepts my previous baptism as my commitment to Him. I am content with this assurance, and I take my baptism as a reminder of my sinful past and God’s faithfulness at work in my life.

My Awful Baptism Story

Written By Soo Yi, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

Holding a sunflower stalk, I waited at the foot of the stage. That day, my cell group member was getting baptized. When the pastor congratulated her with a hug, a huge smile spread across her face as tears streamed down her cheeks. Everyone stood up and clapped. I followed the rest of my cell members to surround her and handed her the sunflower. As I put my arms around her, I started to tear as well.

Since returning to God just a year ago, I had witnessed many touching baptism ceremonies. The joy written on each of the candidates’ faces never failed to move me. On some occasions, I would even feel envious. If only I had experienced the same joy during my own baptism as a teenager!

Growing up in a Christian family, I attended a traditional church when I was young. At the time, it was like attending a social gathering; it was an opportunity to meet up with and mingle with friends. The Bible stories I heard at church sounded like fairy tales to me, so I didn’t pay much attention to them. I also had a superficial understanding of the Bible: although I heard about Jesus, I wasn’t really interested to find out who He was, and I didn’t think He had anything to do with me. I used to wonder how one could believe in or rely on a God who was invisible. Slowly, I stopped going to church whenever there was an opportunity to skip it; I went only when I didn’t want to face my mother’s incessant nagging.

In my church, you could be baptized once you turn 15. So my mother and Sunday School teacher signed me up for baptism classes. However, I was clueless about the significance of baptism; the classes were a mere formality to me.

On the day of my baptism, I didn’t feel particularly joyful or happy. Instead, I was hoping for the ceremony to end quickly. To make matters worse, a fellow brother-in-Christ who was supposed to be baptized on the same day suffered a spiritual attack. As a result, I was afraid to attend church for several days following the episode. As far as I was concerned, being baptized made no difference to my life.

Some years later, I stepped out of the comfort of my home for the very first time to pursue an education overseas, in Taiwan. I was immediately drawn to the glitz and glamor of the outside world. At the same time, being alone in a foreign land, I was insecure and unfamiliar with my surroundings. So, when I finally made friends with a fun-loving group of individuals, I became very reliant on them and would follow them everywhere, including to karaoke outlets, pubs, and night clubs. Over time, however, a sense of emptiness crept in. I also felt it was unsafe going to those venues and having to return to my accommodation on my own every night. Yet, despite not enjoying those outings, I continued to go with my friends for fear of losing them if I stopped.

At the time, one of my seniors who was a Christian would invite me to attend her church every week. I went a few times, but found the service too boring, so I ignored her subsequent calls. It was only when I felt I could not continue living this way, that I started to think about church again. I contacted my senior and told her I wanted to attend church. However, nothing much changed when I did so. I still had my doubts about the faith, so I didn’t attend church regularly.

One day, my senior invited me to watch a play organized by the church. It was about a girl who used to have a close and joyful relationship with God, but was later enticed by worldly temptations like money, desires, and beauty. She started to drift away from God, unaware that God was calling out to her. But God didn’t give up on her. When the girl decided to break free of the temptations, God pulled her back to Him.

I was deeply convicted and moved by the play; I felt as though I was the girl and God was using this play to reach out to me. By the end of the play, tears were streaming down my face. I felt disappointed with myself. As my senior accompanied me back to my accommodation, I kept sobbing throughout the journey. For the first time that night, I prayed a very long and solemn prayer, asking God to forgive me and to help me break free from all the worldly things that were unsettling me. I prayed that I would get to know God intimately and return to Him wholeheartedly.

That was my turning point. From that point onwards, I felt as though God had woken me up spiritually. I wanted to attend church, be a part of a cell group, and rebuild my relationship with God. Amazingly, I also felt more at peace and was able to turn down invites to the places I used to visit. I no longer felt insecure and tempted by the things of the world. I started to attend church regularly and serve actively in various ministries. The more I got to know God, the more joyful, peaceful, and secure I felt.

Looking back now, I can see clearly how God’s love remained true despite my awful baptism experience and my years of rebellion. Although struggles and challenges didn’t disappear from my life, they prompted me to draw near to God and rely on Him more. Through each difficult moment, God’s tender love has never failed to guide me through. I have finally understood what it means to have faith and trust in a God who is unseen.