When Your Ministry Seems Meaningless

The Southern Baptist Convention was in trouble in the 1930s. They were in major debt — some of the entities to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The United States was in the midst of the Great Depression, and funds were tight for everyone, including churches. The Cooperative Program was less than a decade old, and debts continued to rise for the seminaries and mission boards.

No one was sure how to get out of debt. Maybe a big giver could help? But instead of thinking big, leaders thought small and asked for people to give just one dollar more each month.

Leaders created what they called the “Hundred Thousand Dollar Club.” They sought 100,000 Southern Baptists to commit one dollar more each month so the debt could be paid off.

It doesn’t always take big action to accomplish big things. The Bible teaches us this over and over.

No small work

As pastors, we all know what it’s like to want to do something important. We want to feel like our work and ministry matter, like what we do has meaning. We want to be the one who gives $100, not the one who gives one dollar.

But the truth is, if God is in it, there’s no small work.

The book of Nehemiah starts with a lot of action. Nehemiah leads in the rebuilding of walls that had been torn down for 70 years. He faces opposition from within and without, but with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other, the people bring order and safety back to Jerusalem.

By the time we reach chapter 7, the big projects are done. That chapter is only a recounting of a census, a numbering of people, land, and livestock. Chapter 8, meanwhile, just seems like bureaucracy and number crunching. It’s tempting to skip over these chapters and look for something big and important.

Make sure and get the picture here: Nehemiah has done something that hasn’t been done in a generation by rebuilding the walls. He even becomes the governor of Jerusalem.  What big thing is going to be next? Lead the armies of Israel? Overthrow their conquerors? What bold mission will he lead in next?

Turns out it’s none of those. God lays it on his heart to count the people. A census is important for a lot of reasons, but I bet it didn’t feel as glamorous to Nehemiah as building with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other.

But every work done for God matters.

God is in the work you do

God loves to use what other people would call “small things” to accomplish great work. Think of Moses’ staff, David’s slingshot, Elijah’s prayer on Mt. Carmel, and so much more.

Think about the mustard seed, the 12 disciples, the 120 in the upper room. God uses things the world might say are small and insignificant to show that everything matters when God is in it.

When it comes to the Christian life — and certainly to vocational ministry — we tend to put the work we do for God in some sort of hierarchy, with missionaries at the top and everyone else underneath.

We often hear people say things like “What can I do for God? I’m just a teacher, stay-at-home parent, retiree, bus driver, rancher, farmer, banker, store worker, etc.”  It doesn’t matter what your job is, in the church or out of the church. It doesn’t matter if the world thinks a lot of you or if you fade into the background.

What matters is if God is in the work you do. Because nothing can be small if God is in it.

It’s true both in the church and outside of it. In the church, some cook meals or lead kids, others teach Sunday School, preach sermons, or lead music. All of that work matters — the work that’s seen and unseen.

This means every little way you obey God is full of endless possibility. Every apple contains a finite number of seeds, but every seed contains a limitless number of apples. No one except God knows what might come from our obedience to Him.

There are 42,000 people counted in Nehemiah chapter 7. It takes some real administrative skill to count that many people. The census also records that more than 400 camels were counted and over 6,000 donkeys.

Imagine the man who went from standing guard against Israel’s enemies to counting donkeys. We want to do something important, something that matters, something that lasts. We don’t want to go through life being known as the livestock counter.

Find your meaning in the Lord of the work

Even in a preaching ministry, it sometimes feels like what we’re doing is no more significant than counting livestock. How can we find meaning and purpose in the little tasks of church leadership?

When we find meaning in the work we do, our hearts will rise and fall. But when we find meaning in God who is in the work, our hearts will be fulfilled. What seems unimportant actually is full of endless meaning and possibility when God is in it.

Nehemiah 7 shows the work you do is making a difference because God is in it. It takes all kinds of work to keep a church healthy. And all of it matters.

There’s no such thing as an unimportant spiritual gift. God has given you certain gifts in order that you might glorify Him and take the gospel to the nations.

More than that, I want you to know: There’s work for you to do for God’s kingdom.

This post originally appeared at Facts and Trends.,

Published June 17, 2020

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