The Secret of Ministering to People

Some churches today have adopted a professional mind-set entirely. Like the consumer culture they live in, far too many pay the pastors to do the work of the ministry for them, while they sit back, passively watch, and offer comments now and then. Where is that in the Bible?

The Secret of Ministering to People
(Photo credit: tom_bullock / / CC BY)

A pastor who allows this approach to occur has fallen for what I call “The Superman Syndrome.” I’m not talking about pulling on a pair of blue tights and a red cape and putting a fancy “S” on his chest—though I heard of a pastor who did exactly that on Easter Sunday (I wish I were kidding). I’m talking about an attitude that says: “I am self-sufficient,” “I need no one else,” or “I will not show weakness or admit any inadequacy.” These words betray the presence of the Superman Syndrome—that particular peril for pastors who go it alone and become “the star of the show.”

Any pastor sets himself up for letting people down when he poses as Superman.

One of the joyful privileges of my early ministry was to know a man named Jim Petersen. Through his capable leadership and sterling character, the ministry of the Navigators expanded greatly in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he and his wife, Marge, served for more than twenty years. What a servant-hearted couple! Cynthia and I first met Jim and Marge at Glen Eyrie, the Navigators’ headquarters in Colorado Springs.

I was new to ministry at the time—and far too naïve—so I was looking for a formula for success in God’s service. “How do you do it, Jim?” I asked him. “Tell me the secret of ministering to people.” I expected him to say “Always set the pace” or “Be strong no matter what” or “Model the truth and stand against the gale as it attacks you.”

I got none of that.

The Secret of Ministering to People

Jim just smiled in his inimitable way and answered, “Chuck, let people see the cracks in your life, and you’ll be able to minister to them.” That’s it. That’s the distilled essence of all he told me.

As we left their cabin that day, I felt somewhat like the deflated rich young ruler who had just asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life (see Mark 10:17–22). Like Jesus’ surprising answer to the ruler, Jim’s reply was not what I expected. It convicted me. It ripped the “S” off my chest and cut the tie strings to my cape.

I was looking to minister from my strengths. Jim challenged me to serve in weakness. He made that statement to me over fifty years ago, and it remains one of the greatest lessons I have learned in ministry. I have never forgotten it.

I never will.

God’s Strength in Our Weakness

As the apostle Paul asked in 2 Corinthians 2:16, “Who is adequate for such a task as this?” Obvious answer: Nobody! By asking this question, Paul showed us the cracks in his life. He takes himself off any would-be pedestal and slips into the ranks of humanity. I thank God for the transparent apostle that he really was. His writings are permeated by vulnerability.

We ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Obviously, the appropriate attitude is to embrace this fact: pastors are not self-sufficient. We have cracks we must not hide. We need other people.


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