Most believers want to produce spiritual fruit, whether in full-time ministry or not. We seek to serve the Lord with faithfulness and joy, wherever we are, either at home or abroad. Conversely, we are all in a battle against the flesh, the world and the devil, which are constantly opposed to our spiritual growth and service, our Christian testimony, and our daily walk. In addition to these elements associated with our Christian life, there’s an added element for a full-time worker called the expectation of results. This element arises from the relationship between full-time workers, churches, and individual supporters. We want to please the Lord in what we do, but are also mindful of those who give sacrificially and pray faithfully for us and our ministry. Supporters and churches are an integral part of every ministry. They bring accountability, give encouragement, and provide the resources for a ministry to function. Full-time workers feel a clear and persistent obligation to produce results because of the faithful people who stand with them in the work, year after year. This is simply a natural part of being in full-time work. We have a certain amount of expectation to be successful in our ministries because we desire the Lord to use us fruitfully, and hope to encourage our supporters with what He is doing through our live — lives which supporters have invested in.
Related to this natural expectation of results that comes from being in a supporter/missionary relationship, there is also an expectation of results in a missionary/target group relationship. Living among the target group day after day, we live our lives for the single purpose of bringing them to Christ. We've come to serve and see spiritual fruit within the target group, and we know that our daily Christian testimony is paramount in the Lord producing that fruit in our ministry. However, doubts over our ability, concerns about the leading of the Spirit, the struggle to maintain our testimony in the face of selfishness and rejection, and managing our new relationships in a second culture, are just some of the areas a full-time worker needs to deal with constantly during their time of service. The whole focus of life is geared towards leading the target group to Christ and helping them to spiritual maturity. That’s the overall goal we want to achieve. Therefore, we want to see people saved and a functioning church, things which we ultimately can’t produce and control, but for which we daily trust the Lord. This expectation of results weighs heavily on the minds of the ministry team, whether it’s a husband-and-wife team and/or a co-worker team. The rollercoaster of emotions which is associated with reaching that goal can be extreme, to say the least. The flaws and failings of ourselves, our partners and the target group, at times, seem to be an insurmountable hindrance in reaching that goal to which we’ve committed our lives. Our selfishness, immaturity, weaknesses and pride unfortunately all come along with us to serve the Lord. They are par for the course in any ministry team and work. And yet they can be used in our lives to challenge how we’re relating to the target group and refine our relationships with our co-workers.
So the expectation of results, which the full-time worker feels from being in supporter/missionary and target group/missionary relationships, is a real issue they face in ministry. This can lead to pressures that may have a detrimental effect on the unity of a team and the progress of the work, if not brought under the sovereignty of God’s will. Our personal expectations for results in our ministry can be debilitating spiritually and relationally if not brought into line with God’s Word. I remember a story about a tribal group in Papua New Guinea that had seen nine different missionary couples come and go without any of those couples seeing their expectations fulfilled in serving there. They were faithful believers who committed their lives to serving the Lord and were all part of God’s sovereign plan for that group. It wasn’t until He sent another couple to that particular tribe that the people responded to His Word. People were saved and a church was established. No doubt, all those full-time workers who came before that couple contributed to the preparation of the hearts and minds of the group to accept the gospel. This tribal group saw faithful people over many years loving them in ways they had never known before. They saw the grace of God acted out before their eyes because faithful people went there and served the Lord without concern for their personal success. And yet, those nine couples would have faced real stress, disappointment and even debilitating discouragement when working with a group of people who refused to listen to them or even befriend them. The years of language and culture study, the continual giving to those in need without receiving any thanks in return, working through team dynamics, working through marriage and family issues, dealing with health issues, struggling with doubts about why they left their jobs and family — and then having to pack up and return to their churches and families without seeing their expectations realised, all must have been extremely difficult to do.
That's why full-time workers may need to rein in their personal expectations so that God’s expectations for their spiritual health, while serving in difficult ministries, can be met. In fact, we need to leave any results in the Lord’s hands altogether, and remain faithful in serving Him wherever we are, trusting in His sovereign will for us personally and the target group we work among. Paul encourages us with these words: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Cor 15:58). What great words these are for all believers. They can be a balm for any believer’s soul who has experienced a lack of results they had hoped for. Moreover, they can be especially applied by those who may not have seen any fruit in a ministry that has the added element of expected results.
By David Ward