The Calling of Being Passive

During my four decades of ministry with our church in Toledo, Ohio, I attended a great many church seminars. Quite a number had an agenda, either spoken or unspoken, that there are principles you can adopt to grow your church. I, and I suspect a great many of the other pastoral attendees, returned home newly enthused to cast a fresh vision, roll up the ecclesiastical sleeves, and get to work implementing the new strategic concepts.

As I look back over my ministry, I’m still glad I attended most of these conferences and sought to implement something of what I learned. On the other hand, as I look back over my ministry, I wish I would have lightened up a bit at times and enjoyed the journey more.

Yes, a step of faith is important, but so sometimes is a stop of faith! Faith not only can call us to be pro-active but also pro-waiting, to stop, to rest, to do nothing for the time being. There’s certainly a Biblical basis for sometimes taking this pro-waiting approach to ministry.

The nation of Israel was at war with the Philistines and were losing. Then they remembered the Ark of the Covenant back at Shiloh. There was an apparent general consensus. “Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” (1 Samuel 4:3) They did, and they lost. Bad idea; the Philistines ended up with the Ark. This undoubtedly surprised the Israelites. After all, the Ark had been carried around the city of Jericho and the city was conquered. They figured it was a transferable principle. Not so. The first time it was God’s idea, this time it was their idea; big difference.

We don’t have the Ark that we’re tempted to position for success. We do have our programs and strategies.

Isaiah the prophet was called upon by God to declare judgment on Israel for depending on an alliance with Egypt to guarantee safety from their enemies. God’s Word through Isaiah? “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Isaiah 30:15) They weren’t to be busy establishing such alliances but to rest quietly with the trust that God would defend them.

We don’t depend on Egypt to build a great church. We may depend on our programs and strategies to build a great church.

The psalmist, addressing the issue of depending on such alliances, declared on behalf of God, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

We can come to believe it all depends on our working. It may depend more than we think on our waiting, on our being still. There may be times to pause rather than to push.

We often use the imagery of sowing and reaping in ministry. I grew up on an Iowa farm and we did a lot of sowing and reaping. Yes, we worked hard, but we didn’t make crops grow and produce a harvest. We tilled the field, planted, cultivated, and then waited, waited for the crop to grow. God did the growing. Shouldn’t this balance between working and waiting be present in the pastoral field which God has called us to tend?