I was 24, working at my alma mater, when a student prayed in a group, “And God, thank you for Jenn’s example as an older woman on our campus.” I restrained a burst of laughter. Thankfully everyone’s eyes were closed. I had been in their seats less than two years before. I definitely wasn’t an older woman, and I didn’t feel like an example.
“I can’t do ministry because . . .”
In the days following that prayer, I would have students and staff come to me for advice. When this happened, I had a choice: I could keep protesting internally, correct them externally, or step into the opportunity before me and leverage it for the glory of God. In addition to age, there are other reasons we can discount ourselves and not take advantage of the ministry opportunities before us.
We can discount our ministry opportunities because of our seasons of life. Singles may think because they are single, they have to wait to start real ministry. Young moms may think, “I’ll have more time later.” Women in the church with empty nests may think, “Why would a young woman want to hang out with me?” But whoever you are, as a believer in Christ, God has gifted you and given you opportunities to serve him. Those opportunities will look different in various seasons, but don’t ignore all the opportunities before you.
We can discount ourselves because we focus on our weaknesses. When God called Moses as his spokesperson for Israel, Moses’ response was, “Surely you have the wrong person. God, maybe you haven’t noticed, but I’m not very eloquent.” Looking at his weaknesses, Moses said, “Let me out of this opportunity!” The Lord sent Moses forward in the mission, but before he did, he refocused Moses with a reminder of God’s strength, power, and presence (Exo. 4:10). As one of my seminary professors regularly reminded his students, “There is a Divine preference for human agency.” Don’t put yourself out of commission because you are weak or human; step into the opportunities, and watch God work.
Ministry is not reserved for the best, the brightest, the wisest, or for those in perfect circumstances; it is a part of our calling as disciples.
We can discount ourselves because we compare ourselves with others. I’m gifted as a teacher, but my mom is a master teacher. If I thought she was the standard, I’d never teach. As I’ve taken steps toward training and discipling women overseas I’ve often thought, “Who do I think I am? There are men and women who would be able to contribute to the church overseas and fill capacities I can’t.” But that thinking is wrong. It’s God’s idea for me to disciple, not my own (Matt. 28:18-20; Titus 2:3-5). There are things I can contribute that others can’t, because God created and called me to do them. Also, there aren’t enough workers overseas, so why not contribute where I can.
4 things I’ve learned about ministry
As I have struggled to step into the opportunities before me, here are four things I’ve learned:
- Be equipped by God’s Word. Ministry is not reserved for the best, the brightest, the wisest, or for those in perfect circumstances; it is a part of our calling as disciples. Jesus told the disciples they were to make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them to observe all he had commanded (Matt. 28:16-20). God has given us his Word to guide this process. Paul, in training Timothy, a young minister, reminded him of this: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
- Be encouraged by God’s promises. Scripture is full of God’s assurances for those who seek to serve him. Before his ascension, Jesus promised his presence as we serve him (Matt. 28:20). God prepares us beforehand for the ministry he gives us (Eph. 2:10). God has given you everything you need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him (2 Pet 1:3). Paul told Timothy to fan the flame of the gift of God in him, because God had not given a spirit of timidity and fear (2 Tim. 1:6-7). We can similarly take heart. When I’m tempted to count myself out rather than step into a ministry opportunity, these truths help me move forward in faith, not fear.
- Be an example. Paul instructs Timothy to not let anyone despise him for his youth, but rather to set an example. The categories Paul lists are helpful to us wherever we find an opportunity to serve Christ. Whether we are young or old, male or female, or regardless of any other circumstance, we can seek to set an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity (1 Tim 4:12).
- Be engaged in the opportunities before you. Yes, 1,000 people may be better qualified than you for the task at hand, but they aren’t there; you are. God in his wisdom has given you the opportunity. Humbly step into the appropriate opportunities before you, whether you feel prepared or believe you are the perfect fit. You’ll get the opportunity to watch how God provides, works, changes you, and uses you in the process.
Whether you feel ready or qualified, if there’s an opportunity to minister, take it. It won’t serve the people looking up to you to protest, “I’m not an older woman!” There’s plenty of work to be done and too few to do it (Matt. 9:36-38). Don’t sideline yourself. Instead, invest in the Kingdom and the growth of others.