One Question You Must Never Ask in Ministry

God can use your talents for His purposes. You have to determine whether or not it's worth it to you.
God can use your talents for His purposes. You have to determine whether or not it's worth it to you. (Getty Images )

"In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not let your hand rest; because you do not know which activity will find success, this way or that way, or if the both will be good" (Eccl. 11:6).

Was it worth it?

You do not know which will succeed. If both will. Or neither.

Disciples of Jesus Christ must never try to calculate the cost/benefit of some act of ministry.

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Our assignment is to obey. To be faithful.

We have no idea how God will use something we do: whether He will or to what extent He will. We do the act and leave the matter with Him as we move on to our next assignment.

Every pastor will identify with the following scenario: A family member of someone in your church is facing critical surgery in another city. You get up at 3 a.m., drive the distance and meet with the family just before the patient is wheeled into surgery. You sit with the family and do whatever you can (prayer, conversation, witness, sharing Scripture—or none of these things, depending on the circumstances, on the prompting of the Spirit, etc.). Then you drive home. You have devoted most of the day to this one act of ministry.

Invariably, someone will ask the critical question.

"Was it worth it?"

Perhaps it was your spouse who asked, or a staff member. Or just as likely, your own accusing heart raised the issue.

You answer, "God knows." As indeed He does, and no one else, for the moment at least.

And He's not telling.

What follows is my story. You'll have your own variation of it.

For all my adult years, I've been a sketch artist. I draw people wherever I go. When I preach in churches, the host will usually encourage the people to come early and/or stay late so I can draw them. A typical drawing takes two minutes or less, and I can go three hours without a break. Once in a while, I will drive long distances only to draw and not to preach. Several times a year, I draw at wedding receptions. (The first weekend in January, I'll be in East Texas, sketching at the wedding reception of the daughter of a preacher friend.)

This weekend I'll be at a local church here in the Jackson, Mississippi area. After preaching in the two morning worship services, I'll be sketching people and speaking at a luncheon banquet. Then, the following weekend, I will be sketching nonstop at a mega-church's Christmas presentations (before and after each of the five events) from Friday night until late Sunday night. The following week, I will do three Christmas banquets for pastors and spouses in Louisiana. I'll arrive early to sketch couples, draw right on through the dinner, get up and do my talk and go right back to drawing. It's an exhausting evening.

But I love it.

What am I accomplishing with all this drawing and sketching?

Honestly, I don't know.

A family member used to observe me dragging home late at night after a full evening of driving, sketching and speaking. Voiced or not, the question was always there: "So, why do you do this if it makes you so tired?"

I was too tired to answer. (Insert smiley face.)

But I can think of some reasons: I love doing drawing people, it seems to bless people, they pay me (often, not always) and when I stand to speak, the people I've sketched listen well. There's something about the personal time we've had at the table while I drew them that seems to bond us enough for them to want to hear what I have to share.

I do high school programs on "Lessons in Self-Esteem from Drawing 100,000 People." I'll sketch the kids before and after the program (teenagers love this), then draw the principal and coach during the session and deliver my 12-minute presentation. Often, a few classes want me to come by and sketch them or give a talk on cartooning to the art students. Finally, after several hours, the host pastor has to take me by the hand and lead me out of the building and toward a restaurant for nourishment because I am so drained.

And what did we accomplish?

There is no way to know. And here's the thing: I don't need to know.

I do it because God has gifted me with this love for people, a talent for sketching them and a delight in using the gift. I walk up to strangers sometimes. "May I draw you?" (A woman with a floppy hat and earrings down to her shoulders or a man wearing a cowboy hat and a handlebar mustache are just begging to be drawn.)

Friends think I use the sketching for a ministry of evangelism, that I'm winning a lot of people to Christ by drawing them. I'm not doing as much of that as they think or I'd like. It's hard to talk and sketch at the same time. And, when we have a line of people waiting, there's little time for meaningful conversation.

So, what is accomplished? I have no idea. Perhaps it's nothing more than to add a smile to someone's day, a little joy. Or, to build a memory into their lives when they find the sketch years from now. And was that worth it? Again, I do not know.

I do not need to know.

But I will keep on doing this as long as the invitations keep coming in, the fingers keep working and the eyes and brain don't give out. The occasional bout with arthritis is a problem, but thankfully it's rare and light.

None of Us Knows

We preachers could ask the same questions about the sermons we preach and the ministry we give. What was accomplished? Was it worth the many hours of study and prayer and work? The many miles driven? God knows.

And we're good with that. Scripture commands: "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. For you serve the Lord Christ" (Col. 3:23-24).

Whether we render a solo in church, serve a meal at the nursing home, preach a sermon in the jail or sketch a few people in the mall, we do this "unto the Lord" and leave the results with Him.

My friend Bertha bakes loaves of banana bread, which she gives away throughout the year. Jim, a deacon and a friend of 25 years, gives away chewing gum, thousands of pieces a year (the sugarless kind, he is quick to point out). Stephanie takes her violin into nursing homes and hospital rooms and plays for people.

And when people ask, "Was it worth it?" or "Why did you do that?" we might just smile, but what we are thinking is something like "Ask the Lord who told me to do it. It was for Him."

"Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8b).

Those who serve Him in ways large and small without knowing what He will do with their efforts know the answer.

After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books and trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way. 

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