The Most Successful Ministry Failure Ever

When Seth and I were seeking counsel on whether or not to return to our suddenly-shockingly dangerous mission field, one counselor made some pithy statements that stuck with me; and I’ve ruminated on them since.

That meeting was quite humbling, because the take-away main point had to do with how unnecessary we are. We really needed convincing on that point! 🙂 When we contemplated leaving Africa, we couldn’t get around the “need” for laborers in our field.

Ours is a pioneer mission field. Swiss Presbyterian missionaries laid a wonderful foundation in the last century by translating the entire Bible, translating hymns and inventing a musical notation system for a hymnal, starting schools and hospitals, and building Presbyterian churches. Unfortunately by the ’50s,  they were going liberal in their theology and lost the Gospel; and by the ’60s, the missionaries were gone.

We, along with our teammates, and a national pastor or possibly two, are the only true churches with a Gospel witness in about 2.2 million Tsonga people in South Africa, and 3.1 million more in Mozambique. Truly the laborers are few! Who else, we wondered, would go through the struggle to learn this African language that had no language school? Learning the language and culture was an investment we weren’t going to easily give up.

And we hadn’t been “successful” enough yet to leave! Our infant church needed us. It wasn’t ready to stand on its own.

But this counselor wanted to make a point even more important than our need for humility (and yes, even he, I think, would concede that our field does “need” laborers), and that is, that our children also needed us–parents, alive and whole, whose eyes could focus on them, and not always be focused on the ministry–in fact, that our children needed us more than the ministry needed us.

I know, this isn’t really rocking your world yet, is it? Duh, no brainer. We’d all say our family is more important than ministry

But then he mentioned a Scriptural example that gave me a new flash of understanding, that set that truth in a clearer light for me. Are you ready for some easy Bible trivia? See if you can answer this question, the question he posed to us when we were busy arguing for why we were needed in Africa:

Who did Noah take on the ark with him?

Noah's Sacrifice by Jacobo Bassano

Noah’s Sacrifice by Jacobo Bassano

The Bible is clear– “Noah, the eighth person,” it says.

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. ~Heb. 11:7

Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. ~1 Pet. 3:20

And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly. ~2 Pet. 2:5

And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. ~Gen. 7:1

And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark… ~Gen. 7:7

The new, interesting thought to me was an analysis of Noah’s “ministry” successes. Peter called him a “preacher.” I’ve heard some sermons or children’s presentations that mention him preaching to the ungodly for over 100 years. Dramatic recordings usually have Noah pausing in the middle of building the ark to preach a sermon to unbelievers in evangelistic 21-century style.

I’m not sure if that preaching was the same as what we think of today when we think of preaching. But at the least, we know that his righteous lifestyle was counter-cultural, and that preached. And his building of the ark, motivated by fear grounded on faith, spoke; that also was counter-cultural, and this “preaching” condemned the world.

And what does he have to show for his evangelistic efforts?

“Nothing,” most of us would respond.

And there’s the rub, the immediate rebuke: nothing??! Saving his family is nothing?

But I’m pretty sure that if Noah were reporting to supporting churches after twenty years of service, he’d have lost support. If he were trying to raise more support in his 87th year of service on his oh-so-very-needy field, he wouldn’t get it! If ministry successes were based on numbers, and let’s admit it, we all do assess our ministry successes this way to some extent, we wouldn’t support Noah, the eighth person, today. Wow.

Noah's Ark Mural by David Jermann

Noah’s Ark Mural by David Jermann

But was he a failure, then?

Ezekiel implies he was one of the best, listing him in a group of three along with Daniel and Job. And what of Jeremiah, preaching for fifty years, with only three converts mentioned?

No, Noah the eighth person was righteous, and one of the most obvious marks of his righteousness is that his “house” got on the ark with him. In a day when evil abounded, and every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually, Noah saved his family. His family got on the ark with him.

What about you, dear missionaries and preachers of righteousness? Who are you gonna take on the ark with you? It can be so hard to balance the needs of ministry with the needs of family. My husband tried to think through the difficulties of obtaining this balance here.

For those all-out, die-hard missionaries who can sometimes run over people in their zeal, let’s get this one point from Noah’s example:

In the eyes of many, his “ministry” was a failure; but he saved his family. And God called him righteous. The eighth person was a hero of the faith.

Noah's Daughter-in-Law in the Dovecote by Mary Jane Q. Cross

Noah’s Daughter-in-Law in the Dovecote by Mary Jane Q. Cross

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About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and mother of four children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
This entry was posted in Missional Monday and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Most Successful Ministry Failure Ever

  1. Such a good post. This is on our mind often right now in decisions we are making and helps us keep hopefully the right perspective in the tough days.

  2. Pingback: Thoughtful Thursdays: Make a Difference! - Creative K Kids

  3. Pingback: The Most Undesired Ministry Success Ever | Ita Vita

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