It was my privilege to speak recently at the 150th anniversary celebration of the St. Joseph Baptist Association in Northwest Missouri. The association was founded in 1871 and now has 46 cooperating churches. They have maintained a consistent witness for the gospel, cooperated on multiple ministry efforts, planted churches, and otherwise extended the gospel in creative and effective ways. My first pastorate from 1982-89, at Green Valley Baptist Church, was in this association. It was an honor to revisit my ministry from that era and reconnect with several leaders and church members from 30 years ago.
This experience reminded me of the durability of churches and ministry organizations. During tumultuous times it’s natural to question our durability and wonder if quivering foundations will lead to collapsing ministries. Not necessarily. Ministry organizations, particularly churches, are remarkably resilient. Why?
Despite the contemporary emphasis on the importance of leadership, that’s not the answer. Neither are financial resources, program development, or any other human-generated aspect of our work. Christian ministries are durable because God sustains them. Leaders have a role, to be sure, but our role is limited to prioritizing and staying centered on God’s sustaining resources.
Christian ministries have durability if they rest upon, draw strategy from, and obey the Bible. They last if they remain centered on Jesus. They last if they depend on the Holy Spirit to empower their work. They endure as long as the gospel remains their central message—sharing it, living it, and uniting around it. Word, Jesus, Spirit, gospel—these are the eternal aspects of our work that sustain us. Churches and ministries that trust these resources will endure. Their durability will outlast internal conflicts, external threats, and the ups and downs of leadership decisions.
While leaders should do all they can to bring the best training, strategy, and practices to bear in every generation, our most important contribution to our organizations is keeping them leashed to God’s resources which sustain his work. Our priority is the Word of God, the person and work of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the message of the gospel. If we get these things right, we are building on a solid foundation. If we don’t, what we built won’t last—no matter how strong it may look in the moment.
Durability depends on God’s resources, not our ingenuity. That’s good news during shaky times. We know God will sustain us because his resources provide a sure foundation.
Dr. Paul Kelly provides a biblically informed theology of youth that gives youth ministers and pastors a deeper understanding of the common experience and divine purpose of teenage years. You can find an excerpt of his new publication here.
Dr. Chris Chun hosted a digital symposium with Dr. Michael Haykin and Dr. Robert Caldwell to discuss Edwards’ spirituality, devotional life and theological impact in American Christianity.