Effective Ministry is Only by Grace

Thursday is for Discipleship

John VennThe literary cadence of authors now 200 years dead is often foreign to our ears. But that does not mean that wisdom is absent. The quote below requires some concentration. But it is a wise reminder that every forward movement for the gospel from our ministries is only possible by the grace of God.

The following offering is from Kairos Journal and speaks of the incredible difficulty of our task as pastors. It is not a hard job. It is impossible. Apart from the mighty working of God’s Spirit, it is an impossible task to move the hearts of men and women away from themselves and toward Christ. We must not mistake moving people emotionally, or moving people to like, appreciate or even value a sermon with moving them toward Christ. Perhaps it does. Perhaps it doesn’t. But if it does, it is because the Spirit of God choose to move.  John Venn helps to make this point in this excerpt from one of his sermons.

Effectual Ministry—John Venn (1759 – 1813)

John Venn was rector of Clapham Church from 1792 until his death and a friend of William Wilberforce, Henry Thornton, and Charles Simeon. He was also the first chairman of the Church Missionary Society and chaplain to the Clapham Sect, a community of believers who sought to encourage one another to live out vocationally the implications of the gospel of Christ.

After Venn’s death, his son sought the assistance of Henry Thornton in selecting Venn’s sermons for publication. Thornton begged him particularly to choose the sermon from which the following excerpt is taken. It is a potent reminder that effective ministry is not only extraordinarily difficult, but that its success is all of grace.

It is a difficult service in its own nature. Were the work of a preacher indeed confined to the delivery of a moral discourse, this would not be an arduous task. But a Minister of the Gospel has much more to do. He will endeavour, under Divine Grace, to bring every individual in his congregation to live no longer to himself, but unto Him who died for us. But here the passions, prejudices, and perhaps the temporal interests of men combine to oppose his success. It is not easy to obtain any influence over the mind of another; but to obtain such an influence as to direct it contrary to the natural current of its desires and passions, is a work of the highest difficulty. Yet such is the work of a Minister. . .

We have to convey unpleasant tidings; to persuade to what is disagreeable; to effect not only a reformation in the conduct of men, and a regulation of their passions, but, what is of still higher difficulty, a change in their good opinion of themselves.  Nay, further we have not merely to “wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” “Who is sufficient for these things?” For this office the Christian Minister may in himself “have no resources above those of any of his congregation,” their weaknesses are his weaknesses, he must therefore undertake his work in weakness, fear and much trembling, but knowing that it may yet be effectual, for it is in weakness that Christ’s strength is always made perfect.1

1.  John Venn, Sermons, vol. 1, 4-5, quoted in Michael Hennell, John Venn and the Clapham Sect (London: Lutterworth Press, 1958), 115.

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