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First Ministry

What I am about to write is not done to glorify myself. My intention to equip the Body of Christ in the way Ephesians 4:11-16 so clearly teaches is my purpose in the Body. The group I have in mind with this piece is Christian leaders. My definition of a Christian leader is anyone, male or female, that is in any authority in any capacity as per the Lord's will. This means pastors, ministry leaders, husbands, wives, teachers, bosses....etc. are included in my target audience for this article.

I would like to share something that I started doing, as a pastor and the leader of our ministry, a number of years ago. This past Saturday past was our 29th wedding anniversary. I was in Louisville, KY on a trip to support a man I pastor whose brother was dying when we left town and who DID die before we arrived bedside. People might say that I went because my first ministry is to pastor individuals for the Lord.

I would disagree.

My first ministry is to be my wife's husband. The word "minister" literally means "to be a waiter; a servant". This means that in order to be most pleasing to the Lord it is my joy to serve my wife. This fits perfectly with the injunction Paul gives in Ephesians 5 for husbands to love their wife like Jesus loved the Church and gave His life for her (the Church).

I wish I had understood this when I was younger and entered what some people call "The Ministry." I did not - and what I am sharing is borne out of a lot of error, hurtfulness and, ultimately, repentance. I neglected my wife....and my second ministry: our children in the name of "The Ministry." They paid that cost and so do many wives, husbands and children of ministers. Truth be told: it cost me too.

Jesus said in the Parable of the Talents in Luke 19:17 that those who are faithful in the least things will be entrusted with much. I am convinced that Jesus was not minimizing anything and He certainly does not consider my wife to be "the least". I was led to that verse today for this topic because many of my fellow leaders in the Church DO consider their be of less importance than is "The Ministry."

It is true that God presents the Body of Christ as a family by referring to leaders as spiritual fathers and mothers and those they disciple and watch over as sons and daughters. Why, then, would we ever think that the primary family members that He has blessed us with: spouses and actual physical offspring would come after the spiritual children He has also entrusted to our care?

The answer is that we have bought the lie that what happens in the name of "church" is somehow more important than the VERY crucial spiritual relationship known as husband or wife or father, mother and child.

As I became aware of my sin of neglecting my primary earthly relationships I felt horrible. That was a good thing. Then I confessed my sin and repented and received God's forgiveness. I'm glad I got to keep my awesome wife and wonderful children, all of whom are still involved with us.

I asked the Lord to clarify to me my levels of responsibility. He brought me to a familiar verse but this focus gave me a different view of this Scripture:

"And He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.' " (Acts 1:7-8)

Last things said by people in the Bible are VERY important and this is the last thing Jesus said on the earth prior to His ascension back into heaven. This is EXTREMELY important and the importance of this verse being brought to mind was not lost on me. I hope you receive it as well.

Here is what I think the Lord was saying to me: I have in my life four levels of "ministry", if you will. These are my Jerusalem, my Judea, my Samaria and the area to the end of the earth." Jerusalem was the closest was home to those who heard these words. Jerusalem was nestled inside Judea, a region. Samaria was an area filled with many who were related to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea but who were considered to be outside the family that was the Jews. The last area had to do with everywhere else.

We all have these areas in our lives and they shift as situations change.

My Jerusalem is my nuclear family and that used to include Laurie, my wife, and our daughter and two sons. Our children are all grown now. Two are married and one and her husband have two daughters; one and his wife have two daughters. Now my Jerusalem is my wife Laurie and her Jerusalem is me, her husband.

My Judea is the same as Laurie's: our children, son-in-law and daughter-in-law and our two granddaughters. As our family grows so will our Judea.

To the Jews of the first century, Samaria meant something negative. Samaritans were outsiders and dogs. To us...."Samaria" means "just outside our Jerusalems and our Judeas." Jesus loved those in Samaria...and we love ours who form our Samaria.

My Samaria mostly consists of those people whose souls I watch over. We recognize and acknowledge when God sets up a pastoral relationship between us and we practice that. Its been interesting, exciting and sometimes incredibly sad for me to learn that this group expands and shrinks - its constantly under change. It expands when people ask me to watch over them and I know God is in that. It shrinks when people move on to someone else for pastoral care (which is great if the Lord is in that.) It also shrinks when people die.

Unfortunately my Samaria also shrinks when those in my care choose to fall away from Jesus or just run from the order that God manifests in the pastoral relationship. It takes real humility and real spiritual courage to practice this relationship and both seem to be, sadly, in short supply in the Church.

My Samaria also consists of people who come to me for counseling. This group also expands and contracts as counselees come and go.

"And He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.' " (Acts 1:7-8)

The realm from my Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to "the end of the earth" literally contains everyone else. This might translate to someone I meet on a ministry trip or in the local supermarket, to someone to whom I minister online or in a prison or jail. I'm always open for the Lord to use me in this area.

Whenever I sense the Lord is behind an opportunity I try to make sure that my wife (my Jerusalem) has what she needs. I never ask her "permission" to do anything; neither do I announce what I will do without her input. We are a team, so I respect her personality and present the idea and ask her thoughts on it. We've grown together so she knows that she doesn't have to play that cat and mouse game of trying to figure out what I want her to say. She knows I respect her and she knows I truly want her to tell me what she needs so I can operate effectively in my first ministry....which is our marriage (our Jerusalem.)

Those of us who have this marital relationship MUST understand this. If we are not faithful to take care of our spouses first....God WILL NOT trust us with anything lasting in His Kingdom. I do not approach this out of fear of missing out on anything; but, I am aware of this truth and I want to please Him.

We have all heard stories of ministers with huge ministries that crumble when their marriages fall apart. Those churches and ministries consist of individual people. When the ministries fall apart its because the people that formed them crumbled. We've seen it over and over in the last 20 years. Its unspeakably tragic.

I want what remains of God's intentions for my life to be parts of the Kingdom of God that stand firm - beginning with our marriage. So, when my friend needed someone to go with him to see his ailing brother 900 miles away I asked the Lord if I should go. Then I called Laurie (my Jerusalem) and ran the idea past her. Next, I checked to see how our Judea was doing (our adult children and their families). There were some things happening there but nothing that called for my physical presence.

It was time for me to operate in my Samaria: to provide the best pastoral care I know how to give. What a rewarding six and half days it was! I was able to be who I am in Christ and in the Kingdom of God, my friend and his wife and daughters knew they were loved, people in another place got to see us practicing God's pastoral relationship and order was brought where satan wanted to sow disorder through the death of a man.

While we were there, a family (part of my Samaria) that I pastor in St. Louis came to have lunch with us on their way to Alabama. Other than them, all the people we saw in Louisville, KY and everywhere else on this trip were in our "to the end of the earth" part of our ministry.

"And He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.' " (Acts 1:7-8)

I believe that the Holy Spirit gave me power (dunamis - God given ability power) and I was a witness of Jesus. In other words, I was able to reveal the Son of God to those we met and with whom we spent time. People were comforted just being in our presence. People blurted out things that needed to be said and admitted. People heard the gospel spoken and watched it being lived.

Others played their parts in what the Lord wanted to accomplish in Kentucky this week, but what God manifested through me was possible because of the order my wife and I practiced in taking care of our Jerusalem and our Judea before moving out into our Samaria and beyond.

"However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth...." (John 16:13a)

It is my hope that what I have written here will provoke you to ask the Lord to reveal your own Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. I pray that you will seek the Holy Spirit's guidance as to how to practice God's order in these so very important realms that we all have. I anticipate your joy at the fruit of God's Kingdom at work in these ways.

Let's go minister the Kingdom of God.

Pastor Mike McInerney

Decatur, TX

© August 15, 2013

For use with permission

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