A generation ago, “surrendering to ministry” was common parlance in Baptist churches. In fact, hardly an invitation was extended in my home church that did not include a call to surrender to ministry, immediately after an appeal to follow Christ, be baptized, or join the church.
As a boy, the phrase “surrender to ministry” both mystified and unnerved me. It sounded as though one was embracing an unwanted life, a call to a distant land to engage in an undesired work. It seemed like a call one intuitively resisted—as long as possible—until finally buckling under the Spirit’s pressure and embarking on a life of ministry that, albeit noble, would be marked by sacrifice and hardship.
In hindsight, I do not think that is what my pastor meant, nor do I think that is what the New Testament implies. As I found in my own life, surrendering to ministry is not caving to an unwanted vocation; it is embracing what becomes increasingly irresistible—the gospel ministry.
“Surrendering to ministry” is a phrase the church needs to recover and a ministry-posture the church needs to cultivate. Every faithful ministry begins with a surrendered life, and that submissiveness shapes every aspect of one’s ministry, including why, where, and what one preaches.
Why You Preach
First, “surrendering to ministry” rightly establishes the preacher’s motivation. After all, the preacher’s incentive should not be filthy lucre, the applause of men, or any other earthly enticement. Rather, the preacher should, like the Apostle Paul, know in his heart, “If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”[i]
Surrendering to preach is to be so gripped by God’s call and so moved for his glory that one knows Jeremiah’s burden: “If I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.”[ii]
The urgency with which one preaches may ebb and flow based on a multitude of factors including: the receptivity of the congregation, the preacher’s spiritual vitality, and the tenor of the text itself. But, for the preacher rightly surrendered to ministry, the “why” of the ministry is settled—it is for Christ and his glory.
Where You Preach
Second, “surrendering to ministry” includes a determination to follow God’s call—wherever it may lead. The minister is to be at God’s disposal, sensing and seeking his leadership for where he would have the minister go and to whom he would have the minister serve.
Initially, this includes a willingness to leave family and friends, to go to a distant place, or to undertake a new work. After all, Jesus reflected, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”[iii] Too many ministers are perfectly willing to follow God’s call as long as it does not lead out of their hometown. Such kingdom restrictiveness is alien to the New Testament and stymies one’s availability to be used by God.
Additionally, a willingness to go wherever includes a willingness to minister to whomever. There are churches across the land poised for anything but numerical success. Challenging demographics, an unreceptive audience, or a dilapidated neighborhood might make God’s call unattractive, but if it is God’s call, it is a glorious one—regardless of the zip code. After all, struggling churches and dying communities need ministers too.
What You Preach
Third, “surrendering to ministry” means operating under the authority of God’s Word. Most especially, this relates to the act of preaching itself. The role of the preacher is not to cobble together anecdotes with human insights, and then sprinkle in a couple of Bible verses to produce a “homily.”
To surrender to ministry is to submit to preach God’s Word. The surrendered preacher knows he has a predetermined message—the Word of God—and a predetermined responsibility—to preach that Word. The preacher’s job description is to read, explain, and apply the text, bringing it to bear on God’s people.
The faithful preacher tunes his ear to the Spirit of God, not the critic’s grumble. His finger is on the text, not in the air gauging the wind, and his voice is given to preaching the Word—not peddling shallow sermons for shallow people.
Too many pastors are textual acrobats, contorting their preaching to avoid Scripture’s sharper edges. Such preachers have become adept at explaining away angular texts and dodging confrontational verses. On the contrary, the preacher’s charge is clear: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort with great patience and instruction.”[iv]
These days the phrase “surrendering to ministry” seems to have gone the way of the El Camino car and the waterbed. This is more than unfortunate; it is altogether unhealthy—and the church is the big loser.
A surrendered life is integral to a healthy ministry. “Surrendering to ministry” is a phrase to be recovered, but, more importantly, it is a heart-posture to be cultivated and pursued.
Has God called you to ministry? If so, in the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, he has issued to you “the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called.”[v] Respond to him by surrendering to his ministry and cultivating a life of submission to Christ and his Word.
[i] I Corinthians 9:16.
[ii] Jeremiah 20:9.
[iii] Matthew 8:20.
[iv] II Timothy 4:2.
[v] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1973), 17.