The Objects of God’s Affection – What We Need for Sustainability in Ministry
Editor’s note: Sa Zhongzi (meaning “sow seeds”) is the pseudonym for an American living in China assisting with the support and strengthening of the Chinese house church. This post is drawn from a series of talks at a China Partnership gathering. It has been edited from transcriptions of the original talk.
I have listened to others talk about what life has been like for them as pastors in the church—how serving the Lord, working harder, and demanding more of the people around them results in a lot of inner turmoil. This inner turmoil is the result of finding your identity in ministry and not in Christ.
As I have listened to others, tears have welled up in my eyes. Why? That experience is my experience, too.
When I began full-time ministry twenty years ago, I had a heart and a passion to reach the Chinese people, but I was riddled with doubt, and did not see a lot of fruit. Even before I was serving full-time, I had started to do this ministry. In the beginning, I had a lot of joy in my heart. But as soon as I started to work in full-time ministry, the joy seemed to disappear. I worked really hard to learn the Chinese language; I worked hard to learn Chinese culture. I studied theology very hard. And yet, even with all this, I did not see a lot of fruit.
Twenty years after that beginning, God called me and my family to move to China and to begin serving in a new context. Almost immediately, things began to happen. Ministry exploded. We were able to start a seminary. We saw amazing fruit, and it is a wonderful testimony of God’s faithfulness. But recently I realized that I, too, have begun to make ministry my idol.
The challenge is to keep our rootedness in Christ. When we have success, it is so easy to find our identity in ministry. When we see ministry fruit, when we see God use us to do things, we become proud and invest even more time in our ministry. Because our identity is not firmly rooted in Christ, we even neglect our families. This does not just happen to pastors or people in full-time ministry, but to everyone. When we do not see success, we get discouraged and become downcast because our identity was not firmly rooted in Christ. Whether we have success or not, the challenge is to find our identity in Christ.
We enter our Christian lives with joy and simple happiness, but over the years, we find that joy is waning. We begin to lose our first love, that feeling of passion and understanding about who God is. This applies to all of us.
Over the past thirty to forty years, we have seen different waves of revival in China. The first wave was the revival in the countryside. The second wave of revival was in the cities as we began to see churches pop up in the city centers. Now we are seeing a great revival within the church.
Pastors are beginning to realize that it is about God’s grace and finding our identity in Christ. It is not about ministry success or failure, but rather coming to realize that we ourselves are objects of God’s affection. When we realize we are the objects of God’s affection and the church is the apple of his eye, we turn that realization outward and begin to love other people the way he has loved us.
China Partnership exists to be a bridge—a bridge whose foundation is the grace of God and the gospel of Christ. This gospel bridges the culture and the nation of China and that of the United States. No matter who you are—if you are interacting with Chinese in the United States, or if you are interacting with Chinese in China—you can walk across the bridge of the gospel and cross that gap. You can extend yourself and love others who are not like you. God loved you first, so you can love others.
My prayer is that we will find and understand that our identity is in Christ, and that China Partnership will be about loving those who are in the kingdom, and calling those who are outside of the kingdom into the kingdom. May the Lord bless this ministry and his church.