The Personal Motivation Behind Ministry

At the risk of people thinking this blog is becoming a Jamie Wright fan-club site, I’m doing a second-post-in-a-row related to Jamie the Very Worst Missionary.  This week, Jamie has initiated discussion on her blog regarding benefits versus unintended consequences of short-term mission trips.

I’m not going to repeat all that Jamie has said…for that you’ll have to visit her site.  However, she does an excellent job of pointing out some of the fallacies in reasons people give in favor of supporting short term missions.  After leaving a couple of comments on I realized that I have more to say on the topic than can reasonably be included in a comment.  So, I’m taking up the discussion here.

Actually, what I want to talk about in this post is a slightly tangential topic to Jamie’s.  After reading her blog, I found myself doing some serious reflection on my own personal motivations for ministry.

I always think of myself as participating in ministry for the purpose of serving others, and that is certainly a theme I frequently bring myself back to while on a mission trip.  When frustration levels start to rise, and I start to feel myself getting distracted by all the things not going according to plan, I remind myself that it’s not about me, my feelings, or my experience; it’s about serving others.  And it is!

And yet, when we get back home and excitedly share with others how wonderful our trip was, inevitably we talk about what a blessing the trip was to us.  Someone who had never been on a mission trip, or had never been involved in a ministry, might easily conclude that we do missions for what we can get out of them and so we can feel good about ourselves.

So, I explored that question a bit, in my own heart.  To what extent is my involvement in ministry motivated by my desire to feel good about myself, or to be blessed personally?  And if that is part of my motivation, is that a bad, seflish thing, or a part of God’s plan and purpose?

I must confess that at least part of my motivation must be that ministering to others ministers to me.  In fact, in counseling friends going through a period of grief, I have sometimes encouraged them to get involved in ministry as a means of moving past the grief, and stepping out of their own sorrow enough to help someone else.  So, yes, I am well aware of the blessing received by ministering, and the therapeutic nature of helping someone else.  Not only that, but I would give the same advice again; it is sound advice.

So, is that a bad thing?  Does that mean that my motivation for ministry is largely selfish in nature, and that my motivation is, therefore, less than it should be?

Yes, I think, on the partly selfish motivation, and no, I think, on it being a bad thing.

Here’s the thing.  Yes, I could stay at home, in the comfort of my own home, and send a few dollars to a full-time missionary/pastor once a month, instead of getting so personally involved.  In fact, I do financially support both my local church and international missions.  Yet, I also get personally involved in various ministry opportunities, some through my local church, some through various mission organizations, and others as impromptu as helping someone with a flat tire on the side of the highway.

To me, whether sitting at home helping my own kid with his homework, or traveling to Honduras to spend a week bouncing over back roads and hiking across mountains to help construct an adobe home in a remote Lynca Indian village, ministry is about personal interaction with people.  When I have traveled to Honduras (as one example) it is my way of saying, you are of such value as a person that I consider it worth my while to travel all this way, for the opportunity to get to know you and to work beside you to help build your neighbor’s house.  It’s not really just about building the house.  The house building is an opportunity for personal interaction, and that personal interaction provides an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to bless us both.

So, five years later, when I receive a newsletter from the in-country full-time missionary, with pictures of the local Indians, I pick out faces I know and remember.  I recall names and memories of working and laughing together.  I remember struggling to communicate through language barriers and cultural differences.  I smile, recalling these memories.  I thank God for the opportunity to make the acquaintance of these wonderful people; thank Him for continuing to mature these Lyncan believers to the point that they are now becoming pastors and teachers themselves; thank Him for allowing me to be a part of that ministry in my own small way; and ask Him to continue blessing them.

What did I accomplish during my time in Honduras?  Not much, really.  I made some friends and enjoyed some fellowship, while helping build a couple of adobe houses.  And yet…I was a small part of something much bigger…something in which God is involved…and THAT is pretty cool.

So, if my motivation for missions is not only about serving, but also being blessed with getting to know someone else and enjoy their fellowship, is that a bad thing?  I don’t think so!  Jesus, who made himself the servant of us all, seems awfully interested in spending time with me.  In fact, the whole purpose in Jesus dying on the cross was so you and I could have renewed fellowship with God.

If personal interaction and fellowship is good enough as one of the motivations for Jesus’ ministry, then it is certainly good enough for me!

How about you?  What are your motivations for ministry, and how do you feel about them?