The best part of my work is visiting ministry leaders and hearing them talk about their ministries. In the time I’ve been at CCCC, I can safely say I’ve visited over two hundred ministries and, without exception, every senior staff leader is passionate about the mission of his or her ministry. They are full of enthusiasm, vision and zeal, and best of all, their passion is contagious! I always leave their offices feeling inspired and encouraged, and I re-dedicate myself to my own ministry’s mission of helping them accomplish theirs.
As they tell me their stories I’ve noticed that many leaders did not bring this passion with them when they first came to their ministries. Quite a few have said versions of “It was the last thing I wanted to do, but they had a need and I was available.” Their passion developed as they engaged in the ministry’s work.
Leaders must become truly passionate about their ministry’s mission because their enthusiasm and commitment is needed to inspire commitment to the cause and similar passion in their staff and donors. People expect the senior leader (if not everyone else!) to embody the mission and values of the ministry. They want you to be the example. If the leader isn’t passionate about the mission, why should anyone else be?
The best you can hope for if you are a dispassionate leader is a ho-hum, barely engaged group of people (including yourself) chipping away at the mission, giving a mediocre, half-hearted effort to a cause that they think is a good idea that someone should do, maybe even them! The truth is, however, that no one wants to give themselves to that! People want to make a difference, and if a leader cannot nurture in others a strong desire to join the cause, they will not be a successful leader. So you need passion for your mission. If you don’t have it yet, how do you develop it?
Passion is pretty easy to develop, assuming you have properly discerned your call. Do what you have been called to do, and then, because you have a rich, vibrant, intimate relationship with the One True God, take what you know of his heart as it relates to your mission and apply it. Voilà! It’s easy. The rest of this post simply fleshes out the details of this very simple idea.
In Churches That Make a Difference, the authors (Sider, Olson & Unruh) say that passion for mission comes from first loving the Lord with all your heart. Your relationship with God comes before your call to mission. Loving God leads naturally to loving neighbour and then to sharing God’s love with them. The book quotes Mother Teresa explaining her call saying, “My call is not to serve the poor. My call is to follow Jesus. I have followed him to the poor.” Make sure, therefore, that your spiritual life is healthy. But that’s a whole other topic! Let’s stay with passion.
Michael Green wrote in Evangelism in the Early Church, that believers in the ancient church were passionate in their work for the Lord because they were passionately convinced of the truth of the Gospel; that in Jesus the kingdom of heaven had broken into our world. The Good News changed them and they knew it could change the world. Green said that as he read the literature of the first and second century church, “the most notable impression…was the sheer passion of these early Christians.” Their lives were changed as a result of their encounter with Christ. I love Green’s description of the passionate laity: “They went everywhere gossiping the gospel; they did it naturally, enthusiastically, and with the conviction of those who are not paid to say that sort of thing.” He says it was seen as the task of every believer to do all in his or her power to spread the gospel.
Becoming a follower of Jesus in the first century did not just mean assenting to some doctrines and attending church; it meant a radical, and in those days a dangerous, re-ordering of their entire lives to follow Christ’s call to a new way of living that included maximum devotion to the Great Commission in whatever situation God placed them. They were so sure of what they had experienced that they had no hesitation to share it boldly with others. How could they keep it to themselves? Allow God to really grab hold of your life and you will be passionate!
Some of the most passionate people in the Bible are the prophets. They are bold, courageous, outspoken and in-your-face counter-cultural. Against the greatest opposition, they were faithful in the mission God had given them. I think we can learn something about passion from them. Abraham Heschel, the great Jewish theologian, wrote the classic book on the biblical prophets in 1962 called, not surprisingly, The Prophets.
Heschel’s starting point is that God is not dispassionate about what happens in this world. He is moved and affected by what we do. He feels joy or sorrow, pleasure or wrath, depending on our behaviour. Prophets are not only aware of God’s attentiveness and concern for the world, but Heschel says prophets “feel fiercely” what God is feeling and then are concerned about what humanity will do in response to God’s concern.
That is what ministry leaders need to do. Be aware of what God’s concern is for whatever your mission is about. Feel his heart fiercely and then focus on what humanity’s response to God’s concern for the situation should be. When you are in tune with God, the Holy Spirit will give you God’s passion for your mission. You will internalize your mission so that it becomes a core part of who you are. You will live it and breathe it and be its champion. You will not be stopped by obstacles that would block a less passionate person. You will be galvanized by the assurance that you are doing God’s work to accomplish something significant in his kingdom.
Your responsibility as a leader is to help everyone on your team have this kind of passion birthed by the Holy Spirit. Do that, and your ministry will be unstoppable!