It happened at a Christian Life Convention in Birmingham, Alabama. Stephen Olford was the keynote speaker. I was eighteen years old and had just surrendered to God's call upon my life seven months earlier. My knowledge of preaching or any other aspect of ministry was limited. In fact, it would be safe to say that I knew nothing about preaching or ministry at all.
I sat riveted to my seat as I listened to the most powerful sermon I had ever heard. If I had been asked to give a technical answer for the sermon's power and effectiveness I could not have given one. I did not know about hermeneutics, homiletics, or the art of expository preaching. But I did know what drove the sermon I was hearing. I did know why its impact was so powerful. It was passion. Our forebearers call it unction.
From that time until now I have been keenly alert to the place of passion in ministry. I have been in ministry and a student of ministry for more than thirty years, and I have concluded that passion is essential to effective, fruitful, life-changing ministry. Passionless ministry is powerless ministry.
Passion is that fire that God ignites in our bones and in our souls. It is like the fire in a furnace that gives heat to the entire house; or the fire in a steam engine that produces the power that moves the train down the track. Passion is ardent affection; a fervent, driving, overmastering feeling of conviction with an intense sense of urgency.
The ministry of John Wesley personified passion. Someone once asked Wesley why so many people came to hear him preach. He said, "I just set myself on fire and people come and watch me burn."
Are you on fire for God today? Does a holy enthusiasm mark your ministry? If not — why not?
The number of people stepping down from ministry each year is staggering. Many are walking away from ministry because of spiritual, emotional, and physical burnout. They are intelligent, gifted, trained, and called, but they are calling it quits. And then there are those who hang on by a thread. They want to quit, but they can't afford to. They stay with it because they don't know what else to do. Somewhere along the way the passion that drives life and ministry was lost. There is a difference in being tired in ministry and being tired of ministry. If we are honest, most of us would admit that we get tired in ministry. The very nature of ministry is demanding; it takes life out of the minister. But it is quite another thing to be tired of ministry. This is a sign that passion is depleted and the spiritual wellbeing of the minister is in jeopardy.
It is possible to have and maintain passion in ministry. In 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul admonishes Timothy to stir up [rekindle the embers of, fan the flame of, and keep burning - Amplified Bible] the gift of God that is in you (NKJV).
The source of passion is God. Paul told Titus (2:14) that [Jesus] gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (NKJV). The word zeal or zealous is a synonym for passion. Titus is reminded that this passion comes from God and that purity and passion are hallmarks of the Christian life.
Passion is a result of knowing God, loving God, and pursuing God. It is rooted in an awareness that we are totally dependent upon Him. A lack of passion for ministry can cause a minister to depend on the wrong things for success and effectiveness in ministry. A passion-driven ministry will always look to God. A passionless ministry will look to other men, organizations, and programs.
E.M. Bounds addresses this issue with clarity: "We are constantly on a stretch, if not on a strain, to devise new methods, new plans, and new organizations to advance the church and to secure enlargement and efficiency of the gospel. The trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of the man or sink the man in the plan or organization. God's plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than anything else. Men are God's great method.
"The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. What the church needs today is not more machinery, or better, not new organizations or more novel methods, but men whom the Holy Spirit can use - men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men - men mighty in prayer."1
Passion can be lost and it can be lost while the minister is busy doing good things. I am compelled to caution you that passion can be lost in the midst of a busy and seemingly successful ministry. Has your ministry become a matter of duty, rather than delight? Have you lost your passion?
What robs passion from us? Hopefully, if we can be alert to some of the passion thieves that stalk us we can better defend ourselves against them. In a message given to a group of pastors, Stephen Olford listed five things that will rob a minister of passionate power in his ministry:
1. Vocational Bewilderment;
2. Moral Breakdown;
3. Biblical Barrenness;
4. Spiritual Bankruptcy; and
5. Emotional Burnout.
In my own experience, and in ministering to other ministers, I have concluded we are confronted by many passion thieves. In addition to the ones named by Dr. Olford, I want to list five more for your consideration.
1. Familiarity with the things of God. The old saying "familiarity breeds contempt" contains more truth than we may realize. Our relationship to God should never become casual. We must always keep in perspective who He is and who we are.
2. Family conflict will rob us of spiritual passion. Have you ever tried ministering to others when things are not right in your family relationships? It is impossible to say too much about the importance of a minister's family life. When it comes to ministry priorities, the rules are simple but of utmost importance. They are: God first, family second, and ministry third. If your relationship with God and your relationship to your family is not right, ministry will be void of authority, integrity, and lasting influence.
3. How we view ministry. Ministry is not a choice it is a calling.
4. Excessive busyness is a passion thief. Beware of the barrenness of busyness.
5. Focusing on people's expectations to the neglect of God's requirements. The number one cause of stress in the minister's life is the unrealistic expectations of people. Therefore, keep your eyes on God and His marching orders for your life.
Have you lost your passion? It can be restored! I remember the Boy Scout campouts of my youth — roaring campfires at night, and what appeared to be a pile of ashes in the morning. That is until someone began to fan the ashes and the underlying embers began to glow with new life ... and soon the flames burst forth again. Stir up [rekindle the embers of, fan the flame of, and keep burning - Amplified Bible] the gift of God which is in you ... (2 Timothy 1:6).
1. E.M. Bounds, The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 447.
Roger D. Willmore is pastor of the First Baptist Church, Boaz, Alabama; minister at large for Olford Ministries International, Memphis, Tennessee; and vice chairman of the Trustee Board of LifeWay Christian Resources.
A survey of 1,000 pastors and 1,000 subscribers to Christian magazines found that 12 percent of pastors had been involved in adultery while in the ministry, and 23 percent had acted in sexually inappropriate ways. Of those who were not pastors, the survey found 23 percent had extramarital affairs and 45 percent had acted in sexually inappropriate ways.
A separate nationwide survey of Christian men found that 53 percent acknowledged fantasizing about other women, 54 percent felt shame about past sexual experiences, and 75 percent have secrets they won't share with anyone.
About 11 percent of the calls to LifeWay's LeaderCare helpline are related to inappropriate sexual behavior, according to Barney Self, LeaderCare counselor. The counseling helpline is available for ministers and their families. The number is 1-888-789-1911.
"Catholic priests aren't only ones tortured by sexual sins, minister says," Baptist Press, July 25, 2003.