Today our series on the 5 things God uses to grow our faith turns to personal ministry and as it does, I want to make something clear. What really grows our faith is learning to trust God more not doing more. We are brought back into a relationship with God not through good deeds but through faith. The Bible says it is by grace we are saved through faith and that faith is trusting the work of Jesus to forgive us and set us right with God. So it is faith and trust that restores and strengthens our relationship with God so it is always trusting God more that grows our faith. If we go back to the story of Adam and Eve we see that what broke their relationship with God was the lack of faith. They didn’t trust God to know what was best for them so they took matters in their own hands and took from the one tree God told them not to. So we see that is the lack of faith and trust that breaks our relationship with God which means that it needs to be an act of faith and trust that restores and strengthens our relationship with God.
The reason this is important today is because as we talk about how personal ministry can grow our faith we need to remember that we are not doing these things in ministry to earn our salvation. It’s not the work that grows our faith it is the trust we place in God to do the work that grows our faith. We need to think about personal ministry not as a means of doing more good things but a means of learning how to trust God which will grow our faith.
For everyone, personal ministry begins when we see or hear about a need. Ministry begins when we are confronted by a need that we simply can’t stop thinking about. After seeing the need for a period of time we might begin to feel compelled to do something to address the need in some way. This nudge we feel within us is a desire to see things change and when we step out and do something to make this happen, God grows our faith not because it’s a good deed but because of the faith and trust needed to step out.
When I was the pastor of 2nd Ave. UMC, several of us began to see the needs of children who lived in our neighborhood. While these children lived close to the church – their lives were far from God. Family dysfunction, drugs and other bad influences led to the formation of what the local police called the 2nd & 2nd gang which was a group of noisy, unruly children who gathered on the steps of our church. God was showing us a need.
One Sunday I arrived for worship and noticed that this gang had written their names on the door frame of our front door. Fortunately they wrote in chalk so it was easy to clean up, but I couldn’t get out of my head how the children had written their names on the door of the church. Again, God was showing us a need. God didn’t want their names on the church door – God wanted their names in the book of life. The question is would we do something about it.
As we talked about what to do to help these children, none of us felt equipped or prepared to do anything. We weren’t trained in this kind of specialized ministry to children but we couldn’t stop thinking about them and so we ended up doing the one thing we could do, we opened the doors of the church. Several afternoons a week, a group of us opened the front doors of the church and sat outside with a cooler of soda waiting to talk to kids. While some of the gang just moved to another corner, some came to talk to us. We invited them in to the church. We invited them to our VBS. Step by step the ministry of an afterschool program was formed and 20 years later, that program is still going strong and reaching out to children and families in vital ways. Personal ministry always starts with seeing or hearing about a need and then feeling a nudge from God to do something to meet that need. If we will step out in some way to meet that need, God will grow our faith. If we walk away, our faith will die. If we had chased those kids off our steps, we would not have grown in our faith and our church would have died. But we did step out and trusted God and our faith and the church grew.
In the Bible, we can see this principle at work in the life of the disciples. In Matthew 14 we find the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and in the details of this story we see how the personal ministry of the disciples grew their faith. Matthew 14:13-15.
So the disciples see a need and bring it to Jesus’ attention. It has been a long day, it is late and they are in a remote location. In time people are going to start asking for food so the disciples want Jesus to solve the problem by sending the people away. Whether the disciples were really concerned about the people or whether it was their own stomachs growling that prompted them to go to Jesus, we don’t know, maybe it was a little of both, but once they have seen the need and pointed it out to Jesus it is Jesus who nudges them to do something about it, look atMatthew 14:16.
Jesus turns the tables on the disciples and tells them that they need to get involved in solving the problem. Can you imagine how they must have felt? How in the world could they do this? They don’t have the time, resources or ability to feed all these people, in fact that is what they say to Jesus. Matthew 14:17. But the situation doesn’t go away and so the tension is still there. There is a need and Jesus is telling them that they need to meet that need. When we feel this tension in our lives it is God wanting to grow our faith.
As we have been looking at these practices, I have shared how God has grown my faith through these principles. It was through the practical teaching of a Bible Study my freshman year that my faith grew. It was through the providential relationship of my friend Dave who was part of a Bible study that my faith grew. It may not come as a surprise, but once again through that Bible study my faith grew because I was given the opportunity for a personal ministry. Over the course of the year our Bible study grew from about 8 students to almost 20 and it was so large that not everyone got to share or ask questions and I felt like the power of the group was slipping. I shared this observation with Dave and he asked me what we should do about it. I said we should break into two groups so that we all had a chance to share and learn and grow. I told Dave this thinking that he would lead the other group. Dave said, good idea why don’t you lead the new group.
Suddenly there was this tension in me. I was the one who saw the need, but I couldn’t lead the other group, I didn’t know how. I had just started studying the bible so there was no way I could lead a bible study. Every person in that group was more capable than I was and I pointed this out to Dave but he held his ground. When we see a need and feel compelled that something should be done and then are nudged to do something to meet that need, the tension we feel is God growing our faith. When we are invited to help solve the problem and feel completely inadequate to do it, it is God growing our faith. If we step out and simply do what we know how to do and trust God to do the rest, God will grow our faith, not because of the good works but because of the faith it takes to step out and trust God. This is what happens to the disciples. Matthew 14:18-21.
The disciples step up and do what they know how to do, they serve the bread and fish to the crowds. They don’t know what will happen once they start, but they are trusting Jesus to do what he has asked them to do. Jesus divided 5 loaves and 2 fish among twelve people, which meant they barely had enough for themselves, and yet they stepped out in faith to serve the first person, and then the second and then the third and they trusted God to keep it going. They did what they knew how to do (serve people) and trusted Jesus to do the rest and it is that trust which grows our faith. It is the trust we place in God that grows our faith and the faith of the disciples grew and we can see this if we will keep reading. Matthew 14:22-29
So Jesus sent the disciples away and dismissed the crowds and then went off alone to pray. I’m not sure Jesus needed to grow in his faith, but we do see him practicing the private discipline of prayer which reminds us just how important this practice is. If Jesus needed times of prayer how much more do we need them for our faith to grow?
Then Jesus walked out to the disciples on the water and when he got close to the boat the disciples cried out in fear. They weren’t expecting Jesus to be walking on the water so they assumed this was some kind of ghost, but once they see it is Jesus, Peter suddenly had this amazing idea. The night before when we trusted Jesus, we did the impossible; we fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and then we collected leftovers. If I could trust Jesus and do that, maybe I can actually do more. Something moves in Peter and he asks Jesus if he can walk with him on the water. This is Peter growing in his faith.
Notice that Peter doesn’t ask to do this on his own, he asks for the invitation to do it with Jesus. Peter isn’t trusting in his own strength and ability. He understands if he is going to do this it will only be with Jesus. Peter’s faith has grown. He went from not thinking he could feed the crowds to asking if he could walk on water. As Peter steps out here, once again all he does is offer to Jesus what he knows he can do. Peter is a fisherman so he knows how to get in and out of a boat and Peter knows how to walk and so he offers what he knows how to do and trusts Jesus for the rest. Peter has grown in his faith and it is because he trusted God to use him in a personal ministry.
Our faith will grow if we are willing to step out and trust God to use us. Is there some need we have seen, some situation that needs attention or some nudging from God that we feel today? Where is God inviting us to be at work? Is it with children or youth? Is it feeding the hungry or going on a mission trip? God wants us all to grow in our faith and so today there is some area of ministry or some problem or need that God is laying on our heart. What will we do about it? Will we offer God what we can do and trust him to do the rest? If we will, our faith will grow. If we turn and walk away, our faith will grow cold.
What I love about these two stories is that no one felt equipped or able to do what Jesus asked them to do and that is usually how we feel when we step out in ministry. I didn’t know how to lead a Bible study when I agreed to lead one at MSU and we at 2nd Avenue had no special training when it came to working with children who were far from God and far from the church. We also had no experience in setting up an after-school program, we simply did what we knew how to do and allowed God to lead us from there. Today you may be telling yourself that you have absolutely no skills, no gifts and no ability to do what God is laying on your heart – but if you will step out in faith and simply give to God what you know how to do – whatever that might be – God will use it and God will grow your faith and God will do more in you than you thought possible.
We are all here today because someone stepped out in faith and trusted God to use them in some kind of personal ministry. We are here because there have been people who stepped out to teach us in Sunday School and guide us at youth meetings. We are here because someone stepped out to talk to us about Jesus or invite us to worship or was willing to pray for us. We are here because people stepped out and trusted God to start this church and generations have stepped out to sustain the mission of Faith Church. Today God is inviting us to step out and do the same thing. It is the personal ministry of each person that makes the church what it is and for generations people have done it for us and they grew in their faith and today if we will now step out not only will our faith grow but we will help others grow in their faith.
So again, what need is God laying on your heart? What situation continues to come to your mind? What ministry do you feel a nudging toward? What ministry has been instrumental in your faith and so today you want to pay it forward for someone else? Wherever God is nudging us – if we will step out and do what we know how to do and trust God to do the rest, God will grow our faith.
1. Read Matthew 14:13-33.
2. What need have you seen or heard about that God has placed on your heart? How has God made this situation known to you? How is God nudging you? If you don’t sense God’s nudging, ask God to open your eyes and heart.
3. In what ways do you feel completely inadequate to help meet this need?
4 How might you be able to step out and do what you know how to do in this area and trust God to do what you cannot? Identify the first step you could take. What is holding you back?
5. Identify some of the people who have helped your faith grow. Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, choir directors, mission team leaders, friends & leaders from small groups…
In what ways did they step out in faith and trust God?
In what ways can you step out and trust God to help you help and minister to others?
6. To identify different areas of need and opportunity in the life of Faith Church, please contact Cassie Marsh-Caldwell at firstname.lastname@example.org.