Dealing with the Dark Clouds in Ministry


When Hudson Taylor wrote this letter to his mother on March 13th in 1869, he wasn’t exaggerating about the thick clouds of discouragement. The past few months had been staggeringly painful: Taylor finally had to dismiss one of his missionaries. The man had been spreading lies about Taylor, refusing to follow many of the basic principles of the mission and just causing grief for years. Several other missionaries left the mission with this man. Taylor and his team, including his wife and children, had almost lost their lives in a violent attack by a mob. They were all seriously injured, lost everything they owned and barely escaped alive. The British government, looking for a chance to reassert their dominance in China, overreacted to this incident and sailed gunboats up the river to the town where this happened to force concessions. When it became clear that the British were over reaching in their demands, the press in China and in Britain blamed Taylor. It had been a hard year. But check out Hudson Taylor’s letter home in the middle of all this (emphases are all his):

Often have I asked you to remember me in prayer and when I have done so there hudson taylorhas been much need of it. That need has never been greater than at the present time. Envied by some, despised by many, hated, perhaps, by others; often blamed for things I never heard of, or had anything to do with; an innovator on what have become established rules of missionary practice; an opponent of mighty systems of heathen error and superstition; working without precedent in many respects, and with few experienced helpers; often sick in body, as well as perplexed in mind, and embarrassed by circumstances; had not the Lord been specially gracious to me, had not my mind been sustained by the conviction that the work was the Lord’s, and that He was with me in–what it is no empty figure to call– the thick of the conflict–I must have fainted and broken down. But the battle is the Lord’s. And He will conquer. We may fail, do fail continually; but He never fails. . .

My own position becomes more and more responsible, and the need of special grace to fill it greater, but I have continually to mourn that I follow at such a distance and learn so slowly to imitate my precious Master. I cannot tell you how I am buffeted sometimes by temptation; I never knew how bad a heart I had. Yet I do know that I love God and love His work, and desire to serve Him only and in all things. . .

Never were there more thick clouds about us than this moment; but never was there more encouragement than at the present time. Nay, might I not say that the very dis-couragements are themselves en-encouragements?(A.J. Broomhall, Hudson Taylor & China’s Open Century: Refiner’s Fire, p.174-175)

Basically, to sum up Taylor:

            1. We need to pray more. (Not just talk about praying more, but spend large chunks of quality time talking to God.)

            2. Ministry is hard, really hard. (Like write-your-mom-a-letter, not-sure-you-can-keep-going hard.)

            3. I need to constantly remind myself that its always, ultimately God’s work that I’m involved in. (So its fine when my plans and dreams don’t happen.)

            4. Trials in ministry reveal my own sinful heart and weak walk with God. (That’s one reason we rejoice in trials because they’re making us more like Jesus.)

            5. The good sovereignty of God means that problems are just another sign that God is working. (Isn’t ministry pretty much always “the best of times” and “the worst of times” at the same time?)

China or the U.S., 1869 or 2014–ministry hasn’t changed that much. “We may fail, do fail continually; but He never fails.”


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Why I’m Done With Urban Ministry (Part 2)

This is the second post in a four part series, read the first one here.

2. Urban ministry is a term for a people outside my ministry.

chinks2Whenever I’m outside the city and tell someone I’m from Philadelphia, they will inevitably bring up our cheesesteak.  I’m fine with that.  Our cheesesteak is a legend that deserves all the hype it gets. But whenever people bring up cheesesteaks and call it a “Philly cheesesteak” it gets on my nerves a little. (It gets on my nerves a lot when people call it a “Philly steak and cheese.”) I know it’s probably a little condescending, but I can’t help correcting people and telling them, “In Philly, it’s just called a cheesesteak.” You can always tell someone’s not from Philly if they have to call it a “Philly cheesesteak.”

It’s the same with “urban” ministry. For people living in the city, it’s not urban ministry it’s just ministry. This would all be just hair splitting if there wasn’t a whole model of “urban ministry” that does ministry in the city by bringing people in from the suburbs. It can be a tempting offer for a pastor in a low income neighborhood. It’s visible, instant success–a big group comes in, get’s a lot of work done, and admires your ministry. But there’s pitfalls too–the pastor has taken valuable time away from discipling his people, and the people in the church have been taught that the only real hope, the only real exciting time is when the church can get help from teenagers in the suburbs.

A few years back, a pastor contacted us from a nearby neighborhood. His church was in a neighborhood even poorer than ours and he had been there for over ten years.  He seemed to be a great guy, he had gone to a couple of sound evangelical seminaries and was preaching the gospel. But the bulk of his ministry had been bringing missions trips in from the suburbs. The steady stream of groups had refitted two houses next to the church with showers, kitchens and space for more large groups to come. The church building had benefited from all these groups as well and his office wall was filled with pictures of smiling teams. But he was burnt out and discouraged. When he contacted us he had just realized that in all that time he hadn’t done very much discipleship and he didn’t have one biblically qualified elder. He was leaving the city and was looking for someone to give his three beautiful buildings away to.

His story is a constant reminder to me that my focus as a pastor needs to be on discipling in my church and evangelizing in my neighborhood. The primary challenge in a low income neighborhood isn’t to get people from wealthy neighborhoods to come visit. That’s easy. The challenge is getting the gospel to flourish in my own sinful heart and in the hearts of the members of my church. If that happens, I’ll have native missionaries from the city, for the city, that stay in the city longer than five days at a time.

hudson taylorWe can learn from Hudson Taylor here, the great missionary to China in the late 1800’s. When he first arrived in China as a missionary he had an immediate disagreement with how most missionaries were working there. Most missionaries were staying in the coastal cities where things were easier–they could speak English, mingle with diplomats, and enjoy many of the comforts of home courtesy of the constant trade. Taylor recognized that very few Chinese were actually hearing the gospel and being discipled this way. Many of his fellow missionaries spent a lot of their time holding services in English for the sailors and merchants from their home countries. But Taylor wanted to push further into the continent and culture of China to reach the people of China. So he started his own mission and called it “China Inland Mission.” Taylor wanted missionaries who would “become the Chinese to the Chinese that [they] might save the Chinese.” He trained them to travel inland, wear traditional Chinese clothes and live in normal Chinese houses. He didn’t set up committees in the structure of his China Inland Mission because the time and expense of travel would take away from the work on the mission field. Taylor’s methods were criticized and controversial, but after a short time no one could question their effectiveness. Using this model of ministry much of China heard the gospel. The church in China today that continues to thrive under communist rule can trace their roots back to Taylor’s sacrifice and vision.

The same is true today, especially in low income neighborhoods. It’s possible to live a middle class lifestyle ministering mostly to the middle class people while living in a low income neighborhood. You can borrow the vibe, convenience and allure of the city without ever actually discipling anyone from the city. We need to eat, sleep and breathe our neighborhoods and the people in them. We need to put our heads down, put our shoulder into the yoke of ministry and plow the row He’s given us. We need to evangelize our neighborhood by growing genuine disciples of Jesus from the neighborhood, not by trying to get people from the suburbs to do the work.  Jesus told us (Matt. 9:38) to pray that workers would go into the harvest but that doesn’t mean that the workers can’t come from the harvest.

Something’s off when a fish is always talking about how wet the water is. Wet water, Philly cheesesteaks and urban ministry make you wonder where the person is spending most of their time.


Click here for Reason #3: My Identity Doesn’t Come From Urban Ministry