7.8 Ministry in the Image of God
Ministry in the Image of God by Dr. Stephen Seamands
As I was walking home after reading the final chapter of this book, the only words appropriate for me to say to God were, “I surrender. I give up.” This book addressed a number of issues in which God has already been at work and my emotional reaction to the words in this book show me that He is not yet finished.
Please allow me to give a few comments about my life situation that I bring to these readings and this class. My wife and I have almost completed serving 20 years as missionaries in the Philippines. Both of my children attended boarding school during their high school years. I have been in theological education for the past 13 years and have been the leader of our Seminary for about half of those years. I returned to the United States in June of 2006 in a severe state of burnout and depression. About one month ago, my wife and I decided to delay our return to the Philippines and agreed that it would be best for me to resign (effective immediately) as President of our Seminary. That opened up the way to attend Asbury.
Even though I have preached being over doing to my students over and over in the last 10 years or so, I realize that I have not been practicing that myself. It was very difficult for me to resign as President because of the perceived pressure placed upon me by others and by my own fears in the weakness of the Seminary leadership should I leave. I had taken on burdens that I should never have been carrying (165) I had forgotten (perhaps willfully ignored) that the ministry I was involved in was more about Jesus than about me (20). He started it, He grew it and He would complete it (or close it when He wanted). As Seamands says, I had wrongly assumed “the burden of leadership” myself (21). Because of my own neediness, I accepted responsibility for so many things that I failed to prioritize my intimacy in knowing and loving God. Seamands points out that Jesus never allowed the needs of the moment to interrupt His love relationship with the Father (25). In retrospect, I was not doing what God wanted me to do but what I wanted to do for God! Time will tell if what I thought was fruitful ministry was merely productive ministry (92, 149). It was almost as if I thought through the sheer force of my will, I could take us where we needed to go when the task was so much bigger than I had imagined and only the power of the Spirit was sufficient (29). To a large extent I was isolated and so independent that I missed the enjoyment and assistance that community and teamwork offered. This is in direct contrast to the shared relationships within the Trinity that Seamands points out.
Fear of honesty
I was not able to stop my slide into burnout and depression because I was unable to see my problems and unwilling to be honest about myself. The many examples in the book (particularly on pages 43-44) clarified for me that many of my problems in ministry were due to unhealthy relational patterns that I had developed from my early childhood. During this past year, with the help of a small group of people, friends and a therapist, I have been able to admit that I am a performer at heart and that it is very important for me to gain other people’s approval. That is why I worked so hard and put in such long hours. Because I allowed our Seminary to be “my world”, I lost passion for ministry (173), had unhealthy family relationships (47-52) and could not receive God’s love for me (66-68). I did not allow my acceptance by God to lead to achievement (64). I have begun to face past childhood wounds in order that I might know His heart for me (67). I am not there yet. I have identified some of my false selves (through reading in Benner’s The Gift of Knowing Yourself) that I present to others but in reading this book, Seamands points out the need to renounce these false ways of thinking about myself, ask God for healing and focus on accepting what God says about me.
The major way this book has encouraged me is in relationship to the decision that I have made to resign from the Seminary. I believe that I have followed God in this but I do feel out of control (since I don’t know what will be our next ministry) and I am concerned about what other people think (including our supporters) (175-176). But, I believe that I am on the right step in following our Trinitarian God. As Seamands says, “He is the chief actor in the unfolding story, not us” (177).