The Call is to Faithfulness

Posted on June 29, 2011 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Rankin Connecting

Returning to places of ministry in Southeast Asia have brought to mind the nagging sense of failure with which I left each place of responsibility. Okay, “failure” may be too strong a term; however, when God moved us to new responsibilities and places of service we followed in obedience, but always with a sense we had not done all we should have done.

Maybe it is because of my idealism and goal-driven, type-A personality, but I suspect others share the same sense of wishing more could have been done when there is a change of ministry or location. It was true in my first stateside pastorate. God blessed our ministry, and from any standard of assessment our tenure would be considered successful in terms of growth and community impact. But when it was time to leave, there were still people to be won, problems yet to be solved, and less than the God-glorifying unity and zeal for service I desired to see in our congregation.

We came to Indonesia naive but passionate about the opportunity to share Christ in the largest Muslim country in the world and in a pioneer area of villages basically untouched by the gospel. Two previous missionary units had stayed an average of ten months, but we poured ourselves into the task for nine years. We were gratified to see people respond and some churches started, but did it make a lasting difference?

The predominant population group of 30 million Madurese, continue to be one of the largest unreached people groups in the world. We found response was in direct proportion of the distance from the main highway. In other words remote villages where small groups of gathered believers came together had little impact on their society and culture.

What if I had made a more diligent effort to connect with persons of influence? What if I had poured my effort into the city and market towns throughout the area? What if I had pressed my witness a little more persistently? Would it have made a difference?

It has been gratifying to see the growth in our Southern Baptist missionary force around the world. I am grateful for the years I had the privilege of leading the IMB to embrace new strategic initiatives and more efficient organizational structures. I praise God for the unreached people groups that have been engaged and a radical acceleration of harvest around the world. But retirement came, and goals we had envisioned were unfulfilled.

There was a point in which we saw the potential of 10,000 God-called missionaries on the field impacting lostness, but financial restraints curtailed that vision. I had often stated and believed when my retirement came we would be unable to identify a people group that did not have access to the gospel, but thousands remain untouched.

I suspect pastors and others share the same regrets. When God unmistakably leads to a new place a ministry, we follow in obedience but with a disappointment not all had been accomplished to which we aspired. We need to realize that God calls us to obedience and faithfulness, and the results are up to Him.

Why does He move us from an unfinished task to a new challenge of ministry. Perhaps a previous assignment was more about His preparing and equipping us than for what He wanted us to accomplish in a subsequent role. Had we fulfilled all our aspirations it would likely have accrued to our claiming credit and taking pride in what we did rather than humbly recognizing we were simply His instrument.

A constant sense of failure may be a character flaw, but is it not a chance for God to strengthen our dependence on Him as we move to the challenge of a new assignment and place of service. I found each move and change of roles was accompanied by a resolve to spend more time in prayer and walk closer with the Lord because of what was left undone. It was a reminder of my own limitations and whatever is accomplished is contingent on being worthy to be a recipient of His power.


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