I was happy in my previous job as a fundraising consultant. I never dreamt of full-time church ministry, and I definitely didn’t think of myself as a good fit for youth ministry. I don’t have a jazzy personality, and I’m not naturally outgoing. I much prefer to be in the background than in the spotlight.
But, in an unexpected twist of life, circumstances, and calling—I have now been in youth ministry for nearly four years. In that time, God has pushed me to grow personally and as a minister. He’s exposed many weaknesses, yet he’s also shown that he is faithful to those who trust in him.
It’s been a bumpy road—as those of you who’ve been in ministry far longer already know, and those of you who are just starting are probably learning.
In this journey, I’ve found the apostle Peter to be a great source of comfort and hope. Here’s an ordinary man, a fisherman by trade, who heard the call of Jesus and responded with his usual impulsiveness to Christ’s appeal.
I admire Peter’s zeal and find inspiration in his willingness to put himself “out there” for Jesus. I need to be encouraged and spurred on by his boldness. Yet I really appreciate the way the Spirit not only preserves stories of Peter’s zeal and faith but also (and often in quick succession) gives to us stories of Peter’s failures, lack of faith, and struggle to overcome his shortcomings.
Peter was the first disciple to proclaim Jesus as the Christ (for which Jesus called him “blessed”), only quickly to stand in Jesus’ way to be the type of Christ the Father required (for which Jesus called Peter “Satan”).
Peter was the only disciple who asked to join Jesus as he walked across the water, yet shortly after leaving the boat Peter began to sink as he took his focus off of Jesus as his faith failed him.
Peter alone drew his sword and struck one of the men coming to arrest Jesus (being willing, apparently, to die before seeing his teacher taken captive). Yet not much later, this same Peter thrice denies even knowing Jesus, presumably for fear of death (for which he later bitterly weeps).
Peter, through the Spirit’s prompting, was one of the first disciples to reach out to Gentiles; yet even after seeing the Spirit’s miraculous work—some 14 years after Jesus resurrection—Peter still must be rebuked by Paul for hypocrisy in his unwillingness to associate with Gentiles in the presence of members of the circumcision party.
How often do we begin with the best of intentions and lofty hopes in ministry, only to find ourselves lacking? How often to we feel like we’re finally seeing progress in our personal sanctification only to lapse? How often do we talk big but live small in relationship to the gospel?
After finishing their breakfast with the resurrected Jesus beside the sea, Jesus twice asks Peter if he loves him (John 21). Twice Peter responds, saying, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Finally Jesus asks Peter a third and final time: “Do you love me?” John tells us this third question grieved Peter. I can almost see Peter’s pain as he responds, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Peter owns up to the inadequacy of his love for Jesus; he knows that his love is imperfect—and this he does (likely) in front of the other six disciples.
After prophesying the awful death Peter will experience because of his faith, Jesus says to Peter, “Follow me.”
And, amazingly, he does.
There are many times in my ministry when I feel like Peter. I know my love is inadequate. I know I fall short of God’s glory. I know my witness to the gospel in my thoughts and actions—more often than I’d like—declares my desperate need for a savior.
God knows this about us, just has he knew this about Peter. As Jesus once revealed to the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9).
He can use even me. He can use even you.
Part of the beauty of Peter’s witness is that he wasn’t perfect—but God still used him in mighty ways. Peter firmly knew God’s love for him through Jesus, despite his faults and inadequacies.
In a letter he wrote near the end of his life, Peter encourages the church to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). It’s a good reminder for those of us in ministry. Peter was confident in God’s grace, and that is where our confidence needs to be as well. Peter, like Paul, had learned the truth that God’s grace alone is sufficient for our weakness.