Book Review: Jesus Driven Ministry, by Ajith Fernando
Ajith Fernando. Jesus Driven Ministry. Crossway, 2002. 258 pages.
Pastors and churches go through seasons; times of prosperity and abundance, and times of scarcity and decline.
In many ways, even surprising ways, throughout the Covid19 lockdown and financial upheaval, our church did far more than limp along; we continued our work with enthusiasm. But for me personally—as the lead pastor of our church—the spring of 2020 was more of a long spiritual winter. The cooler spiritual temperature began a year ago when a key staff member moved away. When he left, I strapped my boots on tighter and went to work harder than before. I read Fernando’s book in the midst of the spiritual dryness—the frenetic activity at church had worn my soul thin. Jesus Driven Ministry came at just the right moment.
Jesus Driven Ministry focuses on aspects of ministry that featured prominently in the ministry of Jesus during his earthly life. The chapters cover topics you would expect such as prayer, the Word of God, and discipling young leaders. But Fernando also covers overlooked though important aspects of ministry, such as having a sense of God’s joyful affirmation, visiting homes, resting from ministry, and ministering to the sick and demon-possessed.
THE BLESSING OF PERSPECTIVE
Western readers will find Fernando’s work a helpful exploration of biblically principled ministry in an international setting. His work often references ministry challenges that westerners have rarely faced. For example, Fernando is familiar with war and hardship in a way I am not. In many places in the book he alludes to a civil war in Sri Lanka that existed in the background and sometimes the foreground of his ministry. “As part of their strategy,” he writes, “militants often come to the south where I live and plant bombs in strategic places” (25). He explains how these challenges created unique ministry challenges and opportunities. The war was so bad in 1989, he notes, that “there was never a time when a body was not floating in the river at the edge of our city” (96). Fernando ministered to people who saw human carnage almost daily.
In another place, Fernando notes that because his organization does not pay bribes, some initiatives they wanted to accomplish never materialized (26). I’m currently overseeing a renovation project at our church, but I’ve never had to wrestle with the temptation of paying a building inspector to make a certain problem go away.
Perspectives from church leaders in international settings can challenge, correct, and encourage our own ministries. Of course, simply reading books by fellow pastors outside the US isn’t the same as pastoring in a foreign city but books like Jesus Driven Ministry can help us sift true Christianity from cultural attachments and help us discern between what is wheat and what is chaff.
THE BLESSING OF TRANSPARENCY
Fernando’s transparency on the difficulties of Christian ministry are also encouraging. In ways that didn’t come across as self-serving, the book was a show and tell of ministry scars. As the Apostle Paul could write of bearing on his body the marks of Jesus (Gal. 6:17), so Fernando showed how he bears the marks of Christian ministry on his soul. These struggles often led him to consider quitting. “This is why in my twenty-six years as director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, there have been many times when I have wished to resign from my job. A few times I even wrote a draft of a letter of resignation” (67).
Further, Fernando deftly analyzes how anger can build up over the course of a ministry: “When I turned fifty, I made a list of the biggest battles I face in my life and ministry. High up on that list was the battle with anger over the way people have treated me. One of the saddest sights in the church today is that of Christian workers who are angry—angry over the way they have been hurt by others, by circumstances, and sometimes, they feel, even by God” (111). Anger, like rust on the chassis of a car, can build up over the course of a ministry. It weakens our effectiveness and threatens our fidelity to the gospel. Fernando’s record of his struggles in ministry reminded me I’m not alone. His remedies for discouragement and anger are soul-stirring and worth considering if you’re a discouraged pastor.
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF MINISTRY FOR THE LONG-HAUL
Ultimately, Jesus Driven Ministry considers what propelled Jesus into ministry and what sustained him in it—and how those same things should sustain us. This emphasis on longevity comes through in Fernando’s prayer for his book, namely, that men and women “commit themselves afresh to those vital basics of ministry that make for long-term ministry that is both fruitful and joyful” (16).