What matters most? Diplomas or dependence on God? I remember my seminary graduation so vividly. Although rain had been in the forecast throughout the week, the sun cast warm rays over the assembled crowd as Southern prepared to celebrate its newest graduating class.
During the ceremony, Dr. Mohler spoke a message that struck my heart. The words that continue to reverberate in my heart are what he said at the beginning of the ceremony: “I want to tell you graduates, as I look at you, you look very strong. You look good. You look healthy. You look ready. But you are not strong, and you are not ready. You are not up to the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ — not one of the ministers of the gospel of Christ is sufficient. Every single one of us at every single moment is dependent on another’s strength. We are never weaker than when we think we are stronger, and we are perhaps never stronger than when we sense that we are weaker.”
In that moment, better words could not have been spoken to my anxious heart. The challenges of vocational ministry can seem overwhelming.
I knew that as I would embark on the next part of God’s plan for my life, ministry would not be easy. In fact, it would probably get harder. However, I took comfort in knowing that ultimately God doesn’t need any of us to accomplish His plans. God is sovereign, and His plans are unstoppable.
The reality is that He graciously allows us to take part in His redemptive work. Only God can change hearts. Only God can resurrect the dead to life. Whose power is sufficient to care for and save souls? Jesus Christ! These precious truths washed over me as Dr. Mohler charged us to rely on the sustaining strength of Jesus.
In short, the emotions and thoughts that I wrestled with during graduation encapsulate truths that I’ve learned throughout my time at Southern. One of these is that I can’t lead from my own strength. None of us can lead without Christ. We cannot lead people in ministry if we aren’t centered in the Word of God (Col. 3:17). We cannot lead when the Bible isn’t captivating our hearts and changing us from within (Eph. 4:12-13). We cannot lead when our pride is in the way or when we are seeking the approval of others (Prov. 29:25). We cannot lead when we view ourselves higher than others (Phil. 2:3-4). And finally, we cannot lead others without loving them like Christ loves His church (1 John 4:19).
We can, however, lead with the strength and grace that God provides. We can lead when our hearts are desperate for Jesus and longing for the Holy Spirit to move. We can lead from a position of personal holiness, which our congregations need from us more than anything. We can only minister out of the overflow of our own hearts.
Jesus says in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” I’ve been a nurse in the Pediatric ICU for the last six years and I often think of children and families who get rushed to the ICU because they are critically sick. No one wants to be there, but they know they need help in time of dire physical sickness. Once a 13-year-old boy that I took care of was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. He knew he had to be at the hospital to get help from the doctor because he was really sick. He couldn’t control his circumstances; all he could do is respond to the state of his sickness. He knew he needed a physician. This image resonates with me as I realize likewise that I can’t lead others until I truly know how weak and frail I am, and how dependent I am on Christ.
All our leadership should flow from the reality that we are poor and frail and in need of a Savior every moment of our lives. Let us rest in the completed and finished work of Christ.
So how do we lead and point others to Christ in God’s strength?
The answer is that we must depend on God through prayer, trusting His promises as we seek to point others to Christ. Why do I rely on my strength which is vain, when I can rely on the strength that God provides so that He gets all the glory (Psalm 115:1)?
What matters most in ministry? Diplomas or Dependence on God? Thankfully, since my seminary graduation, I’m grateful that God has shown me that while degrees and diplomas are wonderful gifts, depending on Him, His Word, and the completed work of Christ on our behalf will be what sustains me through the ministry challenges ahead.
1 Peter 4:11 says, “If anyone speaks, they should do as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
Oksana Viyuk is originally from Ukraine, but grew up in Cleveland, OH. She graduated from Southern Seminary with a MA in Worship Leadership and a MA in Biblical Counseling in May 2018. Currently Oksana serves as a worship ministry resident at Brentwood Baptist Church in Nashville, TN. She also is a Registered Nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at The Children's Hospital at TriStar Centennial in downtown Nashville.