We have identified four core values that shape and form our ministry.
- It is not about us.
- We bring the Father’s heart.
- We treasure one another.
- We live and lead as servants.
Our core values are the non-negotiables that undergird our ministry. They are the DNA of Hope for the Balkans. Our DNA is the deep culture that binds our little tribe together – our fantastic national volunteers and our ministry partners and supporting churches and individuals around the world.
Before I unpack each one of these, let me state the obvious: we far too often fail to live up to our own commitments. For us, these core commitments too often are aspirational rather than actual. But by God’s grace, our lives and our relationships will morph into fully aligned with our DNA, which we hold so dearly.
1. It Is Not About Us
It’s not about us. It really isn’t. It’s about God, His Word, and His Holy Spirit. God is always the explanation. But amazingly, He graciously invites us into what he is doing. Apostle Paul put it this way, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show the surpassing power belongs to God, and not to us.” Of course, he’s not thinking of an elegantly designed and crafted Ming dynasty vase. He is thinking of an ordinary, crude, everyday clay jar that if you knock off the table, you’re like, “Eh.” This understanding is key to ministry. God is always the explanation. Ministry is about an extraordinary God using very, very ordinary people. A great big God, and a little small me.
Ironically, this perspective doesn’t end up crushing us, or rendering us useless, just the opposite – it brings great freedom. Because, if there is a blessing in the ministry, we give thanks and praise God; if there are struggles in the ministry, and we don’t see fruitfulness, we keep seeking God, but we don’t beat ourselves up because it’s really not about us.
The understanding that the ministry is not about us brings us both release and relief. If we constantly compare our ministry to others, we will feel guilty and ashamed that more isn’t happening. But if we accept that ministry is not about us – it’s about God, a great weight will be lifted off of us. The realization that we simply need to seek Him and draw our lives from Him gives us freedom. Our ministry is not about our education, experience, strategy, or even our dazzling gifts – in fact – it’s not even our ministry – it’s God’s. We delude ourselves if we think it’s all about us – it’s not. We are simply jars of clay, but these jars hold a treasure – the Gospel.
Let me share one glorious implication of this truth. We don’t have to fake anything. We don’t have to wear a mask; we don’t have to pretend we’re something we’re not. We can be vulnerable about our faults and our failures because it is not about us. In 1st and 2nd Corinthians Paul is incredibly vulnerable to the Church of Corinth, even though they are attacking his apostleship. In one passage, he says, ‘For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength, that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, but this was so that we would not rely on ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.‘ There are vulnerabilities to being vulnerable, but there are many more upsides than downsides because humility has the power to disarm. Vulnerable preaching is powerful preaching.
A ministry that transforms recognizes it’s not about us. It’s about God, His Word, and His Holy Spirit.
God’s Word not only reveals marvelous eternal truths, but it also expresses the Heart of the Father. We start our TNT training with the Book of Jonah. It shows us that God doesn’t care only about his message. He cares about the heart and attitude of his messengers. When we see the contrast between the heart of the Father who longs for all to repent and be saved and the heart of Jonah, who wanted God’s grace just for himself and his people, God’s Heart is revealed to us. Our passion at Hope for the Balkans is to equip and encourage pastors in Bulgaria to teach God’s Word with God’s Heart.
2. We bring the Father’s Heart
In his book, “Changed – Experiencing God’s Transforming Power,” Bill Mills writes these words, “Discipleship is the process of becoming like Christ. There is only one Discipler – Jesus himself.” During the years we’ve walked with him, Christ builds unto us His own heart, His own character, and His own life. As a result of this lifelong training process that involves His Word and His Spirit, the experiences He allows, and the relationships He permits, all in the precise sovereignty of His timing, we will become like Him. This is the only valuable pursuit of our lives.
The transforming, dynamic power of God’s Word is what drives our ministry. We help pastors learn to study, teach, and preach God’s Word. We do this by Bible immersion. Each time we’re with a group of pastors working on a book of the Bible, it’s as if we dive at the beginning of the week, and we swim around in that book all week long with a group of godly men. What’s not to like about that? By the end of the week, we’ve not only owned the book, but it has begun to transform us, as the Holy Spirit sharpens our ministry skills and begins to reshape our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Encountering the heart of the Father through the Word of God transforms both us and our ministry.
3. We Treasure One Another
The grace of God enables us to enjoy relationships – relationships characterized by love and forgiveness – not performance and judgment. Practically speaking, this means we seek to honor one another, to encourage, rather than compete. We rejoice when God blesses our coworkers, we’re exceedingly grateful for our generous donors, we marvel at the precious partners God has entrusted to us, we count all as dear friends and esteem one another as treasures.
The Lord has given us a fantastic group of ministry partners. We count it such a privilege to serve them. Sometimes, when I’m with a group of pastors, it’s as if I want to pinch myself. I think, ‘Who am I – to be able to fellowship and learn and share life with these godly and gifted leaders?’ We approach our partners with the spirit of humility. We listen, we care, we treat them with respect as coequals in the ministry. We come not simply as teachers but as learners – we have so much to learn from our brothers and sisters – think about it. Often, we tend to equate our education, technology, and wealth with moral and spiritual authority. Woe to us! Our brothers and sisters have so much to teach us about prayer, godliness, endurance, faithfulness, and church planting.
In his book, “Beyond Independence – Reclaiming Our Life Together in Christ,” Bill Mills writes these words, ‘Our love for one another must be genuine and wholehearted. It must never be characterized by the imitations of the world. It can never be superficial in its responses; love is decisive and strong. The love of God is filled with devotion toward our brothers and sisters, and elevates others above ourselves, and looks at them with esteem. We treat those we minister to with the love and respect that they deserve.’
We remember that they are adults. They are not children; they are not objects; they are not blank slates. The truth is, the Lord has been working in their lives for years and years and will keep working in their lives long after we’re gone. But now, for a short season, in God’s providence, he has given us the privilege of building them up.
Our commitment to grace-filled relationships shapes our whole understanding of ministry. We are convinced that relationships are more important than ministry, that the journey is more important than the destination, that our relationships have a greater priority than the exceedingly important task we undertake. This deep conviction is what it means that we treasure one another.
4. We Live and Lead as Servants
Jesus is the supreme example of a servant leader. He said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.” But what does servant leadership look like?
Servant Leaders empower others. We teach and resource pastors so that they may teach and resource others. The second-generation group of pastors and church leaders does not need to see us. If they see those who we have trained, they see us.
Servant Leaders are vulnerable. We share not only our success; we are also open about our struggles and failures. Being open and vulnerable knit our hearts together. It provokes fervent prayer.
Servant Leaders focus on what others learn rather than what they teach. What is learned is more important than what is taught. Our tendency as teachers is to focus on our content. And of course, that’s important. But the truth is, what is learned is more important than what is taught. If we truly love the learner, we will prioritize their learning over our teaching because it’s not about us. It’s about God, His Word, His people, His glory, and His Kingdom.
Servant Leaders never stop growing, learning, and getting better. We strive for excellence but never at the expense of damaging or destroying relationships and never intending to compete with other ministries. When our teams return from a training session, we try to do two things. First, just rejoice in what God did. But then, second, ask the question, ‘What did we learn?’ How can we get a little bit sharper the next time around? We want to get better and better as stewards of the ministry that God has entrusted to us, but then at the same time, we can relax and enjoy the journey because it’s not about us. There is this mysterious tension between pursuing excellence and resting in our all-sufficient God. And I want us to do both of those things wholeheartedly.
Servant Leaders have an audience of one. Apostle Paul put it this way, ‘For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.’ In the book ‘Finishing Well in Life and Ministry – God’s Protection from Burnout,’ Bill Mills and Craig Parro write this: ‘We speak before God. He is the point of it all and the only purpose worthy of our hearts and our service. If we serve an audience less than him, we will burn out along the way.’ It’s yet another reminder that “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs not to us but to God.”