First Things First


Dr. Terry Wardle

By Dr. Terry Wardle

Archibald Hart, professor of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary (my alma mater), once commented that people entering ministry will find themselves at the convergence of three major forces: their own congenital brokenness, their own convoluted development, and the demands of ministry.

The conclusion to his insight was quite to the point. Where these three factors converge people in ministry either act out or burn out or both. Current statistics confirm that more than a few men and women are losing heart in ministry, even though they entered with a heartfelt desire to serve the Lord and bring people to his transforming grace.

Being equipped for ministry is by far an ongoing process that never ends. Never. For as long as a person serves the Kingdom he or she will be stretched, challenged to keep growing deeper with the Lord and become more effective in ministry. A significant part of growth in ministry is undoubtedly skill development. There are essential competencies that need ongoing development to best serve the Lord. I have been in vocational ministry for over forty years and often feel like I am learning something new every day. I often think, “I wish I had known that thirty years ago!”

The most important growth necessary for sustained ministry is not in the area of professional competency, as critical as that may be. We must continue to grow deeper in our relationship with the Lord. Ongoing spiritual formation is the foundation of all effective ministry and must be a priority in the life of God’s servant leader. Invest there and the leader remains connected to the Vine and fruit inevitably results. If the leader gets caught in the barrenness of busyness Socrates warned about, he or she becomes a prime candidate for losing heart.

Ministry is not an easy road. Without a deep and growing relationship with Christ, it is impossible. You must prioritize the journey toward intimacy with the Lord in order to face the demands that come your way. I suggest that prioritizing that relationship means three things. First, you must spend time in his presence every day using the spiritual disciplines that best position you for transformation. Make this a non-negotiable value in your life, the first place you run to and the place you stay the longest.

Second, say yes to inner transformation. Every day in countless ways the Lord uses the all things plan to bring change into the deepest part of our lives. The challenges we face on the outside most often position us to say yes to a deep work the Lord wants to do on the inside. Such tensions and trials are far from easy and demand a most difficult posture on our part: relinquishment. By letting go we suddenly find that we have received more than we can ask or think.

Finally, make this journey with fellow travelers. Find people who share your hunger for the Lord and walk with them. Two are better than one, and a cord of three stands cannot be broken!

(Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Dr. Terry Wardle is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Formational Counseling at Ashland Theological Seminary.

Hear more from Dr. Terry Wardle at the upcoming DMin Webinar on Thursday July 9.  Learn more. 


  1. This was a fabulous reminder of what God’s servants ought to be doing whether in leadership positions or not. Thank you for writing this and for caring about His people. I bless you with continued strength in the Lord.

  2. Good words Terry. We all need to be reminded that biblical Christianity includes many things. However, it begins and end with divine intimacy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *