Don't Do Ministry Without It

July 7th, 2011

One of the most helpful tools I’ve ever used for ministry is a little philosophy that Methodist movement founder John Wesley picked up from a Moravian friend, missionary Peter Böhler. The year was 1738, and Wesley had not yet experienced his famous Aldersgate conversion. He was burned out and somehow couldn’t grasp the concept of justification by faith alone. He told himself, “How can you preach to others if you don’t have faith yourself?” John asked Peter if he should stop preaching. Böhler replied, “By no mean.”

Then Wesley asked, “But what can I preach?”

Böhler answered, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”

John took Peter’s advice, and although Wesley wasn’t even sure of his own salvation, he shared the Gospel with a guy on death row named Clifford. Thus began a long ministry of stepping beyond the bounds of his perceived faith to do extraordinary works for God. I believe this idea of “preaching faith till we have it” is one of the major keys to experiencing power in our ministries even today.

The author of Hebrews writes that “faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” (Hebrews 11:1 CEB), and in Romans 4:17, Paul tells that God “gives life to the dead and calls things that don’t exist into existence (CEB).” Real Biblical faith cannot be based on empirical evidence or even on feelings. It must be based only upon what God has said or revealed. According to 2 Corinthians 5:7, “we live by faith and not by sight.” I believe we could substitute “feelings” for sight and that verse would be equally true. The Bible is saying that when it comes to the things of God, we often must believe things before we see them. I realize that this may seem counterintuitive, because many of us grew up hearing the mantra, “Seeing is believing.” Indeed, that’s the way the world generally operates. But in the Kingdom of God, the converse is true. First we believe, then we see. “Preach faith until you have it,” is essentially derived from Hebrews 11:1 and 2 Corinthians 5:7. Peter Böhler wasn’t pulling it out of thin air.

The Böhler Principle can revolutionize the way we do ministry, because it sets us free from the idea that we can only teach something up to the level we’ve personally experienced. This realization has been especially liberating to me as I’ve taught others about prayer and fasting. Although I’ve learned much about prayer, both from personal experience and second-hand, I’ve struggled with discipline and consistency in my prayer life. The temptation is for me to avoid teaching on the topic at all until I “get it together”, or to feel that I don’t have authority to teach beyond my own point of “mastery”. “Preach faith till you have it,” turns that fear on its head.

One of the most significant things about Peter Böhler’s radical idea is that it places the teacher in the role of student. Once a teacher or mentor understands that they are also teaching themselves (or more accurately being used by God to teach themselves), they are less likely to “hold back” or feel inhibited when they minister to others. As a result, teaching will become more about stretching faith boundaries and less about simply imparting information.

“Preaching faith till we have it,” doesn’t make us hypocrites, as long as we do it in the right spirit, and not in a pretentious way. On the contrary, it makes us fellow disciples with flaws that others can relate to. Think about it-- no one wants to be instructed by someone who isn’t secure enough to risk letting their student’s faith surpass their own. And that’s what sometimes happens when we explore new frontiers with the people we minister to.

“Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” John Wesley listened to his friend and built a ministry that’s still changing the world over two centuries later. Shouldn't we take the same advice?

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