“Let us not give up in doing what is fine.”—GAL. 6:9.
SONG 68 Sowing Kingdom Seed
1. What joy and honor do we have?
WHAT joy and honor we have as Jehovah’s Witnesses! We bear God’s name and live up to that name by sharing in the work of preaching and making disciples. We rejoice when we can help someone who is “rightly disposed for everlasting life” to become a believer. (Acts 13:48) We share the feelings of Jesus, who “became overjoyed in the holy spirit” when his disciples returned from a successful preaching campaign.—Luke 10:1, 17, 21.
2. How can we show that we take our ministry seriously?
2 We take our ministry seriously. The apostle Paul urged Timothy: “Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching.” Paul added: “By doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” (1 Tim. 4:16) So lives are at stake. We pay constant attention to ourselves because we are subjects of God’s Kingdom. We always want to act in a way that brings praise to Jehovah and is in harmony with the good news that we preach. (Phil. 1:27) We show that we are ‘paying attention to our teaching’ by preparing well for the ministry and by asking for Jehovah’s blessing before we witness to others.
3. What response might we find to the Kingdom message? Give an example.
3 Even when we do our utmost, though, we may find little or no positive response to the Kingdom message in our territory. Consider the experience of Brother Georg Lindal, who preached alone throughout Iceland from 1929 to 1947. He placed tens of thousands of publications; yet, not one person accepted the truth. He wrote: “Some seem to have taken their stand against the truth, but the majority remain entirely indifferent.” Even after Gilead-trained missionaries arrived and expanded the work, another nine years passed before some Icelanders dedicated themselves to Jehovah and got baptized.*
4. How might we feel when people do not respond favorably to the good news?
4 We are disappointed when people do not respond favorably. We might feel as did Paul, who experienced “great grief and unceasing pain” because the Jews as a whole refused to accept Jesus as the promised Messiah. (Rom. 9:1-3) What if in spite of your earnest efforts and prayers in his behalf, a Bible student fails to make progress and the study needs to be discontinued? Or what if you have never directly helped someone to the point of baptism? Should you feel guilty, perhaps thinking that Jehovah has not blessed your ministry? In this article, we will answer two questions: (1) What marks a successful ministry? (2) What realistic expectations should we have?
WHAT MARKS A SUCCESSFUL MINISTRY?
5. Why may our work for Jehovah not always produce the outcome we had hoped for?
5 The Bible says of the person who does God’s will: “Everything he does will succeed.” (Ps. 1:3) However, that does not mean that everything we do for Jehovah will turn out as we wish. Human life is “filled with trouble” because of imperfection—both ours and that of others. (Job 14:1) Further, opposers may temporarily succeed in interfering with our efforts to carry out our ministry in the usual way. (1 Cor. 16:9; 1 Thess. 2:18) How, then, does Jehovah measure our success? Consider some Bible principles that help to answer this question.
6. How does Jehovah measure the success of our work for him?
6 Jehovah looks at our efforts and endurance. In Jehovah’s eyes, our work for him is successful when we carry it out with diligence and love, regardless of how others respond. Paul wrote: “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name by ministering and continuing to minister to the holy ones.” (Heb. 6:10) Jehovah remembers our efforts and our love, even if those efforts do not lead to positive results. Thus, you may apply to yourself what Paul told the Corinthians: “Your labor is not in vain in connection with the Lord,” regardless of whether that labor produced the outcome you had hoped for.—1 Cor. 15:58.
7. What can we learn from the way the apostle Paul described his ministry?
7 The apostle Paul was an outstanding missionary, forming new congregations in multiple cities. Yet, when he felt he needed to defend his qualifications as a minister of Christ, he did not emphasize the number of people he had helped to become believers. Rather, refuting the claims of those who sought to exalt themselves over him, Paul wrote: “I have done more work.” (2 Cor. 11:23) Like Paul, remember that efforts and endurance are what Jehovah values most.
8. What should we remember about our ministry?
8 Our ministry pleases Jehovah. Jesus sent out 70 disciples to preach the Kingdom message, and at the end of their witnessing campaign, they “returned with joy.” What was the source of their joy? They said: “Even the demons are made subject to us by the use of your name.” However, Jesus corrected their thinking when he told them: “Do not rejoice because the spirits are made subject to you, but rejoice because your names have been written in the heavens.” (Luke 10:17-20) Jesus knew that they would not always have such outstanding experiences in their ministry. In fact, we do not know how many of those who initially listened to the disciples became believers. The disciples needed to find joy not just through their accomplishments but, more important, from knowing that Jehovah was pleased with their diligent efforts.
9. According to Galatians 6:7-9, what will be the outcome for us if we endure in our ministry?
9 If we endure in our ministry, we will gain everlasting life. As we wholeheartedly sow and cultivate seeds of Kingdom truth, we are also “sowing with a view to the spirit” by allowing God’s holy spirit to operate freely in our life. As long as we do not “give up” or “tire out,” Jehovah guarantees that we will reap everlasting life, regardless of whether we help a new disciple to dedicate himself to God.—Read Galatians 6:7-9.
WHAT REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS SHOULD WE HAVE?
10. What determines people’s response to our ministry?
10 The response depends primarily on the heart condition of our listeners. Jesus explained this truth in his illustration of the sower who cast seed on different types of soil, only one of which produced fruitage. (Luke 8:5-8) Jesus said that the various soils represent people whose hearts respond in different ways to “the word of God.” (Luke 8:11-15) Like the sower, we cannot control the fruitage of our work, since it depends on the heart condition of our listeners. Our responsibility is to keep sowing the fine seed of the Kingdom message. As the apostle Paul put it, “each person will receive his own reward according to his own work,” not according to the results of his work.—1 Cor. 3:8.
11. Why was Noah successful as “a preacher of righteousness”? (See cover picture.)
11 Early witnesses of Jehovah faced unresponsive listeners. For example, Noah was “a preacher of righteousness,” likely for decades. (2 Pet. 2:5) No doubt, he hoped that others would respond favorably to his preaching, but Jehovah gave no such indication. Rather, when instructing Noah to build the ark, God said: “You must go into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” (Gen. 6:18) And considering the dimensions and capacity of the ark that God told him to build, Noah may have realized that any response to his preaching would be limited. (Gen. 6:15) As matters turned out, not one person from that violent world responded to Noah’s preaching. (Gen. 7:7) Did Jehovah view Noah as a failure? Not at all! In God’s eyes, Noah was a successful preacher because he faithfully did what Jehovah had asked him to do.—Gen. 6:22.
12. How did the prophet Jeremiah find joy in his ministry in the face of apathy and opposition?
12 The prophet Jeremiah likewise preached for decades in the face of apathy and opposition. He became so discouraged by the “insults and jeering” of opposers that he thought of giving up his assignment. (Jer. 20:8, 9) But Jeremiah did not give up! What enabled him to overcome his negative thoughts and find joy in his ministry? He focused on two important facts. First, God’s message that Jeremiah took to the people involved “a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11) Second, Jehovah had placed his name on Jeremiah. (Jer. 15:16) We too bring a message of hope in a bleak world, and we bear Jehovah’s name as his Witnesses. When we focus our attention on these two important facts, we can find joy regardless of the response of the people.
13. What do we learn from Jesus’ illustration recorded at Mark 4:26-29?
13 Spiritual growth occurs gradually. Jesus taught this truth in his illustration of the sower who sleeps. (Read Mark 4:26-29.) The fruitage of the sower’s efforts came gradually and was largely out of his control. You too may not see results from your disciple-making for some time because the growth takes place gradually and in stages. Just as a farmer cannot force his crops to grow at the pace he desires, we cannot force our Bible students to make spiritual progress at the rate we would like to see. So do not get discouraged or give up if their progress is taking longer than you expected. Like farming, making disciples requires patience.—Jas. 5:7, 8.
14. What example shows that the results of our ministry might occur gradually?
14 In some territories, the results of our ministry might not be evident for years. Consider the experience of Gladys and Ruby Allen, fleshly sisters who in 1959 were assigned as regular pioneers to a town in the Canadian province of Quebec.* Because of community pressure and the influence of the Catholic church, people were unwilling to hear the Kingdom message. Gladys recalled: “We went from door to door eight hours a day for two years without getting anyone to answer! The people simply came to the door and pulled the blinds down. But we didn’t give up.” In time, the people’s attitude softened and the territory became more productive. There are now three congregations in that town.—Isa. 60:22.
15. What does 1 Corinthians 3:6, 7 teach us about the disciple-making work?
15 Disciple-making is a collective effort. It has been said that it takes a congregation to help someone to the point of baptism. (Read 1 Corinthians 3:6, 7.) A publisher leaves a tract or a magazine with an interested person. The brother then finds that his personal schedule will not allow him to return to further the interest, so he asks another publisher to make a return visit. That publisher is able to start a Bible study. He, in turn, invites a number of brothers and sisters to attend the study, and each one encourages the student in a different way. Every brother or sister whom the student meets will help to water the seed of truth. In that way, as Jesus said, the sower and the reaper may rejoice together in the spiritual harvest.—John 4:35-38.
16. Why can you find joy in your ministry even if you are limited by failing health or stamina?
16 What if your share in preaching and teaching the good news is limited by your failing health or stamina? You can still find joy in your role in the harvest. Consider the experience of King David when he and his men rescued their families and belongings from marauding Amalekites. Two hundred of the men were too exhausted to fight, so they stayed behind to guard the baggage. After the battle was won, David ordered that the spoil be shared equally by all of them. (1 Sam. 30:21-25) It is similar with our worldwide disciple-making work. Everyone who does his best can share equally in the joy over each new one who is rescued and helped to start on the road to life.
17. For what should we thank Jehovah?
17 We thank Jehovah for the loving way in which he views our service to him. He knows that we cannot control the outcome of our personal efforts. Even so, he notices our diligence and good motives, and he rewards us. He also teaches us how to find joy in the part we play in the great harvest. (John 14:12) We can be assured of God’s approval as long as we do not give up!
SONG 67 “Preach the Word”
We are happy when people respond favorably to the good news, and we are disappointed when they fail to do so. What if a Bible student whom you are helping does not progress? Or what if you have never directly helped someone to the point of baptism? Should you conclude that you have failed at disciple-making? In this article, we will see why we can succeed in our ministry and find joy regardless of the response to our efforts.
See Gladys Allen’s life story, “I Would Not Change a Thing!,” in the September 1, 2002, issue of The Watchtower.