Excerpt from Seasons of a Leader’s Life by Jeff Iorg (B&H, 2013)
Matthew 8:14–15; Mark 1:29–31; Luke 4:38–39;
Matthew 17:24–27; Luke 22:7–13
Early in Peter’s relationship with Jesus, he learned an essential lesson for ministry leaders: God provides. Jesus taught Peter this lesson through two separate incidents at Capernaum, along with a later reminder just before his last meal with the disciples.
Jesus launched his teaching ministry in the Capernaum synagogue. After a service, he went to Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law. Through this experience, Jesus taught Peter an important lesson about ministry leadership. As a family man in a patriarchal culture, Peter had familial responsibilities. Jesus showed Peter he would meet the practical needs of his family.
Peter had recently given up his fishing business and was now Jesus’ itinerant disciple. As Peter considered leaving his business, he probably wondered how he would meet the needs of his family without his business income. Jesus used this healing opportunity as a teaching moment to settle the issue for Peter. The lesson was clear: God provides for ministry leaders by meeting their personal needs.
The second incident that confirmed God’s provision happened sometime later, also at Capernaum. Peter was asked to pay a two-drachma temple tax, but he questioned the legitimacy of doing so. Jesus told him to pay the tax but promised to provide the money in an unusual way. He told Peter to go to the sea and cast a fishhook (not a net) to catch just one fish. In its mouth would be a coin providing the amount needed to pay the tax for both Jesus and Peter. What a remarkable means of provision! Catch a fish, open its mouth, take out coin, and pay the tax—a set of unusual circumstances clearly designed more to teach a principle than just to provide the money. Ministry leaders have practical responsibilities, including financial obligations that must be met. The time demands of leadership coupled with often minimal compensation for ministry leaders makes meeting practical responsibilities challenging. Jesus promises to meet our financial needs when we follow him.
Early in my pastoral ministry, we had limited income and maximum family demands. Our church was a relatively small, working-class congregation, so my salary was modest. We lived from paycheck to paycheck, supporting a preschooler and a baby. One morning, our refrigerator quit.
An older gentleman had visited our church a few times at the invitation of his banker, Ken, who was also a member of our church. Soon after I met him, he was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized in terminal condition. Ken took time off from work to care for this friend. I visited him in the hospital regularly. He passed away the same morning our refrigerator conked out.
I told Ann, “Buy some ice and pack the baby formula and other essentials in a cooler. Tomorrow or the next day, after the funeral, I will try to find a used refrigerator.” She agreed, making the best of a tough situation. I spent that day handling funeral arrangements and getting ready for the upcoming service.
The following morning, Ken called. “Can you come by the bank first thing this morning? I need to see you.” As busy as I was, I assumed he was grieving and probably wanted a pastoral visit prior to the service. Ken welcomed me into his office and said, “My friend really appreciated your kindness toward him, even though he wasn’t a member of our church. A few days ago, he wrote this check for you and asked me to give it to you immediately after his death.”
The check was for $500. I called Ann and said, “Change of plans on the refrigerator.” We bought a brand new one—for $495—and marveled once again at God’s amazing, miraculous provision.
Over the years, we have tried to catalog God’s provision—to make sense of where the money or other support has come from so we could celebrate it. Sometimes it was clear. But more times than not, we have looked at each other and asked, “How did we manage that?” Through a combination of provision and protection, God has kept our family fed, clothed, and sheltered—plus he’s provided additional resources for extras like vacations and college educations.
“God provides” is an important lesson for younger leaders and a continuing lesson for all leaders. Seminary students usually live on limited means yet seldom complain. They know that young adulthood is a season of emerging responsibilities. Learning to trust God for themselves—not trusting others who trust God on their behalf—is part of growing up. When a student reports, “My car broke down, and the same day I got a check in the mail from a family in my home church that just covered it,” I smile. That’s God teaching an important leadership lesson that no school curriculum can include.
While learning to trust God’s provision starts early in ministry leadership, it’s also a never-ending process. Near the end of their time together, Jesus reminded Peter of his provision by instructing him on preparing for their final meal. Peter was told to find a man with a water jug, follow him to a house, and tell the owner that Jesus needed a place to eat with his disciples. Peter did so and voila! Room and provisions for a banquet were miraculously provided. No matter the need, Jesus provides everything necessary to accomplish his purposes.
The broader the leadership responsibility, the more it takes to fund the enterprise. The larger the scope of the ministry, the more money is needed. In the early days, all I needed was one refrigerator. Now my responsibilities demand much more.
At one time, I thought I would eventually grow to the point where I would no longer fret about money. I would have discovered the key to always having all the money needed to fund whatever ministry I was leading. Along the way, however, it dawned on me how unlikely this would ever be. God doesn’t want me to have all the money needed—personally or professionally. He wants me to trust him, in the moment, to provide. By doing so, he accomplishes several objectives. He hones my spiritual edge. He controls the timing and pace of ministry advance. He makes it clear it’s his ministry. And, most important, he gets all the glory.
God provides for what he wants done—not what we want to do for him. When no provision is evident, a wise leader considers carefully if God really wants the project in question done. God provides—but he also withholds provision to keep things from happening. After I explained this at some length in a chapel sermon, a student responded, “I can summarize your message in five words: God’s will equals God’s bill.” It had taken me forty minutes to communicate the message contained in those five words!
Emerging leaders must learn this foundational lesson: God provides. He will structure your resources to make sure you trust him. He will limit your income, increase your family demands, broaden your professional responsibilities, and enlarge your vision to create financial tension. As you emerge a leader, God is teaching you. Learn the lessons well and remember the stories of his provision. Like our refrigerator story, you will have your own examples reminding you of God’s past provision—which is the best indicator of his future ability to provide.
God called a younger leader, Meredith, to an independently funded missionary position. She prayed and told her friends about the need. They told other friends, and then she started asking for offerings. “What happens,” she asked, “if the money doesn’t come in?” “Simple,” I replied, “God doesn’t want you to go. But let’s assume that the opportunity you have discovered is from God and see what happens.” Within months, she was fully funded and on the mission field. More important than the money, however, was the lesson she learned: God provides.
Do you wonder where the money will come from for your ministry? Do you wonder how you will support your family? If you become a ministry leader, do you fear your family will face financial hardship? These are legitimate concerns. God teaches younger leaders to trust him by providing for them, often in unusual ways like fishy coins and free refrigerators. Learning to trust God for his provision—for both your family and your ministry—is a foundational lesson for long-term leadership effectiveness.
Questions for Reflection
- How has God provided for you in the past? Keep a record of these stories to share with your followers.
- What are you trusting God to provide right now? How is this training you for your future leadership role?
- When God withholds provision, what does this mean to you? Why?