Dallas Willard: The Secret to Ministry Satisfaction

Characteristics of a Satisfied Soul

We are long on devices and programs. We have too many of them, and they get in the way. What we really need are preachers who can stand in simplicity and manifest and declare the richness of Christ in life. There isn’t anything on Earth that begins to compete with that for human benefit and human interest.

When people hear preachers who are satisfied in this way, they sense that much more is coming from them than what they are saying. When I hear preachers like this, I sense something flowing from them. Preachers like that are at peace. They are not struggling to make something happen.

That is one of the biggest issues for ministers today because of the model of success that comes to us. We get the idea we are supposed to make something happen, and so we need our services to go just right. The concluding benediction has hardly ceased before those in charge are saying to one another, “How did it go?” or “It went really well.” The truth is, we don’t know how it went. From God’s point of view, it will be eternity before we know how it went. These folks are not at peace if they are trying to manage outcomes in that way.

One mark of preachers who have attained deep satisfaction is they are at peace, and they love what they are doing. Peace comes from them. From such preachers, I sense something coming to me that is deeper than the words. Hearers sense the message opening up possibilities for them to live. In the presence of this kind of preacher, people find ways of doing the good that is before their hearts.

That is the living water. Jesus brought people that opening up of possibilities. In John 8, when he said to the woman caught in adultery, “Go now and leave your life of sin,” I don’t think she felt, I’ve got to do that. She experienced Jesus’ words as: That’s really possible. I can do that. That is one characteristic of preaching that comes from a satisfied life.

Another mark of satisfied preachers is they can listen. They can be silent in the presence of others because they are not always trying to make something happen. Such a person has the capacity to listen to people and come to an awareness of the needs that underlie the felt needs. We should be attentive to the felt needs of people, but we should know that the game is at a much deeper level of the soul.

A large part of what the pastor does in preaching and life is to listen and help people feel their real needs, not just superficial needs. The satisfied preacher speaks from a listening heart. Since people often do not know what they really need, such preaching can help them find out. This requires a spaciousness that only comes if your cup is running over because you are well cared for by God.

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Dallas Willard
DALLAS WILLARD was a Professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He taught at USC, where he was Director of the School of Philosophy from 1982-1985. He also taught at the University of Wisconsin (Madison, 1960-1965), and held visiting appointments at UCLA (1969) and the University of Colorado (1984). Dallas Willard passed away on May 8, 2013, at the age of 77.

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