John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, was born out of miraculous circumstances and prepared the way for Jesus. Though his ministry was shortened by his cruel execution, Jesus called John “greatest among those born of women.” There must have been something so special about John and his ministry. It definitely wasn’t the length of time. What was it? After taking a deeper look, there are many lessons John can teach us about how we can have an impactful ministry.
1. He spoke the truth
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”
John didn’t care who they were. Whether they were a scumbag, a tax collector, a Roman soldier or a religious leader, he spoke what they needed to hear. John obviously wasn’t a people pleaser, but a God pleaser. We need people like that today to speak the truth into our lives.
2. He spoke a message of repentance
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
We need to regain the message of repentance today. It is sorely lacking in our churches today. John only had one message – repent and be baptised. He didn’t go into doctrines about the law or how to grow a bigger church. He kept repeating the message of repentance like a broken record. Why? Because people are sinners. Without real inward change, outward changes are temporary. I think many preachers are scared of offending their listeners and rather talk about “safe” topics. The message of repentance of sins must come back to the pulpit.
3. He was willing to call out sins
Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.”
Similar to the message of repentance, is the willingness to call out sin. We often leave sins unaddressed and only affirm the good. A Christian cannot play with sin and still get God’s approval. John called out Herod’s adultery and was put in jail as a result. That can happen today as we stand for truth. People of the darkness hate the light because their deeds are evil. Look what Israel did to Jesus. They crucified Him. Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
4. He led a simple lifestyle
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.
As John’s father Zechariah was a priest, he could have followed his father and become a priest, serving in the temple. That would have been the easier option but John chose God’s calling. He lived in the wilderness, surviving on simple food, depending fully on God. We need to live simply and avoid life’s distractions. The testimony of many ministry leaders have been destroyed when their personal lives reflect gluttony, selfishness and extravagance.
5. He was humble
He must become greater; I must become less.
One preacher joked, “I’m so proud to be humble.” John on the contrary was truly humble. He realised that Jesus must take centerstage, not him. I wrote about this in more detail here. We have to come to that place, where Jesus is all people see in us. Jesus has to become greater.
6. He directed people to Jesus
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Our job is to direct people to Jesus the Lamb of God. Many preachers direct people to themselves (sometimes unintentionally) whether through self-glorifying stories, name-dropping or impressive oratorical skills. John directed people to Jesus. He had the right perspective of his standing with Jesus. He was just a voice. Likewise, we have to direct people to Jesus, the only one who can take away their sins.
7. He did not base his ministry on numbers
They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.”
We cannot always measure success by the numbers. John’s disciples were getting worried. People were jumping ship to Jesus to be baptised. The numbers were dropping, and so was John’s ‘success’. But John wisely noted that all people who came to him were from God. If God gave him less, he was satisfied. If God gave him more, he was also satisfied. Numbers cause you to lose focus from your calling. Keep on fulfilling your ministry irregardless of numbers. God knows how much to give you.