Clay Calls Ministers to Yoke with Christ
General Superintendent Doug Clay urged ministers to yoke their lives and ministries with Christ in order to enhance, expand, and enjoy their ministry assignment.COLUMBUS, Ohio — In what could be seen as a message of mental, emotional, and spiritual health for ministers, General Superintendent Doug Clay opened the 2023 General Council Wednesday morning in Nationwide Arena with a compassionate message on the importance of those in ministry being yoked with Jesus.
Recognizing that ministry is highly emotional as it combines faith, calling, current assignment, ministry community, and family life, which all impact each other, Clay pointed to Matthew 11:28-29:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
“I believe the invitation isn’t just for a sinner to come find eternal life, but for a minister who is feeling burdened and brokenhearted to come and find rest . . . real soul rest,” Clay stated.
Clay identified three “incredible verbs” within the passage: Come, take, and learn.
“Jesus is inviting us to come to Him for rest” Clay said referring to Matthew 11. “This is so much deeper than a physical rest . . . soul rest is deeper than any other kind of rest.”
Quoting Glynnis Whitwer, Clay explained that “soul rest is rooted in faith and confidence that we are deeply and unconditionally loved . . . (and) comes when we trust God fully, which is different from just saying, ‘We trust God.’”
He reminded ministers that their souls are what is valuable. According to Scripture, the soul is worth more than the world (Mark 8:36), it is eternal (Ecclesiastes 12:7), it filters wisdom and gives knowledge (Proverbs 2:10), and it helps in making decisions (Psalm 13:2a).
“Jesus invites us to take a break from all the horizontal stuff of ministry, and turn your attention vertical, where your weary, tired, and burdened soul will find rest,” Clay said.
Noting statistics that revealed 42% of pastors are contemplating leaving ministry and that pastors who feel their mental health is below average has tripled in the past five years, Clay paused the service to pray for those ministers — giving them a literal “come to Jesus" moment to experience soul rest.
In looking at the second verb, take, Clay explained that taking Christ’s yoke was an invitation of partnership, but it means giving up control and letting Him set the pace of ministry.
Clay warned of yokes other than Christ’s: Yoking to self, which says, “I want control/I trust myself more than God;” yoking to others, which leads to pleasing others at all costs and stunts leadership growth; and yoking to success, which is spiritually dangerous, tempting individuals to take the credit rather than directing it to God.
“Success in ministry is not God’s endorsement of your character; it's the revelation of His character,” Clay said, later adding, “I love how the Bible really describes success when it talks about Uzziah — ‘As long as Uzziah sought the Lord, God gave him success (2 Chronicles 26:5).’”
Clay explained that staying in sync, being yoked with Christ, is critical for ministers to see themselves accurately.
“You’re less likely to compare yourself to somebody else’s ministry, to somebody else’s talent,” Clay said. “When you’re synced with Jesus, you understand the place that you have in the body of Christ and in your current assignment.”
Learn, being the third verb, Clay explained was an invitation for ministers to have a divine perspective on their current assignment, asking them to reflect on the question, “Is it a job of convenience or a place of calling?”
Clay pointed out that in the passage, Jesus wanted His followers to learn gentleness and humility. Gentleness, being one of the fruits of the Spirit, is having the ability to place personal power, strength, and authority under control.
“I wonder how many ministers, how many ministries would enhance their ministry by putting gentleness into practice,” Clay said. “I wonder how many ministry failures would have been prevented if gentleness would have been evident.”
Noting that Jesus talked about humility frequently, Clay summed it up: “Humility is simply coming to the place in your ministry when you realize it’s not about you, but it’s all about Him.”
Gentleness and humility, Clay said, opens the door to experiencing John 14:12, where Jesus says that believers will do “even greater things that these.”
“I don’t think this a reference to a greater manifestation of power, but it's a reference to a greater extent of power,” Clay said, noting Jesus ministry was primarily to Galilee and Judah, and it was His disciples that extended His ministry to the world.
“The question is, do we have a greater passion for greater things?” Clay asked. “Jesus gave us a greater message (we have the New Testament and the infilling of the Holy Spirit) . . . and we have a greater reach (Jesus’ works were localized, ours are globalized with local church livestreaming).”
In drawing his message to a close, Clay stated, “One of the benefits of being yoked with Jesus is living with this understanding: that He is praying for you.”
Quoting John 17:9 – “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” — Clay recalled how the Holy Spirit impressed upon him that during General Council he should remind believers that Jesus is praying for them, quoting John 17:11 and 17:15, where Jesus prays to the Father on behalf of His followers.
After sharing a story about how the English town of Dover survived World War II and the onslaught of German bombing raids, but survived due to having an internal garrison and protection from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, Clay compared it to God’s protective strategy for ministers and their ministries: The Holy Spirit who lives within believers, the Word of God in believers hands and hearts, and Christ himself who is at the hand of the Father praying on believers’ behalf.
Clay then called ministers who were facing opposition they couldn’t seem to master, have unrealistic expectations set by themselves or others that they couldn’t meet, or are experiencing depression or extreme discouragement to come to the altar or step out into the aisle as a visible marker of yoking themselves to Christ. The altar was filled with hundreds of ministers, while the aisles offered a steady stream of individuals stepping out in response to the call.
As Clay dismissed the crowd, he added this reminder:
“The ministry isn’t something that God has sentenced us to endure, He called us to it to enjoy. And I pray that throughout this week, there would be a baptism of joy in your heart for the assignment God has placed you in . . ., because the greatest privilege in the world is to be called by God to advance His kingdom here on earth.”