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What is Ministry, Anyway? (Part 1)

So what is ministry, anyway? I want to offer four ideas. Four keys that have unlocked for me what ministry is. Not that I’ve “discovered”ministry; but that as I reflect on my life, I see the gradual revealing of my participation in God’s story and how it has shaped me – but more specifically for today – how it has moulded the way that I approach this “ministry thing”. My prayer today is that God would use my story (not that you’d see me though) to give us some tangible ways in which our theology of ministry can be practically applied to our daily lives, that God might get the glory both inside and outside the church.

I don’t know when it happened. Perhaps it stemmed from my own insecurity, or an innate desire to always have the answers. But somewhere along the way, I came to the realisation that I needed to snap out of the mindset that I’m not good enough for God to use me; not yet. Does anyone else feel that way? Like you’re not going to share the gospel with your friends or colleagues because they’ll undoubtedly throw a hard question at you which you can’t answer, and you’ll do a bad job of representing Him; worse yet you’ll feel like a fool. So instead, it’s better not to share Jesus at all, right? After all, ministry is for the clergy – those people who have set aside their lives to the study of God’s word and mining the mysteries of his grace in order to teach people so we don’t have to. Jesus told his ordinary, un-seminary-trained disciples “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you[1]”. That’s a pretty powerful promise, but look at the context. Jesus had just told his disciples how he would send his Spirit to empower them to make disciples all over the world. This is a promise upon which we pray “Lord, please give me everything I need to spread your truth from wherever I live to the ends of the earth”[2].

John Wesley loved appointing unordained men to preach[3] and they were used greatly by God to impact England during the 1700s. But be careful, because this evangelistic style is far from the only way in which the gospel is shared[4]. Here’s the bottom line: the more I’ve learned about the nature of God and our identity as those who are called to become part of God’s community[5], the more I’ve come to realise that ministry is about promoting the gospel with more than our lips. It’s especially when I’ve gone through seasons of grief that I’ve seen this displayed. It was through those who (despite not having theological degrees, ohmygosh!) came and sat with me, cried with me, listened to me… and really loved me… that I had a radical (and crucial) paradigm shift in all that it meant to be part of the Body of Christ, and that God can use me today.

But there’s a danger in ministry when you swing the pendulum too far the other way. Broadly speaking, churches are filled with two types of people; thinkers and feelers[6]. I’m a thinker: studying at Bible College, on the path to ordination, and the idea of a good Old Testament prophet exegeses excites me. I get my feathers ruffled by people who come out with phrases like “I just love Jesus”in response to these loves of mine. Martin Lloyd-Jones describes these nominal Christians as those who do not believe very much in doctrine, or in understanding the scriptures; those who want to enjoy Christianity without much trouble, whom Jesus describes as having built their houses on sand[7]. The Apostle Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 13 that “if I …understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing”[8] but this is not a warning to avoid knowledge, rather it is an exhortation to have BOTH.

As Christians attend to their relationship with God and their ministry to others, we must be aware that effective spiritual formation occurs in concrete life situations, not in a theoretical vacuum[9]. Scot McKnight recalls how Jesus captured the 613 commands of the Torah in just 2; what he titles the Jesus Creed. He notes that Jesus didn’t abolish the law, nor did he declare that knowledge of God through careful study of the scriptures is no longer necessary, but rather he taught the centrality of love; understanding that every commandment is either a “love God”or a “love your neighbour”command[10]. With ministry – as with everything – we turn to consider the life of Jesus on earth. How is the human life of Jesus employed in the mission of God toward humanity? In the Synoptic gospels we read parables which show Jesus’compassion on the crowd as sheep without a shepherd[11], and he acts within this context in his teaching in the synagogues and his healing the sick, and then by his appointment of disciples to act as under-shepherds[12]. Jesus pours his life out in compassionate service, and he calls us to do the same. The best kept secret of Christian mission is that everything you do is ministry, and everything you do provides a glimpse of the love of the God who calls us to know him more.

 

[1] John 15:7, ESV Bible
[2] D. Platt, Follow Me (Illinois: Tyndale House, 2013), pp. 91-92.
[3] F. Sanders, Wesley on the Christian Life (Illinois: Crossway, 2013), p. 37
[4] S. McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), pp. 20-21.
[5] G. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God (Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1996), p. 72.
[6] M. Goldsmith, Knowing Me Knowing God (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997), page unknown (Google Books)
[7] M. Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), p. 556.
[8] 1 Corinthians 13:2, ESV Bible
[9] H. Stone & J. Duke, How to Think Theologically (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2013), p. 127.
[10] S. McKnight, One.Life: Jesus calls, we follow (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), pp. 49-52.
[11] Matthew 9:36, Mark 6:34, ESV Bible
[12] T.F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove: IV Press, 2008), p. 130.

 

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