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What is Ministry, Anyway? (Part 2)

God is the Creator. Therefore, in order to be faithful we must inquire concerning God’s purpose in and for his creation. The world exists as the product of the outflow of divine love; the eternal relationship between Father, Spirit and Son, and his invitation for us to participate in the life of the Trinity[1]. God is not simply saving individuals and preparing them for heaven, but rather he’s setting apart a people among whom he can dwell, and who by their unity and diversity can represent his life and love to all nations[2]. Everyone gets community, but recently this took on new meaning for me when I became the step-father to a 10 year old with Cerebral Palsy, a hearing impairment and an intellectual impairment. The Apostle Paul talks about God’s sovereign and loving arrangement of His people in 1 Corinthians 12:18. So, with the knowledge that God has intentionally ordained some to be weaker, by Paul’s definition our churches are not complete without the presence of people living with some form of “disability”. But if that’s the case, why is it that we don’t see more people who are in some way disabled in our churches?

Let’s be clear about something from the outset though: these people have never been deliberately excluded from the church; in fact every Pastor I have direct contact with would be more than welcoming. So where’s the blockage? In his book Disability & the Gospel, Michael Beates says that if people with disabilities are not welcomed by the church, much less aggressively pursued by the church, it may be because, like the world around us, we would rather think we are on the way to recovery; that we are strong in Christ and healthy. We would rather not be bothered by the care that those who live with brokenness require. We don’t wish to be reminded by their very presence how much like them we really are. The truth is, we are all –every one of us –spiritually disabled. Seeing those who live with a physical or mental impairment to what we consider to be “normal”(another paradigm that Beates encourages us to re-evaluate in light of the fact that every one of us is made in the Imago Dei which is inclusive of mind, body and soul), disability is no longer a question of kind, but simply of degrees. We all suffer from a debilitating condition whereby we need help for our very survival. In declaring our innate inability and God’s supreme ability, we can gather around us like-minded broken people and like-bodied broken people, together witnessing in a radically counter-cultural way that when we are weak he is strong, and God rightly receives the glory as he uses our brokenness to display his grace[3]. The truth is, God seldom uses the powerful and the beautiful to achieve his purposes; his power shows up best in brokenness. I actually love the way that God has brought brokenness into my life; both through circumstances like divorce, and more recently through learning to live out grace in a household touched by disability. For me, ministry has to be the call of Jesus in Luke 14 to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”, and understand what that looks like for us, for our church, and for the Kingdom in the trenches of every day life.

One of the greatest traps of Christianity is to be so focused on the gift(s) that we lose sight of the Giver. Forgiveness of sins, guilt washed away, imputed righteousness, a blessed life, entry into heaven. But the bible teaches us that the best and final gift of the gospel is God himself[4]. Through the difficult times, it didn’t seem to matter whether I understood perichoresis or what my view on substitutionary atonement was. The fact that God had graciously drawn me into an intimate, regular relationship with him was the only thing that carried me through. I’ve heard it said (as an accusation by Atheists, mostly) that religion – or more specifically, Jesus – is a crutch. I would argue that Jesus isn’t a crutch, as though he would be something we lean on in order to hobble through life; but rather, he’s the entire life-support system. When the rubber met the road, I discovered that ministry is rooted in the call of Jesus in Matthew 6 to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret”[5]. It’s this truth that we need to value above all else; Christian ministry is first of all the vertical ministry of my participation in the loving community of the trinity, and then secondly the horizontal ministry of my living and loving as a part of the local community of faith.

Listen to this quote from Jonathan Edwards. He says

“but it is doubtless true, and evident from [the] Scriptures, that the essence of all true religion lies in holy love; and that in this divine affection, and an habitual disposition to it, and that light which is the foundation of it, and those things which are the fruits of it, consists the whole of religion.”[6]

Edwards understood that ministry is always an act of love. Love first and foremost to and for God, and then to and for others as the natural inclination of a heart filled from spending time with the God who defines love. Ministry isn’t super-spiritual. Ministry is spending time experiencing the trinity who is community; then enacting that community through participation in extending his grace to your neighbour. Now you might ask “Who is my neighbour?” like the lawyer asked Jesus in Luke 10[7]. What was Jesus answer in a nutshell? Who does he command us to treat as our neighbour in this way?

Ministry is never isolated. It’s so prevalent in our language today, but did you know that Jesus didn’t choose “personal relationship with God” to express what God was doing, but instead he chose the term Kingdom. The church is a special community; it is the people of God. As this people, our purpose is to bring glory to the triune God by fulfilling the mandate he entrusted to us. A big part (if not all) of this Kingdom notion and mandate is captured by the word “ministry”. Worship, evangelism, acts of service, loving the way you would want to be loved; all these things are who we were created to be and embody who we were created to represent. As we’ve seen today, ministry isn’t some spiritual act reserved for Pastors, nor can it be carried out apart from participation in community. We’re all ministers, and we’ve been called – set apart – that through our lives we might shine – we might minister – the glory of God to the nations.

[1] S. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), p. 112.
[2] G. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God (Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1996), p. 72.
[3] M. Beates, Disability & the Gospel (Illinois: Crossway, 2012), p. 162.
[4] 1 Peter 3:18, ESV Bible
[5] Matthew 6:6, ESV Bible
[6] J. Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affection (kindle edition), k.769.
[7] Luke 10:25-37, ESV Bible

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