This morning I stood in my kitchen trying to force myself to think on what it means that Christ is risen when I’m angry with my son. I stood there waiting for the french press coffee to sit a minute before stirring, thinking, “Christ has risen. It’s Easter, Sheila. That’s what your entire faith rests on. You say it changes everything. So why is it that all you can think about right now is how mad you are at your son for not doing what he said he would do?”
Finally I opened my mouth and asked God the questions brewing in my head. “What does it mean that Christ has risen, right now, to me, in this moment, Lord? What changes?”
I need to know my faith has feet.
I don’t get miraculous answers from God when I ask. I get what most get I suspect. Silence. I went on with my morning.
I left for church talking to God about my struggle with my son and my long born desire to be a Jesus-worshipping family.
I got to church and greeted kids eager to hunt for candy-filled eggs, and then sat with those kids as we talked through the story of Christ’s death and resurrection using the symbols in the Resurrection Egg set.
We used our bodies, making sad faces when Jesus’ friends were sad that Jesus died. We made the motion of the sunrise with our arms and popped our eyes wide, mouths open, when the women found Jesus’ tomb empty. We fell to the floor (in the dramatic ways 5 year olds do) when Mary encountered the angel. And we ran in place with excitement when Jesus revealed himself alive to Mary and sent her to tell the guys he was alive.
I stood and sang and released my arms to fly high declaring to my soul and any powers listening, “Praise the Father. Praise the Son. Praise the Spirit three in one!” Because no matter how I feel, no matter what I am currently struggling with, the God who has laid down his life for me in Jesus and promised me undying life in his rising, is worthy of my praise.
As I held the torn bread and deep red juice in my hands, I heard the Spirit answer my prayer from the kitchen. “His rising means you can reconcile with your son.
“leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
Matthew 5:24 CSB
Right there I put down the remembrance of Christ’s body and blood and picked up my phone to text my son an apology and a request to talk face to face. And right there I knew what Christ’s resurrection meant for me in my anger.
“Jesus answered, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. “I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you. “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful.”
John 14:23, 25-27 CSB
Christ has risen and I can’t explain it, but I love him! And that means he and the Father can be at home in me (mind blown) and the Holy Spirit will teach me Jesus’ way ways. And that means when I’m angry, tired, sad, overwhelmed…lost, I can call on him and he’ll lead me.
When I was little, pre-school, I would hop off the wooden pews every Sunday to make my way over to the place where Clarice Lemley sat. Clarice, was in my mind, exactly Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith show. She was plump and grey headed and wore flowered dresses. And she always had gum to give to kids who asked for a piece. She also had a beautiful garden and made a mean pot roast with gravy and mashed potatoes for Sunday dinner.
Clarice is one those women who influenced my life without trying. She was just her kind self. She made me feel welcome. And she evoked a desire to make something delicious and beautiful.
Today at church, a smiling, silver-headed woman, asked me about my week and listened as I shared my current struggle with the transition into mothering young adults. She shared some of her experience and hugged me.
This kind of modeling and engaging conversations between generations is something I value and deeply desire. When I experience it, I feel built up. I feel connected to something greater than me and my circumstances. I’m part of a one-anotherness. A community. I need the elders and I need the young-ones too. And they need me.
I hope to be a Clarice to children growing up in the church where I teach them in Sunday school, and sing with them on the front row. And I want to be the woman who hugged me and encouraged me today from her place a few years up the road in motherhood.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.
I took a long walk with my German Shephard, Lukas, this evening. The sun is setting earlier. The sky glows with shades of orange and pink and the world seems to cover itself with a honey-kissed filter. I’m drawn out of the house easily on these fall evenings in the Sonoran desert.
Usually I take Lukas down our suburban neighborhood streets, earbuds in, podcast or audio bible or audio book, but tonight, I walked in silence. I listened. I noticed how much I wanted to hear something. Something meaningful. Something insightful. Something I could write or share that might give another struggling soul, courage. But I heard nothing. Nothing but the sound of my steps pressing gravel into the earth. I heard kids playing in the alleyway, hollering to each other working out the rules to the game they were playing. I heard the swoosh and vroom of cars and trucks and motorcycles driving down the main road around the corner. I caught myself reaching for my phone. Wanting to scroll to find some Yoda-like tweet or inspiring instagram story.
As I walked home, noticing the changing colors in the darkening sky, accepting the noises of dusk in Phoenix, Arizona suburbs, I thought about how the daily activities of life fill my days and I very rarely accept silence.
I have no special insight to publish tonight. No word from God. No inspirational quotes.
I don’t like a lot of my circumstances. I long for God to do something new in the lives of those I love, in my own life. But tonight I’ll just quietly wait. And walk. And listen. And pray.
Whether your church calls it family ministry, children’s ministry, kids ministry… whatever it’s called, here are three reasons people often give for why they shouldn’t serve in a ministry that involves children. I propose these three reasons are exactly why you should sign up this Sunday to serve in your church’s ministry to the next generation.
Because You Aren’t a Kid Person
I hear this a lot. As a kids ministry leader at my church, I often hear people say they aren’t kid people. That’s why they don’t serve in kids ministry. And to a point there’s good reasoning there.
Not everyone is suited for holding babies, singing Jesus Loves Me with toddlers, and teaching elementary students to discern Jesus from the Bible lesson. In fact, there are some really good reasons a person should have no contact with kids in church. But just because you don’t feel all warm and fuzzy when kids are around, and you don’t talk to babies like you’re in a cartoon, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t serve in your church’s ministry to the next generation.
In fact, if you are quick to say, “I’m not a kid person,” you should sign up to serve in kids ministry. Let God take that aversion you have to kids and the chaos they may make you feel, and use it to lower yourself and listen to Jesus say, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
If you’re not a kid person, you don’t have to be the lead teacher or the one who guides the toddlers in a game of follow the leader. But get on the ground next to a kid playing with the Noah’s ark play set. Let God use those kids to show you how much he loves and accepts you as you are, and is leading you to grow up to be like Jesus.
Because You Work With Kids All Day Long
A reason many give for not serving in a ministry to children is that they work with kids every day during the week. They don’t want to work with kids at church too.
Teachers, daycare workers, preschool aides… you all are the pros! Your church’s kids ministry needs you to help them learn how to manage a classroom. We need your skills!
In Exodus 35, when Moses called the people of Israel to build the tabernacle as God instructed, he called for people with different skills to use their abilities not just for their own homes, but for the house God was having them build.
“Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded… All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair… ‘See the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Juday; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship…” Exodus 35:10, 26, 30-31
Jesus is building his church. And one way he does that is by calling people with different abilities in the church to serve one another using those skills. There’s an ability needed to guide a group of kids to listen and learn together. If you have that skill, sign up this Sunday to serve in your church’s ministry to the next generation. Build Jesus’ kingdom with your classroom management talents.
Towards the end of his message, Piper responds to Paul’s desire to go to Jerusalem in Acts 20:22, as a fictional American trying to talk some sense into the elderly apostle:
But Paul, you’re getting old. How ’bout a little cottage on the Aegean Sea? You’ve already done more in your ministry than most people could do in five lifetimes. It’s time to rest. Let the last twenty years of your life be travel and golf, shuffleboard and putzing around the garage and digging in the garden. Let Timothy have a chance. He’s young. Don’t go to Jerusalem. Agabus the prophet has told you, they are going to bind your hands and feet and hand you over to the Gentiles (Acts 21:11). And whatever you do, don’t go to Rome. And get out of your head the crazy plan of going to Spain at your age. You could get yourself killed. It isn’t American! It’s not the American Dream of ‘the sunset years.
The point of Piper’s message is old age in Jesus’ church isn’t a reason for sitting back and relaxing while younger folks do the work of the ministry. And it isn’t just John Piper preaching this message. In the Bible the psalmist pleads with God to give him a ministry even when he’s old, “So even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” (Psalm 71:18)
And in Joshua 14:6-15, when 85 year old Caleb finally enters the land God promised Israel, he tells Joshua, “And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”
Not every person of retirement age can get down on the ground with toddlers, but if you’re a retiree and you can enter a church building, this Sunday you should sign up to serve the next generation of parents and children in your church.
Ok, that’s four, and it’s not a reason people give for not wanting to serve in a ministry to children. But I think it’s a reason many of us serious folks might unconsciously use as a reason we avoid kids ministry.
I tend to be too serious. In fact, it’s a prayer of mine this year that I will laugh more. I know that’s pathetic, but its true. Serving in kids ministry has caused me to laugh and have fun even while the hard things of life happen around us.
Proverbs 31 speaks of the woman who is clothed with strength and dignity. She opens her mouth and teaches others with kindness and wisdom. And she laughs at the time to come.
When you lower yourself to sit criss-cross and sing Jesus Loves Me with toddlers; when you learn to teach Jesus to a child, you will grow in strength and dignity and you’ll find yourself having the best kind of fun. You’ll laugh with a pure heart and it will be good!
I pray this stirs your heart. I pray if you’re not a kid person, and if you’re a teacher person or a retired person, you will turn your reasons for not serving the children and parents in your church into the reasons you sign up to serve them on Sunday.
In the days after the November 3rd election, I scrolled through my Twitter and Facebook feeds, reading posts from people with crosses, fish symbols and scripture references in their taglines, that left me grieved.
They used words like, “go to hell,” held up their Bibles, guns, favored-candidate’s flag, and accused other Christians on social media of being “baby-killers” and “lost” because they pledged to pray for a pro-choice democrat if elected. In response I tweeted this question:
“Christian, if you’re cutting people off, calling them names, mocking and slandering them, how exactly are you loving your enemies?”
But simply sub-tweeting a pained reply to what I read on social media isn’t going to make the difference I long to see.
One of the writers I follow on Twitter, recently said:
“It’s easier to write a book about a subject than to live the subject in a low, slow, & consistent way. If we think we’ll make a bigger difference in the world thru publishing our message than by simply living our message, God will (hopefully tenderly, softly, kindly) correct us.” – @lorewilbert
Social media and the internet make it easy for anyone to write anything. But as Lore points out, living the words we publish in a, “…low, slow & consistent way,” is the real world-changer. The incarnation of our words is a demonstration of power. To persuade a group of people to like what you say or repeat what you say is a kind of power. But to take the words you say and live them out changes lives.
It was easy for me to post my subtweet response on Facebook. It will be much harder, and much more an evidence of the power of Christ in me when I love the people who post such things, the same way Christ has loved me.
It feels weird to say it, but my “enemies” are people who use mean words on social media to demonize people they don’t agree with. Living out what I wrote, “low and slow” means praying for those people. Taking actual time out of my day to move my lips and complain to God, not social media, seeking mercy on their behalf just as I have been shown great mercy from Jesus. And if possible, meeting with them personally to humbly listen and share the truth and grace of Jesus.
Jesus is clear. The way he has prescribed and empowered us to follow him is from a humble, gentle, yet bold posture. A posture that doesn’t use words to tear people down or prop yourself up. The way commanded to us is a way of wisdom, self-control and gracious speech. But, is there a time for Christians to mock or use name calling?
In the Bible, Jesus called the religious leaders who tied heavy burdens on their followers and used them for financial gain a, “brood of vipers” (Matthew 23).
In the Bible, Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:27) in an ancient showdown.
These examples make us stand up and cheer! We latch on easily to the person with the wittiest comebacks and sharpest jabs. We hear meek Jesus put those Pharisees on blast, and Elijah drop the mic on the prophets of Baal, and we arm ourselves Biblical support for mocking and name calling.
I doubt that any of us can, with a pure heart, call another people group a degrading name, or make fun of another religion’s gods, in a way that fulfills Christ’s commission to make disciples. But even if there are times when such shocking words are spoken with humility and boldness, these biblical examples don’t prescribe a mode of operation for Christians.
If our mode of operation as Christians turns from the humble, bold way of Jesus, to the in-your-face, mocking, proud, name-calling way of the culture and wayward leaders, I fear we will offend our neighbors and enemies and wall ourselves in tight from all opposing views so well, we will lose the chance to win them to Christ.
A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, And contentions are like the bars of a castle. – Proverbs 18:19
Despair. That’s the word that comes to mind when I hear the news stories of late.
This morning, while I was getting ready to go to church, my husband sat at the kitchen table shaking his head. The news story about the two L.A. police officers, shot while they sat in their police car was on his news feed. “This is just disgusting! What is the world coming to!” he moaned.
My husband doesn’t yet hope in Jesus. I’ll spend my life praying, believing and living so that one day he will. Today, it was apparent to me, knowing where your hope lies is so important.
I asked my husband, “What’s your hope?” He struggled to voice a solution he thought might fix the problem of violence against police officers and the rhetoric he sees playing out in the public that makes it seem he’s the bad guy for being a police officer. His hope is that someone will someday fix this societal problem of violence and hate. He sees the bad guys, and hopes someone will stop them. The question that looms is, who’s going to fix the problem of evil?
What is my hope? A politician? Philanthropy? More police? Stricter laws? A different governmental system? Who’s going to fix this mess we’re all in?
When I voiced my hope to my husband this morning I got a bit of what the apostles got in Acts 4 when the leaders around them were, “…greatly annoyed because they were… proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” (Acts 4:2). My husband wasn’t greatly annoyed. But he was a little annoyed. “I don’t buy it!” he quipped. “I don’t think Christ is going to change these thugs’ and make them good people.” He couldn’t believe that Christ could make life-giving good people out of murders. And I get it. I don’t want Christ to make them life-giving good people. I tend to want Christ to just destroy them! I have a Jonah problem. But that’s another blog.
What my husband was annoyed at is my hope that the resurrected Jesus I believe in, who can’t be seen and touched, can make any difference in the world. And that’s just it. I believe he does, and is and will.
Right now, he’s in me and many others, moving us with his heart of perfect love and justice to self-sacrificially love others, forgive, stand up for the truth, for those who are oppressed, extending our lives and the good news that this Jesus we love is the only one who really can make all things new.
It’s good for us to use the systems we have to do as much good as we can, but ultimately, it is only Jesus who can take a dead, evil-infested heart, and make it alive with love and truth.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
On May 27th, the New York Times published the 100,000 names of people who died from Coronavirus. If you scroll down the screen of the online piece, you’ll see the images of humans scattered sparsley at first, then densly as time moves forward. Next to many of these human icons you’ll read the name, age and something specific about that person- their occupation, hobby or passion. The response intended from such a piece is sobriety and grief. Maybe if you read the names you’ll stop living with this intoxicated view that everything is fine. Maybe you’ll even feel sad that so many have lost their lives to this disease. When I first read the article I remember feeling sober and sad. But I also had questions. What would we do if we knew the 100,000? What if we knew the wrong they’ve done? Would we honor them like Jesus honors the undeserving? Would we do the vulnerable work of discipleship?
In my work as a nurse, and before that as a nurse’s aide, I’ve cared for people whose family members disowned them. Some had been abusive. Some were addicts. Some had abandoned their children. I’m sure my patients over the years have done many grievous things. My tending to their needs in times of illness, debility or injury is not dictated by how these people lived their lives. Yes it is my job, but also, I believe my work exemplifies the way God made us to live- to love and serve one another. Even when we know the evil the other has done. As a nurse, this way of loving isn’t passive or sugar-coated. It requires the broken to do things that hurt so they can get better, and at times it compels me to ask patients facing their mortality what their hope is.
Today, I read a heartbreaking story from David French about his friend and former client, Mike Adams. Mr. French’s eulogy is titled: A Eulogy for a Friend, a Lament for our Nation. America today—broken people, breaking each other. I was disturbed, convicted and saddened by what I read. Mr. French’s friend had said provocative things. And people sought his ruin in response. I don’t know if someone loved Mr. Adams enough to get close and express concern about things he said. As a people with screens in our faces, we don’t get face to face with others, see their sins and deal with them in an effort to bring wholeness. We do what Mr. French said. We break each other.
Undoubtedly there were many Mike Adams among the hundreds of thousands who’ve died of Covid-19. When the masses die we, as a culture, lament. But when among the masses one is exposed for some evil thing he or she said or did, we crush them. Jesus is not like this. And his people should not be like this either.
There is a distinct difference between our tendency to swoon over people and then destroy those same people on social media from a safe distance, and Jesus. Jesus doesn’t swoon, he knows what’s in people. He knows the evil that lurks in us all. But that knowing doesn’t lead him to destroy. Jesus, knowing what’s in us, deals with us, on a personal level. He lowers himself. He serves, even his betrayers, washing their feet (see John 13). We don’t naturally do this. The virtue of vulnerable love that exposes wickedness and offers redemption and reconciliation, is distinctly Christlike.
I expect humans to devour each other. But as Christians, vulnerable love should distinguish us from the rest of humanity. We should display a tangible foreignness in how we engage people, whether we know the wrong they’ve done or not. Not that we won’t be guilty of swooning and stabbing people, we will. I have. But we should be a people turning from idolizing and impaling others with our words. Increasingly, we should be a people noted for honoring and serving others, not because they’re good, but because Christ is good.
We have been sacrificially and scandalously served and loved by the God who knew our wickedness before we performed it. Therefore, as Christians, we should exhibit a kind of sobriety about humanity that knows the evil we’re all capable of. And with that sobriety we should bravely engage our fellow man with an other-wordly love.
There are a lot of shoulds in this blog. I don’t like shoulds. I want to be motivated by love, not rules. But just like a good parent, there is a need to remind a child what he should be doing, because we love him. I am as guilty as any of looking at the masses with sentimentality or with slander on my tongue. All these shoulds are aimed at me first. It’s hard to love like Jesus. It’s vulnerable. But it’s what I’m called to do. And it is love, that motivates me to do it.
The masses are dying around us, but get close Christian, close enough to love your enemy with your hands, like Jesus did with Judas. Get close enough to have a gracious conversation over coffee with your neighbor about what you heard your him say, like Jesus did with the woman at the well. Get low with the marginalized and despised, like Jesus did with lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes. Don’t engage others this way because they’re kind or good. But because the Spirit of the Lord Jesus is upon us and he is immeasurably kind and good.
I’m learning that the heroes of my American Christianity held out the gospel with one hand and the chains of their slaves with the other. I’m learning that the history I’ve been taught has left out a lot. As a result, I have believed a whitewashed narrative that made the wickedness my country’s greatness was built on look like noble American Christian bravery.
I’m learning at the least, the American church has turned a deaf ear to racism and at worst has preached and practiced it as Biblical. I’m learning that there are structures and practices in American government and in the church that have marginalized the lives and worth of black people.
I’m learning that my black friends are tired. Tired of trying to explain why. Tired of my passivity and ignorance. I’m learning that I don’t know what I don’t know.
I’m learning that I resist listening to people I can’t help, don’t understand, disagree with or feel uncomfortable around, and that in refusing to listen, a part of my heart has grown cold. My refusal to listen has increased my comfort and decreased my compassion. My refusal to listen has let the lies that have propped up my white sons’ insecurities go unchallenged. And because I haven’t listened I haven’t learned. And because I haven’t learned my neighbors have not experienced the hands and feet of Jesus that come with the hope of his gospel.
I began by listening to my Eritrean American friend, and fellow nurse. She told me in an aisle at the grocery store about her thankfulness for what she sees as God’s protection on her life and her family these 20 past years in America. I listened as she asked how my police officer husband was doing and told me she was praying for him. I listened as she told me she is afraid for her black sons.
And then I listened to my white teenage sons spout off support of President Trump. I asked questions and challenged them to explain what they supported about Trump. As a mother and a Trump detractor, my skin crawls thinking that in their teenage insecurity, my white sons might be drawn to and impressed by the machismo of the Trump presidency. I want to take Trump down in their minds with a lot of bad words, but instead I listened, trying to understand why they are where they are in their thought process. Then I told my sons we were going to listen to the Color of Compromise together. We sat, listened and began a dialogue.
I listened as the administrators of the Be the Bridge group I joined asked me to be quiet for three months on their social media group and do the work they provided me to learn. It’s an act of repentance of my ignorance to do the work of hearing from my black neighbor’s perspective.
I listened as a white, mentally-ill homeless woman told me how she got where she’s at and why she feels so stuck. I listened as she told a story of a lifetime of abuse, rejection and poverty.
Then I turned off the social media and listened to Moses and Job and Isaiah and David and Daniel and Jesus. I listened as the Spirit of God began stirring a fire in me. The cold places of my passive heart began to warm with compassion and conviction. The notes section of my iPhone are filled with quotes from scripture all telling me, “I am the God who saved you out of slavery to the sin of cowardliness. I am the God who lowered himself taking the form of a servant to lift you up and make you a child of God. Turn from your ignorance, your passivity, your cowardliness, your silence. Learn to listen. Learn to speak. Speak the truth in love. Love your neighbor and your enemy.”
I listened to God tell Cain, “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground” and Job’s friends tell him all the reasons he was wrong about why he was suffering. I listened to Job tell me to stop being a miserable comforter to my black friends.
I listened as God called Moses to go to the government structure enslaving his people and insist that they let them go. I listened to Isaiah and the prophets pleading with me to learn to do good, love mercy and work justice. I listened to David declare the heart of God for the widow, the oppressed and poor. I listened to Daniel confess and repent of his sins and the sins of his fathers.
I listened to Jesus declare that I must love others, including my enemies and those who see me as an enemy, just like he has loved me. I listened as he and his apostle’s declared that love born from his Spirit in me will not only declare the gospel but extend a healing hand and care for the physical needs of the people around me.
And I listened to my pastor call for me to examine myself to see, am I a Jesus person? Do I believe Jesus makes me righteous and do I love my neighbor by speaking the truth in love and, “disadvantaging myself to advantage someone else”?
I know, like any work of the Spirit of God in me, this must be an enduring work. Listening must become a practice. A rhythm. Speaking the truth in love must become a discipline. Working justice for the oppressed must become part of a gospel-driven, “long obedience in the same direction.” Saying and believing black lives matter and living a life that repents of the racist thoughts and beliefs that have become an ingrained part of the narrative that has kept me quiet and ignorant for so long, must become as daily as breathing. Something my black neighbors have been fighting to do for generations in this country and in the church.
Lord help me. Help me to be a listener. A learner. A repenter. A servant. A lover of my neighbor and my enemy. Help me to boldly declare the scandalous gospel that saved me and boldly decry the injustice that your gospel and your kingdom are driving out. Please call my sons to be men who chose the sufferings of Christ over the riches of this world and lay down their lives for others.
Tomorrow, people all over the U.S. will go to a local church. I have an opinion about what most of us going to church tomorrow think doing ministry means. I’d guess if you asked the average church attender, who among them is doing the work of the ministry, I bet they’d point to the pastor, the elders, the worship team, the children’s ministry leaders and teachers, and the student ministry leaders. I’d guess very few would say, “Me. I am doing the work of the ministry.” But that is exactly who the Bible says is to be doing the work of the ministry.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” Ephesians 4:11-12
I serve as the kids ministry director at my church. This isn’t the first time I’ve served in kids ministry in church. But this is the first time I’ve ever been on staff with a church and the first time I’ve submitted myself to learning to lead others well for the kingdom’s sake. This year I’ve come to realize what the mindset about ministry is among those of us who go to church and serve in some capacity on a team in our churches. The prevailing thought seems to be something like, “I serve at my church. But the pastor and the kids ministry director and the worship leader… the staff are ‘in ministry’.”
I have a theory about the connection between the lack of passion among church members about their role as Christians in the church, at home, at work and in their neighborhoods. I believe the lack of zeal among us is at least in part because we think of ministry as something that the church staff or pastor or missionaries do. We don’t think of ministry as what the nurse, the pool guy, the college student who works at Dairy Queen and the stay-at-home mom does.
I believe the thought that ministry is something pastors or missionaries, not average everyday church members do, creates a task-oriented service mindset. Without “the saints” being equipped and having a passion and conviction within themselves that they are called to ministry, volunteerism and service teams in churches will lack passion and gospel growth.
I’m in a great local church. There’s a healthy mantra among the staff and leaders in my church that says, “We don’t use people to build the church. We use the church to build people.” We believe the heavy lifting is on our knees, asking God to move on hearts, save our friends, and fill us with joy in serving one another. But I’ve noticed in myself and in other volunteers in the church, when feel burned-out or run-down in serving, it can almost always be traced back to what motivates us to serve. If we see serving at church as a good thing to do, as sort of a holy task we add to our weekly to-do list, we run out of steam. When we drag our busy lives along with us and add church on at the end (or beginning) of a busy week, serving in any capacity on a Sunday feels like a tax.
But when we see our lives in light of the gospel; when we see our lives as not our own; when we see our lives as being for, “…the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ,” a fire of love drives our service.
The Bible lays out the case that every Christian is in ministry. Each one of us makes up a, “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). As a side note, I wonder if a lot of the drive behind women in some Christian circles striving to be honored as pastors comes out of a lack of belief that every Christian (male or female) is in ministry. But I digress.
So what is, “the work of the ministry”? We certainly aren’t all to quit our day jobs and start vocational roles as pastors, teachers or missionaries. So what does it mean to be in ministry for those not in full-time vocations of teaching or preaching or leading in the church? I’m sure it means more, but I see at least three things it means. To do the work of the ministry is to:
Build up other people in the local church so they can become more like Jesus. Ephesians 4 says that Christ gave pastors and teachers to the church to equip us to do the work of the ministry so that we would grow mature in Christ. Jesus calls us shift workers, artists, plumbers, students and parents to ministry so that the other people in our local church will grow up! We help each other grow. The work of the ministry isn’t philanthropic or volunteer work in general. Ministry is how one Christian serves another person in the local church to help them become more like Jesus.
Be ambassadors for Christ to the those in our neighborhoods and work, outside the church. An ambassador is a representative of one country stationed in another. Christian, we are ministers and ambassadors of Jesus’ kingdom as God works through us to bring the hope of the gospel to those who do not believe (2 Corinthians 5:14, 20). That is ministry every Christian is called to. We represent Christ to the world. And that leads to the last thing I see doing the work of the ministry means.
Serve Christ with my whole life. For eternity we will be talking about the riches of the grace Christ has poured on us, bringing us into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5-7). We give nothing- no services, no sacrifice- that is not first given to us in Jesus. And so to do the work of the ministry is to give myself with zeal daily to his service. Whatever I do, whether it be at my local church on Sunday morning, or on Tuesday evening with my kids doing homework, or on Saturday with my husband cleaning the house, or any other thing I do all week… my life is not my own. Christ died for me so I would stop living for myself and start living for him, as I was made to (2 Corinthians 5:15).
All of life for the Christian is ministry. And when we see our lives that way, serving in some capacity on a Sunday will be one way we are doing the work of the ministry, building others in the church up to make them more like Jesus.
“Who’s Jason Vance?” you may ask. Nobody famous. And that’s the whole point. He’s the young church-planting pastor of my local church.
A few years ago my small church closed. My pastor retired, went into a teaching ministry role and moved to Oregon. That sent me and my two sons into about three years of having no local church. I tried. Every Sunday I set out to services at a different church, hoping to find the one that fit for us. As the weeks went on, and nothing seemed to be a good fit, John Piper, Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, Ray Ortlund and other famous pastors’ fed me with good teaching online without requiring me to leave my house. And I found it harder and harder to even want to find a local church.
But when trouble came, I couldn’t lean on online preachers. I needed a local group of Christians I could get to know and who would get to know me so we could bear one another’s burdens. I eventually found a good church where I now serve as a kids ministry leader, and am part of a small group of people I would never have formed friendships with if it were not for this local church. But I noticed something in the first months at my church: I was comparing my pastor’s preaching and my church’s liturgy to what I had been listening and watching online for the past three years.
I’m not sure exactly when it hit me, but somewhere between my pastor preaching and prayers with a neighbor I was convicted that if I wanted to love my church and be part of what God is doing through her, I had to stop comparing her to famous churches and pastors or some ideal version of church I had in my head.
I am not saying it’s wrong to be a famous pastor or large church or even to listen to online sermons or teachings from well-known Christian leaders. But I am saying I think there’s a correlation between the obsession we Americans have with independence, fame, wealth and size and our disconnection from the unknown local pastor, church and Jesus’ call to love one another as he has loved us. Actually, its not even just us Americans. The early church in Corinth had the same problem. And Paul chastised them.
“…for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” 1 Corinthians 3:3-5
In sharing all this with my pastor the other day he said something that really summed up the whole reason I stopped listening to Matt Chandler and started listening to my pastor, Jason Vance. He said something like, “You can’t face conflict and use the gospel with an idea.” That’s all you have when you only listen to Christian leaders online or in books- an idea. But in the local church you have people that are going to fail you, and you’re going to fail them. In the local church you’ll have to use the gospel face to face.
I see loved ones and friends who prefer a church they can walk in and out of without connecting with anyone; or a podcast-ed sermon from a famous pastor; or even time alone with their Bible in silence over investing themselves in the lives of the broken people in their local church. I was once one of them. For many, past church hurt keeps them from connecting and submitting to a local church. For others, it’s the problems we see in the culture in local churches that turn us off. The thing is, the very reason many of us have shrunk back from the local church is the reason we need to press into her.
It’s too easy to be in agreement with the ideas of Christianity and not actually live them out. When you hear a compelling message from Matt Chandler online you can, “Amen!” all you want, but unless you’re having to forgive and be forgiven in a face-to-face relationship with broken people like you, you’re just an idea-lover. Jesus wants us to be people-lovers like him. He laid down his life, not for an idea, but for hypocrites, and humbled sinners, rich and poor, healthy and disabled, religious and rebellious. Jesus laid his life down for the church. And we’re to lay down our lives for one another.