Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
Our Bible study in my church this Summer has been on missional living and ministering outside the walls of the church. It looks at the New Testament church as described in the Bible and observes that those Christians (all of them…not just the apostles) were actively involved in responding to the human needs around them. Only some of them were Apostles, only some were pastors, but all of them were ministers…all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and were being used by God to accomplish significant things in the world around them. You may recall from this post that I believe in a mobilized laity, i.e., laymen who are actively involved in ministry.
Well, I can tell you from personal experience what won’t work.
Do NOT start by identifying all of the human suffering and human needs around your church and then trying to structure to meet those needs. That approach seems logical enough. It is what I would call an “agency” approach: first identify the needs, then structure to meet them, then raise the funds to support the structure, then recruit the human resources to support the vision. It makes sense, doesn’t it? But without a healthy dose of exploring who your people are (i.e., your church, your pool of human resources) and how God is at work in their lives and how they have been gifted, you will end up with a ministry that looks good on paper but which lacks energy, passion, a sense of God’s presence and a never-ending battle of trying to convince church members that this ministry is worth propping up one more year. In short, it will wear you out.
In the first place, God has not called your church to meet every human need in your community. Remember Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15)? Scores, maybe hundreds of crippled people around the pool and Jesus walked past all of them, healed one of them, and left. I believe God has equally specific focuses for Christians and for churches today. Furthermore, think about how many ministries you have seen that were “prolonged” long after the visionary leader left and ended up floundering embarrassingly because there was nobody left with any vision for it. Institutional religion is all about survival of the institution, and it seems we will continue budgeting indefinitely for ministries without any Spirit-filled leadership or vision. Finally, you wake up one day and look across the landscape of your church and realize that very little ministry is really taking place, that your people are largely disconnected from any sense of ministry outside the walls of the church and that the few ministries that are on the books are on life-support for lack of interest.
Don’t get me wrong. Churches do need to be familiar with the human need around them, but that familiarity requires little more than just opening our eyes and being willing to see. Where we often totally miss the mark, however, is in being familiar with our own people and how God has already gifted us to meet needs.
If we want to know what God is calling us to do, we must shift our focus from the vast world around us and take a look at how God is working in the lives of our people, how He manifests Himself through them and through their gifts. We must get better at taking every single Christ-follower entrusted to us and helping him/her discover his/her ministry. It involves assessing that person’s passions, experiences, training, and yes, Spiritual gifts. It involves creating a culture where it is assumed that every Christ-follower has a job to do and needs to figure out what it is and get to work. And it means leadership must make this one of our first and foremost responsibilities: encouraging our people to get involved in adding value to someone else’s life.
I want to be a part of a church who asks every member, “Have you found your ministry yet?” I think we should expect this of one another, and I think we do each other wrong when we let each other off the hook on this very important point. If I could start a campaign in the church today, any campaign at all that would begin to address this, it would be that we all ask each other that one simple question.
So what about it…have you found your ministry yet?
© Blake Coffee
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