Confession with a Chuckle

So sad, but true. Here, in a 3 minute video, is a pretty accurate recap of the first 3/4 of my ministry life. I was a “fixer”, a “designer”, a “planner”, and “program author”. Could write all the manuals, teaching points, charts and illustrations, and bullet lists for any conceivable ministry effort. I was often lost in paperwork for days at a time.

Jesus laughed at me a lot. Nothing wrong with my heart, just sort of had my priorities a bit confused. I used to believe in “interruptions”. I don’t anymore. There’s just “opportunities”.

How about you and those you serve with? Which do you believe in?

“Interruptions to the Work of Ministry”

or

“Opportunities to Minister” ?

How do we look at an unexpected expression of need? I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did! Grace to thee!

Defining Ministry

In today’s world, we think of ministry as a sort of professional occupation; so and so has a “ministry” or so and so is a “minister”. A “ministry” must be some kind of an organization with offices, budgets and employees or volunteers. It must be headed up by a professional minister; the boss, the big cheese…

Jesus had an earthly ministry for 3 ½ years; we read all about it in the Gospels. Do you recall His office address? Was He some kind of professional “bigwig”?

No.

Since Jesus is our model, maybe we should ask ourselves if there is a difference between His “ministry” and the modern concept we are all familiar with. Jesus told us more than once that He was here to do His Father’s will; we know that He had a great purpose which was to glorify his Father by accomplishing His Father’s purpose on the cross. Just looking at these few words, familiar to all of us, we can see that the ministry of Jesus was to serve His Father’s will and purpose; how did He do this?  In all that He said and did, Jesus served His Father by serving people in a way that achieved the Father’s will: Jesus was God’s servant in addition to being God’s Son.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this, since our words “minister” and “ministry” come from a Greek word meaning “servant”. Thus, a minister is a servant and a ministry is a service. What purpose does this service fulfill? It fulfills God’s purpose, which is to raise up ministers (servants) of God. Jesus put it this way:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

Simply stated, a disciple is one who knows what the Master knows and who does what the Master does. Our Master is Jesus Christ, and we know what He taught His disciples from the Gospel accounts, and from the truths revealed to us in Scripture. What did Jesus do? He served God by serving others in a way that accomplished God’s purpose, which was to establish His Kingdom on the earth. What do we do? We serve God by serving others in a way that achieves God’s purpose which is the building up of His Kingdom by making disciples of Jesus Christ.

This may take many forms as He leads us forward, but it always comes back to serving God by serving others, and what greater service is there to God than building His Kingdom by making disciples? What greater service is there to another human being than to lead them from darkness into light and building them up into the Kingdom of our Lord? In fact, this is the greatest act of love that there is, and it is what Biblical ministry is all about.

The Relationship of Community

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Romans 12:4-5

Each of us as a Christian has a relationship with Jesus Christ, a personal intimate relationship at least we can have such a relationship if we are willing to take care of it. That relationship however, is not just for our personal benefit; it is also for the building up of the Body of Christ, the church. According to Paul, we actually belong to each other. Each one of us has a role to play in the Body of Christ, a role developed and assigned by Christ Himself, or as we often say, “He has a plan for each of us.”

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

1Corinthians 12:12-14

In these verses we gain a bit more insight into this process; we have all been given one Spirit “to drink” the Holy Spirit who indwells us. The Holy Spirit will manifest Himself in each of us in different ways to build up the Body of Christ, the church, and none of us are a whole body in ourselves. We are “complete” in the Body of Christ as each of us does out part. Therefore, we must not only have relationship with Jesus on our own, but also in community with other believers, and obviously we call this community the church.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13

Paul takes us another step forward in these verses. Note that it begins with the mention of 5 manifestations of the Holy Spirit; we call these manifestations “spiritual gifts”. Notice also that they (and all of the other spiritual gifts) have a purpose greater than any one of us: The building up of the Body of Christ, the church. Through the building up of each of us into the Body of Christ “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature. We do not attain these things as “loners” and we really mustn’t let ourselves be fooled into thinking otherwise; it’s the Devil’s lie!

Here’s the really awesome part: When that happens, and only then, will we attain “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”.

Do you see how this works? No… do you really see it?

It begins with salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It continues with our relationship with Him through the Holy Spirit, and as we grow in relationship, we begin to see the Spirit made manifest in and through us in some way as we begin to be built up in the Body. We continue to serve in the Body as we continue to grow in maturity. We attain unity, understanding, healing, sight, wholeness, cleansing, love and justice; our lives are transformed. This is the “movement” that is the church, or at least what the church is supposed to be.

Are our local church bodies like this? To be honest and fair, I must say that some are and some are not; actually, since I said I’d be honest, most are not. Having made a study on the subject, I can report to you that there are three main reasons that a local congregation finds itself in the “not” column. The first reason is that it has become too rigidly institutionalized, yet even within an institutional structure; a local congregation can be transformed if its members will learn to think of church differently. The second reason is that a local congregation will be stuck in the way they’ve always done things with the result that form triumphs over substance. The form is “doing church”. The substance is relationship and community. Can this be corrected? Yes, when the members learn to think differently about church and relationship. The third reason is that the members of the local congregation think of relationship with the Lord as being just for them, and not in the framework of sharing and serving in the Body of Christ. This can be overcome by a leader in that congregation who will allow the Spirit to work through him (or her) to show the congregation they must cast their view outwardly instead of inwardly.

Here is a trustworthy saying of my own invention: Whatever the challenge may be, nothing is ever changed by the same old lazy thinking.

Church as Relationship

Church began with relationship, the relationship between Jesus and His disciples. Each of the disciples knew Jesus in fact they knew Him pretty well, at least in human terms. They spent three years together travelling, eating, talking, laughing, crying and learning; they were close friends. Over time, the disciples came to love and trust Jesus.

We also have relationships with Jesus, although that relationship is somewhat different than the disciples had with Him when He walked the earth. The relationship that we have with Him is of the type the disciples had with Him after Pentecost; it is a spiritual relationship. Yet, we mustn’t allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking that a spiritual relationship is any less personal or intimate than being close friends in the physical realm would be, for the opposite is actually the case.

A great deal of space on this blog is dedicated to the building of our relationships with our Lord, for this is the key relationship in a Christian’s life… at least it should be. It is a relationship filled with wonder and awe, and sometimes with amazing lessons. As wonderful as this relationship can be, it brings with it a danger. The danger is that we might forget that Jesus died for all, and not just for me. In those cases, it might seem like John said:

For God so loved me that He gave His one and only Son, that if I believe in Him I will not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (?)

Isn’t that a nice thought? The only problem is that I have misquoted John.

Our personal relationships with Jesus are wonderful, and yes, it is for you and me to enjoy with Him, but this personal relationship is only a beginning step from which greater and more wonderful things emerge for the benefit of others. Here, I’ll put this another way: I get all I need from my relationship with Jesus, but to be completely honest with you, I get more than I need from my relationship with Jesus, and He gives me the extra to share with others. If I decide to horde that extra for myself, I am just like the servant who buried the talent the Master gave him, and like that servant, I will have much to answer for.

The Kingdom Jesus preached was a movement. Wherever Jesus went, things happened when He preached the Kingdom. People were healed, they regained their sight, they were made whole again, they were made clean again, and more were drawn to Jesus as a result. In the early church, many of the Apostles experienced the same thing as they preached Jesus to ever larger crowds; the church became a place of salvation, healing, sight, wholeness, cleansing, love, justice and unity as they shared of the excess Jesus had given them in their relationships with Him, and that is what church should be today: A movement that brings with it salvation, healing, wholeness, sight, cleansing, love, justice and unity.

In the past, I have had occasion to study political movements throughout history and in doing so, I noticed a trend; every movement has a catalyst. In a political movement, the catalyst is often an ideal of some sort. Every movement also has a method of communicating that catalyst to others. The church has a catalyst, a method, and something extra, for it is powered not by force of arms or human determination, but by an indestructible life; the Holy Spirit. Our catalyst is fairly obvious; it is the Gospel. Our method should also be obvious; we make disciples by sharing what we have received from our Lord in our personal relationships with Him with others in our relationships with them. All of this is done by the Holy Spirit in and through us. Thus, we can say that the movement that is the Body of Christ is the movement of the Holy Spirit as He works in and through each of us.

You need not be a rocket scientist to see that an institutionalized church can make this difficult to accomplish, particularly in an institutional environment that only wants the “professionals” to share. Likewise, if we have been influenced with a high priority on how we “do church” once we reach the point, as we inevitably will, where “doing church” gets off track or obsolete, we can never recover, for recovery isn’t how we have always done things.

So, what do we need to set the Church Free?

We need relationships, both with Him and with each other. These interacting relationship result in community, and that Community is the Body of Christ.

The Nature of “Church”

The church of our Lord is so much more significant than an organization made by men, so much more than a building or a name or a procedure manual; it is the very purpose of God in action. Yet, in this world, such an organization might well prove to be expedient; a useful tool: Fine and dandy.

Yet no denomination or brotherhood of believers that I have ever heard of has any legitimate reason to claim to be the only group of Christ-followers. The church is so much more than that.

Of course you are free to disagree, but in my view, we must train ourselves to stop thinking of church as some kind of an institution, for the reality is that church is not an institution at all; it is movement. When our Lord went through the countryside preaching the Kingdom, He spoke Truth to the people; He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk and drove out demons. The word of what was happening spread like wildfire and the crowds became larger and larger. People came from miles around to hear the Truth, to be healed, to gain sight, to walk, and to be spiritually cleansed; it was a movement that even the authorities could not stop. After His resurrection, He passed the mantle to His disciples, and they did the same, even under persecution, and the movement grew, precisely because it was God’s purpose in action to save humanity from sin and death.

We might wonder why we don’t see such a movement today, a movement that changes hearts and minds for Christ, and that is a fair question for us to ask. The answer I propose is this: Movements change hearts and minds, the movement, the Way, that was the church, changed hearts and minds for Christ, until like all other movements, it stagnated and became an institution that must maintain the status quo instead.

This is why we need a whole new way of thinking about church today; we must begin to see that church is not an institution, but a movement, a movement that changes lives for Christ.

Is church a list of programs, or a set of traditions, ceremonies and pageantry? Does it really matter what style of music you have, or whether or not the preacher (by whatever name) wears robes, a suit or jeans? Is it possible to worship without candles or a certain type of décor? Do we choose a church because of its youth group, its seniors’ ministry or its bowling league?

Ah yes, the most powerful force in the modern church: The way we’ve always done it.

Yet  church as a movement changes lives for Christ. The church as an institution maintains the status quo.

Many of the things in this category are matters of personal preference. When I am at home, what I may prefer gets some attention, but in the Body of Christ, we have a much higher calling than “self”. Our traditions are usually good; they are often the great ideas of an earlier time, but the real question we should ask is whether or not they still contribute to the building of God’s Kingdom. If they do, that’s great. If they don’t they are obsolete and out they go.

Programs are all well and good if they help build the Kingdom, but if they don’t, we need to try something else. To put it another way, we may have many excellent ministries that meet the needs of our community and bring healing and hope for many, and this is a very good thing. We also might have ministries that either never connected with the needs of the community, or that no longer reach the needs of the community, and we mustn’t keep them around for old times’ sake, for that is how a movement begins to stagnate and turn into an institution.

No doubt you can think of many other examples of how “the way we’ve always done things” has held our great movement back. I’m reminded of what John wrote:

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.  Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Revelation 2:4-5

The great question is this: How do we get back to the Movement Jesus began how do we set the Church free?

What is “Applied Ministry”?

7 If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

Philip *said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus *said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. [John 14]


Don Merritt, another editor of Church Set Free, did seminary teaching in “Applied Theology”, rather than Systematic Theology.  I subscribe to this worldview. Rather like when…

1Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to [a]all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”[John 17]

There is a kingdom’s worth of difference between “knowing ABOUT” God, the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit… between studying, memorizing, analyzing, arguing, discussing, striving to comprehend all there is to know ABOUT God… And (in the biblical sense of “know Thee”, as Jesus uses here) Intimately KNOWING the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He sent.

A vast body of resources exist for talking ABOUT ministry, the scriptural underpinnings, what is worthy, what is not, what to teach, how to teach, what to think, what to believe, what to preach. There is no shortage of opinion, discussion or debate about what to think, believe, or feel… to be Christian.

But aside from talking, whether about what “church people” should (or must) BELIEVE ABOUT God, or about how to MANAGE “church people” and what they believe, what money they give, how often they attend church, or what kind of music they listen to in official times of worship in the church building… there isn’t really a whole lot out there about HOW to DO “ministry”.

This section of this blog considers “ministry” to mean “servanthood”, in the sense of the scriptural word “Doulos” or “bondservant”. A minister may be “official” or not, “ordained” or not,  “male” or not, “adult” or not. A minister, as considered in this section of this blog, is any person who can say, as did Jesus’ mom… “behold the ‘duolos’ of the Lord”. A minister, of any size, shape, age, or persuasion… simply acknowledges “belonging to the King”.

“Applied Ministry” then, will focus not just on the “will” of the Father (and Jesus), or the “words” of the Father (and Jesus), but on the “works”, the “acts”, the “deeds”… the “servanthood” that PERFECTLY REFLECT(ED) the will of the Father through Jesus! This section does not primarily focus on the “What” or the “Why” of Church Matters… but the “How”.

Questions, comments and concerns are more than welcome! How to execute servanthood in the name of Jesus to heal, restore, and love hurting broken people in a world of shadows… How to grow in our own servanthood… How to grow in our love and our embrace of the Intimate Presence of God… These are the matters I hope to address in this section, from a variety of perspectives.

Welcome! Please speak, contribute, ask! I hope this will be and become a place where, “You’ve got questions… He has answers!” Differing views, respectfully expressed… MORE than welcome!

Joy and Grace to you, Gentle Reader!

The Little Monk