No word is more misused and misinterpreted in popular Christianity than ministry. It is the reason for everything: the justification for a top ten hit and the toleration of substandard performance. It legitimizes one person's right to accumulate and hoard money while it supports another's right to beg for it. It serves simultaneously as an excuse to work or not to work. The word ministry covers so much ground that it no longer carries any significant impact. Instead, it leaves nebulous impressions and feelings.
The popular understanding of ministering to people is to touch them in some spiritual sense. But in what way what does it mean for someone to be blessed? Was it an emotional tickle? The twinge of a high note? A warm, soothing chord that washed over someone's trouble and anesthetized his or her reality? Was it a euphoric sense of being a member of a family of fans? The brief escape of identifying oneself with a charismatic personality? Or was it a real experience with God?
Whatever it was, everyone is an expert on whether or not it happened. Everybody seems to know whether the performance
or message ministered to them and whether, in fact, the person doing the singing or speaking was a legitimate minister or not.
And the ministers themselves are considered a special breed. More is expected of them because they have been endowed with greater power than the average Christian. They have a higher position, a place of authority, a spiritual aura that sets them apart. It's as if some supernatural trickle-down theory is in effect and the poor, lonely guy in the fifth row has come hoping some of the blessing will manage to make its way down to him.
What's wrong with this picture?
First, there is no magic to ministry. No aura. No privilege. Ministry is simply service. Jesus Christ set the supreme example by divesting himself of all His privileges as God and humbly taking on the form of a servant. He himself declared, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Ministry is what you give, not what you get.
Second, there is no mystery to ministry. No intangible blessing. No spiritual goo. In fact, the Bible usually refers to ministry in very concrete terms. According to the Scriptures, it involves giving a cup of cold water, preaching the Gospel to the poor, visiting those in prison, caring for widows and orphans, and washing one another's feet. There is nothing in the Bible about singing a moving song to touch the hearts of people.
Third and probably most important of all there is no primacy to ministry. Nothing sets one Christian over another. There should be no sense of superiority in any ministry, because the Scriptures clearly teach that all of us are ministers. Each of us is responsible for serving according to the gifts that have been given to us. No single ministry is more important than another.
What does this understanding of "ministry" do to the Magical Ministry Tour that will roll into town next week to bless everybody? Well, it might take some of the pressure off the whole scene. It might mean that Christian ministers could be more honest, that Christian artists could present their work without having to justify it in terms of evangelism, exhortation, praise, or worship. It might mean that Christian speakers could come down off the high throne of spiritual expectations and be more human; and if more human, then more accessible to the people;
and if they are more accessible to the people, then so is the reality of knowing Christ.
After all, Christ meets each one of us right where we are, in the middle of the daily routine or the stress of indecision, in the pain of mistakes or the contentment of merely being alive, whether we're on stage or in the audience. Suddenly the Christian life could lose its mystery, become more tangible; and Christian ministry might begin to help people face life honestly rather than escape from it.
And afterward, people might even walk away more impressed with their own uniqueness and their own possibilities their own ministry than they were with the Magical Ministry Tour. And maybe, just maybe, they might walk away feeling bigger, not smaller.
Chapter 8 || Table of Contents