For the past several weeks I’ve been defining ministry as using whatever gifts and talents God has given you to serve him and tell the good news of Jesus Christ. But sometimes a picture is so firmly implanted in our minds that we have a difficult time thinking any other way.
For many of us, the word “ministry” brings to mind a picture of a man in a suit preaching from the pulpit on Sunday, or visiting the sick in the hospital, or teaching a Bible study and baptizing a new believer.
“Ministry” for others involves a church program, where work is done at the church building that has been organized and delegated by elders or deacons – things like teaching a Bible class, or going as a sponsor on a youth retreat, or planting flowers in a church cleanup day. We expect structure and supervision and tasks assigned. And it’s hard for us to think of ministry beyond those parameters.
But I used a phrase a couple of weeks ago, that I hope will take root in your thinking and transform the way you think about ministry – “Whatever you have, wherever you are.” Let’s personalize that this morning – “Whatever I have, wherever I am.” That’s the essence of ministry – using whatever tools are in your bucket to get the job done.
The word for ministry in the original language of the NT simply means “to serve”. It isn’t confined by the walls of this church building, or the property on which it sets. It’s not necessarily a part of an organized church program or under the supervision of church leaders. It is serving.
Now, some of our opportunities for ministry will be in that setting, in those circumstances – and I don’t want to minimize the wonderful opportunities we have to serve here at church in organized ministries. Those are incredibly important, and needed for the church to work effectively. But ministry is so much bigger than that. And this morning, I want you to broaden your horizons and understand the whole of your life in the context of your relationship with God.
That’s what is so easy to do – compartmentalize our life. This part is work, this part is family, this part is school, this part is recreation, this part is God’s. And we separate and isolate them from each other. Not intentionally, not for the purpose of keeping something from him – it’s just how we manage our lives. But the result is that in boxing God in, we shut him out of certain areas – it just doesn’t occur to us that he might have a vested interest in how we live those parts of our lives.
Let’s break down those compartments and tear down those walls and begin to think of our lives as a whole – to think holistically. God is the sovereign ruler of all of my life.
He is interested, not just in what goes on when I’m here on Sunday, but what goes on at my desk on Monday. He is concerned, not just with how I treat brothers and sisters in Christ whom I sit next to in church, but how I treat my co-workers at the next desk, and how I treat the customers who come in the front door. I am his fellow worker when I help teach a children’s Bible class, but I am also his fellow worker when I take some food over to a co-worker who just got out of the hospital.
Have you ever come across a situation where you thought to yourself, “the church ought to help that person,” or “I wish God would do something about that need”? He just did. He sent you. He has authorized you to act on his behalf. He has given you a tender heart and a willing spirit and an open door. When you find a need, you have been commissioned to meet it. You are a minister of God – a servant of his kingdom.
Ministry, of course, isn’t just the sweet lady on the corner who is a good neighbor – ministry is always done in the name of Jesus and for the glory of God. Ministry is always powered by the motive of serving God and bringing glory to him. So let’s make that distinction rather than saying that anytime anybody does a good deed it is ministry. Ministry finds its roots in our relationship with God.
But having said that, the bounds of ministry are limitless. Let me share some examples from the Word of God:
“But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs…. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.”
Epaphroditus wasn’t there to preach the gospel or even serve the church. He was there to take care of Paul while he was in prison – to serve him and take care of his needs. Ministry? Absolutely.
“In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas ), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. (They called on Peter to come.) Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.”
Doing good, helping the poor, making clothing for others. Ministry? No doubt about it.
1 Timothy 5:9-10
“No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.”
What list is Paul talking about? A list for receiving financial assistance? No – a list of widows who were considered servants in the church. And what things did you find on their resumes? “…bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble… all kinds of good deeds.” Ministry? That’s how Paul defined it.
Whatever they had, wherever they were. That was the measure of ministry.
People are coming to me all the time and talking about the ways they are involved in ministry – most of the time they don’t think of it as ministry, but it is.
One couple I know has been blessed financially. And they have asked me on several occasions if I know of anybody in the congregation who is struggling financially. And they go and buy City Market gift cards and send them to them anonymously.
One woman makes it her ministry to take folks to doctor visits and pick up prescriptions and make sure they are getting the care they need. And she calls on them every few days just to keep up with them.
I know of one woman who takes care of her aged mother whose health is failing. And it occupies a great deal of her time. She worries about it keeping her from being involved in ministry at the church – but that is her ministry right now.
I knew one man who was the church handy-man. And several widowed ladies at church knew that when they had a sink back up, or their car needed an oil change, or their water heater went out, they could call him. He didn’t do it just because he was a nice guy – he made it his ministry to take care of the widows’ needs.
I knew a nurse who, every October, brought a supply of flu vaccines to church on a Sunday night and gave flu shots to anyone who needed them.
Whatever you have, wherever you are.
When I look at Jesus, I see the perfect model of ministry. But when you read the Gospels, not much of what he did would fit into our normal picture of “ministry.” Yet, there were certain qualities about the way Jesus did ministry that I think will help us get a grasp on doing ministry like he did. I mentioned these a few weeks ago, but let me share them again as we imprint in our hearts and our lives the way Jesus treated people.
First of all, he was available. That’s the number one rule of ministry – show up. Some folks never do ministry because they don’t have time for people. But Jesus always had time. It’s funny – the creator and sustainer of the universe had time for an unimportant Samaritan woman and a blind beggar on the side of the road, but our schedules are so busy, we couldn’t possibly make time to take food to someone who has been sick.
Not only was Jesus available, he was sensitive to the needs of people. He didn’t always wait for people to come to him, he often went to the people who had needs. He went to the crippled man at the pool of Bethsaida and asked what he wanted. He stopped an urgent mission to heal a woman in a crowd who was out of options. He didn’t bulldoze through life, conveniently unaware of people. He was sensitive to their needs, and responded to those needs.
Jesus was genuinely helpful. His purpose wasn’t simply to speak about God’s love for people, it was to demonstrate it. And he did that in tangible ways that affected the lives of people. When he interacted with people, they always went away changed by the experience.
And his help was creative in the way it dealt with people’s needs. There was no cookie cutter approach to Jesus’ response to people. He responded to needs in ways that were amazing in their flexibility and insight. When Nicodemus showed up at night, he didn’t turn him away and tell him to come back during office hours. When the thief on the cross appealed to his mercy, he didn’t turn him away by saying “I’ve got my own problems to deal with.” There were times that all it took was a word from afar to heal a person, but at other times it required his personal touch. One blind man was healed by simply a word, while another required a mud salve to restore his sight. Jesus touched lepers and ate with sinners and guided fishermen and stopped funerals and turned water into wine at a wedding. Every need was an opportunity to bring the power and grace of God to bear on the life of someone who desperately needed a Savior.
And when we minister, we are still trying to bring that same Savior into the lives of the people we minister to. That is the purpose of ministry. Yes, it is to meet needs, but ultimately it is to meet the ONE need – to connect people to God.
On that night before his crucifixion, the meal was finished, and Jesus wrapped himself in a towel and took a basin of water and stooped to wash the feet of his disciples.
John 13:12-17 “When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
Three years earlier, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had said this: “Let Your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
I hope your goal is to be like your master, a servant who finds his greatest joy in bringing glory to the Father.
Posted on Sun, June 24, 2018
by John Roberts