Life’s taught me that discipleship is not for the faith-of-heart.
I’ve had times in my life when I was so focused upon prayer and contemplation that my journey of faith began to turn inward. When I was in seminary, I always wanted to take a course on spirituality, so that I could somehow become a bit more “spiritual” – but I didn’t find the magic pill. I have moved through periods in life where I’ve consumed everything that people offered to me to help me grow as a Christian and I always went away craving more. I’ve also learned that it’s safe to do ministry from a distance. I’ve sponsored several children through Compassion International. I’ve sent money to Pittsburgh Fisher House. I’ve dumped hundreds of cans of food into boxes at my church – knowing that those cans would be delivered to a local food bank by somebody else. I can’t even begin to count the number of struggling people that I’ve tried to comfort by telling them that they’re in “my thoughts and prayers” while standing at a safe distance from their struggles and pain.
Jesus once had an interesting conversation with a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a powerful man and a ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus spent his entire life studying the Old Testament and trying to follow the “Rules of God” which had grown from a list of ten clear commandments into scrolls filled with thousands of rules. But Nicodemus was also fascinated by Jesus. And so, one night, Nicodemus came to Jesus because he wanted to talk with Him. And Jesus began to talk with Nicodemus about being “born again.” And in that story, we find what’s probably the best-known verse in the entire Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) And, in that great verse, we find an important key to ministry in the world today!
In this week’s message, “Serving Others – Following the Example of Jesus”, we remember that how we think about God shapes the way we think about ministry.
Many of us believe that God’s presence is found in a church building and that folks need to come to that church building if they want to encounter God and grow as a Christian – and when we think in that particular way we almost transform our church buildings into a Jewish “Holy of Holies.” Many Christians believe that the Church’s best-route-forward in swiftly changing times is still going to be discovered when we find new and innovative ways to get more people to come into our church buildings during a particular time of the week (that we, of course, have chosen for ourselves).
But, in the story of Nicodemus, we’re reminded that God didn’t sit up in Heaven waiting for people to come to Him. God became “incarnate.” The Christian faith is built around the idea that God came into the world to meet us where we live and spend our time and raise our kids. And so, if we truly want to serve others – following the example of Jesus – doesn’t it make sense that our ministry must also be one that reaches-out to people in the places where they live and spend their time and raise their kids, too?
What would the ministry of Christ’s Church look like if we moved past the idea that our primary goal in ministry is to get more people to come into our buildings?
Can you imagine Christians studying the Bible with each other in their homes, and very intentionally creating safe places where people who don’t want to come into our church buildings can gather to talk about God and pray with each other? Imagine Christians going into their communities and forging new relationships with groups of parents who are just as concerned about helping young people to grow into healthy adults as we are. What would our ministries look like if we pictured our church buildings simply as places where people could come to be welcomed and embraced, to be heard and to be cared for, to worship and pray in a place filled with love and acceptance, and to be equipped and empowered to do what God’s calling them to do outside of the church building?
Life’s taught me that discipleship is not for the faint-of-heart. And life’s, also, taught me that “Serving Others – Following the Example of Jesus” is something that will always call us to move beyond the safety of “spiritual practices” and the walls of church buildings.
What would happen if we began to see that ministry isn’t just about struggling to find new and innovative ways to get people to come into our church buildings? What would happen if we began to understand Christian ministry more incarnationally and followed the example of Jesus more intentionally – going-out into the world to meet people where they live and spend their time and raise their kids?