Feb 4: What Is My Ministry?

Feb 4: What Is My Ministry?

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February 4: 5th Sunday after Epiphany

Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 and Mark 1:29-39

Over the course of life, each of us has far more experiences than we could possibly remember. They probably number in the millions if you include the most mundane experiences, such as washing your hands or turning on the television. Some of them we do so often or are so common that we don’t even realize they’re happening. But there are other occurrences that stick with us forever. Something about them is so impactful that they get lodged in our memories.

For me, one of those life-impacting experiences was one particular group discussion which took place in one of my seminary courses. The course was called Intro to Ministry. Every first-year student was required to take it and it lasted the entire school year. It was designed to help us clarify our calls to ministry. Of all the group discussions and conversations that took place over the course of that year, I only remember one. It was the day we went around the circle and individually shared with the others what we felt most passionate about in regard to ministry. In other words, what fire for ministry had God put in our bellies?

As I listened to others share the various passions God had laid on their hearts, a low-grade panic began to set in for me, the reason being I didn’t feel a passion for anything at that point in my call.  Not so for the other students . Each one of them seemed to have identified a clear fire in their belly for a particular area or type of ministry. There was a passion for youth ministry, for urban ministry, for ministry to the elderly. Some had a passion for preaching. Some felt a strong call to teach.

The more I listened, the more I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. My mind flooded with all manner of questions, such as Why are they able to name their ministry passions but I can’t? Should I feel passionate about some aspect of ministry? How come I don’t? And, of course, What on earth am I going to say when it’s my turn to talk?

When it came time for me to share, I opted for the truth. I explained that my experience was such that I felt a clear and strong call to pastoral ministry–to be a pastor–but was as specific as I could get at that point in time. Hopefully, I added, in time God would give me a passion for a particular aspect of pastoral ministry.

The reason I think that particular experience has stuck with me all these years is because it ultimately proved to be a defining moment in how I’ve come to understand what my ministry is within my vocation as a pastor. You see, prior to that class, it never occurred to me that I might experience a high level of enthusiasm for a particular aspect of pastoral ministry. But after that discussion, I was fully aware that as I moved forward, God would eventually clarify my call and that I’d come to better understand the nature of my pastoral ministry.

I’d like to say that that awareness unfolded quickly. But the truth is it happened slowly. Yes, it did happen; I did get clear about the nature of my pastoral ministry. But it probably wasn’t until my third church that I began to see a pattern emerging regarding the circumstances around my appointment settings, and this pattern was a clue of sorts, revealing what my ministry was shaping up to be. And with every subsequent appointment, what I began sensing was my ministry has been confirmed again and again.

The common situation God has placed me into since my first appointment has been this: every church was in a place of transition between who they were and what they did in the past and who they would be and what they would do in the future. In every church, a significant part of my work has been to help them discover a new identity because it was clear to most of the people that they were no longer the same church they once were. You could even say each church was experiencing an identity crisis of sorts. And working through that existential crisis and coming out in a new place with a new vision and a new sense of purpose can be a slow and challenging process.

To be honest, my main role in each of the five churches I’ve served prior to here was to help stop the hemorrhaging, so to speak; to help people get to a place where they could see a new possibility. In some settings, my ministry involved helping heal emotional and spiritual wounds of the past, wounds that were getting in the way of them being able to move forward. At times, my ministry involved helping them let go of long-standing and beloved programs and events which had become a huge drain on the people and were no longer effective as they had once been. At other times, my ministry involved me simply doing my best to not to get caught up in their anxiety by being a reassuring and non-anxious presence. I’ve come to see that for the most part, my ministry has been about helping to lay a foundation for someone else to come along and build upon it.  It’s often been a ministry of helping people see new possibilities. And if you think about it, just perceiving that something could be different is a huge thing. If you can’t see it first, it’ll probably not going to happen. So, as far as I’m concerned, just gaining a new perspective on what can be is a tremendous win.

Now, please know that my reasons for sharing with you about how I’ve come to understand God’s call upon my life isn’t for my own sake, but really, for yours. I share this with you becaus I want you to be aware about somthing regarding your own life. Do you know that by virtue of your baptism, God has placed a call upon your life? Do you know that you’ve been called to ministry? It may or may not be to pastoral ministry that you’re called, but every single one of us has been called to ministry in one form or another.

The Greek word in the New Testament translated “ministry” is diakonia, from which we get the word deacon or diaconal. It means “service.” In the truest sense, the words “ministry” and “service” are interchangeable; biblically speaking, they mean the same thing. Here’s an example of this parallel meaning from the world of govenment. As we all know, at its best, government is supposed to serve the people; government leaders are supposed to serve their constituents. This is why in some countries, government agencies are referred to as ministries, such as the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Finance and Public Service. And politicians who are the heads of these government ministries are called ministers.

The point is this: to minister is to serve. To be in ministry is to live in service to others. And by virtue of our baptisms, each of us has been called to ministry, to a life of service.

Who are we called to serve? We’re called to serve God and we’re called to serve people. Some have said—and I would agree—that we serve God by serving other people. Put another way, when we serve other people, we’re fulfilling our call to serve God.

And what’s behind our serving others? Well, it’s an expression of our devotion to Jesus Christ. We serve others because we love Jesus, who’s called us to serve. And so our service to others becomes an expression of our love for Jesus.

Here’s another way of talking about our call to ministry. These days, who is Jesus talking to when he says, “Come, follow me”? Answer: it’s us; you and me; everyone. It’s an ongoing invitation which he’s been issuing to humanity for 2000+ years.

What does following Jesus entail? Well, just as Jesus Christ was the visible embodiment of God on earth (which is called incarnation), so Jesus intended his followers (you and me) to be the visible embodiment of his mission to the world. Let me say that again. Just was the visible embodiment of God on earth, so Jesus intends us, his followers, to be the visible embodiment of his earthly mission. To follow Jesus is to embody, or to show in our actions and words, his mission in our daily lives. To follow Jesus is to intentionally accomplish in our day what Jesus set out to accomplish in his day. And how did he do this? Through acts of service and love.

Earlier, you heard the story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. They brought her condition to his attention after which he went to her and healed her. He did this as an act of service. That evening, people brought to him those who were sick or demon-possessed. What did he do? He healed them-acts of service. The next day, Jesus pulled his disciples together and said, “Let’s head…to the nearby villages so that I can preach there. That’s why I’ve come” (Mark 1:38). Jesus said that his purpose in coming into our world was to tell the Good News of God’s forgiving love and grace and peace, and to heal broken bodies, minds, and spirits. He came to serve. And he said so in Matthew 20:28 – “the Son of Man didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.”

To follow Jesus is to embody his mission in our own lives as we help others—both those in and beyond our church—to also embody the mission of Jesus in their own lives.

Regarding the Apostle Paul, over time he came to understand what his ministry was all about. In our reading from 1 Corinthians 9, he said that his sole purpose in life was preach Jesus Christ to any and all who would hear and listen. Elsewhere, he said that eventually that call was narrowed down to preaching to Gentiles, all for the sake of helping them come to saving faith in Christ. Paul, too, was called to a life of service.

Do you know what your ministry is? Are you aware of the fact that God has called and equipped every person listening today to serve others in one way or another?

Mary was one of the saints of a previous church I served. She lived in the Mercy Village senior facility connected to St. Joe’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. She had limited mobility, so she spent most days in her room. As it was, the window in her room gave her a perfect view of the helicopter pad as well as the road to the emergency room entrance. Soon after moving into that room, she realized what her ministry would be for as long as she lived there. Her ministry was to pray for those who came to the hospital by helicopter and by ambulance. Whenever a patient arrived while she was sitting in her chair, she would immediately go to prayer for those persons.

If you were to assess your own life circumstances as well as your giftedness, your abilities, and the things you enjoy doing, to what kind of ministry might God be calling you? Please give it some thought. And if you’ve never really thought about it before, but you can see the possibility that God may yet have in store something for you to do to help build the Kingdom, even if in a limited way, then I say that’s something to celebrate! But just know this, dear friend: the call is real, and it’s for all of us. In the words of our opening hymn: The voice of God is calling its summons in our day. Isaiah heard [it] in Zion, and we now hear God say: “Whom shall I send to [serve] my people in their need?” We heed, O God, your summons, and answer: “Here are we! Send us upon your errand, let us your servants be.” [From the hymn, “The Voice of God is Calling“]

Let’s pray.


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