Yesterday I mentioned telling Oxsana that Megan and I would write a letter to the staff of Last Bell on the lessons we’ve learned over the years in ministering to homeless and at-risk youth.
That proved to be a very efficacious practice. We basically wrote our “Epistle to Last Bell.” At least that’s how it felt. It was remarkably helpful to reflect on the past twelve years and what insights have been gained. Ergo, I will share what I put in that letter covering my volunteering at Outreach which started in 2003, being on staff as a case manager from 2005 to 2012, through Ripple Effect (Aug.2012), and the School of Spiritual Direction which I just completed in May of this year.
There were seven or eight major points that came to mind upon reflection, hence I will share one a day for the next week or so.
First and foremost I’ve come to learn, through experience, what Christian ministry actually is.
Ministry is simply the overflow of your heart connection to Jesus. If it’s not that, then it’s merely social work. Social work is not bad. In fact it’s quite good and a vital component of ministry. But it is not ministry itself. It’s a difference of energy source and direction (telos). Ministering out of my own power and heart is not really ministry per se. It’s just helping others from my own personal, and quite limited, capacity. Ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit, flowing from my connecting to God through Jesus Christ, is a whole different shootin’ match. It is this that expands our capacity because of the parasitic feeding on this energy source which is limitless. So I would say that my level of intimacy with God is directly proportional to my effectiveness in ministry. By “effectiveness,” I mean bearing fruit that has eternal value. As I take time to focus on my connection to the living person Jesus Christ, ministry then naturally flows out of me because of the indwelling Spirit of Jesus that cannot be contained, which was released upon the earth approximately 30 A.D. (Luke 24:49, Acts 1-2)
“Telos” is the ultimate goal or aim. In ministry it is soul healing and care. Healing and care for the whole person, in other words, and of course, soli deo gloria–glory to God alone. You want what God wants for them, because your desires have amalgamated with His. You want to see their flourishing as a human being, and you know this can only really happen as one moves toward God and is healed from the inside out. (By the way, have you seen the movie Inside Out? If not, go immediately! It is brilliant and should be required for anyone in ministry or social work!!) In social work the telos is to alleviate suffering or hardship or abuse. Again, very good, but in its strictest form which we are referring to here, it is not necessarily soul work–though many social workers do indeed cross into the territory of ministering to people’s souls.
I’va also come to define ministry as creating space for those who are hungry. This hearkens to the ol’ “You can lead a horse to water” thing. Ministry can inspire desire, maybe spark it, but cannot create it in someone’s heart. What I feel we provide in ministry is simply space for those who want more of God, more of the Life that really is life. This is something I must keep coming back to again and again, or else burnout will occur very quickly. I can’t want it for you. You have to want it yourself. Where one spends the majority of the trifecta of their time, energy, and money is where their priorities are, where their hearts is, where you will find what they worship. We have as much of God in our life as we want to have. If you desire something strongly enough, you’ll let nothing stand in your way to obtain it. If you need a pathway, a partner for encouragement, a group, a class, whatever, there’s plenty available. Therefore, when we say we lack something in our Christian life, we’re basically saying God didn’t provide what I needed to follow Him and live for Him. Perhaps you have not because you ask not.
So ministry flows from your intimacy with God, and simply creates space for those who desire that intimacy. I guess that’s all I really had to say. Sorry for the other 728 words..!