A few years ago, I was in the gym at the seminary I was attending. You may imagine that there were only massive stacks of Baptist Hymnals to lift, but there were real weights and treadmills too. A seminary weight-lifting environment is unique to the face of the planet. I can think of no other place where people press, curl and squat while debating the finer points of theology.
On that particular day, while I was reflecting on the question of whether Martin Luther could defeat John Calvin in a freestyle rap competition, my ear grabbed hold of a conversation across the room. Two seasoned veterans of all things church, who were also in their early twenties, were discussing ministry.
“My ministry blah, blah, blahs.”
“Well my ministry blah, blah, blahs too, but I also do blah, blah, blah.”
You get the idea, and this went on for at least 15 minutes. Or 3 hours by hell time.
It wasn’t that they were talking about ministry. I’m glad they were involved and had as much experience as they did at a young age. It was that everything was centered on them. How their ministry allowed them to do so much. They thought they should have more freedom for their ideas.
Obviously, an individual has to be involved in ministering. That’s how it works—either as individuals or as individuals in a group setting. But if it is ego-driven, is it really ministry?
The Biblical idea of ministry is service—serving the needs of someone else. So really, the purpose is for the person you are helping out. In that case, even if it is ego-driven, the point is you used your time and resources for the benefit of someone else. I suppose if your ministry was rescuing people from burning buildings, the people you rescued wouldn’t care if your only reason for participating was to stroke your own ego.
The idea of Philippians 2:3-4 is everything we do should be done out of humility and service because that’s how Jesus did it and we should strive to do things the same way. Pride is an issue for me. I like being told I teach, preach or write well. It makes me feel good about me. Was someone touched or convicted by something I said or pointed out? Possibly, but weren’t you just about to say something about how I was at the top of my game last Sunday?
It doesn’t mean that if I’m prideful God will suck all of the insight out of anything to which I put my hand; it just means I am trading the chance to be grown spiritually for a few fleeting compliments. Putting myself in a position to be used by The Almighty is a far more worthwhile goal than whoring out my words so that people will think and say good things about me.
As bad, or maybe worse, than ministry out of pride is ministry out of guilt. “Here’s a signup sheet for the dyslexic, destitute, veterans, homeless ministry that we’ve started. Aren’t you going to put your name down?” And you’ll volunteer because you’d be plagued by guilt that, had you not signed up, consequent generations would be denied the message of the Gospel and the Trinity would collectively wag their heads in shame at you.
How about a parking lot ministry? Or offering-plate-passing ministry? Or clammy-handshake-at-the-entrance ministry? Those things serve a purpose and are necessary a lot of the time, please don’t misunderstand. But if that’s your only place of involvement, and it’s so you don’t feel guilty about not “giving back” somewhere, then you’re probably robbing yourself of the joy of serving.
I wish there were simpler ways to evaluate ministry. If you help an old lady across the street but wish she walked faster, it would be helpful if an evaluation form from God showed up in the mail the next day. “B+ for the effort, but attitude was a C. You need to apply yourself more.” Then it would be easier to see if you were making the biggest impact with the best attitude.
The good thing is that God uses all of us. Sometimes we know it, sometimes we don’t. Often God uses what we think are our worst efforts to his greatest glory. And his love for us isn’t conditional on nailing the dismount on a gymnastics ministry.
Ministering to other people should be a joy because it is God letting us take part in what he is doing in the lives of other people. Granted, it may not be joyful every time, but let God be the one who rewards you for your service. I’ve heard he has an excellent track record in the way of blessings.
*Photo credit: DFectuoso