There are ministries that revolve around motorcycles, cars, pets, political parties, denominations, books, hiking, cooking, and for people without access to water, shoes, homes, jobs, food and even healthy food. Just like the secular business world, churches and Christian organizations often specialize within a certain niche.
Westernized Christianity has mastered the art of creating “official” ministries, organizations, causes and events because we want our “Christianity” to be efficient, well-organized, structured, professional and manageable. Christians now facilitate their faith within a business-like model, where our spiritual gifts are identified and incorporated within ministries that best utilize our strengths and abilities.
If I were to ask the average Evangelical Christian “What ministries are you involved with?” They would probably respond with one of the following options: youth ministry, campus ministry, young adults ministry, homeless ministry, worship ministry, children’s ministry, missions ministry, a social justice ministry, drama ministry, witnessing ministry, food ministry, hospitality ministry and a variety of other classic Christian services. These are all great, but do we ever reach beyond these activities?
How often have I fed a homeless person, sheltered the poor or shared the gospel with someone outside of a structured church event? Traditional Christian culture has unintentionally developed and promoted a tendency to only administer the Gospel message through the very narrow confines of “institutionalized ministries.”
Our obsession with success and consumerism has leaked into our evangelistic endeavors—restricting our potential. For example, we may regularly invest our time and energy in a homeless ministry through our church but rarely share Christ’s love to these exact same people when we encounter them outside of these prearranged ministerial circumstances.
As good as well-established ministries are for us, they usually don’t provide the same real-world experiences that promote a habit of service within our “normal” routine. Instead, they tempt us to believe that ministry only happens within specific times and places—luring us into a system of convenience and comfort.
Food drives, mission trips and a multitude of other events are usually done with co-believers who share similar beliefs and convictions. If something goes wrong, the ministry-coordinator or on-site supervisor dutifully take over and resolve the conflict. The group will eventually laugh it off and probably go out for pizza afterwards. The investment given, and asked for, is minimal within these contexts. These types of environments demand no risk or vulnerability.
Things dramatically change when we’re unexpectedly approached by a family member, coworker, friend or stranger seeking significant help. We often feel scared, helpless, defensive and unprepared. Our first reaction is to “get them help” by connecting them to an official ministry.
We shrink away from tackling the problem ourselves because we know the costs: emotional trauma, financial investment, relational agony, energy spent, time wasted and hundreds of other risks. Practically living out our faith is hard and there are no guarantees. This is why outsourcing problems to Christian organizations is so lucrative. They can deal with it.
Avoiding personal ministry often makes sense, and our rationalizations are easy to accept as truths: We don’t have any training. We have no resources. There is too much danger. It would be unwise. It will be uncomfortable. God isn’t calling us. God will send someone else. It’s too crazy and radical.
When faced with daunting tasks it’s easy to believe that there are better and easier options out there—but Jesus wants us to love.
I’m continually shocked by how Jesus ministered almost everywhere to almost everyone. Jesus had a lifestyle of ministry. It wasn’t His church-sponsored “Demon-Hunting Ministry” or “Monthly-Manna Ministry” or “Power of Touch Healing Ministry” that impacted people’s lives. He wasn’t constricted by the Pharisaical structures of religion or ministry. His success hinged on the fact that He unbelievably loved people.
Should we stop participating in structured ministries? No! The point is, specialized ministries are a great thing and you’ll always have your “official” role, but always be willing to exemplify Christ’s love even if it doesn’t neatly fit into your ministry’s originally intended purpose.
Stephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Sojourners, and The Burnside Writer’s Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.