While I hadn't yet been fully co-opted by the day's Modern Church Culture, I was far enough down that path that what I envisioned looked fairly traditional. Startlingly so, enough to make me nervous. I wasn't any more traditional then than I am today. And only a year earlier, I wouldn't have had any preconceptions; I would have simply asked what that looked like. (I once asked how many hairs I had on my head. He told me.)
At some point in my 30s while happily wearing the skin of an unofficial assistant youth pastor, a young lady named Elizabeth came up to me and said God had showed her something. "Right now you're in the background but one day you'll be in the spotlight, too. I know that's not something you're looking for, but it's true." I have to admit, I took it literally, thinking of being on a stage with hundreds, perhaps thousands of teens hanging on my every word. In the spotlight. It was scary. It was intriguing. It was exciting, It was tempting.
For years now in many cultures, most peoples' definition of a "successful" ministry has included certain things:
- a stage
- a huge audience (congregation or otherwise)
- a good salary
- nice clothes
- a nice car (*too* nice can look bad) or two
- a nice home (ditto) or three
- TV cameras and radio microphones
- fame and popularity
- rubbing elbows with celebrities, maybe even world leaders
- book deals
- a spotlight or twelve
After a long and bizarre (the norm for me) road, I became an official youth pastor. That youth group, once well over 100, was down to six when I was asked to pastor it. I didn't care. I loved them and poured myself into them. No stage. No spotlight. No salary.
I was given influence with a much larger youth group. Still none of the trappings; it came about through just loving people and showing them God.
As things got bigger and better (in the traditional sense), I had a vision that called me to walk away from the title and formal youth ministry. I just kept loving and offering God. I ended up with "ministry" all over the place, including (gasp!) adults, from 90 miles north to 90 miles south, to 200 miles east... and around the globe via travel, friends and the net.
Occasionally there's a stage, even a spotlight. Occasionally I end up hugging a celebrity or a local or state leader. A couple of times there has been a fairly large audience. But the thing is, I had to rack my brain across the list to come up with those. They're cool because God is doing something in those moments, not because they are big deals.
And I am a full time minister. It's not what I'm paid to do. It's a part of who I am as a child of God. It doesn't look much like Mother Teresa or (insert your favorite full time minister here), because God made me to be me. Unique. Weird, even. And I'm totally down with that. Why would I want to be anyone else? We already have one of each of those.
Ministry looks different for each of us. It might mean simply being a good husband or wife, mom or dad, brother or sister, child, etc. It might mean stopping to hug and feed the people on the side of the road begging for money. It might be as obvious and simple as loving, honoring and supporting everyone at work... or in your congregation or neighborhood. It might mean praying for the sick. It might mean preaching. It might mean teaching. It might mean performing marriages and baptisms (perhaps without a license or official approval in a hostile environment). It might mean waiting with the dying, laughing and crying with the bereaved, burying the dead. It might mean smuggling Bibles. It might mean loving a tormentor. It might mean nice clothes, a car, and a book deal. If it all flows directly out of loving God, and loving others as yourself, doing what we see the Father doing, speaking what we hear Daddy saying, it's ministry. And it's good.
How about you? What's your ministry look like?
This was inspired by Sally Hanan, who asked, "When you think about being in full-time ministry, does your vision instantly go to a stage where hundreds sit and listen to you, or does it go to you washing old bed-ridden women and letting people move into your space and eat your food ...? Just a thought, because if love is not the motivation for your ministry ..."