Ministry

In my last post, I confessed that I have very sinful attitudes towards ministry at times, especially when it becomes inconvenient. However, on the flip side, it's important to note that there are some not-sinful reasons for looking for convenient ministries too.

Convenient ministry can be a good thing when:

1. It expresses well the gifts God has given me. I'm not a big fan of "finding your spiritual gifts" - I think most of the time you should just muck in with whatever kingdom work needs doing rather than worrying about whether it fits some spiritual gift inventory you once went through - but it is still true that we are different from each other and have God-given talents in particular areas for the building up of his kingdom. Often a ministry will seem more "convenient" or pleasurable because it is something God's given us a talent for.

2. It allows me to do more ministry. If it can be fitted in well to your daily functioning, it's likely to mean you can do it more often or be freed up to do other things as well.

3. It is convenient because it's about sharing my life. Using your whole life as ministry is great, and if your ministry is convenient because you are seeking to share your everyday life with fellow believers and reach out to outsiders, then that is good ministry. My problem with this has always been that I thought I had to share my life in ways that other people feel comfortable with but that drive me crazy. For example, I think I would find having an "open house" approach to hospitality extremely difficult. I'm not a touchy-feeling-go-with-the-flow kind of person. Some of that is no doubt sinful. But at least for the present time, I'm thinking about ways I can share my life that fit with the flow of my personality, not against it.

4. It means I will do something rather than nothing. If you don't have time to run a 12-week course, do something more convenient. Do something, rather than nothing. I think churches should do "somethings" more often. Little churches burn out their people running weekly or monthly events. Do something more convenient: run a once-a-term women's night. Run a really great youth group night six times a year. Have a one day children's outreach program in the school holidays with everyone in the church helping instead of trying to find volunteers to do it for a whole week.

5. I genuinely want to be there. I've been involved in plenty of ministries that I did grudgingly out of duty. And sometimes you should go out of your comfort zone. And sometimes there are jobs that aren't attractive that we just need to do. And sometimes once you plunge into it, it gets better. But I've tended to see ministry as only happening when I was taking on some kind of burden. And the worst of that is when it has involved caring for people. That's a horrible attitude to take into ministry but I've been pretty fake about "loving" people plenty of times. I need to ask God to change my attitude but perhaps too I need to think better about what kind of task I'm taking on. Maybe I could be reaching out to the other women in my church in a way that I'd genuinely enjoy rather than swallowing it up like a bitter pill.

Last post I told you about my Not-a-Bookclub.  It’s been a great way to share with other women without feeling overwhelmed by a constant commitment.  But, it hasn’t always gone smoothly.  Despite my intention of keeping it a “low-stress” event, it has sometimes gotten trickier than I expected.

One particular time, I remember feeling quite frazzled as phones calls about car-pooling for the discussion night seemed to go on and on.  I grumbled away to myself in my kitchen about how unfair it all was that I was suddenly in the middle of coordinating everything when all I wanted was a nice simple book discussion.  As I roughly opened and shut drawers, sighed loudly to myself, and generally indulged in a little pity party, it occurred to me that my irritation was a sign that all was not well with my attitude to serving others.

Here’s what I learnt about myself from the huffing and puffing I found myself doing when ministry got just a wee bit inconvenient:

1. I want ministry to be with people I like. Not awkward people who don't think like me.

2. I want ministry to be convenient. I'd like to organize it to give me as little discomfort as possible.

3. I want ministry to go well. I want it to achieve its purpose. I don't want to do ministry that fails. That would feel awful and waste my time.

4. I want other people to agree with my ministry. To see it as valuable and helpful. To approve of me and my wonderful efforts.

5. I want my ministry to be somehow beneficial to me at the same time. I don't want it to be all about someone else.

6. I want ministry to be safe and friendly for me. Definitely not something scary or risky. Something warm and comforting.

7. I want ministry that's interesting. I don't want to be involved in useful but boring jobs. I'd be wasted doing those sort of things. Unless they were easy. And somewhere warm. And didn't take up time that I'd want to use for something better. Then I'd do it. Want me to stuff envelopes in a warm office with a group of like-minded friends over a cup of tea while my husband entertains our children at home? Yep, I'm there! Set up the church hall in the cold with the weird couple who sit two rows up? I'm way too busy with my small children, thanks.

That’s what I realized that I really think about ministry (quite often). I just wouldn’t say it aloud! If truth be told, my heart is quick to set up its own goals and idols even when I aim to be serving God. It’s easy to want to pick only those tasks that suit our own tastes and sentiments.  But the call to follow Jesus will at times take us into territory outside our comfort zone.  It’s frequently those uncomfortable moments of service that reveal our hearts and cause us to realize afresh our utter dependence on God’s grace.

How can we find ways to make ministry opportunities when we already feel stretched to the max?  One way is to reduce the stuff you are already doing – declutter your time by reassessing your priorities and dropping some of the stuff that is taking up more of your life than it should.

Another way is by looking for ways to extend the things you are already involved in to include others.  I want to give you an example of something I’ve done a few times now that turned what I was going to do anyway into an opportunity to share with others: the Not-A-Bookclub.

At the time I first came up with this idea, I was reading a lot about balancing ministry and family. I was ordering a book on that topic when I thought to myself, "I'm going to read this book anyway. Why not see if anyone else wants to read it too?" So I emailed every woman in our church (yep, all of them) and asked them if they’d like to read the book and then have a cup of coffee to talk about it.  I made it a one-off meeting because that's all I felt I could reasonably commit to and maybe people would be more likely to join in if it was only a single meeting time.  I thought perhaps I'd end up meeting with one or two people but to my surprise about a dozen women responded.  Instead of my original plan of a coffee at a cafe, everyone came over to my place and we had a grand time.  Discussing the book with others instead of just reading it on my own was fantastic.

After that first experiment, I’ve gone on to do Not-A-Bookclub several more times.  My mode of operating has been this: if I'm going to read a book I think might have wider appeal, and if it's not too soon after I've invited people to join in with the last book, I send around an email to every woman in the church directory (even if I don't know them!) and invite them to join in.  I invite everyone so no one feels left out and also because having done this a few times I’ve worked out I’m a really lousy judge of who might be interested.  It’s often people I wouldn't suspect!  I always make it clear that it's a general invite, and if they're not interested to just press delete and forget about it. So no pressure. I offer to do the book ordering for them if they want, or they can chase their own copy. 

I have also given myself a couple of rules about the books I choose:

(1) It must be a book I haven't read before. I don't want to start going down the path of reading a book and then thinking, "Now, the women in my church have a real problem in this area and I think they ought to all read this book." I'm working on "the plank in my own eye" principle. I do try to do some firm investigating into the book to check that it's not going to have dodgy theology but I don’t read the book first.

(2) I pick a book I'm going to read anyway. That links into the first rule - not choosing books because you think they are going "fix" other people - and also means that if no one, or only two, want to join in, it's no big deal to me. I was going to read the book anyway. So I don't worry too much about the book selection in the sense of trying to find a book that the maximum number of women in the congregation will enjoy. I just pick a book I'm going to appreciate, and learn from, and go from there.

I don’t set myself a schedule for frequency; I don’t feel obligated to do one every few months or even every year.  It’s not intended to be a ‘ministry’ but just an opportunity to open up my life and invite others to join in.  If I think about extending what I already do as an individual to include other people, I can manage to be more involved in God's work without driving myself into the ground.  So that’s the Not-A-Bookclub.  Maybe it could work for you too.  Or maybe you have something of your own that you are already doing that you could open up to share with others. 

Sometimes your usual ministry interests won't fit well with your current phase of responsibilities.  Maybe you are unexpectedly caring for aging parents or your job responsibilities have suddenly changed leaving you unavailable for volunteering at church.  If you are the mother of young children, you might be waking up nineteen times (or so it seems) each night.  For whatever reason, your ministry options seem to suddenly shrink.  Or at least, those old ministries in which you've spent a number of years building up your skills.

I came across a quote in Grudem's Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood once and it has often sprung into my mind in the years since I've had children. It is this:

With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world.

I've found that particularly encouraging since I've had small children and felt locked out of ministries I might have been involved in had I still been young and free from responsibilities. There's a whole world out there starving for Christ! Find a bit of it to work on and get going! There's plenty of work to be done - find something that moves your heart, fits your season of life, and throw yourself into proclaiming Jesus in whatever way is required.

We don't all have to be doing the same thing. In fact, God has made each of us different for that reason and created us with good works already planned out. I ought to think about what I can do and the people I know who need to hear about Christ and move in that direction with as much energy as I can muster.

The quote is from the Danvers Statement from The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Ministry. Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear that word, I am filled with secret dread. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for other people to do ministry, I’m happy to be blessed by what they do. I’m happy to encourage them and pray for them, and even help out occasionally. Put that word in the same sentence as my name though, and that all changes.

Let me let you in on a little secret. Are you listening? In my head, ministry is for other people. You know, the ones who’ve got it all together. The ones who are naturally confident, who know their Bible inside and out, who can talk to anyone, who are articulate, outgoing, ‘up front’ people...everything I’m not.

The truth is, when I think about doing ministry, I’m with Moses. Do you remember when God called him out of the desert, and told him to go to Pharaoh in Exodus 3-4? He was afraid and nervous. In essence, he went through every fear he had and God gave him an answer. God would be with him, God would tell him what to say, God would make the people believe, God would perform signs and wonders. God would take care of it.

Do you remember what Moses said at the end of this? Not, “Fantastic Lord, let me at it.”Oh no. Not Moses.

It was ‘Oh Lord, please send someone else to do it’. (Exodus 4:13) Yes, to my shame, I’m with Moses. And I don’t think I’m the only one!

The problem is, I spend too much time focusing on my many weaknesses, and not enough time focusing on the amazing Almighty God I worship. I forget that I worship a God who specialises in brokenness and weakness, and lets his power shine through that.

Take a look at 2 Corinthians 12:9. Paul has just finished talking about the thorn in the flesh that he was given and how he pleaded for it to be taken away. And the response that he got is beautiful....

But God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Read that again, and let it sink in.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It doesn’t matter how inadequate we feel. It doesn’t matter if we’re scared, or think we can’t do it. It doesn’t matter if our lives have been filled with tragedy, sin and sorrow. It doesn’t matter if we think we haven’t experienced enough to be of real use. It doesn’t matter if we can’t quote a scripture verse for every situation. It doesn’t matter.

His grace is sufficient, and, amazingly, his power is made perfect in weakness. What matters is that we have put our faith in God and the reality of His son who died to save us.

Our weaknesses become the avenue through which our God’s amazing grace and power are demonstrated and made perfect. That is incredible.

I’m reminded 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.”

Think of Moses going before Pharaoh to plead for the Israelites.

Think of David defeating Goliath. He had no strength, he had no superior size...what he had was his trust in God and his obedience to Him. And we know who won that battle.

Think of Gideon, who said to God when he was asked to go ‘but I am the least of my family....’

Think of Esther taking her life into her own hands and going before the king although he had not summoned her.

Isn’t it God’s way to use the weak and let his glory shine through that?

So here’s where I’m at – I’m still filled with secret dread whenever the word ministry is mentioned. I’m still not sure exactly what ‘ministry’ looks like in my life. But I am trusting in my Saviour, and being bold enough (with my heart racing) to mention Jesus to a friend who is struggling. I am looking for ways to serve others, even though it’s often way outside my comfort zone. I am listening as well as I can to the promptings of the Spirit in my heart. I’m not doing it anywhere near perfectly, but I am learning to let God use me as He wills, for his power is made perfect in weakness, and His grace is sufficient for whatever He calls me to do.

I wonder where you’re at?

What some say...

"It is such an encouragement to see such a positive focus on equiping women and women's ministries in the Pressy church. I really appreciate the positive posts popping up regularly in my Facebook news feed"
Rebekah

"Such a privilege to take part in this discussion - considering what an important part women can play in Church life".
Veronica

"It's great to be able to connect with like-minded Women from across Victoria, whether it's face-to-face at a regional conference or on-line in a book club or on Facebook, WMV is doing a great job of connecting Pressy women in fellowship."
Jenni

"It's great to be able to connect with like-minded Women from across Victoria, whether it's face-to-face at a regional conference or on-line in a book club or on Facebook, WMV is doing a great job of connecting Pressy women in fellowship."

Jenni

"Such a privilege to take part in this discussion - considering what an important part women can play in Church life".

Veronica

"It is such an encouragement to see such a positive focus on equiping women and women's ministries in the Pressy church. I really appreciate the positive posts popping up regularly in my Facebook news feed"

Rebekah

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