Are Your Ministries a Mess?
I often say that living by faith, as evidenced in Scripture, means following Christ in a life that is unpredictable, uncomfortable, unconventional and inconvenient. And I depict the messiness of ministry with examples from our Lord’s own ministry and His continual identification in our messes:
- As our Messiah, lying near manure and in a saliva-laden manger.
- As our indisputable Lord, living with outcasts and despicable lepers.
- As the Prince of Peace, passionately defending contemptible prostitutes.
- As the self-existing deity, wiping camel urine from the sandals of entitled disciples.
- As the eternal and incomparable, becoming incarnate.
- As the compassionate Savior, being spiked to a cross, sweating blood and experiencing searing pain.
- As the One showered in eternal worship, being shunned in the shame of a public, naked whipping.
- As God forever faithful, becoming the one who was forsaken.
In these pictures of Jesus’ ministry, we see the chronic mess of His ministry, a ministry to which we, too, are called. We see the holy Son of God habitually diving into our human grossness. Why? Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus embarked on such a messy mission for the joy set before Him. What was that joy? God’s eternal glory and our eternal good.
Contrast this with the ministries of religious leaders of that day. The Pharisees were characterized by control, predictability and overall performance, and their “ministry” was ultimately detached and irrelevant to people. They despised Jesus because He threatened their work, and they wanted Him to get with the program. Jesus’ much messier ministry was intimate, involved, attached and allied with people, so much so that people ran to Him and called Him friend.
I have heard well-meaning believers borrow a buzzword from the business world: excellence. As in, “Whatever we do, we must do it with excellence.” Excellence is not an unbiblical pursuit, yet might we be borrowing our definition from a business understanding rather than a biblical one? Furthermore, the pursuit of excellence is an easy default to performance.
Instead, I recommend that our ministries replace “the pursuit of excellence” with “the pursuit of self-effacement.” As we deny ourselves, we are erased by the gospel of grace and replaced with Christ. Then, rather than complain and revile the mess of ministry, we will reverberate with Christ’s compassion. We will be involved with people to the extent that we, too, are ministering on their timelines, with their troubles and on their turf, as Jesus did for us. We can tell them that, in Christ, God is not holding their sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19) and that He has come to set captives free (Isaiah 61:1).
As I survey the church in America, I see a subtle and occasional idolatry of clean, orderly and successful ministry. I see exuberance about programmatic performance along with a cherishing of “my” church, which subtly replaces elation over Christ’s performance on our behalf. I see successful programs that primarily “reach” those who have already heard the gospel. I see more joy and celebration about these quantifiable programs than a sold-out devotion to take the gospel where it needs to be heard.
It’s messy out there where the gospel needs to be heard. As I look at CrossPoint, I am encouraged to observe emerging ministry messiness. I see people partnering with Safe Families, Refugee Life Ministries and Discover Center—all ministries where it gets messy, out of control and frustrating because we’re involved in other people’s timelines, amid other people’s troubles and on other people’s turf.
Yet we also resonate with joy over how individuals, children and entire families are experiencing the unconditional love of God and hearing the good news of God’s grace. We are overjoyed as people we never would have encountered are having an encounter with Christ through us.
I want to see more of this type of ministry messiness, but more importantly, I believe Jesus wants to see more of this. As He did it for the joy set before him, may we do it for the same reasons.