What Is Ministry? – Still Digging

Is secular work redemptive?

Are we fooling ourselves if we believe there is anything sacred about our mundane tasks?

Are we incarnating the life of Jesus when we are not in the actual act of loving or serving?

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18 thoughts on “What Is Ministry? – Still Digging

  1. Assuming those participating in this discussion either aspire to be, or are processing the reality of Kingdom service (ministry), perhaps we can look to the one who heralded the Kingdom by calling God’s people to repentance, and then to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).

    “What should we do then?” the people asked.
    John the Baptist did not lay out any master plan for ministry. He said things like “If you have two tunics, share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” To the “despised” tax collectors he said, “Don’t collect any more than you’re required to.” Wow! You would think he would have rebuked them for working for Caesar! To the soldiers he said, “Don’t exhort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.” Wow! You would think he would have preached the evils of war to them and told them to get out of the killing business.

    It seems to me like John was saying that the fruits of repentance have to do with living in integrity by loving mercy and practicing justice in whatever occupation you find yourself. Even so, he set the bar pretty high. Fortunately the One who followed him didn’t baptize with water. He baptized with the Holy Spirit, and actually empowered His Kingdom servants to live with integrity by loving mercy and serving justly. I don’t think ministry is any more complicated than that.

  2. Grace,

    Wow, sister…interesting questions! Here’s my 2 cents:

    “Are we fooling ourselves if we believe there is anything sacred about our mundane tasks?”

    I think Brother Lawrence would have something to say about that! ;^) It is not the tasks that we do, it is the recognizing that God is present with us in them that makes them sacred.

    “Are we incarnating the life of Jesus when we are not in the actual act of loving or serving?”

    Are you suggesting that mundane tasks cannot be acts of loving or serving?

    Certainly, I believe that we are to endeavor to incarnate the life of Jesus at all times. This is what makes sacred the mundane. Do we think that Jesus did no mundane things? Let’s see, how about washing feet? ;^)

    There is to be no disconnect between secular and sacred…spiritual and mundane. As I’ve been processing during my 40 Days of Living the Jesus Creed, I am to love God with my all and to love my neighbor as myself. That makes everything I do potentially an act of obedient to the Jesus Creed, which by definition is incarnational.

    I guess we may need to go back to the definition of ministry….perhaps it is as simple as living the Jesus Creed?

    Shalom

  3. How about if the question was framed… “What makes us different from the secular?”

    What is secular? I mean, isn’t secular just something we label that doesn’t reference God.

    For example, does anyone sit down to a secular meal? Drink from a secular cup? Do you use a secular toothbrush? Ever drive a secular car?

    Those who ‘work’ for ministries are servants of the people- in the order of the Levites. The Levites were set apart to worship God, offer sacrifices and act as priests. Unlike the rest of Israel they were not given land of their own- only cities.

    What does this mean? The Levites were there for God and for Israel. Israel however was there for the nations.

    It seems to me unless we are called to be Levites then we are called to be tentmakers- and if we are given the chance, or if we receive enough income to devote less time to secular eating, secular sleeping and secular working and more time to secular evangelising then that’s great.

  4. I don’t believe there is a difference between sacred and secular for the Christian. We are told in Scripture to do everything to the glory of God. As Peggy said, seeking to love God with all of our being and love others as ourselves will mean doing everything, even the “mundane” to accomplish that.

  5. I would want to object to the dualism…. and I’d recommend Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God where you find a monk working in the kitchen and peeling a potato to the glory of God. These days I’m all about finding God in the mundane… so often, the things we find mundane are largely so only because we don’t understand them with as much perspective as we might. “Wax on, wax off.”

  6. Is one primary goal of our ministry is to make disciples, i.e. followers of Jesus who “follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1)? If so, will we teach them that they can only “minister” if they quit their surburban jobs (or minimum wage jobs) and do it full-time? If the only way I can minister effectively is by getting paid to do it 40+ hours a week and I successfully train my disciples to imitate me in my pattern of ministry, who will support us all financially? Secular pagans?

  7. All these comments reminded me of something I read once. After some searching I found it again. Here it is:

    “A young mother walked into my office with a stack of
    newsletters in her hand. She plopped them down on my desk and exclaimed, “I feel
    like a pile of manure! I have been reading these newsletters from friends and
    missionaries and they are all out there doing these wonderful things for God. And it
    just hit me what a worthless life I have. For Pete’s sake, I do three loads of laundry a
    day, and when I am not doing laundry I am grocery shopping, and when I am not
    grocery shopping I am unloading the groceries or cooking them or cleaning up after
    cooking them. And somewhere in there I am trying to keep this mess of a house
    presentable, stay in touch with three kids, keep them clothed and on schedule and
    find a little time for my husband. I am too tired even to read my Bible. What do I
    have to offer God?”
    “Wait!” I said. “Just wait a minute. We need to punch the pause button and
    rethink all of this. I happen to know that just yesterday you spent two hours
    shopping for a coat for your daughter to keep her warm. And not just any coat, mind
    you, but one that she would like, that would be large enough to wear next year but
    not look like it, and one that was on sale! And I happen to know that you found the
    right one exactly. Now here is my question: Where did your concern for your
    daughter come from? I mean, did you just decide that you were going to be a good
    mother and flip a switch that created this burden for your daughter’s welfare? What
    is the origin of your love for her or for your family, of your concern that they eat
    right every day, that they are nurtured? Where did you get this burden for a neat and
    orderly household?
    “You are thinking like a Deist. You are thinking that God created this universe,
    wound it up like a great clock, set it running and then stepped out of the picture.
    You are thinking that God is not here. And you are thinking that all that is going on
    in your life, your cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping, your love for your
    children and husband and your concern for their welfare and all that that generates,
    are all outside the circle of God’s life. And because you are thinking this way you
    are very frustrated, you have lost the fullness and joy of it all, and you are
    desperately trying to figure out how to do all of this and then tack on something for
    God.”
    From “The Secret” by C. Baxter Kruger

  8. Sorry, should have included this additional paragraph from ‘The Secret”:

    “You are missing the point. And the point is that Jesus Christ is not up there
    waiting for you to do something for him. He is here in you. He is sharing his burden
    for his sheep (your family) and their livelihood with you. And you wake up in it,
    live in it all day, and you really love it. It makes you sing. But you do not see it for
    what it actually is. It is not your burden and delight, but his, and there is no more
    holy thing in all the world than cooking a meal for your family. For that is nothing
    short of God the Father Himself, through His Son and in the Spirit, sharing His royal
    feast with His loved ones. It is a divine event!

  9. Grace,
    I agree there is no difference in our secular v.s. our ministry.

    “Is secular work redemptive?”

    Of course , if we are followers of Christ, the way we clean a toilet should reflect his love for us. Sometimes I believe that it isn’t the “what” but the “how” and “with what attitude” that we do the mundane things with.
    ——————————-
    “Are we fooling ourselves if we believe there is anything sacred about our mundane tasks?”
    See the comment of inheriterofheaven.
    ——————————–
    “Are we incarnating the life of Jesus when we are not in the actual act of loving or serving?”

    I think it is a good question and I think the answer is ,we should be. But ,I also think that loving and serving are things we should strive to always be doing. I believe that when we are truly like him , everything we do will be with a loving servants heart.
    ===================

    Tts 2:9 “[Exhort] servants to be obedient unto their own masters, [and] to please [them] well in all [things]; not answering again;
    Tts 2:10 Not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.”
    Peace be with you all.

  10. Great thoughts everyone. Thanks for digging into this. I appreciate all of your wisdom and input.

    There are many mundane tasks that can be seen as acts of service. But what about those tasks that seem to be nothing more than being a cog in the wheel of economy and industry?

    What if your vocation has no apparent significance beyond economics – maybe you are just polishing widgets to get a paycheck.

    But then nothing is done in a vacuum. For example, even in polishing widgets, there are relationships – the employer or clients you happen to be polishing for, other people who may be polishing widgets alongside you, and your internal relationship with God that continues in the midst of widget polishing.

    I agree that there is no sacred/secular divide. But I am trying to see where we spiritualize or justify behaviors that may be nothing more than selfish ambition.

    Obviously it is a heart issue. While one person may be serving God in their mundane activity, another person may not be.

    I still have a few questions related to Dan’s original thoughts and his comment in the other post regarding ministry and how this discussion of mundane activity and vocation relates to ministry.

  11. Grace, you wrote: “I agree that there is no sacred/secular divide. But I am trying to see where we spiritualize or justify behaviors that may be nothing more than selfish ambition.”

    That really struck me too as I read through these posts and comments. I don’t know that any of us can really see how culturally polluted our hearts are and just how great that influence is upon our lives unless we have these types of discussions that you are bringing about.

    I was reading Brant’s blog this morning (http://tinyurl.com/26jr5w) and was struck by how much it challenges my tiny Western mindset of the way I live my life. I immediately jumped in my head to Jesus’ words to Peter (John, chapter 21) after Peter sees John following them and says to the Lord, “What about him?” Jesus responds: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” It just brought home to me once again that we each may have radically different paths to follow in the spirit of “ministry,” and we cannot compare ourselves to one another… …but I think we can use each other’s lives as a reason to occasionally take a closer look at our heart’s true condition when it comes to following Jesus.

    I think that is why I find these types of conversations so useful. They serve as one more way for me to examine my heart from time to time to see if I really am following Jesus or just my culture’s view of what following Jesus really means.

    Thanks for the great food for thought and challenge to my heart once again!

    Elle

  12. in the spirit of the brother lawrence references, i like the song ‘holy is a day spent’ by carrie newcomer:

    holy as a day is spent

    holy is the dish and drain
    the soap and sink, and the cup and plate
    and the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile
    showerheads and good dry towels
    and frying eggs sound like psalms
    with bits of salt measured in my palm
    it’s all a part of a sacrament
    as holy as a day is spent

    holy is the busy street
    and cars that boom with passion’s beat
    and the check out girl, counting change
    and the hands that shook my hands today
    and hymns of geese fly overhead
    and spread their wings like their parents did
    [ Lyrics found at http://www.mp3lyrics.org/AY4 ]
    blessed be the dog, that runs in her sleep
    to chase some wild and elusive thing

    holy is the familiar room
    and quiet moments in the afternoon
    and folding sheets like folding hands
    to pray as only laundry can
    i’m letting go of all my fear
    like autumn leaves made of earth and air
    for the summer came and the summer went
    as holy as a day is spent

    holy is the place i stand
    to give whatever small good i can
    and the empty page, and the open book
    redemption everywhere i look
    unknowingly we slow our pace
    in the shade of unexpected grace
    and with grateful smiles and sad lament
    as holy as a day is spent

    and morning light sings “providence”
    as holy as a day is spent

  13. Grace, you said:

    “I agree that there is no sacred/secular divide. But I am trying to see where we spiritualize or justify behaviors that may be nothing more than selfish ambition.”

    Correct me if I am wrong but I believe you are primarily referring here to those whose selfish ambition is in the “secular” world of work.

    However, I would say that this can apply to those in “ministry” as well. It may or may not have to do with money, but it can still be selfish ambition that is spiritualized. And, I do not mean just those who are in the “ministry” as a paying job. Many in the “church” use it to satisfy their selfish ambition while claiming it is something spiritual.

    This seems to be the fallacy of Dan’s argument: That somehow those who are in “ministry” instead of the secular world are somehow exempt from selfish ambition.

  14. RC said,

    If the only way I can minister effectively is by getting paid to do it 40+ hours a week and I successfully train my disciples to imitate me in my pattern of ministry, who will support us all financially? Secular pagans?

    yep, that connects the dots quite well for me, too.

    I appreciate the thoughts about Brother Lawrence, but he doesn’t count in my mind as an example of someone who honors God in all realms of their life, including work….he was a monk, a professional Christian (if you will), and though he was assigned monastery duties in the kitchen, like peeling potatoes, and though he sought to discover God in all of his chores, the dude was, after all, a full-time monk living a cloistered existence in a religious community.

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