The Secret Life of Ministry

“So, what’s your ministry?”

She asked me this as we got acquainted at a Christian writer’s weekend.

“I work in a store,” I said.

But as soon as I’d said it, I saw it was the wrong answer. I was supposed to have said I’m leading women’s groups, or mentoring teens, or writing music, or teaching mentally handicapped children or something else amazing and important. This country bumpkin just said what her job was.  That’s not ministry.

Or is it?

That vignette often replays itself in my mind , even though it was years ago, and I still feel the tension of the lady’s unasked questions. I often feel the tug of war between doing what’s labelled as ministry and just doing the next thing that needs doing. The labels and expectations of public service for God countered with the hidden, thankless reality of service. The praise that’s poured out on numbers and responses, and the silence that accompanies faithfulness and setbacks.

Jesus saved us, Paul said,  so that we wouldn’t live for ourselves but for Him.  I suggest that, just as submission isn’t submission until we disagree, ministry isn’t ministry until it’s forgetful of self, or until it cuts across the grain of our bent to look out for me, me, me and keep ourselves comfy.

There might be a place for styled hair and sound amplifiers and  whitened teeth and glossy posters and impressive numbers of followers. But it seems to me that Jesus’ kind of ministry has more to do with dusty feet and glasses of water and holding children.  Or saying ‘hello’ and smiling at a bus driver. Or changing the trash cans at church.

Ministry isn’t reserved for the ones who have it all together, the ones who’ve built their platform, the ones who have a dramatic story to tell the world. Ministry is for every person who has walked across the line to the Kingdom of Light and wants to serve the King from sheer gratitude and awe at being rescued from the Dark Side.

Because Jesus the Servant is our hero, and this is the upside-down kingdom where the last becomes first. Where, with God’s mysterious exchange, the cracked ones are the healed ones, and the most light comes from those who are most broken.

I find this both convicting and comforting.