What is The Point of Christian Ministry?

What, exactly, is the
point of Christian min­i­stry? To help? Help who? Help who do what? Help folks live a normal life? What’s “normal?” Who decides that? Jonah couldn’t stand the people God sent him to preach to. I can relate to that.


Okay, I’m back, but I don’t know why.

What, exactly, is the point of Christian ministry? To help? Help who? Help who do what? Help folks live a normal life? What’s “normal?” Who decides that? I saw this sister in a store the other day, her shopping cart piled high as she explained to the checker she was preparing for her big New Year’s blowout. I couldn't help but wonder why. Why this tribal ritual of partying, drinking to excess; why all the noise? Another twelve months have passed, so what? Why is that in any way significant? It’s certainly not biblical. I mean, there’s no biblical model for the Lord instructing us to revel as the clock counts down to twelve. Even our traditional Watch Night services aren’t biblical. At best, they are our mirroring the world’s excesses (and many of us head to the club after Watch Night anyway). At worst, Watch Night is a dreary and tedious dirge of people venting or bragging or purging the woes of their lives, thanking God for having seen them through yet another year. “Thank God I’m still here,” we say and sing, “I thank God I’m still alive.”

Do you? Why? I mean, given the nation’s shocking and abysmal spiral into moral turpitude, a dire turn epitomized by the election of a prurient, grossly immature, lying, unstable bigoted admitted sexual predator to the nation’s highest office, I frankly find myself looking for the exits. I mean, how much more joyful would it be to be with God, to be where God is, to dwell in His presence, than to be “still here?” Frankly, I find myself “still here” under protest. I am “still here” because God has work for me to do. And He has work for you, too.

All this high-fiving and cartwheels over having survived yet another year taking up space on a bench would almost make sense to me if we actually accomplished something for God in the previous twelve months. I don't want to hear about your mother’s cancer. I really don’t want to hear about how you survived foreclosure or made it through your divorce. I want to hear what you did for the Lord in 2017. Because, in the end, that’s all that will actually count. And, if we haven’t done anything for God in 2017, why are we celebrating?

I can’t stop anybody from wasting their money, but I can stop you from wasting my money. Similarly, I can’t stop you from wasting your life running in circles and ingesting all that foolishness from that idiot box in your living room, but I sure as heck can stop wasting my life trying to convince you that God has ordained so much more for you. God has ordained purpose for you— your life has meaning and value. Yet there you sit, defeated, distracted, and bamboozled by the enemy, making a virtue of cowardice

Is it the minister or the pastor’s job to help you sit around getting older and fatter, with bad diets and no exercise, watching brain-dead TV, trolling Facebook all day and gossiping on the phone? Why am I or any other minister turning myself inside-out just so you can take up space?

How then shall they call on Him, Paul asked in Romans Chapter 10, in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? But doesn’t the question imply a shared responsibility? The preacher preaches, certainly, but the hearer has skin in the game, too: an obligation to get off of the sofa. And that’s where the trouble begins.

So, there was once this guy Joe. God orders Joe to run down to the hood and tell them folks to change up or there’s going to be a problem. Joe doesn’t want to go. He resents the people he’s being sent to preach to. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire which fell to the Babylonians and the Medes in 612 BC. Assyria oppressed Israel and eventually took the Israelites captive in 722–721 BC. Joe had no love for those people, whom he likely regarded as ignorant, and didn’t want them to repent and be delivered. He wanted them do die.

Now, we all know the Sunday School story about Jonah and the whale. Only, it wasn’t a whale and the whale is only part of the story. The sea creature, whatever that was, was actually a fairly short part of this book; Jonah’s three day and three night captivity foreshadowing Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. The whale was Jonah’s distraction— Jonah’s Facebook, Jonah’s grandkids, Jonah’s girlfriend/boyfriend— whatever exists in your life that’s keeping you from doing what God called you to do.

A Welcome Visitor

I, personally, get absolutely nothing out of going to church. I arrive with low expectations and most churches somehow manage to snake below them. I leave emptier than I arrived, with a profound sense of sadness that this once-powerful and beloved institution has devolved into a circus sideshow. I leave with no sense of mission, no marching orders, no inspiration. I’ve been entertained, and not very well.

So I took this pastor out for coffee— one of my endemic tests of the pastorate: if you can’t ever get in to see your own pastor, he’s not actually your pastor. He’s just a check casher. I told this man that I could never join his church because his worship wasn’t balanced enough. The atmosphere was too white; it made me feel like a visitor. A welcome visitor, to be sure, but a visitor nonetheless. Further, I told him, the fact worship there didn’t speak to me was not the problem. The problem was that the church, the pastor, didn’t seem interested in speaking to me; there was no discernable effort being put forward to speak to me.

And even that didn’t really bother me so much as the fact of the church not being interested in or making any effort whatsoever to speak to me didn’t bother him, this pastor. “Your church is making no effort whatsoever to speak to me, and you seem all right with that,” I told him across a pair of café lattes. “That should keep you up at night, but it doesn’t. That’s why I could never join your church.” So why should I go there? Why give them my money? Why waste my time?

Meanwhile, our churches here in Ourtown are stuck in a time warp. To most every Black church here in town, it is 1965. These people love 1965. Can’t get enough of it. Every church here is Old School if not Cro Magnon, and most of these pastors seem okay with that so long as the check clears. What they don’t prepare you for in seminary is being let into the back room where the pastors gather for certain community events. You know: those multi-church events where these guys pass around the same $100 bill to “start off the offering.”

If you’ve never sat in on a pastoral bitch session, let me tell you, it’s a real eye opener. It reminds me of what it must be like to go backstage at Disney and actually see Mickey Mouse remove his giant head and you realize it’s some Chinese girl in there. The last time I was that disappointed in a fat man was when my sister shocked me by revealing Santa Claus wasn’t real. These old farts sit around and complain, complain, complain, mostly about money. Their topics of conversation range from complaints about their salaries to the meager offerings collected to whining about having to do something for some member who is behind on her tithes. I was devastated to hear this shop talk and now no longer gather with other pastors at these things but prefer to go sit in a pew through the tiresome monumental waste of time we traditionally call “devotion,” which shows no devotion whatsoever but is just a platform for the deacons to be seen. I want to see these leaders as pastors, as honorable men, so I’d rather not get to know them.

As a result, I hardly go to church anymore. I mean, I go, but I go for the wrong reasons. I go because it’s This Special Day or That Special Day. I go to support my friends, many of whom are preachers. I go to network with other pastors. Sometimes I go because somebody needs a keyboardist or, increasingly rarely, someone invites me to preach. But I don’t really go for me anymore; I go for other reasons. That, beloved, is damage. Damage inflicted upon me by men who will be held to account, as will we all, by God.

Nineveh: What is the point of Christian ministry?


I’ve been driving around blasting Andraé Crouch in the Mustang, his Live In London double platter being one of the greatest (and first) urban Gospel live albums ever recorded, and I can’t help but reflect on how bad “Gospel” music is today. This simplistic chants we (barely) mouth in church today— Hez's Every Praise, Break Every Chain by Tasha Cobbs— pales in comparison to distinct expressions of God moving by His Spirit through music: My Tribute (To God Be The Glory), The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power, Bless His Holy Name, Soon And Very Soon, I Don’t Know Why Jesus Loved Me, Through It All— and the list goes on; songs most of us don’t even realize Andraé wrote. Now, what are we singing? Most music I hear performed in churches today does not please God, does not bless God, and is in fact, in rebellion against God. Pick your favorite tune, the hottest “Christian” hit: most is borderline blasphemy.

My God is awesome
He can move mountains
Keep me in the valley
Hide me from the rain

My God is awesome
Heals me when I'm broken
Gives strength where I've been weakened
Forever He will reign

“Awesome” —Pastor Charles Jenkins & Fellowship Chicago

This song does not bless God. It's not actually about God, it's about us: MY God is Awesome. Keep ME in the valley. Hide ME from the rain. Why are we hiding? God is awesome because He helps us cower from adversity? Is this even biblical? Heals ME when I'M broken... His grace is why I’M living.

“Awesome” follows the alarming trend of choruses masquerading as songs. An actual song has some reasonable composition and construction. A chorus is just something you kind of repeat over and over until you’re dizzy, Break every chain... break every chain... This is the magic of “Awesome;” you just sing it until it hypnotizes you; a balm for the masses who don’t understand the actual purpose music should be serving in Christian ministry.

“Awesome” is a “song” written by Church Folk for Church Folk. It in no way blesses God or pleases God. It pleases us; it sends us into an emotional frenzy as we chant it over and over. But it’s all recycled clichés set over chord structures borrowed from much better songs. Why am I going to these places if I can have better worship in my car?

Crouch’s This Is Another Day, embedded on this page, epitomizes what I’m talking about. If we celebrate God’s protection and sustenance, then we should offer something of ourselves back to Him. Which is where people get all squirrelly about money. I’m not talking about money; I’m talking about you being a productive human being who contributes something to the world in Jesus’ name instead of just being all about yourself.

Look at this lady with the shopping cart, how much energy and effort she’s putting into her party planning. Look at all the time you invested preparing for Christmas. Long ago, my mom used to open a bogus checking account under an assumed name and write bad checks just so my ungrateful sister and I could have Christmas. She could have been thrown in jail for that. Today, I see the struggles young mothers go through, turning themselves inside out, some even giving up their bodies to sex up some lowlife in order to get Santa money. Beloved: Christmas is about giving gifts to Christ, not to each other. Read your bible: the way to celebrate Christ’s birth is to bring a sacrificial offering to Him.

The best offering we can give is ourselves [Romans 12:1-2]. How much time did you spend reading your bible in 2017 versus reading Facebook? How much time did you spend in prayer versus watching TV or staring at your phone? Why are we thanking God, dancing and hollering, rolling in the aisles or heading out to the party, when we’ve accomplished nothing, zero, nada, for Christ in 2017? In what psychotic episode have we earned that pat on the back, that ata boy? Why are we thanking God for mere survival? God doesn’t want us to just survive; he wants us to thrive and to prosper. I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. He wants us to stop going through the motions. He wants us to earn that party.

Thank God We're Still Here Doing Nothing For Christ: "Christians" In The Age of Trump

Why Believe?

So, then, why preach? Why, after two years' absence, come back here? Why invest time and treasure in a work that feels so futile? Why reach out to knuckleheads? The answer is simple: because God said go.

Jonah’s story is actually about obedience. God values our obedience more than any other effort we do on His behalf [I Sam 15:22-24]. All that sweat you invest down at the church house is meaningless to God, scores no points with God, if it is not what God actually told you to do. If you are running this auxiliary or are chairperson of that committee or whatever, if you think your farts don’t stink because you’ve been running the Sunday School for two decades— well, chances are you’re feeding your ego, your flesh, at the very real expense of peoples’ lives.

Beloved, I honestly don’t care what you do with your life. Just do something. Make me feel like I’m a part of something, part of helping you to be creative, to do something constructive. Don’t just struggle through life and die. Jesus suffered torture for you. He didn't do that just so you can sit there.

Happy New Year? Maybe. We'll see.

Christopher J. Priest
1 January 2018

No. 431  |  January 2018   Study   Faith 101   Off-Center   Jesse Isn't Coming   Why I Don't Go To Church   Burning The Plow   MLK