No. 381  |  Oct 21, 2012   Intro   Start   STUDY   American Gothic   The Regretted Child   Divorce   The Circle Broken   Donate   Previous   Home

Matthew Chapter 15: This Week In God's Word

Inconvenient Ministry

Jesus never viewed ministry as a bother. One of the reasons that Jesus had retreated [to Tyre, see sidebar] was to get away from the crowds. We know from John’s gospel account that on at least one other occasion, Jesus had to withdraw because some of the people were ready to take Him by force and make Him king (John 6:15). Mark, in particular, points out that Jesus didn’t want anyone to know He was there. But in spite of the fact that Jesus had retreated to the area to spend some time with His disciples and in spite of the fact that those same disciples urged Him to send this woman away, Jesus didn’t view the Canaanite woman's intrusion as a bother. Jesus consistently refuses to view opportunities to minister to people as a bother, even though He knows He has only three years to accomplish all that His Father has in store for Him.

A local church is sponsoring, as many churches do this time of year, a Halloween alternative for youth. For one reason or another, possibly because they waited too long to book the venue, they could not secure the local community center for October 31st, so they scheduled their event for ten days earlier, on a Sunday afternoon. This follows a pattern in prior years of moving the event, normally held on Halloween, to the Sunday before—making it a Sunday Thing instead of a Halloween thing. Sunday was more convenient. Sunday fit better with the church’s routine.

All of which misses the obvious point that, in order to be an effective youth Halloween alternative, this event should, ideally, occur on Halloween. Otherwise, it's just another party for the kids which, in and of itself, is certainly okay, but it rather misses the point. Having this event ten days before Halloween is like trying to feed the homeless by passing out sandwiches near the duck pond at the Beverly Hilton. It commits time and resources to something that misses the mark by a wide margin. This is the difference between actual ministry and whatever it is that Church Folk do.

There is typically very little that is convenient about ministry. Ministry takes place when and where it is needed. Church Folk put on shows at a time and place of their convenience. This event, as originally designed and executed independently by PraiseNet Associate Editor Rev. Neil Brown, used to occur after sundown on Halloween, some years extending well toward 11PM. There was a reason for that. The kids they’ll see on a sunny Sunday afternoon will be church kids. The crowds Neil used to scare half to death when he ran it were street kids, part of the throng of youth who typically wander the streets after dark on Halloween. Parents using bed times and school nights as a rationale for hosting a Halloween alternative in the middle of a Sunday afternoon nearly two weeks before are suffering from rampant Mommy Disease. Their kids are going to be up late, if not up half the night, on Halloween regardless of what they do. They’ll be sneaking out to parties or going trick or treating, they’re already stacking up DVD’s of gory, satanic horror films to watch. Hosting a Christian alternative on some other date just clears the way for that behavior.

I bring this up not to criticize this or any church or even Church Folk, but to make the point: despite the event's many positive attributes, whatever else it may be, this is not ministry. This is Church Folk substituting their own logic for actual commitment and investment in people’s lives. Here we have people exhausting themselves practicing, preparing, building sets, donating time and money and food, driving kids to practice, the church investing money—while missing the mark by ten full days. The point of a Christian Halloween alternative is not to have a party for children. The point is to act as a deterrent to satanic ritual. The more kids Neil could involve in the planning and execution of his event, the fewer kids were wandering the street in emulation of pagan ritual. Back in the day, many neighborhood kids, out in the street long after dark on Halloween, ended their journey at church, because that’s where the action was. That’s where all their friends were. This event was Neil’s Venus Flytrap, luring in the strays and then snapping shut, trapping the kids there until their parents came to pick them up. And, while they were there, Neil taught them Who Jesus is. Neil was conducting ministry. I have no earthly clue what the event is meant to achieve anymore, the event over and doors shut before sundown on a day when kids aren’t wandering the streets after dark. More than that, I am sadly disappointed that not a single person involved in it seems to notice or care that all that time, energy, commitment and sacrifice has no real purpose. That they’ve substituted a Church Folk mindset for Kingdom thinking.

Missing The Mark: Feeding the homeless at the Beverly Hilton.

Because God Said Go

I can be pretty selfish with my time and when someone intrudes into that time, I get annoyed. Maybe that is at the end of a long day when I just want to relax. Or it’s on my day off on Saturday when I just want to spend some time with Mary. Every time God brings someone into my life for the purpose of ministering to them, that may be the only chance I’ll ever have to serve that person, so I need to make sure that I make the best of that time and not view that person as a bother, but rather as someone who Jesus wants to love through me.

Pat Damiani
Inconvenient Ministry

Ministry, to call itself ministry, needs to be purposeful. Ideally, we want it to be effective, but the effectiveness of your ministry is in God’s hands. It’s not in the numbers, not in counting heads or how many people show up. “Well, then how do we measure a program’s success?” a pastor once asked me. Answer: you don’t. Performing ministry is not about success or failure. It’s about obedience. We go because God said “go.” We help because God said “help.” Our biggest challenge should be to make sure it is, in fact, God saying it. Some people want to believe God told them to firebomb an abortion clinic, or spread around insane, unfounded racist claims that the President of the United States is a Muslim. These people are passing out sandwiches at the Beverly Hilton. They’re lost. Deceived. Responding to the echoes inside their own heads. They demonstrably do not know God. They are carrying on their tribal thing—white or black—instead of being led by the Holy Spirit.

By biblical model, ministry is usually that which is the least popular, the least supported, the least understood, the most mocked, and the most severely punished. Real ministry usually involves risk of some kind. It is rarely glamorous. The most effective ministry is often that which is least sought after. It always involves sacrifice. It is almost never convenient, and you almost always end up performing it alone.

There will be thousands of kids wandering the street after dark on Wednesday, October 31st. There likely won’t be anybody out there teaching them Who Jesus is. The audience for a Christian Halloween alternative is not the kids at your church. It’s the kids not at your church. The kids who don’t go to any church, but who used to come to this event because it was fun and scary and jam-packed with all of their friends. It was open late so they could come by after trick-or-treating or after that party, and this was the staging area where parents would know where to pick up their kids after they’d scattered across the neighborhood.

This was ministry. This served an actual purpose. What is was not was convenient.

Christopher J. Priest
14 October 2012

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No. 381  |  Oct 21, 2012   Intro   Start   STUDY   American Gothic   The Regretted Child   Divorce   The Circle Broken   Donate   Previous   Home