If an alien for another universe were to observe many congregations, they might think that the ministry of laity consisted only of the sacred seven: ushering, singing in the choir, teaching Sunday School, leading the youth group, being part of the kitchen committee, counting the money or serving on a committee. Notice that all of these are inside the church, on the church property and for church members?
But what if God’s main arena of action is not in the church, but outside the church? And what if the most significant arena of service for laity isn’t at the church’s facilities, but out in the world . . . and not on Sunday morning, but throughout the rest of the week?
Now, I’m not saying that the sacred seven traditional ministries of laity aren’t important. And I’m not saying that God isn’t at work inside the congregation on Sunday morning. Far from it! But what if we have had the emphasis on the wrong syllable? What if we were getting the proverbial cart before horse?
According to blogger Mike Ellis, there are 132 contacts that Jesus had with people that are recorded in the New Testament. Of them 6 are in the temple, 4 are in the synagogue, and 122 are out in the mainstream of everyday life. That means that less than 8% of encounters for which Jesus is remember happened “at church.” Or to flip it around, 92% of the exchanges for which Jesus is remembered happened “out in the world during the rest of the week.” What does it mean that we focus almost all of our “normal” understanding of ministry on the area in which Jesus is remembered as having focused only about 8% of his time?
I love how Eugene Peterson’s translates Romans 12:1, “So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life — your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” (The Message) What might we discover if we offered up our everyday lives as acts of worship and offerings of service?
We might see what we do every day as a ministry. I recently heard Rev. Doug Anderson tell of a conversation he had with his daughter several years ago. She told him that during her prayer times she had been sensing God was calling her to some kind of ministry. Currently, she teaches by choice in an inner city school located in a very challenging community, so Doug asked her if she realized that she was already passionately committed to serving others – already ministering! The conversation ended with her recognizing she was already pursuing her vocation: her response to God’s calling in her life to be in ministry to others. It also ended with Doug personally convicted about how his daughter grew up under his ministry and yet missed the fulfillment of seeing how her everyday life could glorify God and bless others.
- Why can’t a plumber make her unique contribution to God’s work in the world through plumbing, just as a preacher can through preaching?
- How would the work that you already do seem different . . . if you saw it not just as a means to a paycheck or as a means of personal fulfillment, but also as a way to invest the best of what you are blessing others and glorifying God?
- Would how you do what you already do be transformed . . . if you saw it as your vocation: a response to God’s calling in your life to join him serving others?
We might recognize how the best of who we are can be use to bless others in ways we hadn’t seen before. As he piloted his boat from Boca Grande to Useppa Island, Bruce’s face beamed while he shared about the ministry of Boca Grande UMC in the Dominican Republic. He talked about micro loans changing people’s lives and making the community a better place. He talked about strategies for helping people obtain clean drinking water and sustainable sources of food. He talked about a new congregation and children being tutored, too. All the time, there was excitement and conviction in his voice. Here is a business executive who has discovered his vocation investing his strengths and passions, his experiences and knowledge in ways that are having a Kingdom impact on people’s lives. He is jazzed as he explained how their mission team decided to stay focused on this one community, to build relationships with them over time and to explore deeper more effective ways to partner with them in ministry.
- What if Jesus invited Peter and Andrew to follow him so he could teach them to become fishers of people (Matthew 4:18-20) not because everyone is supposed to become a fisher of persons, but because they were fishermen and he wanted THEM to discover the unique ways THEY could make THEIR contribution to his work in the world? How would if feel to know that Christ calls you to follow him and to discover the unique ways in which you can make your Kingdom contributions?
- Recognizing that God prepares us to do the ministry to which he calls us, how might your talents, your spiritual gifts, your life experiences, and your passions uniquely prepare you to serve others and to glorify God?
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence