A lot of church leaders think ministry is hard. They see other churches growing and making a difference in their community and think, “If only we . . .” “If only we had more people, more money, more energy. If only we had the right leadership, the right strategy, the right location.” Many leaders are worn out from trying to grow their church, from doing ministry for God, from serving others in God’s name.
But what if it needn’t be that difficult?
What if Jesus doesn’t want us to do ministry for him, but with him – to ride the wave of what he is already doing? What if instead of working for God, we are being invited to notice what God is up to and join God? What if instead of making big plans for the future, we are just being asked to join in doing now what is making God smile?
What if instead of trying to serve like someone else serves or to minister like some other congregation ministers, Jesus is asking us simply to be ourselves and creatively use the gifts we have – the gifts God has already given us -- to do what matters to God? What if instead of thinking “If only . . .” we are being invited to discern how God has already equipped us for ministry . . . and join Jesus doing the ministry for which we are already equipped?
What if the world is not a place out there with scarce resources (money, people, energy, talent) for which we need to compete in order to survive? What if the world isn’t a place that needs to be fixed or converted by us? What if the world is where God is very much present and already at work healing, comforting, forgiving, transforming, setting free, reconciling and making new? (Luke 17:21b) What if ministry is as simple as being who we are and using the gifts God has already given us to join Jesus in what he is doing now?
Arcadia UMC has had a worship attendance of about 180 for years. They have a professional kitchen that was hardly being used. They have hungry people in their community that are out of work or just struggling to make ends meet. And they had some people who said they wanted to help feed them. Rev. Jim Wade said, “Let’s do it.” In 2009 their congregation served 11,400 hot lunches on china plates on Mondays and Wednesdays. For dessert, there was music and a devotional. When persons who spoke Spanish started showing up, the congregation found the money for translation equipment, which they also started using on Sunday morning. Attendance jumped to 229 and professions of faith jumped from averaging around 7 to 25 last year. People in the community who were unchurched started noticing what was going on in the congregation and began coming to help cook and serve lunches. Before long some of them realized what being a follower of Jesus was all about and wanted to be part of this lively community of faith. “I’ve never seen the church this active before,” says one long-term member, “At first I wasn’t sure I liked it, but this building was built to be used.”
So, maybe it doesn’t have to be so difficult. Maybe it is just about remembering who we follow, seeing the resources we already have available to us, watching for what is making God smile (or breaking God’s heart) and joining God in what God is already up to in the world.
(Interested in finding out more, check out www.arenewalenterprise.com, especially their new book, Seeing Through New Eyes.)
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins