Last week we examined the idea that leaders, especially preachers, examine themselves before addressing others. In the words of Steve Brown, we’d better be ‘smoking what we’re selling’. The subject this week is ‘ministry’. We hear this term often, but what does it really mean? More specifically, what does it mean to have the gift of ministry?
These questions and questions like them arise to the surface in the book of Romans, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering.” (Romans 12:6-7). So what does it mean to wait on ministering? And what is ministry? We’re glad you asked! Later on in the same passage, Paul defines ministry as: “Be(ing) kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another.” (Romans 12: 10). A little more helpful, right? A little.
People with the gift of ministry treat people around them as family members. This term ‘brother‘ is used over 230 times throughout the New Testament. It literally means ‘from the same womb!‘ So people in ministry treat others as though they are actual blood kin. They may even call you brother or sister. But they not only use ‘familiar terms, they also make people FEEL like family! For most of us, the word ‘family’ is an emotionally loaded word. You can only imagine the impact a person with the gift of ministry can have, then, in a world of fractured families. People long for a sense of family more than ever.
Ministry is also an expression of God’s character. In Luke 15, a young man takes his inheritance and heads for Las Vegas to ‘live it up’, spending his money on wine, women and song….or something like that. Ultimately he ends up broke and gets a job at Walmart (o.k, actually he took a job feeding pigs and was so broke he ate what they ate). You get the idea. Ultimately, he decides to go home and face the music with his father. The father was waiting lovingly for his return and treated his son as family, despite the son’s ‘riotous living’. For those with the gift of ministry, the failures of others qualify them rather than disqualifying them as candidates for love. Although not all of us have the gift of ministry, we all have the potential to be ministers. As ministers it is helpful to bear in mind the idea of unconditional love. If we’re not careful, we’ll abandon immature people who are actually brothers and sisters in need of our patience and understanding. For me personally, the immaturity of others only highlights my own.
Ministers, however, are able to remain patient because they realize maturity is a process, not an endowment. Strong leaders allow their followers time to develop their latent abilities. They realize people only learn sometimes by making mistakes. Leaders with the gift of ministry are there to help their brothers and sisters get back on track and stay in the game. With any amount of luck, they may get to watch their disciples do the same for others in the future.
The key attribute of people with the gift of ministry is they place the needs of others before their own. People with this gift are willing to lay down their lives so that others can experience life to the greatest degree. They only consider themselves successful when others succeed as a result of their love and labors. They are full of joy when others are joyful. Jesus illustrated what it means to ‘honor one another above ourselves’ beautifully, when he girded himself with a towel and washed the feet of his disciples. (John 13). In those days, there was no sanitation and people emptied their wash basins in the streets. As a gracious host, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as they entered the home, cleansing their feet of any filthy residue they may have trod through in the streets. If the thought of washing the excrement caked feet of others makes you cringe, you may not have the gift of ministry. My own kids love to stick their dirty, smelly feet on each other whenever they get the chance. The fact that none of them have killed each other may be indicate ministry gifts in the making.
Speaking of kids, you’re probably familiar with the controversial experiments in the 20th century carried out on Rhesus monkeys. Psychologist Harry Harlow put two mechanical monkey mothers in a cage. One had a soft terry cloth covering for the baby monkeys to snuggle up to. The other mother had a bottle of warm milk attached to her. Then the scientist made an alarming noise to see which mother the baby monkey would run to when scared. Guess which one they ran to every time? You guessed it, the one who was soft and comforting although she was made of metal.
Speaking of unnatural, showing affection and love to other Christians and treating them like family, especially when they are unloveable does not happen automatically. As self-centered individuals it’s easy to fall into patterns of selfish behavior. So what’s the rub? Always remember you only gain when you sincerely honor others. Christians who are family minded add warmth, reassurance, comfort and devotion to those they interact with. This passage of scripture may help, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:5-9).
How about you? Maybe you have a strained relationship right now? With a family member? Rather than waiting for them to make the first move, why not go to them? Call. Text. Write a letter. You’ll never know until you try. It won’t be easy, but it’s worth it. If you wait for your loved ones to live up to all of your standards and expectations, you’ll be waiting a long time.
A minister traveling on a bus struck up a conversation with a middle aged man who looked like he needed a friend. During their conversation, the minister found out the man was heading home to try and reconcile with his aged parents after many years. As they approached the next stop the man asked the preacher to look out the window to the left and see if there was a yellow ribbon tied to an old apple tree in a yard they were quickly approaching. He explained the ribbon would indicate his parents were willing to follow through with the homecoming. As the bus rumbled past the yard, the man couldn’t bear to look out the window. Finally, he anxiously asked the preacher what he saw. “IS IT THERE? IS THE RIBBON TIED IN THE TREE?” The minister smiled and said: “I see an old couple stooped over with white hair, waving, and the WHOLE tree is filled with ribbons!”
Friend, I don’t know where you’ve been or what you’ve done. Perhaps you’ve been away for a long time. It doesn’t matter. If you’ve decided to go home, I want you to know that God loves you and the whole tree is filled with ribbons.
Ministers and leaders, fellow Christians….If our heavenly Father is willing to tie ribbons in the tree, who are we to take them down? People won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.
I wish to honor those of you who take this idea of ministry seriously. Thank you for exercising your God- given gifts and making a difference in all of our lives! You know who you are. Next week, we’ll take a look at teaching. Hope to see you soon!