Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rough Draft

I had to write this for purely professional reasons, but I saw no reason not to drop it here. Call it, for want of a better term, a:

Statement on Ministry

“He sat down and called the twelve and says to them, ‘If anyone wants to be ‘number one,’ that person has to be last of all and servant of all.’ ” Last of all and servant of all—an excellent place to start, so long as everyone understands they start there, too. Start there by yourself, and you start as the doormat to everyone else. This is the paradox of ministry; but ministry is service, or it is nothing at all.

I’m fond of quoting a philosopher, a Frenchman, on the subject of religion: “Religion,” he wrote, “is responsibility, or it is nothing at all.” Dreadfully weighty and dour way to put it, don’t you think? Or maybe not. Maybe responsibility isn’t a terrible thing; maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe responsibility isn’t a matter of burdens and duties; maybe responsibility is about where you are needed, and what you can do. Does your family need you? Do your friends? Does your church need you? Aren’t those responsibilities? Yet do you want to give up family, friends, church, just to avoid responsibility? No, surely you don’t. So one way to look at it is not that religion is some extra burden, some imposed duty: religion is simply life. Everything about your life is entwined with responsibilities: to your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, your employers, your co-workers, your neighbors, the other people in the pews, the people on the street, in the stores, on the highways. Isn’t religion a part of that, too? Shouldn’t it be?

So there’s a statement on ministry: ministry is life. Well, perhaps it isn’t all of your life, but it’s certainly as much a part of your life as anything else you do regularly, anything else you choose to include in your life. You decide what jobs you will do, what friends you will have, even whether or not you’ll go to church. Each choice is a responsibility, and each choice creates more responsibilities. Are any of those apart from your religion, from your belief in God? Can you go where God is not? “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?/If I ascend up into heaven, thou art here; if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” The psalmist certainly didn’t think so. So religion is like responsibility is like God: it is everywhere you are. It is in every part of your life. What could you do to separate yourself from it? And why would you want to?

Can this statement on be ministry be reduced to a few words? Yes; it is responsibility; responsibility and everyday life. Ministry is responsibility, everyday life is responsibility, religion is responsibility. They are woven together like strands of a rope. Ministry is about teaching and seeing that responsibility in everything you do in life. “Pray without ceasing,” Paul tells us. That’s a responsibility; it’s also an act of religion; it’s also perfectly easily a part of everyday life. Ministry is about caring for others, about being least of all and servant of all. But that’s a responsibility, and you can’t be responsible and be a doormat. So ministry is not so much about serving, as it is about making you recognize your service, your responsibility: as a Christian; as a spouse; as a friend; as a member of the body of Christ. And everyday life is all about responsibility; but that means every day of your life, every moment, is suffused and surrounded and upheld and shot through with the glory of the presence of God. Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of all who speak of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. What could be more wonderfully responsible than that? Or more of a ministry?

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