Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ministry Context

This post is unexpected, yet nevertheless, is important. There are many churches and ministries that are highly effective, yet many others are not. While there are many reasons this could be true, a big part of the challenge is context. Let me give three short examples of how this relates.

First, the context of time. Some ministry opportunities are just stumbled upon. For instance, our church has recently stumbled upon a ministry of distributing food once a month. It wasn't something that we were intending to do, but it literally fell into our lap. However, most ministry comes from seeing a need and responding. People discuss the need and prepare a plan to serve others because of it. Prayer is often a large component of this (or at least it should be!). Such a ministry can be effective because it meets a certain need at a certain time.

Second, the context of place. Location. Location. Location. These words are used for marketing purposes often. But the same is true for ministry. Thankfully, the notion of the context of a ministry is being made more and more apparent. Of course, many types of ministry can be done in all types of places. But the question is how. Continuing the example of food distribution, many churches and ministries have a similar ministry. However, being in a rural location, the frequency with which we receive the food, the method by which we sort the food, and certainly how we distribute the food will be different from a ministry that is in an urban setting. Neither approach is necessarily better, as long as the approach fits the location.

The third context is people. Again, using the idea of distributing the food, a member of our church was contacted by an organization to see if we would be interested in receiving food in order to help individuals and families in our area. Essentially, the organization does not know what food will be available month to month. In fact, there may be months when we do not receive any at all. When the call came, our church member, knowing the need in the community, said yes to the opportunity. Yet, how does the context of people affect the larger picture.

Well, from the context of timing, our member knew the need, but the opportunity fell into our lap. From the context of place, having a relationship with someone in the organization was critical. But our choice is to deliver the food to the homes. This is not as viable in some communities. And that is where the context of people begins to take shape.

Too often, in churches and other ministries, a ministry began due to a servant wanting to serve. Time was invested. Prayer may have made a tremendous impact at the outset of a ministry - even for several years. But over time, the ministry continues - passed down from generation to generation. This is not all bad, not at all. But when future generations begin to take over the responsibilities some questions need to take place:

  • Does the ministry fit our time? Will we commit to pray for this ministry as others have in the past?
  • Does the ministry fit our place? Do we still have the correct resources, or should we alter the approach?
  • Does the ministry fit our people? What skills, passions, and giftedness are available today?

Too often, well meaning servants attempt to take on a ministry that is not meant for them. Their intentions are pure and their effort is faultless. BUT, God has prepared them for something else. Too often, ministry opportunities which were great in the past get handed down to people who are not gifted to serve in such a ministry. Unfortunately, many churches (and ministries) will criticize these individuals rather than celebrating learning to serve as God has gifted them. Such criticism stymies the effectiveness of ministry and hinders the impact of the church. And, unfortunately, this type of criticism drives many from our churches and from their desire to serve God.

I am thankful that we currently have this new opportunity to distribute food. It is certainly biblical. And it currently fits our time, our place, and our people - or, at least one person who is passionate enough to coordinate the ministry effort. However, as times and people change, my prayer is that this church will re-evaluate this ministry opportunity to make sure it still fits. If not, I hope future servants have the courage to change the methodology or even drop the ministry altogether in order to best serve as God enables them.

Truly our ability to minister at our best - individually and collectively - is for each person to serve as God has called and prepared them (1 Corinthians 12), encouraging each other to reach our potential along the way. After all, it is not our ministry that is being done - it is God's.

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