Ministry and evangelism has become an industry.
The un-churched or unsaved are broken down into neat demographics: single mothers, urban adolescents, double-income no kids, liberal college students, educated upper-forties males. And if you take the time to look, you’ll find 9,000 books and study curriculums devoted to ministering to a particular demographic: basketball! coffee klatches! book clubs! philosophical debates!
This is all well and good, as far as it goes – sometimes it helps for us to find ways to relate to people we don’t really understand or with whom we don’t share demographic commonalities. And sometimes we need guidance on what to say or how to reach out to a particular group; I’d be caught confused and flailing were I called upon to minister to, let’s say, a group of Hell’s Angels.
But there’s also a danger in the near-corporate industry of ministry, and it is this: 1) People aren’t demographics, and 2) Love and relationship can’t be taught, purchased, or faked.
Number two is mostly what I want to focus on, but it stems, in a sense, from number one. I think that believers – and I include myself in this number – often make ministry much more difficult than it needs to be. We look at a person, and we see a need, and we squint at all the labels that person carries around with them – city-dweller, mother, yoga enthusiast – and we try to figure out what combination of tactics we have to enter to unlock the Jesus-safe in her heart.
But never forget that the Bible is simple. Simple enough for children. Simple enough for fools. And sometimes too simple by half for those who like to think of themselves as wise. So is the Gospel. And yes, when I look at ministry in the Bible, I do see the disciples sailing hither and yon, starting churches everywhere, striking up conversations with strangers. You know what I also see?
I see Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law.
I see Christ commanding His disciples simply to keep their doors open to strangers, and to offer hospitality and charity to those in need.
I see Paul commanding the church to care for the widows and orphans in its community, to do good work with integrity, and for families to take care of each other.
I see Boaz coming to the aid of the woman working in his field.
I see Philip stumbling across an Ethiopian.
I see the women, men, and children lauded in Proverbs for living in love and service to their families.
In all of these cases, ministry occurs not as a result of calculated methodologies, but of people living their lives and doing their work with an awareness to God’s presence and God’s command. Ministry was organic because their relationship with God was organic; Christians helped those around them, those they came across, those they happened to know, those to whom God led them.
If you feel called to study a particular demographic in order to minister to them, then please do. But if you don’t, then don’t feel that you need to read a book or learn a methodology in order to minister to anyone. My mother is the one who led me to Christ; she was led to a committed church life by my mother-in-law. The circle of ministry need not contain multitudes; it can be small and circumspect and close.
If there is a ministry problem in the church, then at least part of it stems from the fact that we don’t value the ministry work of our own lives as much as we value the capital-letter-M Ministry we read about in books. You don’t have to pursue a missionary field; God put you in one. Everyone in your orbit, starting with your family and then moving outward to dear friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, is someone you are undoubtedly meant to minister to.
The concept is intimidating. “How am I supposed to minister to my librarian?” you wonder. “Or that sullen kid who lives next door?” And the temptation is – at least for me – to reach for a book or a guide. But you don’t need one.
Say “hi” or “thank you” or “can I help you with that” or “I noticed you were crying, is there anything I can do?”
Be kind. Be patient. Be generous with your time and your material goods.
But if you really need to know the only trick for ministry – the one thing that matters more than any other – turn to 1 Corinthians 13 1-13. Read it. Do those things to everyone in your circle of influence. And that’s it. That’s your ministry.
It really is that easy.