The phone is our lifeline.
I call, or Mom calls, and we talk. Most days we talk about nothing in particular, day-to-day regular chats. But sometimes we call with a more urgent purpose: a worry, a frustration, an irritation. We talk it out. We say, “Can you believe…?” We blurt out everything on our minds. And even though nothing has changed, it helps to know someone who understands and cares is listening on the other end. The promise of prayer and a kind and loving ear can do a world of good.
I do not call this ministry. I call it “me being me and Mom being Mom.”
My husband does not like coffee. I’m a caffeine addict. But he gets ready faster than I do so, despite getting up at 5:30 a.m. and knowing he could be well on his way ten minutes faster than me, he heads downstairs and fills up my little stainless steel mug with hot coffee to take to work. And some days, when I come home from work and am tired and well within my rights to stretch out on the couch and relax, I put the relaxing aside to make the homemade chocolate chip cookies he loves.
Neither of us call this ministry. He calls it loving me. And I call it loving him.
But it is ministry, and when we don’t think of it as such, we not only devalue the ministry we do – we devalue what ministry is.
In the modern church, ministry has become a careful and cultivated activity. A form of engagement that requires initiative, purpose, focus. Ministry is what you get up and you go do: in Mexico, or in the economically impoverished country in your state, or in your neighborhood, or at your job. It’s always implied in our conception of ministry that it is in addition to everything else you might be doing in the process of living your life.
But ministry, at least in part, is the process of living out your life, as God would have you live it: in love, in grace, in kindness and compassion to others.
Ministry can be all of the things I mentioned above, of course. But ministry also occurs organically, spontaneously, in any relationship in which a child of God behaving in a godly way is present. When you sacrifice in love to do a kindness for your spouse – that’s an act of ministry! When you provide that listening ear and share a burden – ministry! When you can approach a conflict with an attitude of grace and patience – ministry! What my mom and I do when we talk on the phone? What my husband does when he makes the coffee, and what I do when I make his cookies? All ministry!
For a God-follower, ministry is a natural outgrowth of your relationship with Him in your relationships with others. You need not do a particular activity or seek out a particular group of people – it just happens. Mostly, what ministry requires is that you a) keep close to God and b) develop some relationships in your life. Your closeness with God will inform those relationships in the same way that exercise strengthens a heart or a humidifier adds moisture to the air.
Oftentimes, our most powerful ministries are the ones close to home, and yet we hardly ever discuss those with the same gusto that we discuss ministering to other people outside our own small spheres. Not many people consider it “ministry” for a mother to teach, engage, and act in godly love toward her own child. And yet here is a profound truth in my life:
If my mother had not been a believer, I might never have been. She was the great faith influence of my childhood. Without her, I might never have known what I know now of Jesus. She was my mother, yes, but she also ministered to me.
And I minister to my husband, and he ministers to me. We minister to our brothers and sisters, our cousins, aunts and uncles, dear friends. And we do it not by identifying them at church and using a grab bag of methods to reach them, but by practicing in daily life with them the skills that God teaches us through His love.
Really, that’s what ministry is: the practical application of all we learn through being loved by God. Our relationships is where we can immediately put to work all of our growth. And it happens often not through our conscious effort, but because of the work of the Spirit in us.
So don’t devalue the ministry happening organically in your day-to-day life in your dearest and most long-lasting relationships. Those relationships are the lab where you experiment with how God’s love is shaping you, changing you: they are staging ground where God continues to transform you into who He wants you to be.
The good stuff, the good ministry, the reaching-out to make incalculable difference in a human life: it’s not always something you have to go out and find, or strategize about, or approach as though it is an extracurricular. Sometimes, it’s right there in your house, and it’s happening without you even knowing it.