Saturday, October 10, 2009

“We ministered to them.”

Sometimes I wince when I hear that phrase.  People say it to laud themselves for having given a handout, said a prayer for someone, or donated some unneeded clothes. But often these words are repeated when all someone really did is keep a safe and sterile distance from someone else. The “ministry” may have been spontaneous, but definitely hastened toward some kind of neat closure.

The problem with this kind of ministry-at-arms-length is that it is really more about assuaging guilt than serving Jesus. We feel bad about someone’s situation and want to help. We know we ought to be more involved in helping others, but we are worried about becoming tangled up in someone else’s dysfunctional life. So we resort to giving something or making a superficial gesture of concern and sending them on their way.

A young man named Jace recounts one of these experiences in his own life:
This And yesterday I went to be a savior to a legally blind man who got robbed and now is facing eviction. I went to see him and meet him and eat with him. Instead, I was an actor trying to protect myself from another needy, messed up person. He wanted a long friendship, and I gave him a check for his water bill, a meal, a little cash to cover what he lost in his billfold and a conversation instead. Jesus exposed my evil heart to myself as I fumbled . . .  I don't what to do about this guy. I've never had someone straight up tell me to my face, "I don't want to be another charity case. I want friendship." All the while I'm telling myself that I don't have time for another person in my life. . . Shapevine blog - The Radical Way

"I ministered to you" is condescending. I’m up here and you’re down here, lucky to receive whatever I am giving you. It creates an invisible social barrier that tells the person that they can not relate on the same level. It is also focused on what you are doing, and not on knowing the person. Many times this is just exactly what both parties really want. Both afraid of what kind of involvement really knowing the other person might require. It’s scary because the deeper you go, the dirtier you can get. But only in the fleshing out of a relationship, however awkward it may be, can real discipleship begin.

Consider the way of of the Savior.

Jesus went to the homes of people with bad reputations and spent time eating and drinking with them. He also went to the homes of proper religious leaders and shared meals there. He sometimes spent the night at the home of friends in Bethany and Capernaum. He even slept in a boat of fishermen. He sat and talked with a man that was considered a monster. When he travelled through Samaria he drank their water and slept in their villages when they let him. He slept outside many, many times.

Jesus touched people with leprosy. He stuck his fingers in a man’s ears and mouth. He was called a drunk. He held the dirty feet of others in his hands. Once, he picked up a severed body part from the ground.  He went days without taking a shower. He grabbed the hand of a dead person. He let a prostitute kiss his feet. He even offered to let someone stick their fingers in his wounds.

What’s obvious is that Jesus didn’t worry about getting dirty or getting too close to the gross. He didn’t fret about social conventions and didn’t care if others would not approve. He didn’t mind the clinginess of those who didn’t know how to respond to his goodness. He was at home breaking the status quo and challenging everyone’s comfort.

So what does this mean for us? It means taking the risk and taking the initiative to begin a new relationship with someone we don’t know. It means humbling ourselves enough to make a sacrifice of our time and our privacy. It means placing everyone, even unseemly people on the same level as ourselves. It means going beyond being inconvenienced to changing the direction of our week, or month, or year… or lifetime.


  1. Cuts like a knife. Great post but very hard to read. Boy do I need to decrease.

  2. Great post. I whole heartily agree. In the states they are talking about being "missional" about being community, but I don't think many folks are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to get involved personally with hurting people.

    Hurting people often have messy lives, complicated lives, besetting sins that they just can't shake. And this messiness will rub off as we get involved.

    We need daring people to count the cost of getting involved and then compare that to the immeasurable gift we have in knowing Christ and make Him there "all in all" and then really get missional and really redefine community.

    Thanks for the post


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