March 15, 2000
 Long to Have a
Ministry?

Don't Overlook the One
You Already Have
    
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I had never spoken to an adult Sunday School class before, and as a young seminary student I was anxious to make good. I had worked hard on my talk, choosing as my topic koinonia love.

But now I was late getting to the church and, of all things, stuck behind a Sunday driver. The nerve of him, doing thirty-five in a thirty-mile zone! This is Washington, D.C., not Kansas, and I've got an important ministry to perform. I edged my bumper within a short distance of his, hoping he'd catch the vision and accelerate.

No such luck. Within a few blocks he had slowed down practically to the speed limit.

Then several minutes later, I watched with horror as he turned into the parking lot of the church where I was to speak. When I got up to speak, he was sitting in the front row of the class, and he seemed to be giving me a knowing stare. I flashed my best pastoral smile and went ahead to talk about the importance of loving each other with the love of Christ. He did not seem terribly impressed.

The Real Message

I've always known that ministry is not something you simply prepare for and do but a way of life. People listen much more to what you are than to what you say.

But the Sunday driver experience dramatically demonstrated to me what ingenious ways God has of letting people know exactly what you are. In a large metropolitan area like Washington, the odds are infinitesimal that someone whom you're tailgating is heading for the same destination you are. But as Einstein once put it, God doesn't play dice. He wanted to impress upon me, I'm sure, that he intends to communicate to others not just through my words but through the small aspects of my life.

Fortunately, I had an experience in my earlier days with the Sons of Thunder which showed me the positive side of this truth. I was driving on a busy highway late one evening when I saw a couple standing beside a stalled car. I stopped and offered to help. They asked if I would drive them home, which meant a trip of some distance into the country. As we drove, the man asked me about myself. I mentioned I was a seminary student and told him a little about my ministry in music, but didn't witness to him directly.

About a week later he shared with me that this act of kindness had restored his faith in Christ.

Walking Is Talking

Experiences like these, of course, are rare. But I believe that God allows us to have them occasionally to give us a window on an ongoing phenomenon in our lives--the fact that he is continually using our example to make an impression on others for Christ.

This fact should concern us. If we desire to have a ministry for Christ, then the most essential thing we can do is to watch over our relationship with him.

But we should be encouraged by this as well. For if our relationship with Christ is what it should be, we can rest assured that he is creatively using our life to influence others for himself. "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit," Jesus promised (Jn 15:5 RSV). As a healthy branch in a vine bears fruit naturally and spontaneously, we will unavoidably be effective for Christ when we are rightly related to him. Ministry will be inevitable.

We fail to appreciate this fully most of the time, I think, because we see only a faint picture of all Christ is doing through us. I became a Christian initially because several people on a summer job during college shared with me about Christ and demonstrated his love to me. I lost touch with them shortly after that summer, and to this day I doubt that any of them have any idea that their lives changed the course of mine.

View from the Top

Too often we think of ministry purely in terms of doing certain things--reciting a memorized evangelistic routine, giving an impressive talk, counseling with a proven approach. Or ministry is something you go into professionally, through the pastorate or missionary service.

God does call some of us into such positions, and these roles are vital. And all of us can profit from learning how to minister to others more effectively. But we must not think we are ministering only when we are involved in "ministry activities."

I suspect that when Paul was imprisoned in Rome, many must have felt he had now been deterred from his ministry. That was not how Paul viewed things. "I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear," Paul insisted (Phil 1:12-14 RSV).

Many of us look at our jobs or our time in college as a prison to be endured, keeping us from having a real ministry. Paul's experience suggests that our ministries are going on at this very time in our relationships with those in our work, in school and in every area of our lives.

Christ also uses each of our lives and our unique gifts to help other people in countless ways, and this is an important part of our ministries as well. The ministry of Christ touches every area of human need. He gives to each of us a unique mix of abilities and opportunities, which enables us to extend help to others in ways no one else is as well-equipped to do.

Each day brings with it the opportunity to use our gifts to help others, and to let others know about Christ through the example of our life. As we are faithful to these opportunities, God gives us special openings to speak with others about Christ. Yet--and far more often than we think--our life is speaking volumes to others about him, and Christ is using it in remarkable ways to awaken others to their need for a relationship with him.

Ministry is not something out there somewhere; it is now.

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