Here’s a great quote from Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart. (I found it at Darryl Dash’s blog. Go check it out, he’s got some good stuff.) It gets at something that has bothered me for quite a while about the whole mindset of western Christianity. And that is that “salvation” is the end game.
It’s not. Disciples are.
“It is, I gently suggest, a serious error to make “outreach” a primary goal of the local congregation, and especially so when those who are already “with us” have not become clear-headed and devoted apprentices of Jesus, and are not, for the most part, solidly progressing along the path. Outreach is one essential task of Christ’s people, and among them there will always be those especially gifted for evangelism. But the most successful work of outreach would be the work of inreach that turns people, wherever they are, into lights in the darkened world.
A simple goal for the leaders of a particular group would be to bring all those in attendance to understand clearly what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to be solidly committed to discipleship in their whole life. That is, when they are asked who they are, the first words out of their mouth would be, “I am an apprentice of Jesus Christ.” This goal would have to be approached very gently and lovingly and patiently with existing groups, where the people involved have not understood this to be part of their membership commitment.”
I love that descriptor, ”I am an apprentice of Jesus Christ.” No membership dues, pew reservations, or emergency roadside service/member benefits when you join the church.
You sign up as an “apprentice” to become a “master”, or at least enough like your Master to apprentice others in The Way.
Henri Nouwen wrote an article titled “Moving From Solitude to Community to Ministry”. The simple summary is that we should follow Jesus’ example when He chose his disciples. He went away to pray all night, then chose his 12 and, then sent them out in ministry. Solitude to community to ministry in that order.
Our typical order is reversed. We come up with an idea for a good ministry, talk it up until we find enough volunteers to make it work, and the go at it hard until we burn out and have to take some time away, alone.
Without the foundation of an interior spiritual maturity, ministry and community are too heavy and burdensome for us to bear for long.
About 18 years, or so, ago I decided I needed to get serious about the things of God. I began to study and pray, and ask those around me how they were really doing spiritually. The surprise was that they’d actually tell me. Everything. Mostly it wasn’t good. After about a year of doing this, I had to quit asking. It wasn’t that I didn’t care anymore, it was that I didn’t know what to do with it all. I had no answers, I had nothing to offer them. I was ministering to them with no foundation. Sure I knew the scriptures pretty well, I’d grown up in the church, knew the stories, the principles, the creed, the sunday school answers. But I didn’t have the maturity of experience, and the wisdom born from applying the knowledge in my head to my life daily. I had to take some time to grow, myself, before I was able to offer anything to other folks. Then, and only then, could I bear the burden of a brother’s sin and brokenness, with something more to offer than an empty platitude.
I’m gonna say something else that will likely upset someone’s apple cart.
Your local church’s main job isn’t ministry.
At least it’s not your minister’s/staff’s job. His job is to equip you to do ministry. The problem is you and I have put him in an impossible position. We have hired him to “do ministry”, to do our job.
And we’ve made him so busy doing our job, he doesn’t have time to do his.
His job, as I understand it from scripture, is to make sure that you and I are ready to do the good works that God has planned for each of us to do. Not to do them for us.
Ministry mainly, or should mainly take place outside the walls of the church. By us, in our own “personal mission fields” to borrow a phrase from T.M. Moore.
So allow your minister to do his job. Then go do yours too.