The following is from my Statement on Ministry, one part of my ministerial profile:
When Jesus revealed the Way of ministry, he was very direct and brief: “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6: 37); “Let the children come to me” (Luke 18: 16); “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26: 26); “Take up your cross and follow me” (Mark 8: 34); “Let anyone with ears to hear listen” (Luke 8: 8); “Go, make disciples…” (Matt. 28: 19); “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44); “…love one another” (John 13: 34); “Feed my sheep” (John 21: 17). These could be the purpose statement of any local church. But more than that these verses are spiritual practices: the bedrock of ministry and faithfulness to Jesus Christ.
I believe that it is our spiritual practices, our faithfulness that saves us each and every day. And what I mean by “saves” is that we are pried off our tendency to focus solely on ourselves in any given moment. Ministry is about learning those spiritual practices and sharing them with others, not only for ourselves but that lives may be changed and transformed, that we might do justice and make peace with one another, that the unconditional love of God would be made visible and tangible.
The next frontier of the church will be those who consider the church to be irrelevant but who still want to make a difference and are working for change in the world. What can unite believers and non-believers are the spiritual practices common to many traditions such as meditation, serving others, feeding the hungry, extending hospitality, forgiveness, compassion, and moving others to do likewise and more.
In our Christian tradition the pendulum of salvation swings between its two foci of faith and the practices of faith. There are phases we go through where faith alone, belief that a power greater than ourselves, can save us. Other times we are caught up in the practices of faith—worship, service, prayer, study, giving, hospitality—and we are saved, released from self-absorption, by the doing of them.
The apostle Paul tells us that we are saved by grace alone, that works/practices alone will not save us, nor will faith without works. We need both but even then it is only grace that saves. Paul is not talking about the present moment but salvation on a grander scale, of that time when all will be welcomed to the heavenly banquet.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think about the heavenly banquet on a daily basis. Rather, every day it is myself I need to be saved from, from my pettiness, my ego, my wants and wishes, my propensity for procrastination, my snarky attitude while driving.
Ultimately, the spiritual practice that saves us is love: love of God, love of neighbor, love of self. Ours is a ministry of love. Author Samir Selmanovic, in his book It’s Really All About God, says it well, about following Jesus and his ministry of love:
“Jesus offered a single incentive to follow him…to summarize his selling point: ‘Follow me, and you might be happy—or you might not. Follow me, and you might be empowered—or you might not. Follow me, and you might have more friends—or you might not. Follow me, and you might have the answers—or you might not. Follow me, and you might be better off—or you might not. If you follow me, you may be worse off in every way you use to measure life. Follow me nevertheless. Because I have an offer that is worth giving up everything you have: you will learn to love well.’”
This is the Jesus I follow, the ministry that gives me joy, the grace that sustains me, the Church I serve.