Thoughts on ministry

Over the next week or so, I plan to share a little about what has transpired in my outlook toward ministry over the last several months. As mentioned here, I have been searching for answers to some big-picture questions that will impact how I lead the Portland Campus team to reach the 100,000 students in our city. I am just beginning to solidify some answers. Bear with me.

I have had a growing discontent in the last two years with "ministry" in general. This has had nothing to do with Campus Crusade, or any church, or person, or our calling to ministry. It is simply what I have seen and experienced as I have watched 'Christianity' try to engage with non-Christians. What I have seen has in many instances been frustrating and discouraging to me.

I have noticed three things that seem to be thematic. The first theme is that ministry can tend to be extremely formulaic. We find something that works and we rush to apply it in every situation. We begin to view people as numbers or statistics. I have heard analyses that if you share the gospel with x number of people, than y will become Christian. I have also seen outmoded strategies clung to because at one time they connected with people.

I have also sensed passivity in ministry. So often we go through the motions and wait for things to happen, wait for people to show up, wait for change to make a decision for us, etc. I see this a differing from 'waiting on the Lord', where His servants are eager and expectant that God will move and are ready for Him to do so. I am referring to a rut, or routine, that we pursue in hopes of God sanctifying our trudge.

Third, I see a growing irrelevancy. Those outside the church believe we have nothing to offer, and that there is no reason to respect our beliefs. This saddens me because even though their anger and apathy might be directed toward us as people, it really keeps them from knowing Jesus. We as Christians are viewed as being anti-this or anti-that, or as being a political movement with great voter turnout. We are viewed as outsiders and separatists, who stand at a distance and bark proclamations to a largely ambivalent and growingly hostile crowd, with which we have no affinity.

These observations are certainly not true everywhere, but I believe that in time they will be, unless changes happen. They are certainly largely true on any campus anywhere in the country.

The question I keep hearing in my head is, "Is the Gospel powerful, or is it not powerful? Are there circumstances where Jesus cannot change people's lives?" I believe that the answer to that is, "Absolutely not!" Daniel 7:13-14 gives a shocking picture of Jesus as having been given "all glory, authority, and sovereign power." "All" is a really big word.

So, my journey has led me to this point: If there is a disconnect between the power of the Gospel and the impact of the message, where is that disconnect and what causes it? There are only a few possibilities: One, that Jesus in fact cannot exercise his power everywhere; two, that some non-Christians do not in fact need Jesus; or three, that we as Christians are somehow not communicating the Gospel very well.

I cannot accept either of the first two possibilities as true. I have therefore concluded that the third is where the disconnect lies. If I am right, that we don't do a good job communcating the Gospel, then this dictates our response.

I will share more about that response in the next few days. Thanks for reading this far!


Ellen said...

I can't help but wonder if your dilemma is a result of people not being afraid to "talk the talk" but when it comes to "walk the walk" that's a different issue altogether. Baby Christians often respond better to a gentle modeling of what Jesus can do to/for you (the walk) while the up close and personal in your face "talk" can often be a bit overwhelming!! Just a thought.

Adam & Anne said...

Well, obviously 'in-your-face' rarely, if ever, works well. I would say that fits under my 'irrelevant' catgeory. People just don't respond well to proclamation in this day and age...except Christians. But they aren't the issue.

As you'll see, I'm learning that 'talk' is much easier and well-received, in the right context.

Stacie said...

Often we get so fixated on the formula(s) we've been taught--say this, do that, share this diagram, and voila--another soul saved. I think one of the most terrifying and powerful lessons God has been teaching me over the last few months is that part of telling His story is telling our own, raw and unscripted as it may be. Of course they are going to think that Christianity is shallow and irrelevant if all they see is what we carefully formulate and construct! Maybe what they need to hear isn't a rehearsed speech complete with diagrams, followed by an awkward silence and blank stare--maybe what they need to hear is "I know God exists because I walked through hell and made it out on the other side." To someone who otherwise doesn't see their need for a Savior or to those who aren't even tracking on what sin is and why it is a bad thing, often times the most effective way to reach them is to be real about what we know about His character based on our own personal experiences rather than what we have been taught to recite out loud from a tract. The most powerful arguments given concerning why I should trust God with my life didn't come from a rehearsed presentation of the 4SL's--it came from heartfelt testimonies from people who were once just as broken and raw... I know it's ironic that I would be the one saying this, but perhaps sharing has become too much of an intellectual and memorized routine and not enough of an humanistic and heartfelt mission...
Sorry this is so long--I may have done a little too much thinking on SP (notably, in a country which completely disproves the x yields y theory)... I'm excited to see what God does with PDX Metro this year! =)

Ellen said...

Heartfelt and humanistic is basically what I meant when I said "walk the walk" as well as "talk the talk". I agree that scripted is destined to become stale very quickly. It's the old theory that "actions speak (as loud) louder than words!!

Stacie said...

I agree Ellen; however, it often seems that when one is holding us accountable to "walk the walk" what they are really wanting to know is what are we doing. A good question, but we often explain what we are doing in terms of what we are saying and who we are saying it to. It often seems to me that the connotations of "walk the walk" and "talk the talk" seem to have somehow melted together in everyday Christian vernacular--perhaps that contributes to the disconnect...
Does that make any sense?

Ellen said...

Makes more sense than you know. I also know that there are no "perfect" Christians (we can't be perfect - we're human)so my using the terms walk and talk leave a lot to interpretation. No one has the right to know what you are doing and thereby make judgements as to your faith. What I mean more than anything is sometimes simple actions reflect our inner self thereby generating my use of the dated terms walk and talk. An example of what I am trying to get across might be found in the example of the response the US troops get from the Iraqi people when they do simple things like take the time to play with the children or help an injured or elderly civilan. The compassion they are exhibiting speaks louder than any words possibly could. They are letting their inner self shine through. Now it's my turn - am I making more sense? (And be aware I started this discussion shortly after rolling out of bed at 4:30 AM and my thoughts have hopefully gelled a little better as the day rolls along!)

Stacie said...

A couple of thoughts:
A) No way Adam doesn't hate us by now! =)
B) Feel ya on the being up since 430, and not getting into bed until 2 certainly didn't help. I'll be honest--I probably wouldn't make sense anyway.
C) I think what we are both trying to say is that sharing one's faith or expressing true Christianity (that is to say showing a relationship rather than expressing legalistic lifestyles) must include more than a booklet and a rehearsed speech. If we don't approach the lost as equally flawed humans (all of us being flawed, not just them), we're never going to succeed in fulfilling the great commission--and failing at that isn't much of an option. Wow--did we really write an entire novel just to say that we agree that scripted, rehearsed, formulaic approaches are archaic and ineffective?

Ellen said...

Touche`. You said it quite eloquently. As far as Adam's wrath - I've known him long enough to know he'll get over it!!!!!

Stacie said...

At least we're all on the same page! This should be a great year--I don't know about you, but it almost makes not being in Europe an okay thing! =)