The Magical Ministry Tour

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Originally published October 2006.

I had a great summer of speaking at summer camps, one of my all-time favorite ministry things to do.  Throughout the summer, my mind was continually brought back to something I read a long long time ago that has shaped my ministry–I hope.  I originally read it nearly a thousand years ago first from John Fischer’s book, Real Christians Don’t Dance.  To quote:

“No word is more misused and misinterpreted in popular Christianity than ministry.  It is the reason for everything: the justification for a top ten hit and the toleration of a substandard performance.  It legitimizes one person’s right to accumulate and hoard money while it supports another’s right to beg for it.  It serves simultaneously as an excuse to work or not to work.  The word ministry covers so much ground that it no longer carries any significant impact.  Instead, it leaves nebulous impressions and feelings.

 

“The popular understanding of ministering to people is to touch them in some spiritual sense.  But in what way–what does it mean for someone to be blessed?  Was it an emotional tickle?  The twinge of a high note?  A warm soothing chord that washed over someone’s trouble and anesthetized his or her reality?  Was it a euphoric sense of being a member of a family of fans?  The brief escape of identifying oneself with a charismatic personality?  Or was it a real experience with God?

“…And the ministers themselves are considered a special breed.  More is expected of them because they have been endowed with greater power than the average Christian.  They have a higher position, a place of authority, a spiritual aura that sets them apart.  It’s as if some supernatural trickle-down theory is in effect and the poor, lonely guy in the fifth row has come hoping some of the blessing will manage to make its way down to him.

“What’s wrong with this picture?

“Plenty.

“First, there is no magic to ministry.  No aura.  No privilege.  Ministry is simply service.  Jesus Christ set the supreme example by divesting himself of all His privileges as God and humbly taking on the form of a servant.  He Himself declared, ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’  (Mark 10:45).  Ministry is what you give, not what you get.

“Second, there is no mystery to ministry.  No intangible blessing.  No spiritual goo.  In fact, the Bible usually refers to ministry in every concrete terms.  According to Scriptures, it involves giving a cup of cold water, preaching the Gospel to the poor, visiting those in prison, caring for widows and orphans, and washing one another’s feet.  There is nothing in the Bible about singing a moving song to touch the hearts of people.
“Third–and probably most important of all–there is no primacy to ministry.  Nothing sets one Christian over another.  There should be no sense of spirituality in any ministry, because the Scriptures clearly teach that all of us are ministers.  Each of us are responsible for serving according to the gifts that have been given to us.  No single ministry is more important than the other.”

A little interruption to John Fischer’s wisdom: When I first started in a paid-staff position of the ministry, one of the fellow staff members and I clashed.  In dealing with this clash he would use the verse, “Do not touch my anointed ones…” (1 Chronicles 16:22).  Thus, referring to himself as one that is set apart from everyone else in the  congregation and apart from his involvement in the conflict.  Thankfully my pastor adamantly pointed out that the “anointed ones” referred to everyone who is in the family of God.  We are all in the ministry, only some of us are paid.  You can’t tell me that a teacher or lawyer or mechanic or administrative assistant are not ministers.

“After all, Christ meets each one of us right where we are, in the middle of the daily routine or the stress of indecision, in the pain of mistakes or the contentment of merely being alive, whether on stage or in the audience.  Suddenly the Christian life could lose its mystery, become more tangible; and Christian ministry might begin to help people face life honestly rather than escape from it.

“And afterward, people might even walk away more impressed with their own uniqueness and their own possibilities–their own ministry–than they were with the Magical Ministry Tour.  And maybe, just maybe, they might walk away feeling bigger, not smaller.”  (pp. 37-39)

That is the best definition of ministry I can ever come up with–to make people feel bigger.  As we do our youth ministry thing do we come across as having “made it” and thus making those around us feel small?  Or do we make them feel bigger?  In everything that we do, our goal should be to make everyone around us feel bigger.

Mark Oestreicher, president of Youth Specialties, shared these two stories an article he wrote for Group Magazine’s Jr. High Ministry:

“A fellow youth worker once tossed a strange-sounding theory at me so nonchalantly it caught me off guard. ‘Could you repeat that?’ I asked him.  ‘I said,’ he restated, ‘I’ve come to the point where I never tell students about sins in my life, past or present. I’ve decided they need a good example-they have plenty of bad examples.’ In reality, he’d decided to lead kids from a position of strength and dominance, not vulnerability and service.”

“Once, at a work project in Mexico, I asked our evening speaker if he would join us the next day on the worksite. He’d been sitting in his air-conditioned cabin every day doing crossword puzzles.  ‘Would you like that,’ he asked, ‘if I came and rubbed shoulders with the students a little?’ Through clenched teeth I responded, ‘I think it would be good for the kids to see you sweat.’  ‘Well, understand this,’ he answered. ‘I might come, but I won’t work.’

This stuff makes me shutter.  I’m sure you have stories of the same to share.  This stuff also makes me angry probably because I could be lumped in with these sort of people.  When I speak at retreats or camps, it is so easy to come in with the attitude that my powerful and anointed words will transform these lives because “Brenda” is speaking.  Some youth workers even expect this out of me.  Due to our human egos, it is an easy place to fall into.

But what exactly is a speaking ministry?  Am I expected to have my words cause spiritual tingles to youth?  If that doesn’t happen but I just speak and pass on good knowledge, am I not anointed or not a good speaker?

And I’m not even getting into the music part of Christiandom.

When I’m at my church working with the youth and the parents, do I come across as “the one” who holds the answers to all of their conflicts?  I am in a position to empower the parents in their parenting which is vitally important because it seems that most everyone else in the world is beating them down.  Parents already feel insecure enough as their “babies” go through adolescence so the world’s message pretty much overwhelms them.  No wonder they turn their teens over to us youth workers so readily.  They feel like failures–and maybe their child has even said that to them.  I have a choice.  I can either choose to carry myself “bigger” because the youth respond to me so well or I can make the parents “bigger” while I relate to their teens.

“Bigger” ministry is also what so may of you do that may get overlooked in the church family because it may not set you apart as a special breed.  Ministry is those times of stopping your busy schedule to listen to a teenager talk about a problem that you know in a few days won’t mean a hill of beans.  Ministry is those times of absolute silliness that seem so unspiritual but are memories that the teen will carry into his/her adult years.  Ministry is getting home late because you had to stay and wait for all the parents to arrive and pick up their children after a retreat.  Ministry is taking a teenager’s damaged life and walking with him/her into the forgiveness and hope of Father God.

There is not a lot of spiritual goo in any of that.  However(to repeat Fischer), “suddenly the Christian life could lose its mystery, become more tangible; and Christian ministry might begin to help people face life honestly rather than escape from it.

“And afterward, people might even walk away more impressed with their own uniqueness and their own possibilities–their own ministry–than they were with the Magical Ministry Tour.  And maybe, just maybe, they might walk away feeling bigger, not smaller.”

Amen.