Living for Jesus Outside of "The System"

Originally published October 1999.

There is a theory that something happens to elected officials once they move to the Washington, DC, area. Somewhere inside the beltway, the continually congested roadways of this metropolis, these representatives of the people change. The very ideals that drove these individuals to enter the politic game and won them the election back home somehow become lost in the hyperactivity of Washington. The further they get into the system, the further their idealism disappeared. Not that they have become corrupt. It is just so hard to work within the system to get their ideals to work.

The similar process happens in church work. My call was birthed out of a deep desire to reach the lost--particularly youth. My heart and my drive so consumed me that I decided to enter full-time ministry. This way I could commit all my time and effort into reaching the lost.


Those were the good days. Everything was fresh and alive. There were always plenty of sinners to find and spend time with. Some of you may have had to work many years to enter full-time ministry. First there was the countless hours of volunteer work. There were so many people to reach and so few volunteer hours to offer. Finally, after much prayer and sacrifice, you, like I, were brought on staff in a part-time position. At last, I was in a position to actually do some ministry. I soon discovered, however, that this ministry was more like what those on the inside consider ministry. I was to understand that this is what is referred to as ministry--and to a point it is.

At long last I had a full-time staff position. That position carried with it all kinds of responsibilities and meetings that I never dreamed of when I first had my call to the ministry. Suddenly all my time was taken up with working within the system. I hardly ministered to sinners anymore. In fact, I hardly knew any sinners anymore.

Some of you went off to Bible college and/or seminary. Your first year was so alive. It seemed like you could never learn enough. When I was in Bible college it was no problem distinguishing which ones were the new freshmen. The freshmen were the ones who always sat in front during chapel, were out on the streets witnessing (my college was located in a ghetto), and were actually doing their class reading. We knew it would only be a matter of a few months or by the end of the year they would settle down and become the way they were supposed to be.

I used to be a member of the Jaycees. I served as chaplain for them. I joined them for obvious ministry opportunities. I never realized what I would learn from being with them.

At one of our meetings, I gave my usual invocation and then settled in for a boring meeting for an organization I really don't care for that much. However, what I have come to care for in the Jaycees is the friendships I have made with these people. Many of whom are in that sinner group. They have become friends with me also. These friendships are based on friendship and not on the fact that I've been ordained as a minister.

After the meeting one of these friends pulled me aside and asked me to pray for his father who was recently diagnosed with cancer. I said, "Great, let's pray right now!" There was a look of shock on his face. Some of that shock probably came from the fact that we were going to pray right there and right there happened to be in a local restaurant/bar. But we prayed anyway. It was probably a new experience for him. It was a great time and place to pray.

On the way out another one of these friends asked me if I wanted to stay for a drink. Without much thinking I said yes. I spent the next hour or so talking about politics, morals, God, and whatever else as we watched karaoke going on and laughing. I was really having fun.

It then occurred to me just what was going on. I was sitting in a bar with a friend I would have never made in church and laughing. That could have never happened a couple years ago when I was more in the system. I wouldn't have taken the time to make a friendship like that. And I certainly wouldn't have gone into a bar. What would the church people think? What do other people think when we tell them we can't go into a bar because we are afraid of what church people think?

It reminded me of my time as a freshman in Bible college. My friend didn't have any of those thoughts. His thoughts were that I, a minister, and him were laughing and that thought was pretty overwhelming to him. Suddenly, the Christian lifestyle seemed attainable. Not that I was in a bar with him but that I was with him. Wasn't Jesus sometimes found in a bar with sinners? "The Pharisees and some of their teachers of the Law of Moses grumbled to Jesus' disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with those tax collectors and other sinners?' Jesus answered, ‘Healthy people don't need a doctor, but sick people do.'" Luke 5:30-31.

Ah. That's why Jesus came. And I want to be a minister like Jesus. I've always wanted that.

However in my drive to be in full-time ministry, I lost the vision that Jesus had. The very ideals that drove me to enter the ministry were lost in the hyperactivity of church work. The further I got into the system, the further my idealism disappeared. Not that I became corrupt but I lost sight of the reasons why I entered the ministry.

It is so easy to be so busy with the ministry (the work of the church that keeps it functioning) that we lose out on ministry (reaching those in the sinner group). A little bit of the second type of ministry will make sense out of the first type of ministry.