Thursday, May 18, 2006

Ministry: May They Forget The Channel, Seeing Only Him

In planning for new gospel ventures, prayer meetings are helpful in reminding us of the end goal of our ministry, which in turn decides the why and how of our ministry. Often, too often it seems, we find that the longer we are serving in any kind of ministry, the more Teflon®-y the aim of ministry is in our minds.

The goal of our ministry parallels Jesus' own goal for his ministry while he was here on earth.

Jesus was sent
Jesus was sent by the Father (John 20:21), a son to the wicked tenants of the Father's vineyard (Luke 20:1-19), so we are sent by Jesus into the world that refuses to know or acknowledge him (John 20:21).

Jesus was sent to do the Father's will
Jesus was sent to do, not his own will, but the Father's will. He hungered, not to do what he himself wanted but to do the will of the Father who sent him and to accomplish his work. It was the very purpose of his life, of why he came to earth from heaven (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38). So our aim is not to do our own will in our lives, but the will of Christ who sent us.

Jesus was sent to please the Father
Jesus was sent, not to please himself as if his coming to earth was some roughandready thirdworldcountry adventure holiday from heaven, but to please the Father who sent him (John 8:29). It is easy to become man-pleasing rather than Christ-pleasing in our ministry. It is more pleasant and more comfortable to avoid potential conflict within the church by doing what pleases those who are leaders over us or the sheep under our care (of course all in the name of Christ). We fear the disapproval of our brothers and sisters more than we fear the disapproval of Jesus.

But we are not 无为 Taoists who say:
道可道、非常道。
名可名、非常名。(First Stanza of 道德經)
We know who has sent us and we know what we are sent to do. We know that wherever we are, we must make it our aim to please the Lord and try to discern what will please him (Ephesians 5:10). We must be anxious, not about pleasing others, but pleasing the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32). For at the end of this world, we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:9-11). Are we seeking the approval of man, or of God? If we were still trying to please man, we would not be servants of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

Jesus was sent to represent the Father
Jesus was sent to represent the Father (John 5:37). For no one has ever seen the Father, but Jesus who was at the Father's side has made the invisible God known (John 1:18). Whoever believes in Jesus, believes not in Jesus but in he who sent him. And whoever sees Jesus sees God who sent him (John 12:44-45). And now that we have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. And the life we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20) so that the life of Jesus is manifested in our bodies, and the life of Jesus in our mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:10-11). We are being transformed into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). We are ambassadors for Christ, representing him in thought, word and deed, making him manifest in our witness and appealing for people to be reconciled with God (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Jesus was dependent on the Father
Jesus could do nothing on his own but was totally dependent on the Father (John 5:30). So Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Therefore we must be prayerful.

Jesus was sent not with his own words
Jesus was sent not to be original. He came not with his own words but uttered the words of God (John 3:34). His teaching was not his own but that of the Father (John 7:16). He merely conveyed the Father's message (John 12:49-50). So we are sent to tell the world not a different message that is uniquely our own, but the same message that Christ entrusted to us (Matthew 28:20, Mark 16:15). We are to pass on the unoriginal package of sound words (2 Timothy 1:13).

Jesus was sent for the glory of the Father
Jesus was sent, not to seek his own glory, but that of the Father (John 7:18). Jesus was not keen on recognition, praise or attention to come to himself. He was pointing clearly and consistently to the One who had sent him. So we should direct all recognition and praise, not to our own selves, but to Jesus. This is how we are to do our ministry, whether it is Bible study leading, song leading, book selling or ushering.

Ideally, this should mean that when people come out of a Bible study or a service, they should be singing praises of God and the work of Christ, rather than of the Bible study leader, the preacher, the song leader or the musician. They should be saying,"Wow! Our God really is wonderful!" not "Wow! That preacher was so charismatic and that drummer was amazing!"

Ensuring that the focus is on God, not man, is the responsibility of both those who serve and those who are being served. The servers need to check their personal motives for serving. They also need to ensure that the way they serve (the organ recital, the solo item, the tight Bible study or sermon, the audiovisual work) is neither so flamboyant nor so substandard as to distract people from God.

But however much the servers try, it is impossible to keep from distracting each individual member of the congregation. The musically-trained in the congregation may think the musicianship and singing complete and utter rubbish; those working in the publishing industry may find the Americanised spelling, serif fonts and kerning of some editions of the Bible irritating; graphic designers may be annoyed by the stock clipart in the weekly bulletin; professional public speakers may be irked by the poor delivery of the sermon... So it is likewise the responsibility of those being served to make a conscious effort not to be distracted from God and his word by the ability (or lack thereof) of the servers.

And as servants of the gospel, as slaves of Christ, we sing as we carry on his work:
May His beauty rest upon me,
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.
Words: Kate Wilkinson

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