Ministry = Mess

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be called into a community of faith, called into Christian ministry in the context of suburban America. My conclusion– ministry is messy.  Working with people in the area of spirituality/faith and how that intersects with the way we live our lives is messy.  As much as I’d like to say that the choices are clear and the Bible gives us the answers we need when we wonder what choice to make or what path to take, I cannot.

I realize that I am a product of an exceedingly individualistic culture. Self is king in America. I live my life, I choose my friends, my career. I decide where and how to live (most of the time). I have my house and my car and my kids, my bank account and my plan. I decide how to read the Bible and which church to join. I decide when to leave that church and move on. I decide what to believe and when to change those beliefs. I decide with whom to spend my time and how to spend it.  And I believe that the individual exists and needs the freedom to think and act and dream and choose. When individual freedom is suppressed, violence and abuse find traction… and severe damage is done.  However, I also believe in the power of community and the great need for it.  Love, community, and submission are real and concrete commands of of Jesus.

In this context of “the sovereign self,” how do we shape a Christian community? How do we learn to submit to one another and lay down our rights?  Realistically, we see each other for two hours each week. Most of our lives are spent apart from one another, and yet we are supposed to hold one another accountable for the choices that we make… we’re supposed to confess to one another, counsel one another, speak the truth to one another and bear one another’s burdens.

If I make my own choices, if my bank account is confidential and no one really knows how I spend my nights and weekends… if I keep my internet browser history to myself and never talk to anyone about the fight that my husband and I had last week, or the harsh words I used with my daughter yesterday… if I don’t let my brothers and sisters into my life, messiness and all, how can they love me?

And yet, I’ve witnessed times when Christians have forced themselves into one another’s lives, and I have come to believe that this is a kind of rape. When someone who has not walked closely with me, who only says hello on Sunday morning, presumes to “hold me accountable” for some sin in my life… not having listened to me or taken the time to understand my situation, who preaches to me the “answer” when they didn’t even hear the question… this is a violation of my personhood. It is spiritual rape.

Yes, minsitry is messy. No one can be a disciple of Jesus alone. No one has all the answers. We need each other, and the need is desperate. Yet, how can we love each other and teach each other, bear with one another, submit to one another in our individualistic society without committing such rape?  I need to start letting people into my life, take some risks to trust people with the messy details of my life. And I need to start spending some serious time with people in the hopes that they will also trust me with their lives. Oh, God, help us to respect one another but also enter into the mess with extravagant love!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Steven
    May 25, 2008 @ 17:33:33

    Brilliant post. You brought so many issues to the surface so clearly. I love where you’re headed in the last paragraph and think it’s worth another post.

    Community is the context for growth. When we find ourselves doing life alone, we are failing. It should be our goal to live in community. To teach through relationship. To pour ourselves into others, and allow others to pour into us.


  2. Sarah
    May 27, 2008 @ 15:49:42

    Thank you for this post! I think you have touched on a very important issue. I really like the idea of not giving “answers” without knowing the question. This is why I enjoyed the Passover Seder I attended. It was a “night of questions.” Nobody was giving anyone “the anwer,” instead we were celebrating the questions and the fact that it is human to ask questions. Lord knows, I have had my share of spiritual struggles, and I still continue to. But, I believe in being entirely open and honest about my personal struggles. Why hide it? What will either of us gain if I conceal my struggles and mess? The Bible is full of messiness and the sins of saints. I think that God’s idea of “perfect” is not unblemished and flawless. Perfection is in the flaws and the mess. The only true thing is Jesus, and it was He (who made himself flesh) who told us not to judge each other. He’d been there. He knew.


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