Ministry is More Than Treating Symptoms

By Jeff Reiter

It seems that doctors no longer have the time to become acquainted with their patients. They now have electronic gadgetry in the palm of their hand as they ask you predetermined questions without even looking up to ensure it's you they are talking to. They are checking off the answer in their hand held thing-a-ma-jig before you have gotten halfway through with your answer to the question. Then you get a brief synopsis of what they believe is going on in a language that would take a Greek scholar a couple weeks to decipher. Finally, with a smile, you're handed a prescription with a couple medications you can take for fourteen days, after which, if you're not feeling any better, you can return for another merry-go-round adventure and a $20 co-pay.

Do I sound bitter? I'm really not. I know that doctors have a great deal going on today because of changes in the whole health care environment. Because the environment has changed, so has the approach in treating patients. So, what does this have to do with ministry? Everything! The environment within the church has so drastically changed that like many physicians; pastors and ministry leaders do not take the time to become acquainted with the members of the body of Christ—much less those who stagger in off the streets with more problems than we have time or patience.

With all of our 1-2-3, ABC, cookie cutter ministry approaches, we end up just treating the symptoms and not the underlying problem. We attempt to "wow" them with all of our gadgets, thing-a-ma-jigs, programs, and benevolence in hopes they might return to our services again. Success is about numbers, is it not? We put them on the merry-go-round and hope they put in their $20 co-pay so we can continue to afford the gadgets and thing-a-ma-jigs and impress those driving by as they see the parking lot full.

Ah, I don't think so!

Ministry is about people. Ministry is messy and never easy. Ministry is about dying to ourselves in order to become acquainted with the broken and the least of these. Ministry is more than helping with a handout, but giving everything out of a heart of compassion and grace. Ministry is about commitment, endurance, sacrifice, and hope. Ministry is about reconciliation, restoration, healing, and freedom.

Isaiah 58:6 says, "Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke?" We cannot approach ministry as one-time events or once-a-quarter programs. We can no longer appease our conscience by superficially treating the symptoms of people's lives and sending them on their way in hopes that they might return next Sunday. Church is not about us or our programs; it is about the glory of God.

God is never more glorified than when His servants loosen the bonds, undo the yoke, set the captive free, and break every yoke. This is a process that takes time and the sufficiency of God's grace flowing through our lives on a consistent basis.

Is the process of ministry ever over? When is the sacrifice or commitment finished? "And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me" (Colossians 1:28-29). Ministry is finished when we can confidently present every person that He has placed under our care and His grace, complete in Him. For this purpose, we labor and strive in the ministry.

What does this look like practically? In Luke 10:33-37, Jesus shares an excellent example:
"But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

"And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.' Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?

"And [the lawyer] said, 'The one who showed mercy toward him.'

"And Jesus said to him, 'Go and do the same.'"

Image Credit: ashley rose; "judge me now…"; Creative Commons

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Published 1-15-13