A pastor greets a new family to his church and spends the next fifteen minutes extolling the virtues of the congregation and its talented members. He walks away hardly knowing anything about this new family, not to mention the basics of manners.
A missionary team visits a third-world country with the goal of helping “those poor people.” At the end of their trip, an indigenous pastor vows to never have these teams come again because of the worldly and materialistic influence they have on his young converts.
Two congregations find themselves subtly competing with each other. The one church, with a large membership, can out perform, out class, and out spend the smaller congregation on almost every front. Whenever these two churches meet for fellowship, the members of the smaller church have to endure long sessions where all the marvelous accomplishments of the larger church are recounted. The large congregation is glad they have something to offer the smaller, struggling church.
What do the welcoming pastor, affluent missionary team, and large dynamic congregation all have in common? They believe that ministry means telling others, “We’re great, try to relate.”
Does ministering to others mean showing off? Christians are called to spread the gospel. Is the gospel message a declaration that I have something other people don’t? Sadly, that’s what I used to think and I suspect many others do, too.
Embracing the gospel, rather than making me think that I’m better than others, should subdue my pride and deliver me from attitudes that hinder relationships. The gospel is all about restoration of relationships (with God and one another). Why do some Christians turn a relationship restoring message into a competitive opportunity to demonstrate their greatness? Possibly, because they misunderstand God and His gospel.
The story of the Bible isn’t a story of a conquering God. It’s the story of a serving and suffering God. Starting right from Genesis we see the Trinity making space for man, inviting him, accommodating him, and wooing him. The Prophets paint a picture of a Grieved Lover. Christ, God incarnate, explicitly says that if you have seen him you have seen the Father. And what do we see in Christ? A serving, healing, and suffering Lord. One who becomes poor so that others may become rich. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). The triumph of God is a triumph of love. Ministry means transmitting this message.
If we truly want to spread the gospel, we must become poor in order to make others rich. Bragging about how talented, how smart, how strong, and how morally right we are won’t help anyone and it won’t identify us as children of the servant God. The goal is the healing of humanity and the restoration of community. Rather than declaring how wonderful we are in hopes of attracting people to God (or perhaps more truthfully, to us), our cry should be, “You’re great, I want to relate.” Ministry to others means serving them in weakness so that friendship and communion can flourish.