Thursday, February 19, 2009

School of Ministry

Jesus’ message was the good news of the Kingdom, and his Kingdom method included making disciples. Just 15 verses into Mark’s gospel Jesus announces, "The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15) And in the next four verses he calls four men to come and follow him.

From the very earliest moments of his ministry Jesus called men to follow him. It was the call of the Kingdom and it was his invitation into his school of ministry.

After Jesus finished his mission, the inspired record of the book of Acts shows nearly every believer “doing” ministry. Even as Acts depicts the rise of leaders within the church, it still reveals everyday believers doing the works of Jesus and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Acts contains stories of men like Stephen, Philip, and Ananias chapter after chapter (Acts 7, 8, & 9). Men who were “ordinary” believers doing Kingdom works. As the church grew there was an indisputable need for leaders, and while there is Biblical warrant for leadership in the house of God, but it appears that the Scripture does not set apart “ministry” as an activity reserved for the few who led. When did ministry become a task exclusive to leaders?

In the centuries which have followed the the book of Acts, the church has endeavored to develop various schools of ministry, schools which qualify who is able to do the work of the ministry. The church has drawn from Greek models of philosophy; from military models to business models, the church has sought to produce leaders fit for serving God. The church has looked to educational models and developed universities and seminaries. But something has been lost--or largely lost--in formal methods to equip people for ministry. In my opinion what has been lost is the Jesus-curriculum for a school of ministry. Rarely has the church imitated the example of Jesus and simply repeated his call, “Come follow me.”

(To be fair, there have been communities throughout the centuries who have not lost the Jesus method: for example the Waldensians of the 12th century or the Moravians of the 18th century. Or the “Back to Jerusalem" movement of Chinese house churches in our day.)

But most especially in our modern era--an age which values accreditation and authorization--the church itself looks skeptically on those who would attempt to “do ministry” apart from specialized training or recognition conferred from others. And not without reason: one doesn’t need to look very far to find people who have been harmed ministry done badly. But somewhere along the way we have lost sight of the wise and simple pattern laid down by the Master: come and follow.

Jesus selected tradesmen and villagers to follow him. And in the act of following they became fit to do his work and to train others to do his work. They learned his ways not through formal education but by being with him and imitating him. When Mark’s gospel presents a list of the disciples it states simply that Jesus chose them “that they might be with him and he might send them out . . .” (Mark 3: 14). The pre-eminent qualification for ministry was that they were with him. Even their detractors observed by their actions that these men “had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

It’s not difficult to imagine. These men traveled with Jesus, camped and ate with Jesus, and shared life with him. If he was invited to a wedding, they went with him. If he taught the masses, they were with him. If he stayed up most of the night healing the sick, they were with him. It was their constant exposure to his presence and activity that became their school of ministry. Jesus did not assign readings or lecture extensively. If they had questions about what he said publicly, they asked him about it privately. And if Jesus had a concern about their behavior he asked them about it (for example, “what were you discussing just now?” Mark 8:17).

It is worth noting that with respect to preparation for ministry, neither Jesus nor any of his original twelve disciples would be considered qualified to teach in a university or seminary today! Our educational biases tilt strongly toward knowing about Jesus or about the scriptures as opposed to knowing him or being with him. Objective knowledge is certainly easier to quantify, but Jesus seemed to care far more about relationship than formal education. Clearly he and his disciples valued the scriptures and all of them demonstrated knowledge of them, but these abilities were secondary to relationship with Jesus.

Here is a challenge to our understanding of Jesus and his value system: after sending 70 of his followers out for their first ministry experience, he rejoiced before the Father with these words: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. “ (Luke 10:21)

What are we to make of this?

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