Pulling Back the Curtain

I am a “Minister” by profession. The mail I pull out of my mailbox is addressed to me as “Reverend.” People routinely call me “Pastor.” I see the poles of human behavior. Police Officers and city officials offer me polite deference when they discover my role. People often drop a language bomb, find out what I do, then frantically apologize. I am regularly asked to throw up prayers to ‘The Big Guy’ on people’s behalf, the assumption being that I possess a holy hot-line to heaven.
So can I pull back the leadership curtain for a moment and let you in on a hidden reality not many people know about church life? I  find that people see what happens up front but often wonder what “really” happens behind closed doors. Let me tell you. It’s a bit anti-climatic, so brace yourself. We pretty much spend our time trying to help people.
Listening to a complaint about an ailment.
Talking through the challenges of someone’s schedule.
Working through how to help someone get food or pay a bill.
Sitting in meetings.
The Sunday Event happens with a lot of excitement and energy, then the rest of the week consists of meetings and conversations about how to help people. Vocationally, it’s not exactly sexy work. We, and I speak for most leaders, simply want to help people. Jesus is the direction of life and we want to help people move in the direction of Jesus. Sometimes that movement is incremental,  painful and agonizingly slow. But, we feel called to it, so we stay at it.
But here’s the kicker. Doing things to help people costs money. As a result, I often find that money is on my mind. And before you say, “See, I KNEW the church just wants my money!” allow me to explain.
My understanding is that men and women who are “called to full-time ministry” (the people who’s mail shows up addressed to Reverend So-and-so”) are the men and women who are called and gifted to lead. By contrast, every follower of Jesus is called to minister. Let me explain the subtle difference. “To minister” simply means to meet needs. This is an important biblical and theological point.
Every one. No exceptions. Professional titles like mine often work against this reality, implying that we are the ministers and everyone else is another kind of lesser Christian. But the clear statement of Scripture is that every single follower of Jesus is a minister. Think about Paul’s letters in the New Testament. He addressed them to the Christians in a city, not the professional clergy in a city. He understood that when you and I follow Jesus, life becomes ministry. Life becomes about meeting needs.
Think about our Example: Jesus’ life itself was ministry. Every moment. Every action. Every relationship. Every deed. Every town. Every deal. Every meal. Every shift. Every interaction. Every trip away to pray and listen. That’s mind boggling when I think about how adept I am at wasting time watching TV, looking at Facebook or eating Twinkies (gratefully, this vice has been removed from me by the Anti-Ho-Ho Opposition). In contrast, Jesus didn’t waste a second. There is a staggering implication for human life contained in this: because I follow Jesus, my life is also a ministry. Every moment. Every action. Every relationship. Every deal. Every meal. Guess what? If you follow Jesus, then your life is a ministry too. No follower of Jesus is excluded from this call to imitate our Lord.
However, and this is the subtle difference, not everyone is called to lead. The ones who are called to lead have as their primary responsibility the equipping and releasing of the ministers (and developing more leaders to lead the ministers). Read Ephesians 4, it’s the go-to Biblical text on this subject. People are called into full-time ministry to release the ministers. Does that make sense? That means my job as a full-time leader isn’t about me. (It goes without saying that you don’t have to be paid to be a leader in the Church. That’s another blog.)
Since I am called to release God’s people to meet needs, I think a lot about how to do that. Why to do that. Better ways to do that. More effective ways to do that. I strategize, question, prod, think, rethink, and rethink again. A lot. I read about it. Reflect on it. Pray about it. Talk about it. I do my best to faithfully do what I hope everyone does for their life’s work: they try to maximize it as a way of giving back.
Being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world as the Body of Christ means that we’ll meet needs. And it’s right here that money keeps entering my mind. Think about it like this.  Do you have any needs in your life? You do? Guess what I know? Almost all of them cost money. If you have a need for hygiene (please tell me you do), a need for health, a need for food, a need for a house, a need for transportation, a need for friendships, a need for diapers (a serious need for my family) I can guarantee you all of those needs cost money.
You might object. “The important things in life aren’t things,” you might say. And you would be right. A listening ear, a hug (a handshake for you non-huggers), a friend, and love between family don’t in themselves cost money. But if you want a place to sit while you listen/are listened too, if you want the time to develop a relationship where genuine handshake/hugs results, if you’d like a friend who shares memories with you and a family that loves each other, you’ll have to spend time, energy and money to do each of those things.
So back to my continued meditation on the financial. I follow Jesus, so I am a minister. I have been called to lead God’s people to follow Jesus and help them understand that means their life is a ministry of meeting needs wherever they find them.
That means as a leader I have to help people realize they’ll have to
a) give sweat equity to meet needs and b) give money to meet needs.
Needs are not met if time, energy and money are not invested. They just aren’t. Doing ministry costs. And the more ministry you do, the more money, time and energy you spend. It’s the hidden cost of church life. Now you know!
That’s why I’m proud to be part of a church that cares about actually putting Jesus’ love into practice and meet real needs. And I’m doubly proud of the stretch goal of our first annual Christmas Offering (December 16 for my Real Life family), where we’ll put our money where our mouth is and give $32,013 to give away in 2013 to meet needs locally and globally.
And there you have it.

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