Ministry is Friendship

I’m just  few hours away from the first live Zoom meeting of the course that I’m auditing this summer through my old university.  I am cautiously optimistic about the opportunity.  Last night I sat down to write my reflection of Gilead.  I’m maybe 75% happy with it?  I had hoped to frame it a little differently, but the given prompts didn’t quite line up like that (which is fine).

The thing is, I’m almost desperate for a place to talk about/reflect on ministry.  These last, mostly-three years of working with our Christian Ministries program along with my regular responsibilities teaching Bible have left me producing a lot of content that I believe in, but it’s also crowded out some other things that I think should be necessary when talking about the implications and realities of the Gospel.  Beyond that, I’ve learned that leadership often means everything BUT “getting your own way.”  Voices come at you from every direction, and a big part of leadership seems to involve harmonizing those different voices as much as possible, even if it means that you don’t get to sing what you would like.

I’ve had a few ideas percolating over the last few months that I’ve wanted to get down somewhere.  A lot of what I’ve been thinking about is a mix of personal experience blended in with the thoughts of people like Jamie Smith or Andrew Root or Ephraim Radner.  (Maybe I’ll reflect on each of their influences later).  I often find that much communication about what I say or do through class or chapel or camps is evaluative: good job, great approach, well-done type stuff that is fine but not very helpful on a heart level.  But you can’t respond with that because then you’re looking down on something intended to encourage.  But since it looks like I’m up for another year of doing what I’ve been doing temporarily, I need to get some things down and out.  And so here’s where I want to start:

Ministry is friendship.  And friendship is ministry.

Anything less than friendship in ministry is likely to be mutual manipulation, even at its best.

Don’t get me wrong: ministry is many things.  There are lots of ways to approach ministry, and some are better than others.  But in the big picture, in the “long obedience,” I think the thing most needed and least defined in ministry is friendship.

Ministry often starts with an imbalance: I’ve got something you don’t have that I want you to have and I want to help you get it.  And rightly so.  The Gospel must be preached.  Faith comes by hearing.  But what does that look like over time?  How do we best understand the kingdom of God around us?

At some point, the Good News of Jesus is a reality experienced amongst equals.  The New Covenant as mentioned in Jeremiah 31 hints at this:

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.

I think that’s a big part of the ontological reality of being considered brothers and sisters in Christ.  At some point, the connections between people has to go from a distributionist/top-down model to a form of brothers-and-sisters model.  Sure: there will be moments when one has what the other needs (particularly if there is a brother in crisis), but more often the communal life amongst followers of Jesus will be about bringing common things to share at the table (as brothers and sister in Christ).  The difficulty with programmatic Christianity, with a kind of hierarchical Christianity, with a kind of Christianity that is not keyed towards growth in Christ towards Christ-likeness, is that an unfortunate approach to community and unity is adopted that might actually do more damage in the long run because of how it sets up a potential mutual manipulation based on the needs of the program or the institution that may ultimately have little to do with the person right in from of you who is seeking to become more like Jesus in ways that the tyranny of the urgent just doesn’t allow for.

Ministry is friendship.  And friendship is ministry.

Anything less than friendship in ministry is likely to be mutual manipulation, even at its best.

That’s a start.

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