I left a full time, salaried, church position over 7 years ago. It’s strange to say that, it seems in many ways that it’s been much longer and at the same time it feels as though I was putting on programs, attending meetings, speaking, writing lesson plans and setting vision and mission for a suburban church just yesterday. When I left I moved to a new city and worked as a consultant with a non-profit. I had a desk job. My work had purpose, but I felt there was something missing. Who were my people I was to serve? How was I going to find them? I mean, when I was in youth ministry I had parents, students and their friends to serve. My people were given to me. I would make myself aware of need, joy, life happenings and the like for these people I was entrusted to shepherd. I gave my life, time, energy and vision to those who fit in my given demographic.
But now? What was I to do? Who were my people? Here I was, a seminary graduate and had no idea what to do with my longing to shepherd, care for and pour into the lives of others. I prayed and it was as though I heard Jesus whisper into my ear, “you may not have a youth group but you have a neighborhood.” It was as though the most simple thing, the most obvious people group, one that Jesus himself referred to, was suddenly highlighted. How did I miss it? How did I miss that I was to love my neighbor? How was that even possible?
I took my seminary training and started applying it, not to a church program, but to my life. Though I have a love for the local church, I do believe we have quite missed the point. I was a perfect example. I had spent so many years serving in the walls of the local church that I wasn’t even aware of the fact that ministry was not limited to those walls.
I think we all forget that fact at times. We leave ministry up to professionals. We believe pastors are only those who stand behind pulpits. We believe discipleship is to be left to those who have been trained. We don’t share our faith, for we don’t know how to mix the language we’ve used to speak of God with the language of our neighbor. We think of ministry as program we sign up for to teach children, care for the elderly, sing in a choir, or perhaps, in some circumstances, ministry is something we attend as we go on ministry trips. Oh my friends, how we have missed the point!
Unless we reframe our understanding of ministry, of church for that matter, we will continue to miss the point.
So take some time today and think of those in your natural life path. How can you serve them? Do you know their needs? Do you know heart aches? Do you know joys? Ask Jesus to give you a person to serve, who does not go to church, and watch!