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Simple Isn't Always Easy

Posted August 27, 2012 by Steve Hafler

How do you define ministry?  Here is what many people do, they begin by describing the beautiful campus and structures their church has, or the buffet of programs and activities their church offers.  They draw attention to their children’s programs that run with Pixar precision and Disney creativity, or they highlight the top 40 Christian musical groups that perform at their church.  Ministry to them seems to be wholesome “entertainment” the entire family can enjoy.  The reality of the church giving to God, serving Him, and making disciples who will make disciples is as foreign to them as the Antemanambondro people of Madagascar.  The church has become a service provider for those attending.  The attraction is understandable – there’s something for everyone every night of the week!  One person recently told me, “I am so excited that my church is starting a Saturday evening service so I can begin attending church again.  Since my son’s baseball team plays at 10AM on Sunday I haven’t been able to attend.”  Sadly, not only does this expose a misunderstanding of the Lord’s Day (note: not simply an hour or a service time, but “day”), but it reveals priorities that have already been established (the neglecting of meeting together because sports trumped church even before he was offered a Saturday evening option – Hebrews 10:25).

Mark gives a snapshot of Jesus preaching ministry throughout Galilee (Mark 1:35-39).  It’s simple, straightforward, staggering, intense, but absent of pomp and circumstance.  Here we confront an unexpected but recurring theme in Mark’s account - the conflict between Jesus’ ministry and His disciple’s expectations in ministry.

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.  And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’  And he said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’  And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:35-39).

Ministry has been professionalized.  It is often defined by personalities, programs, structures, and performance.  The executive model adopted is producing, but possibly it’s the wrong “product.”  Success is evaluated by facilities, activities, number of staff, new attenders, and busyness.  Those who don’t produce according to these measurable standards are labeled as failures (and risk losing our support and applause).  Those who do validate “their ministry” through glowing reports, pictures, and statistics become the “heartthrobs” of the assembly.  In reality, we have measured “as man sees,” and we keep doing it because it seems to work – that is, it continues to get support and attention.  God gently rebuked Samuel for evaluating according to these standards:

“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7).

What quickly becomes apparent in Mark’s account of the Gospel is that Jesus defines ministry different than most people – different even from those who walk closest to Him.  What Jesus said and what He did often contradicts what is often expected and emphasized in ministry.

So how do you define ministry?  The English word ministry comes from a word meaning“attending as a servant.”  It is the same word from which we get the English words deaconand servant.  But somehow this meaning of “ministry” has been lost.  We have allowed our affluent American expectations to create a treadmill of success, performance, and empire building.

It’s no surprise that churches are distracted.  Running but not getting anywhere.  Performing but not progressing.  Entertaining but not discipling.  Busy but not godly.  Baby sitting but not boldly advancing the Gospel among unreached people.

What is refreshing to me and possibly surprising to many is that Jesus does not model this kind of ministry paradigm.  Jesus’ birth, family, hometown, entrance into ministry, choice of disciples, and now His response to popular demand in Capernaum runs cross grain to what we often expect and implement.  Jesus’ teaching leaves no room for our “Who’s Who in Christianity” honor system.

  • “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
  • “But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43).
  • “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus’ entire mission and understanding of how God’s kingship is to be extended is noticeably different from even those closest to Him.  Jesus does not share their strategy of taking advantage of popularity and “keeping the momentum” in Capernaum.  Jesus’ mission will unfold in ways that are different from our expectations of growth and leadership.  The masses want healings and exorcisms, but Jesus says He needs to move on to the next towns “that I may preach there also.”  Simple, but not easy.

Maybe our failure to preach the Gospel to the remotest parts of the earth is simply our failure to be simple.

We need to feel this tension.  It is you and me who need to adjust.  It’s our ministry paradigm and expectations that are skewed.  We need a ministry mind-shift back to simplicity.  But remember, simple isn’t always easy.

  1. How can the ministries you are involved with move towards simplicity as seen in Jesus’ actions in Mark 1:35-39?
  2. How can churches be less busy and more effective in disciple-making?
  3. In what ways can our churches “go on to the next towns” to “preach” (Mark 1:38)?

[This article was originally published at: http://stephenhafler.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/simple-isnt-always-easy/]