Philosophy of Ministry

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them."
                                                                                                                                    -- John 13:3-17

In January 2006, my beloved grandmother died. During the day of her passing in the local hospital (which did not have a chaplain), I watched as my family's pastor came to console and pray with the family. The pastor was as evangelical as evangelical can get, and pretty much the mirror opposite of me in this regard. He is one of those hellfire and brimstone Baptist preachers who yell absolute truth from the pulpit. But on this occasion he was a gentle source of comfort, offering his condolences and a warm smile. He would later do the funeral service, still a source of comfort, offering words of hope. I saw in the pastor's presence something profound. While his theology could not be more different than my own, in the moments of grief and pain I felt comforted by his prayers and his quiet presence. Remarkably, his presence helped with my own grief, despite the fact that our religious reasoning differed so much.

This experience helped me to realize the real purpose of religious ministry. I saw both religious faith and religious ministry at their best, at their most essential level. Religious faith and religious ministry are not merely about ontological salvation, but about salving existential pain in the darkest of moments. The ultimate point of religious faith and religious ministry are not esoteric questions or theological quandaries or Biblical exegesis, though these can be tools of ministry. It is not about solving all our problems or forcing others to accept our meaning in life. The ultimate point of religious faith and religious ministry is this: to bring people together and to be with them amid moments of individual and collective suffering, moments of joyous occasions, and the moments in betweens.

Ministry can happen at the "ground zeros" of life, at the sky-highs of life, and during the doldrums of life. The minister simply listens to the heart, whether that heart is broken, happy, or somewhere in between, and as a servant serves accordingly. When hurt is visceral and real, when people fear that tears of grief will drown them, when hope is hard to find, when at the "ground zeros" of life, the servant minister speaks the religious language of the hurting and grieving and hopeless, even if the language is silent presence. And when the joy of life astounds, and tears of contentment and achievement overwhelm, the servant minister is there as well, mirroring the moment filled with smiles and laughter. And when the road is paved on a flat plain and the daily grind seems the norm, the minister is there to share the journey.

Nothing can be more important than being emotionally and spiritually present, no matter the circumstance. Nothing can be more significant than praying with and listening to those knowing fear or courage, worry or contentment, sadness or joy. The work is to walk alongside, pointing to wisdom as we go and urging compassion with each step.


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