What kind of ministry will we be?

The question Jesus asked his group of disciples, “Who do you say I am?”, is one he continues to ask each of us, but also, the collective us.

As we transition from spring to summer, from masks to no-masks, from pandemic protocols to pre-pandemic protocols, we must ask the question once again: who do we say Jesus is? The entirety of our lives, of our ministry, of our church depends on how we answer that question.

The church exists to make disciples, and disciples exist for the sake of the world. Disciples don’t exist to make the church bigger. Rather, disciples are forced to answer the question, “Is my church forming people to live like Jesus?” As we have discussed in previous posts, the role of the church is the same as our own lives: to follow Jesus and to help others follow Jesus.

So the question is, as the world opens up, what kind of ministry are we, and what kind of ministry do we want to become? Mark Laberton outlines several types of ministries:

  • The Self Absorbed: the ministry is exclusive, self-enclosed, cliquey
  • The Invisible: functionally a non-factor in the world. Culturally, emotionally and socially absent and irrelevant
  • Oppressive: Imposing hostile and cruel ordinances on others and prefers being mean and correct to loving and relational
  • Siloed: it’s no secret that one of the most segregated times of the week, across many demographics is Sunday morning
  • Bad News: one of condemnation, harsh critique and “fire and brimstone”

Can we, as a ministry, move from being an ecclesiastical-industrial complex to the tangible hands and feet of Jesus? Are we committed to loving the forgotten, the unseen, the undesirable, the uncool, and can we do so in unexpected, creative, counter-intuitive ways filled with compassion, tenderness, and care?

We know two facts as we address these questions. The first is that any change in the ministry or in the church begins with me (and you). It is the well-known line from Gandhi about “being the change you wish to see.” The second truth is that the church, and the ministry belongs to Jesus and he is with us as we go about his work and business.


Discipleship is Our Primary Call

In Christian circles, the word “call” often gets tossed around quite a bit, without much inspection or definition. For us, calling isn’t a category for those who pursue some form of recognized ministry (paid or volunteer). Calling is about answering the questions: Why are we here? What are our lives about? What are we to make of being human? Who is a good person and what is the good life and how do I get it?

Calling isn’t about doing a specific job, attending a specific school, marrying this person or that person or staying single, or buying this house or that house. Certainly God may have an opinion on those matters, but ultimately, they are choices that we are responsible for making. This is why Augustine said, “Love God and do what you like.” All of Scriptures are filled with what we referred to as the “Primary Call”, namely, bearing the image of Jesus in our specific day-to-day life is our calling. It is easy to think that calling is the same as a job, or doing specific mission work, or making a finite choice.

Rather, calling is about being a disciple of Jesus. A disciple is someone who is learning from another how to do something. The word “disciple” has the same roots as the word “learning”. A disciple is an apprentice, a student, a learner. Hence, in the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as “Teacher” before He is referred to as Lord, Victor, or Messiah. Do what Jesus instructs, follow his commands and put His teachings into practice and you will come to see Him as Lord, Victor and the Messiah. That’s the route the disciples took.

We are all disciples of someone, or rather, a lot of someones. All the magazines, tv-shows, Instagram posts and preachers are all trying to be your teacher. We all have people, groups, or media that seeks to answer for us those questions we asked at the top of this article.

Most of us do the “do what we like” part of Augustine’s quote and ignore the “Love God” component. But, loving God is doing what God wants. As Jesus said, “when you follow my commands, you’re loving me.” Doing what Jesus said to do is loving God. To be able to “do what we like” has to coincide with the “love God” aspect of Augustine’s quote. If we are doing what Jesus said to do, then, matters like which school to attend, which job to take, or who to date will fall in line. This is parallel to the teaching of Jesus to “seek first the Kingdom of God and all the rest will given to you.” To be blunt, we can’t expect God to give us a specific “calling” if we are ignoring and neglecting the primary call we’ve already been given in Scripture. Obviously God can and has done that in the past, but its not the route God normally takes. If we are deceitful, causing damage to our neighbors, plotting destruction, conspiring in lust, acting in greed and otherwise ignoring the teachings of Jesus, when we need to make a decision about something important, God may be silent on that matter because we haven’t wanted Him around in the other areas of our lives.

So if our primary call is to be a disciple, then what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Simply put, a disciple of Jesus is someone who is rearranging the affairs of his, her, or their life to the ends of becoming like Jesus. It is about living your life the way Jesus would live your life if He were you. Now, He can’t live your life. Only you can live your life, and Jesus already lived His life. But, being a disciple is actively seeking to have the character of Jesus, and to approach our day-to-day in loving and harmonious relationship with the Father, avoiding what is harmful and choosing what is good for others.

In order to do that, we need to be with our Teacher. To learn from someone and to become like someone we have to engage with that person. It was easier for Peter and John because they could physically walk with, sleep next to, share a meal with Jesus as they moved about the Middle East. For us, we engage in things like prayer, reading Scripture, interior conversation with the Spirit, musical worship, and acts of service as ways of being with Jesus, learning from Him and seeing His power, provisions and presence in our lives.

As we move towards summer we’ll talk about the role of service, specifically GUMY’s summer missions in our discipleship-both in ways we’ve gotten it wrong and in ways that we’re seeking to remedy that.



The Primary Call

As we approach summer we are greeted with the opportunity to engage in service. Typically we travel to various parts of our country or internationally. Due to the pandemic, we are staying local and serving in Kansas City with our partners in the Argentine District of KCK and Center of Grace.

This is a good thing. While we might lament the loss of long van rides, exploring a new city, and the fun of staying far away from home, this move to staying local this summer reminds us of two important truths.

It reminds us that our primary call as Christians is to be a follower of Jesus right here, and right now. Our primary call is to be a disciple of Jesus for the next ten minutes. In all our aspects of life-big and small, with family, friends, classmates, co-workers, neighbors and enemies-we are to be expressions of God’s grace, truth and love.  In the midst of ordinary life we face the mundane and sometimes boring task of following Jesus by loving, serving and caring for those our lives naturally intersect with and bump up against.

If we are going to follow Jesus, it begins right where we are. God will not work with you anywhere other than where you are. So, to meet God and to discover what He is up to in the world, we have to be with Him right where we are, with the people around us. Our work of laboring with God begins in this moment, today, with whatever is presented in front of us. That might mean something exceptional and spectacular, and if so, may God give us the courage and humility to face it. It might mean something small and little, like unloading the dishwasher, and if so, may God give us the courage and humility to face it. As Mother Teresa reminds us, “Do small things with great love.”

Secondly, this shift to staying local this summer reminds us that engaging in service is not about us. It is about the people we are partnering with, addressing or at least becoming aware of the systems and policies that keep people and neighborhoods marginalized and oppressed, and then asking in what ways we can be of help. If our goal of mission trips is simply to socialize with our friends, or to take a vacation that incorporates some acts of service that we can feel good about, we’ve grossly missed the point of servanthood and the call of Christ upon the church in the world. We’ll discuss this more in the upcoming weeks.

But for now, ask yourself this:

“What does it look like to be a disciple of Jesus for the next ten minutes? What can I do that will contribute good, love, and kindness into the world? Who can I be in God’s realm for the next ten minutes?”



Our Acknowledgement

GUMY has struggled to find the right words to respond to the racial injustices towards our friends and neighbors who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.  We’ve also struggled to express our support for the racial justice movement sweeping the country. The few words we have conveyed fell short and failed to comprehend the pain of our colleagues of color and partners in the outdoor community.  The racial justice movement has forced a reckoning of the deep racial injustice around us and laid bare our complicity. We are a white-led ministry that operates on stolen Native lands that are not yet safe for all. Recent months have revealed how much more we need to do to live up to our values as an church centered on love, justice, and mercy. We missed too much. Our hearts hurt, but our pain is nowhere near what our neighbors who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color have suffered. We are sorry for the harm we’ve caused.

To truly step up to this work, we must confront the UMC’s lack of progress and take full ownership of the legacy of our failures. We must listen to and support our Black, Indigenous and colleagues of color first and commit to becoming a more inclusive and equitable church. And we will amplify the true leaders on justice and equity.

This work is urgent and lifelong. We will never be “done.” We’re recommitting our time and resources to this essential part of our mission of living like Jesus and serving the world.

We are here for the work of forging a more just world.