Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint.
(Prov. 29:18, NRSV)
When I was teaching one of my favorite poems was Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make.” The final line (very edited) states, “Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true: Teachers make a difference! Now what about you?” The poem was a reminder to me that teaching wasn’t easy: you are teaching students to wonder, question, criticize, apologize and mean it, write, read, spell. … Teaching wasn’t easy, but it was totally worthwhile. To watch kids discover how to dream and decide on best courses of action and deliver their best work … that was an incredible calling.
Currently, I have four “lesson plans” a week. I have a Sunday morning class, a sermon, Life Group curriculum, and a Wednesday night class. Thankfully, that’s only three different courses of study. (Praise God we finally connected sermons and Life Group discussions!) But currently I read and process and discover how to connect 2,000-year-old words with a contemporary audience. I believe there’s no more important task in the world than helping people connect to the God of the Bible, and I love that I get to do it as my vocation.
When I think about what ministry is meant to be about, in my mind it has less to do with lessons and more to do with meeting people where they are. When I think about the verses that describe what ministry is about, I think of verses like these:
- Matthew 28:19-20 – “… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. …”
- Acts 2:42-47 – “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” in the midst of believers that are caring for one another, meeting often, sharing love, and making God known to those around them.”
- Ephesians 4:11-16 – “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Making disciples. Teaching obedience to the LORD. Caring for one another. Devoting ourselves to spiritual formation and fellowship. Discovering our giftedness. Pursuing maturity in Christ. Speaking truth in love. Seeking unity. When I talk about my “philosophy of ministry,” these are the things I am passionate about.
Yet I feel like my most of my time is spent in lesson prep … and almost no evangelism. I teach a lot of facts, but often wonder if I’m making disciples. I spend time with lots of people, but at times wonder if I am helping them be more like Christ. I have lots of meetings, but lead few to maturity. On difficult days I have a hard time seeing the point.
And then I have days like last Sunday. I had agonized over the sermon. I had added the topic based on conversations I had with different members, but I struggled to help it all come together. I wrote way too much information, and then I had to cut more than 1,400 words from the final draft. I wrote and rewrote and redacted and removed … and still wasn’t content with the sermon. But I preached it anyway. And it spawned more conversations this week than I’ve had in quite a long time. People have opened up about how they often feel that God is distant, or wondered if God listened to their prayers. Others have shared about struggles in their lives, wondering if God will show up or celebrating how God is at work in those events. People who never talk to me about spiritual things have spoken about how the sermon impacted their hearts.
After Sunday’s sermon I had a meeting with people from our congregation who are artists, graphic designers, musicians, actors, and architects about how we can incorporate more art into worship and spiritual formation. They loved sharing the ways in which God uses various media to touch their hearts, and they felt validated that church was a place where this expression that is so close to them could be utilized to God’s glory.
I was able to hear my Life Group interact with the sermon and think of ways in which they can look for God in their daily lives or remind themselves of God’s presence. I was reminded how much I value those individuals, and the ways in which I have been able to see them grow over our last three years together.
Some days I struggle to see the point of my ministry or perceive the ways in which God is at work. And without that vision, ministry perishes. But I thank God for days like Sunday, when my eyes are opened to ways in which it is worthwhile.
Daniel McGraw is the senior minister of the West University Church of Christ in Houston, Texas. He is married to Megan and has two daughters, Hannah and Lydia, who teach him more about the love of God than any of his theology degrees ever has. He is a passionate, but wholly average, runner.