This week’s lesson has described Jesus’s ministry in the most beautiful, capturing way. By now, we should have a clear picture of how ministry ought to be done, and it’s likely that most of us easily identify with these ideas in our heart.
Since our time as young children attending Sabbath School, we have been taught to be like Jesus. Oh yes, we want to be like Jesus (we sing songs about it, too), and, of course, we want to minister as He did. However, somehow along the way, a disconnect has occurred. As a young, naive PK studying theology and doing social work as a means to join ministry and mission, I could not help but notice the discrepancy between the value system of Western Adventism and the value system which Jesus set forth.
Thus, I began to ask some hard questions: When Adventists do public ministry or public evangelism, do we get noticed as Jesus did? Do we perform miracles? Are crowds drawn to our events? Are their hearts touched? Are their lives transformed by our message? Why or why not?
Some twenty years ago, my predecessor at the Institute of Church Ministry, Roger Dudley, published the results of a ten-year longitudinal research study; this study followed Adventist youth as they grew into young adulthood (see the book Why Teenagers Leave the Church). Dudley discovered that young people who stay within the Adventist church grew up in a loving, Christian home where both mother and father were devoted Christians actively involved in the church; additionally, these young people attended Adventist schools where they established lifelong friendships with their Adventist peers. This encouraging research confirmed the importance of being a good example to children, the value of a Christian home, the centrality of healthy, strong marriages, the significance of Adventist education, etc. (The conclusions were further confirmed by research conducted at the 2019 Chosen International Camporee, where over one thousand young people were surveyed.)
While all of this is encouraging, there is something that has started to increasingly bother me; it is something that this research implies, but always remains unsaid. What is it that concerns me? It is that this research suggests that kids who were raised in an incomplete family, those whose parent’s marriage fell apart or who grew up in a single parent home (or perhaps even without parents entirely), those who were raised in poverty, who did not have the opportunity to attend Adventist schools, who did not have Adventist friends, those who, for one reason or another, grew up with a love deficit . . . that these kids are less likely to stay within the Adventist Church. It is as if there is an unwritten rule saying that children who behave well, socialize easily, come from well-off families, etc., are more welcome in our local churches¾and more welcome to stay.
Our common measure of how well one does in life includes if s/he comes from a “good” family, has a solid education, has a decent societal status, is favored in the local church, possesses a good moral compass, and has no scandals associated with him/her. Now, let me ask you . . . how would Jesus do if He were measured by these standards?
Jesus was born to a poor, insignificant teenage girl out of wedlock¾what a scandal! While both His mother and earthly father were remote descendants of King David, their status in society was low. In fact, Jesus was born into the same circumstances that homeless children are born. Shortly after Jesus’s birth, His parents fled to exile in Egypt due to an event that left countless male babies and toddlers dead in its wake; Jesus, Himself, barely escaped death. When His parents returned to their homeland, Jesus’s situation did not change much; He grew up in a town with such a bad reputation that people judged Him simply by His hometown (see John 1:45–46; 7:41–52). Beside basic reading and writing lessons at home, Jesus did not receive any formal education. As a teenager, He learned the trade of carpentry by watching His earthly father. Based on these credentials, what chance would you give Him of become a world-changing teacher?
John, Jesus’s cousin, started PR for Jesus, and, eventually, it was John who baptized Jesus in the muddy Jordan River (Matt. 3:6; Mark 1:9). During His ministry, Jesus spent time with outcasts, suggesting that He was someone who had inappropriate contact with people of ill repute (Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30; 15:2). To the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus’s activities reeked of something insidious (Matt. 16:1) and unpredictable (Mark 14:1). Because of those with whom He mingled, there was even suspicion that Jesus’ miracles were connected with occult practices (Matt. 7:29; Mark 11:28; John 7:20; 8:48; 10:20). Jesus’s teachings and actions ignored the social ethos. He provoked (Luke 6:7), broke established traditions (Matt. 15:2), offended authorities (Matt. 15:12; Luke 20:19), and encouraged others to break existing rules and religious guidelines (Matt. 12:2).
How much does our perspective today differ from the that of the religious elite in Jesus’s day? To them, Jesus’s modesty and humility appeared pathological (Matt. 8:20; 20:28), perhaps even a little arrogant (Luke 22:66–68). Jesus’s blasphemous and boastful speeches rubbed them the wrong way and made Him appear egotistical in their eyes (Matt. 21:15; Luke 5:21; John 8:13). Jesus was accused of giving way to delicate emotional expressions (Luke 19:37–39.45; Matt. 21:12), and the leaders feared that He had the ability to deceive the crowds (Mark 11, 18). One could also argue that Jesus also had a strong influence on children, who were “misled” to give Him praise that was due only to God (Matt. 21:15). If Jesus came to your community, would He be welcomed into your church?
Jesus’s ministry was not a “walk in the park.” He was able to relate to all kinds of people because He, Himself, did not have an easy life. From the time He was born, He had been under attack by the enemy. Yet, it did not crush Him; on the contrary, it made Him stronger and His ministry more powerful.
Jesus had nothing to lose in terms of what other people thought about Him, but there was a lot to lose in terms of succumbing to temptation. He acted based on His close connection with His Father and His understanding of His Father’s will. When we read the Gospels, we cannot help but see that the more “religious” people were in those days, the less they understood God and His will. Jesus could not build His strategy of ministering to people based on church’s consensus, as the “churched” of those days often did not share His values. Studying His ministry retrospectively, we admire what Jesus did . . . but do we truly share His values? Or do we more closely reflect the religious leaders of Jesus’s time through our thoughts and actions?
One unbeatable advantage Jesus had was that He knew people (John 2:24); He actually knew what they were thinking. Yet it did not distract Him, as He was completely God-centered! Jesus’s focus was on revealing God and His love to humankind. But, how then could He say that we can do the same in our ministry? It is impossible to minister like Jesus without knowledge of people and without experiencing God’s love. To gain knowledge of both, it is crucial that we listen to people in order to understand them and their needs better. We also must listen to God, which allows us to tap in to how He relates to our needs and to the needs of those around us. On a scale of 1–10, how much do you practice listening to people? To God?
In the book Ministry of Healing, we read that Jesus mingled with people as if He were one of them. How could He do that? He was not one of them . . . or was He? Why can’t we do the same? I would suggest that we can’t because often, we are so intent on being “in but not of” the world, that we neglect to enter into the world at all. Many may also question how we can accept people and/or identify with them if we do not agree with what they think and/or what they do? I personally remember the relief I experienced when I learned from a missiological book that fully accepting people does not mean we agree with what they think, say, and do, or how they live. As a disciple of Jesus, I can manifest compassion, kindness, and love to all kinds of people without experiencing guilt, uncertainty, or fear, thinking that I might do something that is not pleasing my God. That thought radically changed my ministry. Have you ever faced this issue? Have you been liberated from spiritual pride?
Although many pastors major in preaching and lecturing, it was not so with Jesus. He worked not only with intellect but dealt instead with the whole human being, addressing issues that prevented people from doing well as a whole. Amazingly, perhaps due to the power to which He had access, He was able to do that in no time, so to speak. For us to do this kind of ministry, it takes a lot of time and energy. Imagine being able to help meet the needs of those God has sent your way¾not just on a superficial level, but on a deeper soul level—physical, relational, as well as spiritual needs. What would such a ministry look like today? How could your local church facilitate that? How could you, personally, be involved in that kind of ministry?
Then comes the issue of trust. I come from a country where people do not trust those they do not know, and they do not trust the church and/or Christians. This mistrust has not happened overnight; it has been a process occurring over approximately four hundred years. A lot of baggage has accumulated over that time! When thinking about doing mission in a secular environment where people are not only disengaged with the church, but actually consider church harmful, one must think outside the box. Does public evangelism and the typical marketing (i.e., posters, announcements in media, etc.) alone bring people into your church?
For that reason, Jesus-like ministry became especially relevant when I worked amongst these people, preparing for missionary work outside the church. One of the key questions during preparation was how to build trust. This kind of work requires “marathon ministry,” that is, years of building relationships and meeting the needs of people.
The first five years of community involvement passed without even one baptism or a single Bible study being conducted; it only included a few spiritual conversations. Nevertheless, as a result of community outreach ministry, of meeting people’s needs through various venues, a social movement started. A relational network was formed and has grown in the last decade naturally, without advertisement or extra energy. Is your church known in the surrounding community? If yes, for what is she known?
Jesus, however, did not stop with relationships (or loving people, as we read in the Gospels). Jesus facilitated encounters with God at every step. I do not know what your experience with the church or ministry is, but from my experience, it is important to fully engage in relational ministry, building bridges to non-believers, before we try to bring them into the church. Has God placed a desire on your heart to reach out to someone in your sphere of influence? Is there someone you have been praying for long enough to contact them?
Once those relationships have been formed, how does one invite people to God’s Kingdom (as Jesus discusses in Matthew 16)? Personally, I believe this is where we, as Adventists, are typically strong¾sharing the gospel message. Jesus was a master at picking the “right” topic on which to preach, something readily applicable to the person in his specific life situation. Are you aware of people who have spiritual gift of evangelism, i.e., those who are empowered by God to say the right words in the right moment when witnessing to those who are new to the Christian faith?
When we evaluate how Jesus ministered, we also see that He involved others in ministry and mission, as well. He invested in them, modeled ministry for them, and then sent them out to do the work of God (Luke 10). Jesus understood the value of mentorship/discipleship in ministry. Following His model of ministry means we do not shy away from training up new leaders and investing in the maturation and growth of younger believers. How does your church approach mentorship and discipleship? Are members involved and invested in these kind of relationships? Are you?
Let’s return to the research project about young people leaving the church. Imagine if your local church was able to analyze obstacles blocking implementation of a Jesus-like ministry. How would such a ministry impact young people who feel as if they do not belong¾especially not long-term? How could such a church impact the community, at large? What would your church look like in a year, three years, ten years?
If “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people” (Ministry of Healing, p. 143), let us commit to fully engage in such ministry, following Jesus’s model unabashedly, and watch as the Holy Spirit brings revival and renewal to our hearts. The goal of this article is to point out that while Jesus-like ministry might be challenging, require us to leave our comfort zones, or became vulnerable to grow in character, our end goal is to become more like Christ, no matter the cost. Such transformation is not without a pain. Are you willing to pay such a price to minister more like Jesus?
Petr Činčala is director of the Institute of Church Ministry and director of the Doctor of Missiology Program at Andrews University.
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