In a recent sermon from Luke’s gospel, our pastor asked us to consider what constitutes mission and what is ministry? Are they the same? Is one easier than the other? Pastor Bob often prods us to think more deeply than we have before, especially with passages that seem familiar to us. So I started to think back over activites Dave and I had done in the last couple of years. In December of 2011, Brent spoke at a conference in New Zealand and wanted to take his wife with him, so we volunteered to go to Georgia and babysit for the girls for 10 days. Ministry? In one respect, it was ministry because we, as retirees, do not rise at 5:30 am each morning; nor do I pick out clothes or braid hair for a 4-year-old headed to nursery school. After all, we had two boys! After we dropped Austyn Grace off at school, we took Taylor Faith to Panera so she could “read” to us and we could share Jesus with her.
Taking care of the girls may be work we’re not used to, but we love it. And sharing Jesus with them never meets with opposition. They sing songs about Him, read books about the Savior, and have some interesting questions about faith. So I needed to think about short-term mission work to broaden my thinking. Going to do construction projects in Mexico occupied about ten days of five different summers for each of our sons. While there, the mission team members lived with people who were part of the church where the kids were working. Evenings, the kids led VBS for anyone who wanted to attend, so these summer mission trips involved both helping out, or ministering, and missions, proclaiming the gospel.
Please don’t misunderstand. Ministry, or serving, is vital. Our entire family jogged, walked, and my dear husband wheeled me in my wheelchair, at a Susan Komen 5K race in Atlanta to raise funds for cancer research. We celebrated Stacey’s Mom’s ten-year survival from the disease. We made a statement, and did so gladly, rejoicing as Sue crossed the finish line for survivors and collected her pink rose. We stood back in our designated area as supporters and applauded, silently thanking the Lord for His mercy and grace to Sue. And, of course, tears lined my eyes; I had lost both my parents to cancer. I supported this race; it was personal.
But ask me about encountering someone who despises Christianity, who hates the name of Christ. Can I go and help teach someone to speak English? Of course. Will I speak truth about Christ to someone who only wants to argue and make Christians look narrow-minded and intolerant? That’s much more frightening.
By Luke 9, Jesus has given authority to His disciples. He asks them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Peter, always quick to act or speak, answers, “You are the Christ.” Jesus tells them of His soon-coming suffering and admonishes the disciples to take up their cross daily. And what follows in chapter 9 is the amazing Transfiguration. There will NOT be three tents erected, as Peter has enthused to the Master. Christ alone is the central message, the Good News.
Today I can confuse ministry with mission. Helping people is a valid ministry, but missions means faithfully proclaiming the Word of God. I have to be careful that mission does not become social work only for me. As a believer in Christ, I have one message: there is only one way to eternal life and that is through Christ alone. I need to show ministry compassion, but I must also share the gospel.
Which scares you more? Painting people’s houses or talking to them about Christ as you paint? Or if you take food to a family as part of a Christian holiday, do you also talk to them about the Christ you serve and why you’d like to give these folks something more substantial than the food you’ve brought that day? There’s bread and there’s Bread.
I’m thinking through this, trying to respond more with “I think” than “I feel,” and I am reading Tim Keller’s Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. After all, this same apostle Peter later writes a letter in which he says, “But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”