Ministry, much like other important things (such as discipleship), may be complex to live out, but it is very easy to understand. As I reflect back on almost 25 years in ministry of some kind, I am able to see some simple themes as it relates to the act of ministry in any capacity.
Essentially, doing ministry boils down to three things: giving people permission, translating and pointing.
Giving People Permission
If there is one task I have spent the most time on in my ministry career, it has been giving people permission.
Giving people permission is a huge part of ministry.
Giving people permission to doubt.
Giving people permission to grieve.
Giving people permission to cry.
Giving people permission to celebrate.
Giving people permission to embrace change.
Giving people permission to use their gifts.
Giving people permission to love themselves.
Giving people permission to embrace grace.
Giving people permission to follow Jesus.
Giving people permission to be authentic.
Giving people permission to find their identity in Jesus.
Giving people permission to…
In ministry, we have the joy and the gift to spend much of our time giving people permission.
I deal a lot in conflict, crisis and mess. I swim all day in anxiety, confusion and pain. Most of the time as I deal with these complex issues, I also need to manage my own anxiety in a way that is healthy and transparent.
Most of conflict, crisis and mess is solved by translating. Most conflict stems from miscommunication, personality, culture or misunderstanding. When are are in the midst of the mess, our vision is blurred and we often need clarity. Clarity often comes from the outside in the form of a translator.
Throughout my own ministry career, in challenging times and in times of joy, I have spent a significant portion of my time translating. Scott Cormode notes that pastors are ‘spiritual interpreters.’ In ministry, we help people see, hear and experience what they cannot see, hear and experience on their own. In ministry, we often communicate the same and rarely new truth over and over again in different ways. In ministry, we help people see the things they cannot see on their own. We bring a language and framework to the complexities of faith, life and following Jesus.
In ministry, we do a lot of translating.
John the Baptist was a pointer.
He knew his role was to point people to Jesus. That is our role too. So often ministry boils down to programs, personalities, systems or structures. While each of these things utilized in healthy ways can enhance ministry, when viewed or utilized in an unhealthy way, they can be a distraction. Ministry essentially boils down to pointing people to Jesus.
We are pointers.
“I am the way, the truth and the life” Jesus says. In ministry, we point people to the way. We point people to truth. We point people to life, abundant life. We point people to Jesus.
Ministry is a seed planting mission. We cannot decide what seeds grow and flourish and which ones do not, but we can create conditions that make it more likely that a seed will grow and flourish. Part of cultivating these conditions is giving people permission, translating and pointing people to Jesus.
Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Carlson, Executive Director