Author’s Note: I wrote this about six months ago, and it’s been languishing in my drafts folder for all that time, just waiting to be published. Because my writing time has been consumed with NaNoWriMo and my fiction class lately, now seems the perfect time to share it. 🙂
As a follower of Jesus, somebody who has called the church her home for as long as I can remember, I often elevate ministry in my mind. I give activities typically associated with serving God special priority, special value. Surely God is most impressed when we are pastors or missionaries or aid workers, when we devote our lives to full-time ministry.
After all, I reason, the New Testament calls us to minister to others, to serve the least of these, to care for widows and orphans. Throughout scripture, it is clear that God cares deeply about how we treat those who are downtrodden and oppressed, that He expects us to love others as we love ourselves, that our lives are to be about so much more than temporary pleasures or creature comforts. Ministry matters.
And so, though I know everything I do can and should be for His glory, I build a hierarchy of worthwhile pursuits in my mind. Ministry is near the top, followed by my responsibilities as a wife and stay-at-home mom. Somewhere at the bottom of the heap, just above criminal activity, come those things that I consider guilty pleasures. Watching TV. Eating ice cream. Spending time with a friend. Don’t get me wrong – I indulge in such things regularly – but often feel vaguely selfish when I do.
It isn’t that I don’t cherish my friendships, but with everything else on my plate, what time is left for coffee dates or walks with friends? If I am not going to spend it serving soup at a homeless shelter or volunteering at a crisis pregnancy clinic, how do I justify an hour or two away from home when the floors need sweeping and the budget needs balancing and the sheets need washing?
Left to my own devices, I would neglect my friendships, fearing such time could be seen as selfish. Or I might go, might spend an afternoon chatting with a friend, only to feel guilty afterwards, when confronted with my self-imposed to-do list. My husband knows me well, however, and so he encouraged me to carve out an hour for a walk with a friend the other day. After much hemming and hawing, after repeated assurances that he saw it as a valuable thing for me to do, I consented. I’m glad I did.
My friend and I wandered the trails at a local state park and chatted about this and that, enjoying the breeze and the feel of the sun on our skin. She talked some about how her week had gone; I shared a bit about a recent struggle and where I am spiritually. I steered the stroller around roots and ruts in the path; she offered to push it up the hills. It was altogether lovely.
As I drove home, I was reminded once again of my need of others, of the importance of doing life-affirming activities that feed my soul, of the value of community. This time, though, another thought struck me, one that had never really occurred to me: after all these years in the church, all these years following Jesus, maybe I still have ministry all wrong.
The New Testament Greek verb most often translated as “to minister” simply means “to serve.” In today’s Christian parlance, we use it to describe what happens when we show the love of Christ to others, when we encourage them, when we build them up. In spending time with a good friend, I am not only ministering to her, but I am allowing her to minister to me. We are building each other up, providing the hope and the love and the support needed to go about the rest of the tasks to which we are called.
Even if my hierarchy is a false one (and I suspect that it is), ministry matters. But maybe ministry doesn’t always look like Habitat for Humanity and Sunday School and women’s shelters, valuable and deserving of our time as those things are. Maybe ministry isn’t as one-sided as I tend to make it, one person with everything to give and the other with everything to gain. Maybe ministry doesn’t always require that my needs be shuttled to the side, doesn’t always involve the “least of these.”
Maybe, sometimes, ministry looks like listening and being heard. Maybe it looks like being invited into somebody else’s heart, somebody else’s story. Maybe it looks like walking alongside somebody, bearing witness to the work God is doing in her life.
Maybe ministry looks like being a friend.