By Chuck Orwiler
Asking ourselves how we might do ministry that speaks of Christ is an appealing inquiry. However, unless we are quite careful we can easily respond to “ministry that speaks of Christ” as a project to which we give our attention until we move on to something else. In contrast, when we study the life of Christ we do not see a series of projects that Jesus undertook. Instead we see a true life. His is a Kingdom life, and he invites us into it. His life illumines the imperfections of lesser living. We shrink from its brilliance, yet yearn for its wholeness. Perhaps, then, one aspect of ministry that speaks of Christ is being a people who live prophetically as a light in the darkness while being winsomely whole. How do we pursue that? Is it even possible?
Rooted in the Friends tradition is the concept of gospel order. Gospel order is founded on the notion that the presence of Christ demands and enables a different way of living a gospel-ordered life.
Early Friends expected and experienced the inbreaking of God’s new order in their lives. … They discovered that all persons who turned to the Light found their lives transformed. The Light revealed the ways they had previously turned from God. It led them to Christ, their Inward Teacher and Guide. God’s new order meant a reconciled and faithful personal relationship with God. It also
meant being gathered into a community of God’s people who lived the way of faithfulness together eschewing those conventions of the larger social order which were considered contrary to God’s will. Friends believed that God would manifest this new order in the fabric of the social, political, and economic life of the whole society. (Sandra L. Cronk, Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community)
Are Friends still expecting to manifest God’s new order in the society in which we live? A place to begin is Jesus’ invitation to come to him, take his yoke, and learn from him (Matthew 11:28-29). Accepting this invitation requires humility, intention and imitation, which lead us towards God’s new order.
Samuel Bownas (1750) describes those whose ministry speaks of Christ:
These are very humble and low of heart, and the more their minds are enlightened by divine inspiration, the more they see a necessity to watch over themselves, so that the innocence, meekness, and humility suiting a true and right minister will appear in all their conduct. Such are slow to speak, and ready to hear and receive instruction, and are known by them that are spiritual to be such. (Samuel Bownas, A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister)
Bownas’ quiet appeal is hard to hear these days in which self-promotion has been normalized. Qualities of “innocence, meekness, listening and receiving instruction” are missing in action, and sorely missed.
In contrast, Jesus says, “Come to me.” Our great hope is fruitful ministry. It is a hope fulfilled by making our home in the living Christ. Our well-intended zeal simply cannot be a substitute for coming to Christ, ever and again. The former may yield accolades. The latter yields fruit. The difference speaks of Christ.
Jesus acted intentionally. He made it clear that he was sent for a specific purpose. That purpose was to be an itinerant preacher going from town to town proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). He demonstrated his intent to stay on task even when that meant ignoring pressing needs that pleaded for his attention.
A few years ago, 16 members of Harmony Friends of Taiwan felt called of God to move from their nice homes in Taipei to live in a poor section of town in order to serve those people in Jesus’ name. They named their new congregation the Jesus Loves You Service Center. They literally named their intention and have lived into it. Dan Cammack, executive director of Evangelical Friends Mission, reports they are now integrated into that community. Their rented space is bustling with activity every day of the week.
In his message entitled The Pearl of Great Price, Dan cites the biblical example of Zacchaeus whose encounter with Christ turned his understanding of life upside down. Zacchaeus experienced a gospel re-ordering: “He wanted to live: in a kingdom where love rules.” And so he did. In a stunning life reversal, this wealthy man gave half his possessions to the poor and paid back anyone he had cheated four times their shortfall. Zacchaeus had the humility to come to Jesus and then intentionally yoked himself to Jesus.
Ministry that speaks of Christ is not ambivalent. It is an intentional act of putting on the yoke of Christ and his call in our lives.
May we experience that moment in His presence when we know that our lives will never be the same, when it becomes abundantly clear exactly what He would have us do with our lives and possessions. (Dan Cammack, “The Pearl of Great Price”)
Jesus was eminently practical. He taught the Kingdom way. He lived what he taught. He told his followers to go do the same. “Learn from me,” said Jesus, and, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man.”
This needs to hold our attention: Jesus’ most severe criticisms were leveled at scrupulously religious people who were missing the point. For example, he called out those who prided themselves in following the Bible, yet altogether missed justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew.23:23). Being called to either justice or mercy is humbling. Being called to both seems beyond us. Yet, is it not apparent that either justice or mercy without the other is insufficient? What do we learn from Jesus?
• Jesus was quite explicit in his religious teaching, and loved as his neighbor those of a different persuasion.
• He declared sobering judgment for those who did not repent, and was filled with mercy for the non-committals who crowded in merely for a free lunch.
• He warned against wandering from the narrow way, and sought the lost sheep.
• He counseled his followers to treat an unrepentant peer as a “tax collector or pagan” and he gave his life for tax collectors and pagans.
• He confounded his disciples by telling them he will be especially close to some of those who resist him the longest!
Jesus defines the wholeness that is medicine for the soul of our society. People may have to see it to believe it. That’s our opportunity.
Ministry that speaks of Christ will yield something of both the rejection and reward that Jesus experienced. Consequently, ministry that speaks of Christ requires a redefining of competence and achievement. Like Christ, we are drawn by the joy before us. We are drawn to be a people who together seek a gospel re-ordered life that we know to be a true life. We can sow our seeds of humility, intention, and imitation. By God’s grace our ministry may be of Christ, and bear the fruit of his Kingdom.
Chuck Orwiler is the Pastor of Soul Care for Denver Friends Church for whom he has served since 1978. He and his wife, Vicky, enjoy times with their family and opportunities to walk together in pretty places.