At the Orange Conference, Reggie Joiner gave a great message about getting messy in ministry. It’s true that “sometimes God’s job for us is messier than we had in mind.” Reggie shared a story of how he helped a man who had soiled himself in the bathroom at the mall. My wife loves telling people about her dedication to me– I once had taken so much valium after a surgery that I soiled myself, and she lovingly cleaned it up. [If pooping in your pants is cool. Consider me Miles Davis?] So, yeah, sometimes love gets messy…
Here are some of Reggie’s main points:
1. There’s no way to do what we do [in ministry] without getting messy.
Whether it’s working with babies (I got bit and peed on in my time in my old church’s preschool ministry), working with middle school (recovering from when a kid passes gas in a small group), or high school (breakups, questions of sexuality, etc.), ministry gets messy!
2. There was no way for Jesus to do what He did without getting messy.
Jesus didn’t live a sinless life so He could be an example; He lived so that He could die. He didn’t die to make us happy; He died so we can be forgiven.
3. Making disciples required getting messy.
Jesus sent the disciples into a “Hunger Games” type environment. These young people who were given the gift of the Holy Spirit and the words of the Gospel were thrust into a world where everyone was watching their every move, hanging on their every word, and planning how they would die. I mean, what were they going to do, though? They saw Jesus’ example. If Jesus did messy, they did messy. And they did. When we are making disciples of Jesus who make disciples, we have to prepare them for a messy world too. The interesting thing is that a lot of ministry-types view increased numbers and convenience of ministry as success– what if success is measured by getting messier?
4. There’s no way to make disciples without them getting messy.
This is really resonating with me. One of the biggest take-homes from the Orange Conference. We’ve got to provide opportunities for our students to do ministry while they are with us. It’s easy to pretend to love God; it’s hard to pretend to love your neighbor. Yeah, we can grow our kids up in “the truth”– but let’s remember that Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and love people. Reggie made this great point, “Don’t minimize what God has maximized.” Wow. We got to empower our students to put love in action.
I don’t know about you, but I’m already wanting to shut down my news feed on Facebook the last couple of weeks. I don’t know how my heart can take all of the negativity, half-truths, and attacks that are going on amongst my friends and family on Facebook daily. It’s probably only going to get worse as we near November. And even then, people will have sour grapes for a long time afterwards. God knows I am so, so tempted to get caught up in the maelstrom of arguments. That’s a different kind of messy than what Reggie is talking about. But Reggie challenged us again in the idea that “Jesus changed hearts; He didn’t establish a kingdom.” Right now, we should probably focus on the Gospel (the story of how people can be made right with God) than the issues. Christians need to unite around the Gospel and spend a little less time arguing about whether Jesus would have worn a red or blue tie.
You know, ultimately, God chose the image of blood and the Cross to remind us of God’s love. Boy, if that’s not messy, I don’t know what is. That night, we celebrated that image by having communion together as a group. That was really powerful. I bet we all believed different things about all kinds of aspects of the Bible and life. But we all united on that evening around the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Somehow that messiness bonded us all together.
My prayer is that I don’t run away from the messiness of real ministry, Jesus-style ministry. Reggie kicked the conference off with an important challenge.
Let’s get messy.
In my first seminary class, my professor presented us with the following verse…
1 Kings 10:26
Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem.
Then he asked the question, “Is this a good thing, a bad thing, or neutral?”
We all kind of scratched our heads. I, being the kind of guy who likes to at least take a shot, said that it was a good thing, a sign of God blessing Solomon.
He gave me an, “Oh yeah?” look and then showed this verse…
16 The king, moreover, MUST NOT acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.”
I guess the logic in the whole thing was the fact that God didn’t want any king to be relying on his own ability to broker deals and treaties and build up a huge army. God wanted the king to depend on Him.
So…it had me thinking.
As parents, what is the object of our trust?
You definitely want to be a good parent and be safe and all that, but we can farm out the whole trust thing to something beside God:
In Baby Einstein I trust!
In the Joneses (those people I’m trying to keep up with) I trust!
In Parenting magazine I trust!
In the opinion of my peers I trust!
I’m not saying that these things are bad in and of themselves. Maybe Baby Einstein will get your kid that scholarship to Stanford. Maybe the Joneses are doing some positive things that are worth emulating. Maybe Parenting magazine has some good tips. Maybe your friends’ opinions are worth listening to.
Horses and chariots aren’t bad in and of themselves, yet God forbade them.
This is a trust issue. Where will you place your trust first?
If you’re working on cultivating a little genius but not sharing God’s Word with your kid, you may have a problem.
If you’re teaching your kid the value of “stuff” instead of the value of love, you may have a problem.
If you’re looking how to mold your little image-bearer (of God) into any other image, you may have a problem.
If you’re looking to the approval of your buddies instead of God’s approval, you may have a problem.
What’s crazy is that Solomon looked like he had it all, when he was really, subtly spiritually bankrupt. This was even before the “let’s have 1,000 women” thing.
What good is it if we look like we have it all together but realize that we didn’t invite God to the party when it’s all said and done?
God gave you a kid.
Pray to Him.
Depend on Him.
For those of you who are not familiar with The Elephant Room, it is a discussion panel environment that was created by James MacDonald in order for people from different viewpoints of Christianity to get together, discuss their differences, but also come together in unity. I went yesterday, expecting a blood bath.
Here’s what goes on in my head when I saw the lineup.
“Ooh, I love that guy. He’s going to bring it.”
“Ooh, that guy annoys me so much. He’s going to get schooled.”
“Oh, ok, that guy’s solid. He’s going to set that dude straight.”
“Oh, man, that guys so flaky. Why would he even come to something that required thinking?”
“Oh, and I don’t even know who that guy is.”
I’m not proud of it. But that’s how I prejudge.
Somehow I already have a working who’s who of people I think are “solid,” and people who I think are suspect.
OK, I’m about to get a little more real. I especially didn’t want to like Steven Furtick or TD Jakes. For some reason, in my mind, I had reasons to disregard what they had to say. Looking back, the punishment (total disregard) didn’t match the crime (personality quirks or minor theological differences). But, man, it really took literally one or two sessions for my mind to change.
I realized that I don’t have to agree with everything these men of God believe, but I have to at least demonstrate Christian charity towards them (love them enough to expect the best of them). They are my brothers (in the case of Furtick) and my grandfathers (in the case of Jakes).
These guys are not the only Christian leaders who have been the object of jokes, sarcasm, or just outright accusations of “blasphemy” by me. I am a very, very judgmental person. I hide behind my crappy attitude by saying that it’s in the name of “sound doctrine.” God, heal my heart.
As a dad, and really as an orange leader, this has got to change. I’ve got to see the good and learn from the ministries of the whole body of Christ. I can’t just run with my own tribe.
Steven Furtick put it well yesterday (and I’ll paraphase). “Many of us mistake being ‘bold’ as tossing red meat to our own followers.” His implication was that most of us are afraid to have conversations with people who are different than us.
I want to teach my daughter better.
I want to lead the youth ministry team at New Harvest better.
I want to lead our youth better.
I want to teach them how to love and be fair.
We’re never going to have the opportunity to grill each Christian leader to our liking and check off whether they are “acceptable” or not. We’re just going to have to trust what God is doing in and through them. We’ve got to start with love, not with suspicion.
I don’t want my daughter to one day be in a conversation with a friend about she admires, and the friend mentions someone– and then Evie replies, “Ugh! I can’t stand that person.” Then the friend asks, “Well, why?” And then Evie says, “Well, because my daddy doesn’t like him.”
As for me, I am going to pray that God change my heart towards leaders who rub me the wrong way for whatever reason. Normally, it’s my reason that’s the sin– not the thing that rubs me the wrong way. I at least resolve to speak highly of the ministry of Steven Furtick and Bishop Jakes from here on out. I know I at least need to do that.
But here’s the question I have for all of us…
Without being intentional about it, are we raising our kids, teams, and flock to dislike certain Christian leaders (or politicians, or people)? Is that healthy? I know my kid will grow up hating the Cowboys and Phillies, but are there some things that we consider to be innocuous that are actually toxic that we’re passing down to the next generation?