I have been thinking lately about "events" in ministry. I think these thoughts are coming from my recent experience with the Boxes of Love outreach event. I also took note, as I drove through the neighborhood over the last few days, of all of the lines outside of various churches. This will continue through the month of December, at least until the 25th. This is not unique to my community. Every church and ministry during this season of the year does some type of compassionate outreach event to the poor or "less fortunate." Fast forward a few months, and during the Easter season you will see advertisements and fliers for outreach events and passion plays at various churches. The Easter holiday is another season during which "events" are popular.
Now my intent in writing this post is not to say that we should scrap all events, or to take a shot at churches who are "big" on events. I think God uses events. Plenty of brothers and sisters in the Lord can testify that God made the move on them at an event - either drawing them to Himself for the first time or strengthening their faltering faith during a tough period.
However, if we are not careful ministry events can become a crutch that we lean on in order to avoid more relational, ongoing types of service and ministry. Seasonal outreach events can become the only time that we "participate in ministry." I think they become crutches because they are more comfortable for us. Let me explain what I mean...
It is relatively comfortable to serve a dinner to the "less fortunate" in your community. It is a bit more uncomfortable and stretching to actually build a relationship with one of the men or women or families that shows up at the event. What if God actually asked us to invite this man or woman or family over for dinner in "our" home? What if instead of serving a meal at a church or community center we invited those whom we served to our family get-together? And what if this relationship lasted way beyond a holiday meal? What if we actually began to "do life" together? What if we learned that we have much to learn from those with less materially? What if we learned that our faith isn't as strong as we thought? What if those whom we "reach out" to begin to discover that we have issues too? What if Christ was then shared out of an authentic, reciprocal, relationship?
It is relatively comfortable to invite neighbors, co-workers, family members, and even people on a busy street corner to an Easter event at our churches. It is a bit more stretching to develop a lifestyle of intentionality with those whom we invited as we pray for, build with, grieve with, and rejoice with those same people. If they receive Christ, will we rally around them as a family of believers to disciple them individually and as a community? Will we be transparent, and vulnerable, and authentic, and sacrificial with them? And if they don't receive Christ will we still surround them with love even if they never receive Him (as I believe God would have us to do)? Or will we quickly move on to find "another ministry project?"
Events, if we are not careful, will keep us at arm's length from people and keep people at arm's length from us. Events also sometimes foster a perspective in which we view people as "objects of ministry" rather than "fellow subjects of the Kingdom or as those created in the image of God." (Shout out to Joel Hamernick for that quote http://www.joelhamernick.blogspot.com/). Maybe we should emphasize events less, but rather emphasize the relationship building that could and should happen following all ministry events.
As we move towards this type of missional, Christ-exalting lifestyle, regardless of our context, it gets messy. It gets hard. It gets uncomfortable. I think though that as we look at Christ in the gospels, as we look at the early church in the book of Acts, and as we examine the charge of the prophets in the OT, this is the type of lifestyle they point us towards. As we push towards this, we will ever be in need of God's grace and we will ever be reminded of the interdependence of the body of Christ.
In my next post I will highlight churches in various contexts who I believe by God's grace are moving towards this type of Kingdom lifestyle...