Empty-handed ministers - 1
From a blog by Fresh Expressions USA
You may identify with a minister who among other duties was responsible for a discretionary fund for people in financial need. In the two years running it, he processed requests to help with rent, water bills, electric bills, gas, food, etc. He found he had a limited amount of money to disburse and an unlimited stream of requests.
When he first started, it felt good to help people out. He could swoop in like a superhero and save the day. However, the thrill quickly wore off. The requests were never ending. He would get calls at all hours from frantic people and even violent threats.
After a while, he noticed the same folks coming back every couple of months. They were helping them in the short term, but making little impact on their lives in the long term. He was rapidly burning out, questioning everything he knew about ministry to the community. Surely there was a better way to support their neighbours?
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus offers another way. It says, “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts.” Jesus sends out his ragtag group of uneducated, underprepared fishermen and tradesmen into the villages completely empty-handed. What in the world was he thinking?
Craig Greenfield, founder of Alongsiders International, points out, “In stripping your team of their basic resources, Jesus is forcing you to rely completely on the local resources of the villages you visit as you do ministry. He is forcing you to empower local people by your posture of dependence.” In stripping your team of their basic resources, Jesus is forcing you to empower local people.
When you approach your neighbours with stuff in your hands; you’re saying that you have what they need. However, when you approach them empty-handed; you’re saying they have what they need. Our neighbours are gifted, loving, creative, and intelligent. Yet we may approach them like they are needy, destitute, and void of God’s gifts—as if God has only blessed the people in your church.
Empty-handed ministry is far less expensive than relief-based ministry, but far more costly. It is not quick, it is hard to measure, and you cannot complete it in a weeklong mission trip. Half of the time it looks and feels like you’re just hanging out with people. It might take years to see any fruit and when the fruit does come it’s pretty obvious that it was not because of you. It’s focused on building relationships the old-fashioned way, by talking to your neighbours. You will not feel like a superhero; you will feel more like a friend. Empty-handed ministry is slow, humbling, but transformational.
The minister is now finishing his second year as the leader of a network of Fresh Expressions in one town - forms of Church established for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church. They come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples. Instead of approaching people with the answers, they approach people with questions. Their gatherings, in places where people are, look at a passage from the Bible and the leader asks a few questions about it. As the community forms, the chains of brokenness are slowly broken.
Their newest fresh expression is at the homeless shelter in town. One of the directors there asked if they'd be willing to be a pastoral presence at the shelter. They have been going to the shelter every Monday night. They eat dinner together and head over to the conference room where a handful of the residents come to discuss a passage of scripture. They don’t bring anything with them, except Bibles. They don’t show up with clothes or food like the other churches in town. Instead, they show up with empty hands, ready to learn from their neighbours. The fresh expression of church is slowly forming, slowly pushing each other a little closer to Christ, slowly putting trust in the God who loves us, slowly forming a holy community that one day might bear the marks of a mature expression of church.
There is a tension isn't there between 'when I was hungry, you gave me food, when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink' and 'go empty handed'? It seems to me this is not an either/or but a both/and. One is meeting immediate needs in crisis and the other is building relationships with people based on respect and love rather than one based on power caused by supply of goods.
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