Ministry in the Middle

It’s been a few months since I’ve written anything for the blog (three, to be precise). It was not my intention to stop writing, I just got a little preoccupied and never felt particularly inspired to write. I’m sorry for those who were looking forward to the posts, and I hope I haven’t driven you away through my absence.

One of the reasons I was feeling uninspired was that I wasn’t reading as much as usual during the summer. Usually I’ve got about four or five books that I’m reading at once. I don’t say that to boast. It’s just that in the process of sermon prep, study groups, and personal development, there’s always a handful of books that need read at once.

As I was saying, I slowed in my reading over the summer. We were trying to get settled in a new home, church, and community – and there were some shows on Netflix that I just had to watch. Thus, the reading suffered, and the inspiration to write suffered, too.

Well… good news! I’m back into the full swing of reading again, and – bing! – feel like I’ve got something to say.

(How’s that for clearing the throat?)

I had the opportunity to take my older children to the Life Light Concert this year – a free, open air, three day concert with some of the leading Contemporary Christian Artists. Sunday night’s headliner was Matthew West, whose music I’ve enjoyed for quite some time.  Wests’ concert was great, his music inspiring, and the message was uplifting.

What got stuck under my skin, however, was the artist who came on before West. I’ll not share his name here, I don’t want this to become a personality thing, but in between his songs, this guy liked to “preach.” Now, I’ve got no problem with an artist sharing his testimony. I’d never discourage someone from sharing how the grace of God in Jesus Christ has saved them and transformed them.

What frustrated me was that in his “preaching” he would harshly criticize the church. He had been talking to Christians from all over the world – Christians who told of the blind gaining sight and the lame walking. “What are we doing wrong, Church?” he would ask. “How many people have you healed?” And having shamed the Church for its complacency, he would then start another song, and suggest we buy his album.

To top it all off, he called this concert “worship.” Now I get that worship can come in varying styles and formats – but I believe it should have some essential qualities: Prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, the reading and teaching of Scripture, and a call to discipleship and commitment.  Simply singing (to use the broadest sense of that word for this particular artist) and rambling about the state of the church is not worship.

The crowd might have been worshiping.  Tens of thousands of people screaming and cheering for the artists – that might actually be worship.  False worship, but worship, none-the-less.

Neither should the concert tour be considered ministry.  When you step off the stage and onto the tour bus, never interacting with those to whom you preached – such is not ministry.  It is “strafe-bombing” an unwitting audience with faulty exegesis and half-truths.  Jesus pronounced woe upon the Pharisees and teachers for such things, “For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15).

I just started reading through Reversed Thunder, Eugene Peterson’s meditation on the book of Revelation.  In it, Peterson describes John as a prophet, a poet, and a pastor, and in reading of his vision in Revelation, we should listen as we would to a prophet, a poet, and a pastor.

Strikingly, Peterson describes the role of the pastor saying, “The pastor is the person who specializes in accompanying persons of faith “in the middle,” facing the ugly details, the meaningless routines, the mocking wickedness, and all the time doggedly insisting that this unaccountably unlovely middle is connected to a splendid beginning and glorious end” (Peterson, pg 8).

A pastor is one who reads the Bible, mindful of the glory of God, the goodness of the gospel, and the pressing needs of his congregation. He celebrates the births and the weddings and the graduations. He weeps with the widow, the grieving father, the soul lost in sin.  He knows the fragrance of joy, the stench of despair. The pastor stands in the middle, pointing not to himself, but to the only One who can make anything good come from all the “stuff” we face. He comes with the message of the “Alpha and the Omega, the One who is, who was, and who is to come” (Rev 1:8).

Pastoral ministry is messy. It is often the ministry of interruptions. It is painful, and it is wearying. And the crowds are smaller, quieter, and the lighting isn’t as good.  But Pastoral ministry, ministry in the middle of God’s people, is glorious. There’s no place I’d rather be!

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