Friday, October 7, 2011

Why is Everything Ministry?

Sometimes I think American Evangelical Culture tries too hard. Okay, pretty much ALWAYS I think that. Not just in the ways that they try to make worship like a rock concert, follow fashion trends (even if they are a few years behind), or talk in supposedly "relatable" language. I think they try too hard in the manner that they try to make everything into an excessively spiritual endeavor.

Basically anything you could ever possibly volunteer to do in a church will likely be labeled a "ministry." Raking leaves on the property? Lawncare Ministry. Baking bars or cookies for coffee hour? Hospitality Ministry. Helping pick up the bulletins people left in the pews after service?  Pew Cleaning Ministry. Answering phones at the front desk? Welcoming Ministry. Taking photos of kids at VBS for the church newsletter? Photography Ministry. Poking the people around you every time they start to nod off during the service? Alertness Ministry. (Okay, so maybe I made the last one up, but it seriously would not surprise me.)

It's not that any of these are bad things, but should they be labeled a ministry? Is the term used so flippantly that we don't really know what it means anymore?  Technically speaking, the early model of "ministry" in denominations encompassed only the official functions of the church or religion. The services of a religion were ministries. This is the definition that is still used to define the services churches offer; such as soup kitchen ministry, community service ministry, etc. But I  notice that in many instances, it is now used to define the services rendered not through the church to others, but to the church itself.  These are the "ministries" that do not directly benefit anyone but the actual church or organization the person is working/volunteering for. What I mean are things such as cleaning the building, scrapbooking photos from events, mowing the lawn. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but should they be labeled as a "ministry?"

I've heard the claim that "our entire lives are ministry." In some senses, that is true. If our lives vary greatly from the way we behave at church functions and in our personal live that raises some questions about the authenticity of both. However, does that mean we have give everything the title "ministry?" It would be ridiculous for Christians to walk around saying "I'm just about to leave to meet up with you. I just need to finish my tooth brushing ministry duties." Although I'm sure everyone you meet in a given day is grateful that you brush your teeth every morning, doing so isn't a service to them.

In the worst case scenarios, such overly spiritual titles can come across as a cover to try to manipulate people into doing mundane or difficult jobs with no compensation by making them feel more important for doing so.  I can't even begin to imagine how absurd some of these titles look to people who are unfamiliar with church or religion.

I don't have any answers for this. In fact I think there is a lot of gray area here and no clear way to figure out where to draw these lines. I've been thinking about this a lot, after a conversation with my sister that was sparked after seeing a listing for "pew cleaning ministry." I just worry that it is like all things, the more you use the term, the less meaning it will have to people. When everything is a "ministry," it starts to seem like nothing really is.

In the end, it's easier to call everything a ministry than it is to engage with the struggle to figure out what it actually looks like to live like Jesus. It's easier to keep doing things that require those in need to come to you than to figure out how to break down barriers and actually build authentic relationships with them. It's easier to run things by your business models, requesting "ministry" volunteers than it is to wrestle with Jesus' examples of inclusiveness, simplicity, compassion, self-sacrifice, and humility.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for my morning dog walking ministry.

1 comment:

  1. At a certain Christian college where I spend far too much time these days, their business building is labeled as the "C******* School for Business as Ministry." This always strikes me as problematic. For one, it arbitrarily & unnecessarily Christian-izes something just by attaching the word "ministry" to it, as you were pointing out. It also makes me wonder if anyone outside of the Christian world could possibly take one of their business majors seriously. Are they teaching them real-world skills? Isn't it sufficient for them, even as Christians, to just teach good business and leave it at that? Not everything needs to be given an overt label.