“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”
~1 Thessalonians 2:8
As I’ve been preparing for my transition to pastoral ministry, I’ve been trying to take time to reflect on this past season of ministry with InterVarsity, noting especially the lessons that I have learned. One of these lessons really hit home toward the end of Chapter Focus Week. On our last night together, my students surprised me with a cake and we sat around as they shared stories and expressed their thanks for the time that I have served as their staff worker. I was deeply touched and moved by what was shared.
However, there was one phrase that kept coming up as these leaders shared: “I wish I got to know you more.” This really stood out to me because it forced me to reflect on the kind of ministry I have had there, and to look ahead to the kind of ministry I hope to have at the church where I will be serving. This phrase was a telling reminder of the importance of being open and vulnerable in ministry. Too often it is easy for those of us who serve in professional ministry to erect walls between ourselves and those that we are serving alongside or ministering to. Sadly, I fear that this was a trap that I fell into during my years at UIC. No doubt there were certain students that I confided in and got close to, but the reality is that I created very few avenues through which the students could have spoken into my life. It was rare to have them interact with me outside of “official” ministry times. Life together was minimal.
Now, there are a variety of things that I could say contributed to this:
- Life stage
- Distance (I commuted into the city)
- Family responsibilities
But it is too easy to blame these things. We are called to far more when we serve in ministry. I think Paul summarizes it best when he writes to the Thessalonians: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess. 1:8, emphasis mine). Paul highlights the importance of shared life in the course of ministry. It is far easier to create programs, develop training conferences, and give talks than it is to allow life-on-life discipleship to take place. The reason: because this kind of discipleship is costly, messy, and risky.
However, Jesus would have it no other way. In fact, it was this very kind of discipleship that he modeled so well. Well before sending out the Twelve to do the work of the ministry, we read that, “He appointed twelve that they might be with him…” (Mark 3:14, emphasis mine). Jesus’ own M.O. was to share his life with his disciples first. It was out of this kind of discipleship that they learned how to be ministers of the gospel. It was Jesus’ hope that his own life and model would rub off on these few men, with whom he spent so much time. Jesus put it best when he said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15, emphasis mine). Ultimately, he would pay the ultimate price for his friends, dying on the Cross for them, even when they all abandoned him. Jesus was willing to take the risk, enter the mess, and pay the cost for the sake of the ones that he ministered to and ministered with. We are called to do likewise.
So as I step into a new stage of life and a new form of ministry, I want this lesson to remain front and center. I need to develop deep friendships with those around me because this is the model we are called to implement. It is the way that Jesus taught us by his life and example. It is how disciples and disciple-makers are formed. Please hold me accountable to this. May that be the first step on the next stage of this journey together.