Rev. Jason D. Thompson, Ph.D., Contributing Writer
Nearly everyone has an idea about what the church is and why it exists. Yet, due to our limited grasp of how the Kingdom of God looks, we find ourselves in desperate need of a church with a clearer definition and understanding of purpose, with a faith more lusty, more robust, and more vigorous than what we practice currently. Such a faith and intention will push us beyond anything that human ingenuity or creativity could ever produce or engineer so we can more accurately carry out the mission and mandate that Jesus assigned.
This level of ministry motivation begins with an essential question: What about ministry excites us, and how does that enthusiasm direct our intentions? Mark’s Gospel (9:38-50) highlights disciples whose ministry motivations might be framed as misguided enthusiasm. Upon discovering a person who was not part of “their” group, the disciples issued a “cease and desist” order and reported to Jesus: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” Jesus’ response is rather surprising yet instructive: “Do not stop him.” (v. 39a).
Perhaps Jesus appreciated their enthusiasm, but theirs was misguided, and misguided enthusiasm is dangerous. First, notice that this misguided enthusiasm comes in the form of criticism against someone who could do what they could not—heal the possessed boy. Second, by their admission, they attempt to stop this man because “he was not following us.” Are we insistent on people doing things the way we have done them or even the way we think they should be done?
I want to give credit and “shout out” this man that the disciples attempted to stop. The disciples’ practices and strategies were not working, and he had enough sense not to copy failing their methods! One of the hardest things for us to admit is why we keep employing methods that are no longer effective. Moreover, to add insult to injury, we have the gall to ask others to continue doing what does not even work for us.
But then again, is not an institution committed to Christianity no more than an imitation of real life? Institutions teach dreamers, visionaries, entrepreneurs, and creatives like the man in Mark 9 to shrink themselves, not to get in the way, to play by its rules, suggesting that the responsibility of these anomalies is never to their own gifting first but to the status quo of our system. Pastor Mark Moore Jr. of Atlanta, Georgia, notes that “we don’t rise to the level of our vision; we fall to the level of our systems.”
What, then, are the implications of an exciting ministry that directs our intentions? Is there evidence of this happening today in our spaces? Are we committed to choosing revival over possible ruin that the Reverend Vernon R. Byrd, Jr. advocated for at the 2022 First District Founder’s Day? I offer the following questions as a way to synthesize and pull together our cherished long-standing beliefs and practices, along with the revisions and modifications, the eliminations, and the new avenues of work that could create new domains of understanding for better relevancy and impact.
Treasured Values for Ministry Practice
Which beliefs and practices remain central to our ministry approaches, and which aspects must we strive to perpetuate and deepen going forward?
What ministry practices or beliefs no longer seem fitting, and what should we discard and leave behind or potentially recycle?
Re-imagining Possible Futures
What ministry models must we create that are necessary to leverage our congregations next to the needs of our communities?
Ultimately, as Chicago artist Amanda Williams asserts, “What we value is reflected in what each of us chooses to pay attention to, to care for, and sustain.” Good or bad, the choice is ours.