Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ministry is Messy

Ministry is messy.

If you don't get that, you're missing out.

For many years my church experience was rather sterile. People who went to church were well-mannered. Everyone came to services clean and smelling good. Nothing unexpected happened.Obedient congregants stood when they were supposed to stand, sang what they were supposed to sing, sat quietly during the sermon, and left smelling as good as they did when they arrived. Our biggest problem was a misspelled word on a power-point slide. Everything was neat. Orderly. Predictable.

And I liked it.

I knew what to expect when I went to church. It was comfortable. It was familiar. And why shouldn't it be? Isn't God a God of order? Isn't he good and holy and perfect and clean-smelling? Shouldn't church reflect that nice, neat God? I knew all the reasons for "excellence" in a service. I understood that we needed to offer our very best to God. I delighted in knowing that faithful men and women devoted their time each week to the production of a service that would be glorifying to God and honoring to those who came to worship him. And I know, really I know, that the motives behind those fabulously flawless services were good and right.

But lean in close so that you can hear my heart. Let me whisper something that the Lord has been slowly, patiently revealing to my soul which is soiled by an inordinate attachment to tidiness. Ministry--real person-to-person, life-to-life, broken vessel-to-broken vessel ministry--is messy.

Loving the neighbor who truly believes that aliens are living in his attic--that's an adventure. Figuring out what to do with his eager participation in worship services--that's messy.

Realizing, as you swallow the communion wine that has just been handed out, that the wine has gone bad and tastes like vinegar--that's messy. Seeing faces contort as they try their best to swallow rather than spew--that's messy too.

Watching my teenage son escort an obese woman home after prayer, knowing that he has purposefully, significantly slowed his steps to meet her pace--that's beautiful. Knowing that she is undoubtedly rambling on about inappropriate topics, and watching him listen with respect nonetheless--that's messy.

When the African woman prays aloud, prayers full of truth, laced with scripture--that's amazing. But when the prayer that should have lasted 30 seconds goes on for five minutes, ten minutes, even longer--then what? Then ministry gets messy.

When the pastor makes mention of pornography in a sermon, and his ten year-old daughter raises her hand and asks, "What's pornography?" That's messy.

When those on the fringes lead others to Christ--and we scratch our heads and wonder,"Which one of us is really on the fringe?" That's messy.

When we suddenly become aware that all have entered the house of the Lord with baggage, and that those suitcases are filled with everything from mental illness to poverty to histories in the occult, and when the baggage is brought right through the doors of the church and laid bare for all to see--well a nice sterile service just might not be possible. Things might get messy.

The spiritual control-freak in me panics. The spiritual neat-freak in me starts looking for a spiritual broom. And the spiritual perfectionist in me wishes everyone would close up those suitcases, take them home, and hide them in the back of the closet where they belong. That stuff does not smell good. Could someone light some incense? I'm pretty sure church is supposed to smell good.

And then I get a glimpse of Jesus, who is neither panicking nor plugging his nose. Nothing laid bare was beyond his knowledge. He already knew about the problems and their stench. He's glad to have all of the people with all of their baggage in his house. He loves the unlovely. He touches the untouchables. He blesses the broken.

Often I find myself overwhelmed by the messiness of ministry, unsure of how to help, drowning in a wave of needs. But when I see how Jesus loves them--how he loves us--I realize that I don't have to have all the answers. I just have to lead them to the one who does.

We have a Savior that isn't afraid of our messes. A Lord that doesn't recoil from our stench. A God who chose not to stay sterile in his heaven, but humbled himself to take on our dirt.

He unpacks each suitcase in the shadow of the cross, he bleeds his redemption into every tangled mess. And he delights to do it, because the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.

Church, are we the instrument of his grace? Will we welcome and serve the ones he loves, even when the work is messy? Even when it means our service might not go as planned? Or will we forget that we, too, stumbled into his courts naked and blind, wretched and poor?

Ministry is messy. And hard. And worth it.

No comments:

Post a Comment