Today's world financial institutions find themselves in a major crisis...but that is not what this article is about! Lately, I have been asked on several occasions how to minister to someone who is bound up in some besetting sin or another (in my world, that usually means someone who struggles with same sex attraction, but the principles I am sharing apply to any ministry situation).
Today, while fielding questions from students at a Christian University in Southern California, someone made this statement. "How do you minister to someone who struggles with same sex attraction when they find so much validation in the gay world?" That's a great question. My answer?
It all boils down to relationship.
I know many believers who have a very real and deep interest in ministering to the needs of other people...who sincerely believe they have the answers people need to hear. And for the most part, they do. Many believers also like to see those they are ministering to suddenly ‘see the light' and begin to walk in freedom from ‘whatever' - and who doesn't? But I also run across many who seem to become easily frustrated with those they minister to. "Why can't they see what I see? Why don't they change like I did? What's their problem?" I have personally watched seasoned believers throw their hands up in frustration and simply cut off the one (whether intentionally or not) they are trying to minister to.
I am personally not surprised at this, given the ‘I want it and I want it now' attitude of our American culture. We want instant gratification. We want our food fast. We want out car loans approved the minute we choose our new car. We want the latest, greatest video game and we want it now. We want that new song and we download the mp3 within seconds of the release. We have grown quite accustomed to having what we want when we want it...and, as a result, I am afraid have allowed that attitude to permeate our ministry styles. Somehow, relationship -real living, thriving relationship - does not fit all that well in the digital age of instant gratification.
So how do we minister to someone who finds validation from their peers? How do we penetrate the world with God's love? One thing we need to remember: God's love always trumps validation. Validation (and we all need it in one way or another) is not love. Love overcomes fear of rejection. Love overcomes our need to meet our needs in ways other than God intended. Love does not flatter because love gets to the deepest, basic human need - to be known and to know. This is called relationship. If we truly desire to minister to someone, we must begin investing in the lives of others in a relational way. It's like putting money in the bank.
Mind you, I LOVE ministering to large groups of people because I can get the word out about the hope and freedom I found in knowing Jesus intimately. In large settings I am able - to a very small degree - to build a momentary relationship with those I am sharing with...and that is valid and good. But through the years, I have found the most profound ministry I have been privileged to be involved in has come through one on one relationship. After all, Jesus spent more time building relationships than in His public speaking ministry. How much time do you think He spent just ‘being' with people and with just getting to know them as opposed to the amount of time He spent preaching? I believe the time He spent with the disciples and others was vastly greater than the amount of time He spent in preaching. Could that be a clue for us as ministers?
When ministering to an individual, I see the time and effort I spend in pouring my life into that relationship much like investing in the savings account of their heart. When I invest time, and effort, and support, and real interest in their life it is like I eventually build up enough of an account that there comes a time when I have the freedom to make withdrawals from that account. In other words, I build a real relationship based on trust to the point where the other party has absolutely no doubt that I love them and they trust that I have their best interests at heart. It is when that account is full that I can speak truth into their life because I know THEY know I will not reject them - regardless of whether they receive my great wisdom or not. My love does not depend on their level of freedom or spirituality. And that speaks volumes. But relationship takes time and it takes effort...and that flies in the face of our cultural need for instant gratification.
There have been many times (too numerous to count!) when people with good intentions have spoken some ‘truth' to me expecting me to respond a certain way, only to be ‘appalled' at my reluctance to heed their word to me. During some of those encounters I have had to gently say to the person ‘I appreciate your concern for me but I find it difficult to believe you really care about me since you have not ever taken the time to get to know me.' What I have found is that, often in such situations, I am actually being manipulated by a spiritually abusive person (a controller). The reason I share that is because we do that to lost and hurting people all the time. We who have a Christian world view sometimes have a ‘holier than thou' attitude as well. "If they do not want my advice or ministry then forget it!"
What would Jesus do?
This was brought home to me in a very real and personal way back in 1981. A good friend discovered that I was struggling with same sex attraction...and did not try to fix me instantly! In his wisdom he said this: "I do not know all the answers to freedom. I just know THE Answer - Jesus. I will walk toward Jesus with you...for however long it takes...through whatever storms you must face. When you fall I will help you up. When you hurt I will hold you. When you need a shoulder to cry on I will be there." I had to go OUTSIDE of the church to have the love of God demonstrated to me in a tangible way! Someone offered relationship rather than a sermon...and I latched on to that! In fact, just to show you how real and honest that person was, they still make that commitment to me TO THIS DAY! That's love! That love led me to repentance! Repentance led me to freedom and hope! And because my friend has been willing to consistently invest in my heart and life, he has the freedom to make withdrawals when necessary...to speak truth when I walk in error...to remind me of Whose and who I am when I walk in fear or loneliness...to find the same encouragement from my heart back to his.
I have a friend I have been investing in for about four years now. He was addicted to crank for 17 years. He was a biker. He was a fighter. He is rough around the edges. I saw others at church gatherings avoid him. I saw this once strong physical specimen of a man beaten down by health issues and no one go visit him in the hospital...because the good Christians had given up on him...thought him too coarse...thought him less than desirable to be around. All I did was go see him in the hospital and begin calling to check on him...and found a man who had been so in need of a real friend but so disillusioned by the church that he had all but given up hope. I also discovered that his coarseness was actually a defense mechanism. If he behaved in a way that Christians found objectionable then he could count on Christians to reject him - and he could freely say, "See. I told you so. Christians are no different than anyone else. They just care about themselves and how others perceive them." I simply decided to prove him wrong!
What I have discovered in the process of simply loving my friend is that love breaks through barriers that logic and wisdom cannot. I have lived a lot of life and have learned a few things...but what people need more than what I know is that I care that they exist. That is what investing our time and effort and money and friendship does for others. They realize they are worth knowing. That's like money in the bank my friend! That love and expression of worth to others breaks barriers and brings opportunities for true freedom and hope and salvation for those we take the time to invest in. Sometimes the quickest way into the heart of another is an investment of time. Are we in this for the long haul or are we in this for just another notch on our spiritual belt?
Do you really want to minister to others? Do you see others as worth your time? Would you be willing to walk into their world with the love of God? That friend I told you about loves NASCAR - LOVES it! I know nothing about it and it makes no sense to me...but I ask him to teach me about the drivers and the cars and the races and the racetracks. That is what Jesus would do - spend time in their world. Would Jesus go to a gathering of homosexuals and befriend them? I think so. Would he go into a bar and have a beer with a lonely heart? I think so. Would he invite a poor family over for dinner? You know it. Would He spend time with a man struggling with addiction? He would.
I get to talk with a lot of different people via the internet (MySpace, Facebook, etc.) who struggle with homosexuality who tell me they will never darken the door of a church for fear of rejection! That's not right! Shouldn't the church be the first place people look to for hope? There is definitely a spiritual banking crisis that I think mirrors the financial crisis we face in our world right now. For the past 2 years I have encouraged this friend I mentioned to look beyond the way people treated him and simply love them and serve them the way he would want to be loved and served. One recent Sunday morning he finally had enough of the rejection and walked away from the duty he had been fulfilling there...and NOT ONE PERSON has called to check on him!
Jesus did not command us to bring people into the walls of the church building and there they would find salvation. Rather, He commanded us to GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES. Could it be that in our desire to be seeker sensitive we have in reality just delegated our responsibilities to be ministers of reconciliation to the church staff and leadership team on a Sunday morning? Whatever happened to equipping the SAINTS for ministry? Whatever happened to the Great Commission? Could it be it does not fit our cultural need for instant gratification? I don't know. I'm just asking the questions. What I do know is this: Jesus, while on this earth, invested His life in others. To invest our lives in the lives of others is a wise investment...an investment born of relationship that, if we are patient and loving, will lead to salvation, freedom, and hope for those we invest our lives in. Let's stop the spiritual banking crisis by pouring the wealth of all God has done in our lives into the lost and dying right next to us...where we work...where we shop...where we get our oil changed...where our kids go to school...where we live.
(I am Dennis Jernigan and I approve this message)