After spending years reading books and emails by Tony Payne, a gifted and prolific writer, I’ve become used to living with the fact that—at least comparatively—I just don’t have the gift of the pen. (Keyboard? Nah, ‘pen’ still sounds better.)
My love for ‘writing’ comes through in the amount of time I spend with my (overpriced, but still worth it) ReMarkable digital notepad, jotting down anything and everything that comes to my mind. So maybe I’m a ‘jotter’ rather than a ‘writer’. Anyway…
Recently, after spending a number of weeks planning for and running several Vine Project Workshops, I started to organize my jotted notes and thoughts from that time. As I did, a certain note stood out to me very clearly. It was a question I posed to the people in front of me that wasn’t originally in my talk outline. There it stood staring back at me:
“Is your ministry Christlike?”
I had asked that question to the dozens of churches and people in attendance. Now it is still there, asking me the same thing. Is my ministry—both personal and with my church—shaped by the form and priorities of Jesus’ ministry?
While thinking about this question could take you in a number of different directions, let me fill you in on the specific angle I want us to wrestle with. Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28 is known by all, but what we don’t want to miss is that it didn’t come out of nowhere. Among the many places in Matthew’s gospel you see the seedbed for it, 9:37-38 is one of the most striking. It could be called the Great Pre-Commission!
Jesus tells the disciples that there is a great harvest but too few laborers for that harvest. He tells them to pray for more laborers. Then, in chapter 10, Jesus immediately sends out those same disciples to Israel to proclaim the kingdom of heaven. They are the answer to their own prayers.
Fast forward to chapter 28 and you see another commissioning. This time Jesus doesn’t restrict them to Israel but tells them rather to go to all the nations, the Gentiles—those who are clearly not God’s people. Jesus is basically saying “Go and make disciples of your enemies”. That is what he had done—made disciples of religious enemies, cultural and moral outcasts, of all people.
There is so much more to explore and so much more to be said about these themes in the gospels. But the point of this short ‘note to self’ is to ‘stir you up by way of reminder’ (as Jesus’ disciple Peter says in his last letter).
I hope looking at the question above ‘stirs you up’ to go back and look at Matthew 9:37-38, Matthew 28:16-20 and everywhere in between. For there you will see Jesus’ ministry of calling fellow workers and deploying them. And then, as he departs, calling them to make disciples from the current stock of God’s enemies. Those who then obey that call to serve the Lord Jesus, go on to obey him and his command to make even more disciples.
So, consider this simple question for your own context:
What does it mean for your ministry to be Christlike?
To be a work of replication. For example, you aren’t only training someone in the habits of Bible reading and prayer, but also for them to be able to pass on the habit by word and example to others.
To have an evangelistic edge. You are intentionally spending time with people to talk with them about the gospel. Every pastor, and indeed most thoughtful Christians, say they are with Jesus on this. But if you were to assess your time, in relationship and in prayer, does reality match the earnestness of conviction?*
(*A great new resource to help you on this is Ian Carmichael’s fresh-off-the-presses book Busy
. Of the many things his book stirs you to do is a time assessment with your relationships. It is challenging, but helpful.)
Working at the above is more than just adding a few programs or practices here and there. It is about a Christlike ministry culture throughout the church and down into the lives of each of its members. I like how one church’s mission statement puts it: the culture we want to cultivate is ‘to make disciples in ever increasing numbers’.