It’s easy to confuse activity for ministry. We can be very busy doing various aspects of church work, and yet fail to minister to anyone. When your church is small, there are only a few people to do this work, and it is easy to focus on tasks and just “getting through” another meeting or event. The result is people who are tired and burnt out by activity, when little ministry has really taken place. And yet, to fulfill our calling, our churches must be active.
So what is the answer?
This is one of those times where the answer is so obvious that it’s embarrassing even to mention. I believe that the answer here is love. When speaking about the work of the Body of Christ through the gifts of the Spirit, Paul teaches us that without love, all we do is just noise (1 Corinthians 13:1).
To bring it close to home for us, our church has a very active Wednesday night ministry. Each week, we see 30-50 children and teens of all colors and backgrounds come in for Bible study and a snack. They aren’t particularly well-behaved, and they haven’t quite latched on to really wanting to follow the Lord, either. So every week, it’s a bit of a struggle to keep them corralled, on task, and not destructive. We feel a responsibility and calling to this ministry as a church, but sometimes it seems to be all we can do to just make it through the week. But without real love for the kids, is this not just a “trampling of God’s courts” (Isaiah 1:12)?
God is trying to get through to my heart that as a Christian, and particularly as a small-town pastor, He has called me to love greatly. And I have seen that I have failed to do that. I can feel pride about leading ministry to do things that other churches our size or in our area are not trying to tackle, but without real love for the people to whom we are trying to minister, it all truly amounts to nothing.
It’s not that I don’t love people. I do. And I really want to see people come to know and follow Jesus. But God is revealing to me that there is a big difference between wanting to see “people” come to know Jesus and having a particular interest in a particular person knowing Jesus. I can love “people,” but do I love that guy or that kid? God does! Wanting “people” to come to Christ can be about me and my sense of accomplishment, but loving an individual through the ups and downs of their journey to Christ is always centered on God and the other person.
This truth is particularly important in the small church setting. We small town and small church pastors will likely never see the multitudes flood to salvation through our ministry, but if we learn to truly love and value the “one,” then we can see clearly the ministry God has set before us–real ministry that is not just activity.
I know that saying “it’s all about love” is sort of cliche, but there’s a reason Jesus said that all the commands of God hung on our love for God and people. It is the heart of our purpose and our calling. So would you join me in asking the Lord to help us do all that we do in love? May the Holy Spirit open wide our hearts to the particular names and faces and stories we encounter as God sends us out. May He give us the power to truly love.