This is going to be So. Much. Fun for me. (And for you, I hope!) So indulge me here, because I LOVE this stuff.
Look carefully and you might see my bemused smile on my face! It is just so comical to me how easily we take what Jesus made so simple, only to make it so insufferably complicated.
And to be perfectly honest with you, I am awestruck. That’s the tone with which I want to teach this PODCAST’s passage.
I am awestruck at Jesus’ ability to say so much in so little, so many thoughts communicated in so few words. All of which so practical, helpful, relevant, refreshing, and inspiring to us today.
Let me set it up like this: You know the guy in the circus with the hundred plates spinning on a hundred poles? OK. So here’s my question:
What does that picture of a hundred plates spinning high atop a hundred poles have to do with this portrait that Jesus paints here in Matthew 10? The simple, uncomplicated picture of giving someone who is thirsty a cup of cold water?
A picture, BTW, that forms the conclusion to Jesus’ training manual for ministry. The ministry manual that we have been studying for lo these eleven weeks or so. The Ministry Manual that Jesus gave to His apostles to prepare them for their very first missions trip.
What do spinning plates have to do with a cup of cold water? As you are about to hear, Everything. Everything.
Let’s begin by reading Matthew 10:42 –
42 And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.”
Now, you may begin to think that these words have nothing to do with you. After all, these are words Jesus said to His Apostles some 2,000 years ago, and are used often to instruct men and women involved in full-time ministry work, but most people believe that this passage is not targeting them or their lives whatsoever. It’s always nice to learn something, even if it pertains to someone else, but it doesn’t apply to “non-full-time-ministry” folk.
Au, contraire, my friend. It has everything to do with you and me, as committed Christ-followers.
Now, nearly every perspective graduate from seminary or perspective clergyman seeking ordination is asked the same question: What is your philosophy of ministry?
This question typically needs to be answered – either verbally or in written form – in the style of a collegiate term paper. Very detailed. Very involved.
For His sake, it’s a good thing Jesus didn’t attempt to be ordained by today’s standards. He wouldn’t have passed. You see, Jesus’ condensed His philosophy of ministry into one sentence – just six words.
You see, by today’s standards, en route to laying out someone’s philosophy of ministry, therein lies two sub-questions. They are: What do we do? Why do we do it?
Every church congregation has answers to these questions that help guide them in their ministry. The answers set the framework for whatever the church does and the reasons behind what they do, thus revealing the church’s philosophy of ministry.
And this philosophy of ministry reveals the priorities of any given church or pastor. It is also reflected in the church’s budget. Whether or not a church has everything from Awana classes to Discipleship programs, from choirs to softball leagues, from community programs to Men’s and Women’s retreats… The list is endless of what the church does, what is funded, and therefore why the church does or avoids these things.
All this to say, an almost universal “church ministry template” has developed over recent years. It results in what I call a “program driven church”. Some, based on the popular book, call theirs a “purpose driven church”, but these “purposes” are almost always manifested in the church’s programs. So, which term is more accurate?
If you attend virtually any church throughout America, and scan their weekly bulletin, you will read a laundry list of programs, along with appeals for members of the congregation to either attend, and/or serve in, and/or financially support the programs of the church. What has, sadly, evolved is an atmosphere where the church is the center of our spiritual lives and its programs are the heart of the church.
The trick is that each of these programs require time and attention, and the people of the congregation, and its pastors begin resembling the plate spinners at the circus.
As a direct result, all of the whining, complaining, criticizing, tension and division within today’s churches stems from someone getting their nose bent out of shape over some aspect of a church program.
This is why I find Jesus’ words so breathtakingly refreshingly relevant to all of us today.
What was Jesus’ philosophy of ministry? It can be reduced to merely six words: See a need, meet the need.
Jesus further amplifies this in chapter 11:
“Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”
Put this alongside Matthew 10:42 and you have the core of the mission that Jesus gave to His apostles – His philosophy of ministry. So, by extension, these two phrases serve as our training manual today!
That’s all He asks of us. If you want to serve God, meet the needs of the people you see who are in need around you.
Yet, how many Christians today don’t have a spare second, let alone any extra energy to see and meet the needs of the people around them? They are so busy “doing church stuff” (aka getting involved in the church’s programs).
Think about it this way: Jesus told His apostles, “If you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” He did NOT say, “Go into each town’s synagogue, set up a meeting with each of the towns’ rabbis and impress upon them the need to set up a water distribution program, or a “cup of cold water” ministry. It wasn’t about creating programs full of volunteers in order to get cups of cold water out to those in need. It was about giving a thirsty person what they need.
It’s not that complicated.
What’s crazy is that if we simply saw people’s needs and met their needs, there would be so little to quibble over.
If only our churches operated as they were originally intended. The Apostle Paul put his philosophy of ministry this way, when he wrote to the church in Ephesus:
“Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teaching pastors so that His people would learn to serve others and His body would grow.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Churches shouldn’t be ministry centers. They should be “serve others” centers!
Hebrews 10 puts it this way:
“Let’s consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
In other words: See a need; meet the need.