I was conversing with a woman at a political gathering last night. When she found out I was a pastor, her reaction was to tell me she was a regular church-goer, and that she felt bad for skipping her congregation’s mid-week Lenten service to be at this event. My response was to assure her that she could come to our service at Trinity, which is on Thursday night instead of Wednesday, but after I got home, I wish I’d said something else.
I wish I had reminded her that volunteering her time and energy for a cause she found worthy WAS church, if she was doing it as a result of her convictions. I wish I’d assured her that going to the church BUILDING was not more holy than presenting herself as “a living sacrifice” for the good of her community. I wish I’d said, “You are not skipping church. You are being church.”
I should rehearse this latter response for next time. I know there will be a next time. There is always a next time. Frequently when people discover I’m a pastor, folks of all denominations (and even other faiths!) repeatedly apologize to me for not being in their houses of worship more often, or reading the Scriptures more often, etc. etc. Sometimes this kind of awareness is healthy–they are reminded of what they are missing–time for reflection, prayer, community, and being fed at the Lord’s table. It might provoke them to reconsider how they are spending their time and energy, and whether or not those things are life-giving. But often guilt is not helpful. Thinking that the only place to worship God is inside a building or to hear God talk is inside the Bible is definitely not good for anyone.
I blame the church. For too long we have silently assented to (if not outright promoted) the idea that “ministers” are the paid professionals who lead worship and facilitate activities for a particular congregation. Everyone else is only “ministering” when they volunteer at the food pantry or teach Sunday school or sing in the choir. This is crazy talk.
What greater ministry can there be than a parent bandaging a child’s skinned knee? Or a social worker trying to find appropriate resources for addressing someone in crisis? Why aren’t medical scrubs and baker’s aprons thought of as ministerial uniforms the way clerical collars are? And for that matter, why isn’t clerical work in an office considered as holy as whatever clergy people do?
Being in a worship service (on any day of the week) is a wonderful way of expressing trust in God and hope for the world. But it isn’t the sum total of worship. And it certainly isn’t the only way to live out your faith. Be just in business and financial dealings. Be patient in relationships. Give generously to the poor. Visit with someone who is lonely. These are ministries. People who do such things are being ministers. YOU are a minister. If all of Jesus’ followers were to see their daily activities as ministry, how might that change the way people understand Christianity?
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” –Colossians 3:17