In this time of physical distancing, Christians often ask me, what can I ‘do’? What they are struggling with — what we are all struggling with — is the idea that in our lives we serve God by visiting sick people, praying with people, being an usher at church and a thousand other things. Right now, most of those things just aren’t possible, so what do we do? There is a second question I get asked a lot right now (very popular and just behind, ‘Is this the end of the world?,’ and ‘Is this whole thing in the Bible? The answer to both of which is… wait, never mind, that’s a topic for another day): What good do I think will come out of this?
The answer to both of these questions lies in an idea at the center of Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s book, The Trellis and the Vine. The argument of the book is that if you try to do ministry in a way that pitches Christianity as simply doing tasks at church you will run out of roles for people. There are only so many people you need doing worship, running sound, teaching kids ministry, etc. And when your church is large enough, those jobs run out. But if instead the role of people is making disciples of others, then the jobs never run out. There is always someone else to pour into — mentor, develop theologically, meet with to pray for, give advice about parenting, encourage and spur on to good deeds, etc. — and that is a good word, because this is exactly and ultimately what Jesus gave us to do with our time on this earth. His final words to his disciples called ‘The Great Commission” are a call to “Go, therefore and make disciples”. Literally our job in the world is to first be disciples of Jesus: learning his ways, embracing the salvation he purchased for us and living it out in the world, seeking joy in him, and the full life of the Spirit. Learning to be his followers in thought (literally the Greek word for disciple means learner), and deeds (1 John 2:6). And then, secondly, to make disciples of other people.
And that can be done even when we are physically distancing. Leverage technology to take on a few people right now to make disciples of Jesus. Use Zoom, phone calls, texts, emails, social distancing times together, virtual Community Groups, your social media (post about the hope of Jesus vs. some of the more toxic stuff that we see Christians going on about) to do the one thing Jesus asked us to do in the world: make something of others. Do something externally focused at a time when the temptation is to be inwardly focused only.
If we do this, coming out of this we will relearn why Paul pitched formal church ministry not as doing ministry but as the ‘equipping of the saints for the work of ministry’ (Ephesians 4:12). Every person is a minister.
Who can you minister to today? Who do you know that you can say:
This man needs encouragement in life and I want to do that.
This woman needs some wisdom around her marriage right now.
This business person needs direction and I think I can help.
This one needs theological shaping.
This one needs spiritual direction and I think I can journey with them as a friend.
This kid needs some time to chat; and room to cry and talk about her disappointments.
This man needs to talk through his fears, his mistakes, his brokenness, so he can be rebuild.
None of these needs have changed in the environment we all find ourselves.
In fact, they have increased in their need. This whole moment is actually an opportunity. Think about that.
Churches, businesses, parents are all talking about ‘pivoting’. They had to change the way they did things and become innovative in this moment. The same is true about discipleship. It just may look a little different right now. That’s okay.
Everyone can disciple someone. Everyone can pour into someone else for the cause of Christ — and everyone will do that and need that in different measures and contexts. One size doesn’t fit all. But, if you are breathing and a Christian, you are called to this.
This is what we can do right now.
This is the good that will come out of this.
And for good measure, it will be good for you too. Psychologically, they say that when we pour out into others, as long as we are healthy, it feeds our soul as well. It makes us better.
And isn’t that, after all, what we all want right now?