Sunday Reflections: Is ministry just a pyramid scheme?

A minister is someone who serves. Service is part of who we are and not just what we do. At least that’s what I heard as I sat through our sermon at Captivate Presbyterian church this Sunday. It’s a tender topic for me because I’ve wrestled with the relationship between ministry and activity and identity for awhile now. If what we do repeatedly is who we are as Aristotle said, then isn’t one’s relationship to God simply reflected in their service, where their ethical life is? So often it seems to be a guise for all manner of people pleasing and doing what others want; meeting obligations in other words.

I don’t doubt that service is a good thing. A properly packed quarter pounder at McDonald’s can make one’s day. But its nature is elusive. What does it mean to serve out of how Christ has served us? Why did Jesus and Paul care so much about a servant life? I think it comes down to the inward nature of fear. Offering up your money or signing up your time to a ministry program out of guilt comes from an irreverent fear, the one between master and slave, that fears only punishment.

On the other hand, you want to live freely and not out of fear of others. So you don’t serve anyone. You hold yourself close. And you guard yourself. In the end you up serving yourself. And this comes out of fear of a different kind – fear of loss.

In the end I think our lives are inescapably tied to sacrifice. It is part of worship. And everyone worships something as David Foster Wallace observed. Our hearts were made to love. Service is that sacrifice of love. And we’re restless until we find rest in the proper object of our loves.

To serve well is to serve freely not out of fear of punishment or loss. It is to serve out of wholeness from a perfect love that has cast out all fear. This is a reverent fear of awe and delight. The identity of a servant as Jesus’ describes I think is not one who accomplishes or conforms to the needs of others. A servant is the one who is great because he has the least. Because he is the one who has the most. And in dying he gives life and causes another to live just as every mother experiences at a new birth. This is what Jesus offers us in his love to us – by dying to reconcile us and rising to overcome death, he invites us to participate in the same life that he lived.

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell. C.S. Lewis.