never spoken to an adult Sunday school class before, and, as a
young seminary student, was anxious to make good. I had worked
hard on my talk, choosing Christian love as my topic.
I was late getting to the church and, of all things, stuck
behind a Sunday driver. The nerve of him, doing thirty-five in a
thirty-mile zone! This is Washington, D.C., not Kansas, and I’ve
got an important ministry to perform. Such was my state of
mind--and patience--at that moment. I edged my bumper within a
few feet of his, hoping he would catch the vision and
No such luck. Within a few blocks he had slowed down
practically to the speed limit.
Then, several minutes later, I watched with dismay as he
turned into the parking lot of the church where I was scheduled
to teach the class. When I got up to speak, he was sitting in
the front row, and he seemed to be giving me a knowing stare. I
flashed my best pastoral smile, and went ahead to talk about the
importance of loving each other with Christ’s love. He did not
seem terribly impressed.
The Real Message
I’ve always known that ministry is not something you simply
prepare for and do, but a way of life. People listen far more to
what you are than to what you say.
But my experience that Sunday demonstrated dramatically to me
what ingenious ways God has of letting people know exactly what
you are. In a large metropolitan area like Washington, the odds
are infinitesimal that someone whom you’re tailgating is heading
for the same destination that you are. But as Einstein once put
it, God doesn’t play dice. He wanted to impress upon me, I’m
sure, that he intends to communicate to others not merely
through my words, but through the small aspects of my life.
Fortunately, I had another experience as a young Christian
that showed me the positive side of this truth. I was driving on
a busy highway late one evening when I noticed an older couple
standing beside a stalled car. I stopped and offered to help.
They asked if I would drive them home, which meant a trip of
some distance into the country. As we drove, the man asked me
about myself. I mentioned that I was a seminary student, and
told him about my ministry in music, but I didn’t witness to him
About a week later, he shared with me that this act of
kindness had restored his faith in Christ.
Walking Is Talking
Experiences like these are rare. But I believe that God
brings them about from time to time in order to give us a window
on an ongoing phenomenon—the fact that he is continually using
our life to make an impression on others for Christ.
This fact should concern us. If we desire to have a ministry
for Christ, then the most essential thing we can do is to watch
over our relationship with him.
But we should be encouraged by this truth as well. For if our
relationship with Christ is what it should be, we can rest
assured that he is using our life in abundant ways to influence
others for himself. It’s to this end that Jesus assured us, “I
am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in
him, he it is that bears much fruit” (Jn 15:5 RSV). As a healthy
branch in a vine bears fruit naturally and spontaneously, we
will unavoidably be effective for Christ when we are rightly
related to him. Ministry will be inevitable.
We fail to fully appreciate this factor most of the time, I’m
certain, because we see only a faint picture of all that Christ
is doing through us. I gave my life to Christ initially because,
when I was 18, several co-workers on a summer job demonstrated
Christ’s love convincingly to me. I lost touch with them shortly
after that summer, and to this day I doubt that any of them have
any idea that their lives drastically changed the course of
View from the Top
Too often we think of ministry purely in terms of doing
certain things--reciting a memorized evangelistic routine,
giving an impressive talk, counseling with a proven approach. Or
ministry is something you “go into” professionally, by becoming
a pastor, youth leader, Christian counselor or missionary.
God does call some of us into such roles, and they are vital.
And all of us can benefit from learning how to minister to
others and express our faith more effectively. But we must not
think that we’re ministering only when we’re involved in
I suspect that when Paul was imprisoned in Rome, many must
have felt he had been deterred from his ministry. That wasn’t
how Paul viewed things. “I want you to know, brethren, that what
has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so
that it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard
and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most
of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of
my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God
without fear,” Paul insisted (Phil 1:12-14 RSV).
Many of think of our jobs or our time in college as a
“prison” to be endured, preventing us from having a real
ministry. Yet Paul’s experience suggests that we are having a
crucial impact for Christ at this very time, through our
relationships with those in these settings, and through every
activity of our lives.
Christ also uses our life and our unique gifts to help others
in countless ways, and this is a vital part of our mission as
well. The ministry of Christ touches every area of human need.
He gives to each of us a unique mix of abilities and
opportunities, which enable us to serve others in ways that no
one else is as well-equipped to do.
Each day brings with it the opportunity to use our gifts to
help others, and to draw others to Christ through the example of
our life. As we are faithful to these roles, God gives us
special opportunities to speak directly with others about
Christ. Yet--and far more often than we think--our life is
speaking volumes to others about him, and Christ is using it in
remarkable ways to awaken others to their need for a
relationship with him.
Ministry is not something out there somewhere; it is now.