The word "ministry" evokes a wide range of emotions, opinions, and ideas, especially from those in the Church. What makes a ministry successful, fruitful, and sustainable? What exactly should ministry look like? In the end, who is ministering to whom? Today's post is the first ever guest post on this blog and is written by our friend and former Pastor, Charlie Collier. This is a man who handed out his personal cell number to homeless drifters and church members alike, a man who valued the teaching of women enough to share his pulpit with them, and a man who loved this city and its people in a uniquely tangible way. Their family has been a blessing to all of us during their time here, and they will be dearly missed! Here's what he learned about ministry as he pastored our church in the city of Cleveland for over a decade.
guest post by Charlie Collier
Inner healing is greater than outward success.
A successful ministry, in my opinion, was defined by the size of church, charisma in leadership, and the number of years served. I’m not sure if that alone makes one feel good at the end of their career, but it was a status I was trying to reach.
In that trying, the Holy Spirit did a deep work in my life. Four years ago I had a breakdown. It wasn’t one of those breakdowns in which I was working so hard for Jesus that I just wore myself out. I had a breakdown for many reasons – genetics, family history, and years of OCD and anxiety. It all came to a head one night and I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop walking, and felt totally worthless…and it continued for a long time.
It is said that God’s office is at the end of your rope, and in that pit, I met the crucified Christ. Now, it wasn’t like this “one time” experience and I was good to go. I have heard about those, but that wasn’t my experience. Through medication, counseling, and family support, the Holy Spirit has done and continues to do a healing work in my life.
The reliable mark of the Holy Spirit at work in your life is not so much divine peace, but birth pangs. – Christoph Blumhart
You can’t fake it till you make it.
Sometimes it’s just easier not to live in reality. Interestingly, I have found this especially true for Christians.
Much of my life was living in denial of sin. When you’re in denial, you don’t seem that bad. When you’re in denial and compare yourself to others, you can actually feel great about yourself.
In the 1971 play by William Inge, My Son Is a Splendid Driver, the main character is reflecting on hearing his 66-year-old mother share that that his father gave her an STD from being with a prostitute while on a business trip.
“Mother had stopped going to church. ‘Church is just a place to go when you’re feeling good and have a new hat to wear.’ There was a little bitterness in what she said, but there was also truth. Our minister would have been the last person in the world she could have talked to, to have lifted the curse she felt upon her and saved her from feeling damned. She would have embarrassed the man into speechlessness had she gone to him with her story. He would have been unable to look at her or my father without coloring. Most of our morality, I was beginning to think, was based on a refusal to recognize sin. Our entire religious heritage, it seemed to me, was one of refusal to deal with it.” (pp. 152-153)
The Church can be an easy place to hide. Ministry can really be an easy place to hide. It’s a horrible prison.
There is an old church prayer called The Collect for Purity. It is prayed together at the start of the service. The first line says - “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid…”
You can’t hide from God, and that is so freeing. When you become honest about sin and “have to deal with it,” you begin to understand that Christianity has some “Good News.”
Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. It is being loved when you are the opposite of lovable. – Paul Zahl
We need more Pastors, not Leaders.
It’s a whole lot easier to talk, write, and dream about a vision of impacting a neighborhood than it is to perform an overdose funeral, sit at a bedside, or see a family you have loved and cared for leave your church.
These days most of the trainings, books, and conferences for Pastors are to help you to be more of a “strategic” planner, “innovative” thinker, and “dynamic” leader. Ugh…give me a break.
Life is very hard for a lot of people. I totally understand why someone shoots up dope and thinks about jumping off the highway overpass. There are no quick fixes, no easy answers, and no one is “really recovered” until they meet Jesus face to face.
But in my circles, this in not discussed. The method of ministry and the reality of life does not match up. In moments of pain, crisis, nervous breakdowns, relapses, and failures (which everyone experiences at some point in their life, many acutely), where do you turn?
Many will try the Church, and many [who are struggling] are already in the Church, and they could care less about what is on the website. No one gives a darn about vision, values, worship style, or building decorations when life is falling apart.
A couple things I have learned along the way:
1. Pastors, be so in touch with your own personal pain that you can handle someone else's. This will lead to compassion instead of judgement.
2. Pastors, be open to confess your sin and constantly share your dependence upon the grace of God, and not in vague terms. This creates a culture of honesty.
3. Pastors, preach Christ died for sinners, every week, in all kinds of different ways. No one really believes it, and it’s so easy to forget. This keeps Christ and the cross central.
4. Pastors, share that God is the active agent and we are the passive one. It’s so easy to manipulate people by behavior modification mumbo jumbo. Christians have the Spirit of God living in them. This brings hope and humility.
The only people who get better are people who know that, if they never get better, God will love them anyway. – Steve Brown
We are all the same.
It’s been a dream to pastor in Old Brooklyn. After a mission trip when I was 14 years old, I wanted to do ministry in an urban context. I believe my motive was good and pure; I just wanted to help people in need.
I was going to bring all my opinions, ideas, and strategies to help people and change a neighborhood…for Jesus, of course 😉. I would have never said it like this, but I was mighty mouse – “here I come to save the day.”
I have far less answers than I did 10 years ago, but I have learned that people everywhere are all just the same. Society puts so much emphasis on our human identity and our differences. We see it everywhere, but we are much more alike than different. I have found this to be true so many times in the last decade.
One day at the end of a Sunday service, a drunk, homeless man was getting very rowdy and vocal during our coffee time. I kindly escorted him out and walked him up the street. Yes, I was annoyed because this was getting to be a frequent event. He rambled as we walked, and at one point he looked at me and said, “I’m messed up man.”
I said, “Don’t worry. We all are.”
He went on, “Man, my doctor put me on this f*&%ing medicine because I’m so f*&$ed up.” The mood stabilizer medication he mentioned was the exact one I was taking. Now, I was wearing a sports coat and leather shoes and his clothes smelled of urine, but when I told him I was taking the same medication, he looked me directly in the eyes and said, “you and me are no different.”
He was right.
We all deal with the curse of sin, and we all need an unconditional love that only comes from above.
I don’t have any trouble relating to people on the other side of the tracks, because we are all on the other side of the tracks. – Bob Dylan
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