This is a copy of a talk I gave at midweek Communion at Saint Mary’s ‘The Church in the High Street’ on Wednesday 7 July 2021. The Bible Reading was Mark 6:1-13.
There’s only so much you can learn sitting in a classroom or in a Zoom meeting! I know when I was at Prison Service college, it all seemed so theoretical and easy, but then I was posted to Wormwood Scrubs and the reality of what I’d let myself in for became a very sudden and, at times, an unwelcome, reality. At some point, we need real life experience.
If you want to be a teacher, you need to practice working with children.
If you want to be a mechanic, you need to practice working on cars.
If you want to be a nurse, you need experience working with sick people!
If you want to be a Prison Officer, you need to work with criminals.
If you want to be a vicar, you need to work with real parishioners.
Our education isn’t complete until we get out there and put into practise what we’ve learned. The same is true with the Christian life.
Jesus has been teaching his disciples how to do the work of ministry. And now, In Mark 6, he’s taking them to the next level. He’s saying: “OK! You’ve watched me preach. You’ve seen me perform healings and drive out demons. You’ve watched me love people that have never been loved. You’ve seen me do the things that a servant of God should normally do. Now it’s time for YOU to do it! I didn’t pick 12 apostles so that you could stand around and watch me do all the work! It’s time for YOU to get some experience!” My paraphrase! Jesus gives them 5 tools for ministry, vs6-13:
- Model for Ministry
Firstly, Jesus gives them a model for ministry. Vs6 says that: Jesus went around teaching from village to village. I like the fact that Jesus leads by example. Before he tells the disciples to go out there and do the work of ministry, he was out there doing it first! Jesus didn’t tell us what to do from a distance. He came down and showed us what to do and how to live! He’s a very hands on, practical Saviour.
And notice that Jesus doesn’t wait around for people to come to Him. He left Nazareth, vs1, where he been rejected, and went to the villages. I think there’s a lesson for us here. In Christian circles, we talk a lot about people coming into our churches, don’t we?
But we don’t talk enough about getting church to the people. That’s what Jesus is talking about here! Jesus doesn’t say: Wait in the chancel and pray for people to come in and fill the pews. He’s saying: I want the people in the pews to go to them! The longer I’ve been ordained, 24 years this year (1997), the more convinced I am that most of the ministry that God calls us to do is outside the church.
It happens when we reach out with God’s word to the people in our own communities (work; family; social; neighbourhood). It happens when we discuss our faith in a pub or barbers! It happens when we reach out to those people that God has placed in our lives. It happens when we share Jesus at the: Rotary; WI; Hobby group … when we reach out with the love of God beyond the walls of our churches such as livestream and social media. How the mission of the church has changed over the past year or so.
- Companionship for Ministry
Secondly, Jesus gives them companionship for ministry. Vs7 says: Calling the Twelve to him, Jesus sent them out two by two. It was customary in both Jewish and Greek culture to send messengers in groups of two. That way, if something were to go wrong, there would be two witnesses to testify on behalf of the sender. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says: Two are better than one, because they have a better return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
God never intended that any of us should do the work of ministry alone. We need help! We need encouragement! We need support. That’s why being part of a team ministry is so valuable to me, Margaret, and Rupert and, I hope, to many of you.
- Power for Ministry
Thirdly, Jesus gives them power for ministry. The second part of vs7 says that he: … gave them authority over evil spirits. Sometimes I hear people say: I can’t even overcome the demons in my own life! Let alone anyone else’s. I’m not strong enough! I can’t do it!
And you know what? They’re right! We’re not strong enough! But Jesus is not asking us to do this in our own strength. He’s not asking us to minister in our own power.
He’s not asking us to battle the forces of evil and deception all by ourselves. He’s giving us His power for ministry! If I was in this on my own, then I would probably give up myself. But we are not alone! Philippians 4:13 says: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
- Provisions for Ministry
Fourthly, Jesus gives the provisions for ministry. Vs8 says: These were his instructions: Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Galilee is a hilly and rocky place. No traveller would be without their staff. It helped you to steady yourself when walking up an incline. And if a wild animal or a thief attacked you, you could use it as a club and beat them over the head. So, for a traveller, the staff was an indispensable item. And so Jesus very graciously allowed the disciples to take one along.
And, according to vs9, they could take the clothes on their back and a pair of sandals. And that was about it! Jesus’ tip was that if you are to travel: Travel light! Can you imagine that? Jesus wanted to teach the disciples they will always be able to count on God to take care of them and provide their every need. Remember, this is just a short-term mission project. The apostles are just getting their feet wet. And Jesus wants them to know early on that God’s call will never lack God’s supply.
In fact, two years later, Jesus has the disciples look back on this experience, Luke 22:35: When I sent you without purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything? And the disciples said: Nothing. In other words: There was never a time when we didn’t have what we needed. God always took care of us.
- Practise for Ministry
And lastly, Jesus gives them practice for ministry. Vs12 says that the disciples went out and preached that people should repent. The word ‘repent’ that is used here means ‘to change your mind.’ So, the disciples were preaching that people needed to change their minds about the way they’ve been living their lives. And they need to change their minds about who Jesus was and trust in Him as Lord and Saviour!
It’s not too hard to see how this kind of preaching could cause a problem.
Some people don’t like being told there are things in their lives that need to change. They don’t like being told that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.
They don’t like hearing that they need someone greater than themselves to save them. But praise God, Jesus’ training session turned out to be a great success! Vs13 says that: They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
I want you to notice that the disciples did two things here. In vs12 we see them ministering to people’s eternal needs. And in vs13 we see them ministering to people’s physical needs. It seems to me that God calls us to minister to the whole person! He’s not just concerned about our eternal destiny – although that is the most important need in anyone’s life – He’s also concerned about our immediate wellbeing. He’s concerned about the problems we have right now: Body, Soul and Spirit.
God never intended for us to be spectator Christians. I believe we are all called to be involved in some kind of ministry. And just as Jesus sent his disciples to the hurting people of Galilee, so He is sending us to help the hurting people of Billericay and beyond:
There are many ways you can be involved: Pastoral Support, such as visiting those who are isolated; Food Bank; Saint Luke’s Hospice; Street Pastors; Mothers’ Union! What else/next?
Each one of us needs hands on practical experience. Otherwise, our Christian education/discipleship isn’t complete. as ever, how we need more people to answer that call.
At this point, I need to say: Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord that there are many men and women in our churches who are willing to sacrifice their time to serve the Lord, our churches and community. They have answered the call to follow Jesus and they’ve been a great encouragement to many and a great support to many – no question about that. We are co-workers in, and for, the Gospel. Let us not be reluctant in offering ourselves to serve – especially as we enter into this new post-lockdown world.
Excellent talk, Paul.
Having read Giles Frasers piece just before reading this, I think that what he is saying about the CofE moving forward shows that they are missing the point of a “mother ship”. Churches are there to provide training, nourishment and strength for people to go out and do what you are suggesting here and that is best done with a fully qualified and life experienced “rabbi” to lead them. Thanks for being that for us.