Ministry is a Team Sport

Ministry is a Team Sport

And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

Luke 5:18-20

Did you ever notice that the apostle Paul rarely ministered alone? Paul’s epistles often mention entire lists of co-workers and travelling companions in his apostolic ministry. The Lord Jesus himself made use of co-workers in his messianic ministry. He appointed twelve and then seventy to go forth preaching the gospel of the kingdom. He was often with three close companions in choice moments of his life and ministry.

Just prior to the passage quoted above, we are told that the power of the Lord was present to heal (v.17) and several men (four we are told in Mark) carry a paralytic in need of healing to Jesus. These men discerned something, an opportune moment had come to help their suffering friend – perhaps a once in a lifetime chance to encounter the Messiah under an open heaven of healing power. What was required of these men, and what brought about the extraordinary miracle of healing they witnessed? A few simple things – eight strong arms, perhaps a few hours of time, a common concern, determination, faith, and a kairos or opportune moment.

Let’s consider the elements of ministry which brought this man to a life-changing encounter with Jesus.

1. Effective ministry often requires a team

As stated above, even Jesus and Paul engaged many people in the execution of their ministries. C.H. Spurgeon speaking on this incident in his message “Carried by Four,” put it this way: “There are cases that will need the aid of a little band of workers before they will be fully saved.” If this is so, we do well to ask ourselves, “Who are my co-workers in ministry?” If we can’t answer this question, we do well do ask the Lord to help us develop our connection to a team of like-minded servants of Christ who will enhance our efforts to extend his kingdom.

2. Effective ministry requires determined commitment

These men had a plan of action all put together. Carry their friend into the house and lay him at Jesus’ feet. There was only one problem – the place was a guzhva (a descriptive Croatian word for a disorganized, jostling crowd – you know, a guzhva). There was no way to get in and lots of reasons to give up the entire venture as just a bit of quixotic folly.

Life in general and ministry in particular, rarely go the way we envision them. That should be a given. Planning is a great tool, but our limited foreknowledge makes every plan imperfect in some way. This means that “one-tries” are at a great disadvantage in accomplishing anything of significance. (A “one-try” is someone who tries once and gives up). Any coach or teacher worth the name trains their disciples to make determined commitments. This is a key to accomplishment in any endeavor – not a guarantee, but a pre-requisite. These men possessed a determined commitment to fulfilling their mission, even to the point of heading onto the roof, tearing off the tiles, and lowering the man into Christ’s presence.

Genuine faith possesses this doggedly determined quality – think of the woman with the issue of blood who pressed through the crowd, or blind Bartimaeus who refused to be silenced by the disciples until he got an audience with Jesus, or the Syro-Phoenecian woman who insisted on deliverance for her demon-possessed daughter. Genuine faith refuses to be cowed by obstacles, or even ridicule. There are always reasons to quit. Faith sees beyond these to a cherished outcome worthy of the fight. Dabblers never overcome. Sometimes we have to be willing to change our plans and to tear the tiles off the roof.

The annals of missionary history are filled with those who possessed a dogged determination even through unexpected detours – Williams Cary, Adoniram Judson, Richard Wurmbrand, Mother Theresa. This is not to mention the biblical pantheon of faith – Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and others who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight (Hebrews 11:33-14).

David Platt in his book Radical writes perceptively:

Contemporary church-growth philosophers tell me in magazines, articles, flyers, and gimmicks that to be effective, we must organize everything we do in no more than six or eight week segments. Church-goers today want short-term commitments with long-term benefits.

I am thankful that Christian history has not always operated on this philosophy. David Brainerd (1718-47) spent years suffering through loneliness, depression, and pain before he saw God bring revival among Native Americans in the Northeast. William Carey (1761-1834) stayed committed to preaching the gospel for seven years before he saw one person saved in India. John Hyde (1865-1912) wore his body down through long nights of prayer and fasting in order to see people come to Christ in one of the hardest mission fields in the world, the Punjab. The examples of Brainerd, Carey, and Hyde should inspire us to ask, “What if long-term benefits are reserved for long-term commitments?”

Even the world believes this. Why else would graduating high school seniors commit, to a minimum, four years and thousands of dollars to further their education? Why else would law and medical students suffer through tireless work and grueling schedules? Why else would musicians practice their instruments day after day, or why else would athletes train year after year for a sport? People make long-term commitments all the time out of a desire for long-term benefit (David Platt, Radical, Multnomah Books, 2010, p. 184-5).

3. Effective ministry requires faith and discernment

Genuine faith empowers perseverance. Faith can be defined as a settled conviction regarding an unseen reality. All true faith has as its object the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It believes in His dynamic power to save and to heal, to resolve hard dilemmas. Genuine faith discerns the moment of opportunity, and seizes the moment. Despite all that has been said about perseverance, faith also recognizes how to submit to disappointment without becoming bitter or deluded by denial. There is a time to search and a time to give up (Ecclesiastes 3:6a NIV). This is a fine line.

Christ holds our best interest at heart. These men saw a personal encounter with Christ as the means of healing for their friend. It is only his dynamic power (dunamis) that can forgive, heal, or save.

4. Effective ministry requires a godly purpose

The purpose of ministry is to extend the grace of God to others. We, like the four who carried the paralytic, are privileged to be the means of bringing others into a dynamic encounter with Christ. This is the purpose of these men – to show their friend to the kingdom of heaven. It is compassion for him that moves them, most likely.

We do well to remember that the purpose of ministry is to serve others by showing them the compassion of Christ. As we consider the human condition, including our own, this should come easily, moreso than it actually does. It is Plato who first said, “Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Loss, pain, grief, need, loneliness, depression, and despair are all around us, even in those who seem to have everything going for them. Perhaps especially those who seem to have everything going for them.

As a boy, I often made the trip to RFK Stadium to watch the old Washington Senators play. My brothers and I, our neighborhood friends, and sometimes our Dads would make the 45 minute trip into D.C. We could sit in the outfield at the sparsely attended games for $1, a bargain even then. When it was just the teenagers, we used to have plenty of time to kill. We loved to hang around the locker room exits after the game. Within forty-five minutes players would emerge and we would hound them for autographs. All of which I’ve since lost or thrown away! One summer afternoon we saw the New York Yankees play. They had a pantheon of stars. We chased them for autographs like a swarm of bees. Some obliged, some not. Then, the great Mickey Mantle emerged from the dressing room – every boy’s hero. He went straight to the bus without signing. We stood on a ledge and pounded on the window of the team bus. I looked for a moment into the eyes of a cultural icon. I saw something there that startled my adolescent mind. Even as a kid, I recognized some mysterious adult pain in his distant gaze. I just backed off. Anyone who has read about his life knows that the sport’s great man carried immense emotional and physical pain throughout his career. This kind of painful journey is true for many celebrities, and quite often for those in our own circles whom we think “have it made.”

We each have grace to fight only our own battles. Passing judgment on how others fight theirs is usually beyond our gifting. It is Christ who knows our true burden and our deepest need. He knows the paralytic’s need is the forgiveness of his sins, a release from his spiritual prison as well as his physical paralysis.

5. Effective ministry requires a worthy goal

It seems I just said that in the previous point. Actually, there is a subtle difference between a godly purpose and a worthy goal. The purpose of our ministry is to bless others, our goal is to glorify God, not ourselves or our ministry. After the amazing healing of this man, Amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen extraordinary things today’ (Luke 5:26). The team’s efforts pointed all to the glory of God.

Serving God is a team sport. It often requires a group effort which works together to discern opportune moments, bless suffering people, and bring glory to God. It leaves us with the question, who are my teammates and how are we doing?