… or, learning, through reading the Bible, how to serve others as Jesus did.
Since handing in my notice last week (I am about to move to pastures new), I have been reflecting, not only on what has been achieved through my ministry, but why and how. To do so I have returned to a Bible passage I used for a piece of Ministerial Theological Reflection several years ago. It is the story of an encounter between Jesus and a man called Legion, and can be found at Mark 5.1-20. Below is a summary of four main features of Jesus-shaped mission and ministry I have drawn from the passage:
Stepping out into the unfamiliar
- Jesus and his disciples have crossed Lake Galilee to “the country of the Gerasenes”. Not only is this unfamiliar geographical territory, it is Gentile, so the religious and cultural background of the people is very different to that of the Jesus and his disciples, who are Jewish.
- Location and cultural identity is important. If we are to be the ‘Body of Christ’ in the world, it is not just for those to whom we comfortably relate to in our familiar day to day lives. Venturing into the unfamiliar, among those who cultural identity and way of thinking are different to ours, is a necessary part of Christian witness.
Seeing Christ in everyone, and expecting to learn from our encounters with them
- Legion, whom Jesus encounters when he first arrives, has significant mental health issues, such that he has been forced to live in the graveyard outside the village for the safety of himself and others. There is not a less likely candidate for the accolade of ‘first person to identify the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth.’ Although there is no reason why he should know who Jesus is, Legion approaches and bows down before him, addressing him both by name and title: “Jesus, Son of the most High God.”
- Sometimes we need to be challenged to see the world from a different spiritual perspective. To be open to learning from, and being surprised by, such encounters are evidence of the Holy Spirit at work, and can be symbiotic – a process resulting in positive change on both sides.
Facilitating transformation with a commitment to the long term
- As Jesus sets about healing Legion’s afflictions, Legion suddenly becomes afraid. He is unsure of his future identity without the accursed mental afflictions which have tortured him for so long. And yet, when his fellow villagers arrive at the scene, they find him “clothed and in his right mind.” Jesus entrusts him into the care of those who know him best and can support him longterm.
- This is a process I have seen many times in my chaplaincy ministry. Change can be a slow business. Presented with the possibility of change, people who are so used to things the way things they are, face an unknown reality stretching into the future. It can be terrifying. Genuine transformative change is a lengthy process, and requires more than a single quick-fix solution. Ongoing support needs to be facilitated, not always under the auspices of the church community.
Trusting that God works beyond the bounds of church congregations
- The villagers ask Jesus and his disciples to leave. We are not told whether it is because they are afraid of his healing power or annoyed because he has chased a perfectly good heard of pigs to their death in the lake. One thing we do know is that, when Legion asks Jesus to take him with him, Jesus says, “No,” asking him instead to go and tell the people in his own village what Jesus has done.
- Our ministry in the world doesn’t always result in new church members. We cannot see into the future of those we serve, nor can we guarantee that those who cross our paths will continue along them with us. All we can do is bless them as they go, asking that they tell their story of transformation as they do so.
What I call ‘Jesus-shaped mission and ministry’ is also known as ‘incarnational theology’. To read more about the scriptural background for my incarnational theology click here.