Saturday, April 22, 2017

Three Days of Ministry

I had a visit today with a local church leader whose had some tough experiences lately.  His wife has been sick for many years, though, thankfully she is feeling more and more like herself.  There’s a church leader that he’s been discipling who had shown a lot of promise but is currently having problems with his family.  We commiserated, laughed and prayed together – it was encouraging.

I always enjoy talking with this friend because he’s been in ministry long enough now that the ebbs and flows of church life don’t seem to rock his boat.  He seems able to keep a good perspective on things whether he’s in the highs or the lows.

This past Easter weekend I was thinking about a formative conversation that Rachel and I had years ago about a theory of “three days of ministry.”  (I checked with her and she can’t remember if we got this from someone else or came up with it together in conversation – so if I’m stealing… ahem, I mean, borrowing… your idea - so sorry).

Now while “three days of ministry” could sound like a short-term mission trip to an exotic location or an exciting conference at a packed stadium, actually it’s a typology that’s been helpful in my life to frame the different kinds of experiences (or days) that one encounters in service to God. 

The original “three days of ministry” that I’m referring to are the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Holy Week.  Good Friday was the day of Jesus’ suffering and death.  Saturday was the day of silence where he was in the tomb. But Easter Sunday was when Jesus burst through in glory and was revealed as our Resurrected Lord.

Jesus’ ministry was capped off by these three pivotal days. And if we spent some time reflecting on his three years of earthly ministry, we could use this Friday-Saturday-Sunday typology to categorize his ministry experiences in this way.  Christ’s earthly ministry was marked by times of suffering, silence and splendor.    

That typology fits with Christ’s ministry as well as the three days in a missionary's life (really any minister’s life).  “Fridays” are the times of suffering when everything seems to be going against you and you may experience abandonment.  “Saturdays” are when nothing seems to be happening - it’s a time of waiting and watching and being faithful.  But “Sundays” are when God’s resurrection power is on display, things are happening, lives are being dramatically changed and everything seems to be clicking. 
Missionaries need to be prepared to handle all three of these days.  In the chart below I show what I think are the questions and temptations that go with our experience of these three ministry days.
Appropriate Question(s)
“Why is this happening? What can I learn from it?”
Despair – “God has abandoned me! I’m all alone!”
“What is happening under the surface?”
Give up - “This is pointless, why should I persevere?”
“Praise God! How can I glorify God in this?”
Pride – “These good things are happening because of me – they are to my credit!”

One thing that I’ve noticed over the last 14 years living cross-culturally is that it seems that there are a lot more “Saturdays” in ministry than “Fridays” or “Sundays”!  The “Fridays” of deep suffering are thankfully rare, while the “Sundays” of splendor are painfully rare, but we’ve been incredibly aware of how so, so, so, many “Saturdays” there are.  While the temptations of despair and pride have certainly been present, the real challenge is holding on to perseverance.  Maybe that’s why, as Frank Viola notes, “at the top of Paul’s list of apostolic qualifications is the hallmark of spiritual power: perseverance” (2009, 166).

I hope this “three days of ministry” typology is helpful to you.  It has been a blessing to me and helped me interpret my own story here in Mozambique through the lens of Christ’s story.

May we be ministers who hold fast to God through all the Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays of ministry!   May we develop Christian servants among the Makua-Metto who faithfully and gracefully encounter every experience of suffering, silence and splendor!

Grace and Peace,


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