Coming Home to Ordinary

After nearly four and a half years of living and serving at a para-church ministry, we returned to “ordinary” life. We signed papers and took possession of home in a new town in a new state. Now, I am seeing “ordinary” in a brand new light.

When this oddball cult of Jesus-imitators first took off two thousand years ago, they had no organizations, para-church ministries, hierarchies, or, for that matter, churches as we know them. And yet, without all the trappings of power and organization, they went from a small local “cult” of Judaism, to about 25 million in 300 years. Everything they did, they did with their neighbors in their neighborhoods. They did it all in the ordinary context of ordinary life. They lived there and served there.

Today, with all the power and clout of massive organizations, billions of dollars of support, global media resources, powerful political lobbying, “Evangelical Christianity” is shrinking. Even in recent history, the “Jesus Movement” of the late 60′s exploded across this nation, then became organized, institutionalized, commercialized, and died before 10 years had passed. Building a “Christian” empire was never the point. This is why it never works.

Our mission, as Christ followers, is to care for each other and those around us. We do what He does. In doing this, we make disciples. You don’t need an organization for that. You just need others working together with you. You also need to be engaged in “ordinary” life.

One thing I noticed while living at this “para-church” community is how visitors tended to see the place as “true ministry,” and their own lives as marginal and “ordinary.” They seemed think of us who lived and served here as “true missionaries,” while thinking of themselves as uninvolved. They often used to express how they would love to live and do as we do.

Even this morning I heard a glowing report about men who raised their hands or came forward or something. These men had decided to go into “full time ministry.” The fact of the matter is that every follower of Jesus is in full time ministry already.

Professional clergy and Christian organizations are not the point. Every disciple plays a full and complete part in the mission. Discipleship is all about this.

Having lived in that para-church community for over four years, I have to say that it was not “true ministry.” It was necessary and, in some cases, vital, but it was not, in any way, the front line. It was more of a necessary evil and a compromise.

Formal ministries, by nature, tend to be isolated from “real” life and everyday people and issues. I suggest that “ordinary” life is the front line. It is where we all need to be engaged. Though we left this “para-church” formal ministry. I think we are finally getting into the real and substantial ministry. This is the kind of powerless movement which outlasts empires, and rescues millions.

I believe that ministry is best conducted in the events and context of everyday life. Even in the para-church ministry we served with, those we served had to “reenter” and exist in everyday life. I am convinced now, more than ever, that if we all served well in the “everyday world,” para-church ministries would not be so necessary.

Unfortunately, the popular idea is that rather than creating thriving communities of serving disciples we have to attach ourselves to a suitable local church to secure a “safe haven” for “Christian” living.

The point is that we are the missionaries; every one of us. So, what do we do?

Here are some suggestions:

Look closely at the practice of discipleship. Become a student of Jesus. Learn how He acts and thinks from the Gospels. Pay careful attention to what He tells us to do and how He does things.

Get together with other believers to work out these things. Study and talk over what you are learning and encourage each other. Spend time together. Take meals together

Look out for each other and take care of each other. Pray together and for others often. As you begin to get good at this, begin to offer help and kindness to those outside your group.

As you move forward with this, you may find God directing your “opportunities.” It is not complicated. It is also not always easy, but the reward is transformation.

You get to grow as a fully invested follower of Jesus, living out his life and work right here and right now.

7 Responses to “Coming Home to Ordinary”

  • Robin Weisbrod:

    Jim, this is so interesting. After I read your blog, I sat thinking, which for anyone that knows me, knows that sitting and thinking aren’t my thing…lol. Anyway, I grew up as a PK (Preachers Kid) in a church home, but the one thing I always remember and carry with me at all times, wasn’t the lessons I learned in my church. They were the lessons I learned in my home, from my Dad. He firmly believed that his best work in honor of Jesus, wasn’t done in the Church in front of the Altar, but in the town that we lived in. He would reach out and help anyone in need, and did it without lectures or expecting anything in return. He would help Dads find jobs, he would put groceries (sometimes from our own cupboards) on the table for a hungry family, he held hand of dying members of the community that weren’t “members” of our church. I remember him going every morning, during the winter, to chopping and stacking wood for an elderly lady in our small town, that had a wood stove and no way to get it into the house….funny thing, she also wasn’t a member — Dad never did the member thing, he did the human thing — he showed me a lot about stewardship and discipleship. He was the closest thing to a true disciple that I have ever had the privileged to know. As I grow older (don’t we all), I am trying more and more to emulate him. Wish I had paid attention earlier in life to what he was teaching me. You and Linda would have like him. I certainly did.

  • Ah Robin! This is exactly what I am talking about. We definitely would have liked him.
    Without lectures or expecting anything in return, he taught by demonstrating. He was a living message because he lived his message. I would have loved to have known him.

  • Mary Muss:

    Great to read that you feel you have come home. Home is a place we all need. I fully support the view that the life of a Christian is in many ways a life of mission, but we need to be careful. The idea can be taken too far, and at it’s worst stops Christians following their own needs and dreams, subjugating the indiviudal’s own importance to an all encompassing life-as-mission world view. I have an ordinary life, I desperately need it, I defend it tooth and nail, because my husband is called to full-time ministry, I am the ordianary anchor that says no, when necessary. But we in the Church need people like him, educated, dedicated teachers and pastors. A non paid Christian cannot devote the necessary time to self education, theology, retreat, spirituality and work with others, without seriously risking the manner in which they care for their own family. No we don’t need to go into paid Christian work to be respected for what we do, but the worker is worth their pay. Many of the sects and weird offshoots of the church have originated from the teaching of lay people, who believe they have a “special” view, not sullied by education and accountability in their view.

    I contest your statement that the church grew in the first 300 years without organisation, there is organisation obvious within the book of Acts and the letters of the New Testament. As humans we need organisation, we need accountability, we need support, and we still struggle with the original sin of pride and lack of humility and fight against the organisation often just because it exists, not because it is actually bad. Bad structures should be removed, or walked away from, but not all structure, that would be anarchy, not Chrisitianity. The Christians of the period just after Jesus ascension also believed that Jesus would return in their human life times. They lived the lives of the survivor, waiting for the rescue, disposing of wordly goods and sharing all because they thought they were not going to be around for long. They faced a huge crisis when they realised they were not going to see Jesus return that soon, so they turned to the teaching the input of the leaders to guide them.

    We know that the world is going to be around for a while yet, who knows how long, so the need for church organisation and teaching etc reflects the fact that we, Christianity, have been around for 2000 years and still going, it is time and life that bring the need.

    It is of course life you live which matters. It is not all about worship services. Jesus himself said what he was looking for was for people to do good works: feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, care and give and walk humbly with your God.

    The problem with going into full time para-church work, as in not clergy ministry but other work, often lies in the poor state of the structure. Lack of boundary, lack of clear lines of what is your personal life and what is work, it is not really that different that what is experienced by people who allow their secular work to overwhelm their personal and family life. There is also often a strong level of well intentioned naivety, on the behalf of those who go into the work. The feeling that you have that this is for God, is not going to solve the very human and gritty problems of living in a new place, with a strange system, and people who do not know you. Those who enter non-clergy ministries, but do not have a clear identity within the organisation as a certain profession or job; say as a doctor or an accountant, can be more easily swallowed by a hungry organisation, or can allow themselves to be swallowed, allowing the “ministry” to take more of you than it should. Good pastoral care and mentoring by people who have learnt how to call those lines, by experience, is important.

  • Janet Carr:

    Jim, Have you read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell? Your blog reminds me so much of his view of Christianity. It’s good to think of you as “Elvis” in action.

  • Oh yeah! I have read it about four times now. We had book clubs around it. I also have the Audio version. We have a few more titles too. We have every Nooma video and “Everything is Spiritual” and “The Gods Are Not Angry.”
    I am thrilled that you are reading Rob Bell

    And uh…Thankyaveramuch!

  • Peter Rocca:

    Dear Jim,
    What a fantastic distillation of thoughts on which you have been ruminating for years! Wow!

    With all tenderness and respect to Ms. Muss, I am not certain, Jim, that she got your hyperbole about the “Church growing without organization.” Any reader of Acts 15 has to see that there was some organization at the beginning. But, “some” is the operative term. Much ugliness has been done in Jesus Name via church and para-church organizations. No church organization can mandate / schedule / organize / maintain the sort of “one another” life evangelism that your article contemplates. I did not find Ms. Muss’ response offensive, but highly defensive.

    At the birth of the Church (Acts 2) or after, was there a professional clergy? Strangely, Paul believes in material reward (“double honor” of 1 Tim 5:17) of excellent ministers, but supported himself exclusively (1 Corinthians 4:12, 9:5). It is nice to imagine that seminary and time to study over the years generates spiritual giants but this truth is not supported by statistics. I am personally aware of shining exceptions to this sad statement, but these wonderful people are neither numbers- nor influence-dominant just now.

    The American Church loves its experts. We live in a time of specialization –why not in the ministry as well as other professions? Too many still see evangelization as something we “bring people to church for so the pros can have at them.” Every function that the pastor / priest / minister carry out can be done by a layperson –or have we abandoned the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:4-10) too? Some would argue that it is qualitative: a theologically trained person can do a better job than an untrained person! Perhaps, but our children grew up knowing that any expert you produced, we could find another expert to contradict them. The only authority left to us is not granted by theological institutions of higher learning, but by the amazing authority of a resurrected life in submission to the Spirit of God.

    What a beautiful explanation your article is of the simple Christian life: loving God by loving your neighbors!
    Keep being ordinary, Jim, and take us with you!

    Peter Rocca
    Newport Beach, CA

  • Peter! So great to hear from you. It’s been years. Is Ms. Song still working for you?

    For our readers; Peter Rocca is a private consultant working out of Newport Beach California. I visited that office back in 2006, but Peter and Song were out on client business.

    Thanks, Peter for posting. We have to get together. I want to hear more about your fascinating exploits. I miss those stories.

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