Ministry Inquiry Reflection – 2013
Matt Naugle, 3rd year in Congregational and Youth Ministries
Note: Matt participated in a summer internship program patterned after MIP at the Methodist church plant, RISE, here in Harrisonburg, VA. Because MIP funds are only available for students interning in a Mennonite congregation Matt did not receive as large a stipend as the other MIPers but he did receive some funds from EMU as well as from Haverim, the Bible Department alumni support group. In any case, he found his summer to be very rewarding!
Interning at RISE was a very beneficial and fruitful experience this past summer. To say that RISE operates in a way that is very different from the more traditional format of church that I was raised in would be something of an understatement. Perhaps it is because of this fact that I learned as much as I did about ministry. There are numerous forms of ministry that I was part of this summer and I dedicated more time to some than others during my internship. That being said, I was able to learn something valuable from each of them. Whether it was gleaning, worship, or taking time to meet people individually, I was able to learn much about both the Church and ministry.
One of the numerous forms of ministry that I was regularly part of with RISE was gleaning at the farmers’ market. Every week on Tuesday and Saturday, RISE goes to the market during its last hour to glean food from the various vendors and donate it to food pantries in Harrisonburg. There were days early on when vendors were unable to donate much of the food that they had left over. By the end of the summer, though, we were donating over 100 or 200 pounds of food to the food pantries and charities. The generosity of the farmers was often staggering and humbling because they were literally donating their livelihood and means of economic well-being.
What I was able to learn about ministry from the farmers’ market was that ministry is about hope and the nurturing of hope in the lives of others. The work of ministers is one in which we proclaim the Gospel of Christ, but if the gospel we preach is not one that inspires hope in the lives of the people we minister to, then there is no reason for anyone to believe what we say. We affirm that there is more to our lives here on Earth than simply the empty materialism of our culture. In proclaiming the Gospel of Christ we preach of a world where we are our neighbor’s keeper. We proclaim a world in which the vulnerable are cared for and the injustices of our reality are corrected and dealt with. We proclaim the Kingdom of God. And in doing so we affirm that there is more to be hoped for in life than the hardship and suffering that we all too often see in the world and in our communities.
Growing up, there was a great deal of time and energy devoted to the teaching of Jesus coming to Earth to bring salvation from the otherwise inevitable fate of eternal damnation. But Jesus came for much more than to simply provide an escape from an eternity of Hell. Jesus came to extend love and give us hope for not only a better fate after death, but for our lives here. Jesus healed those who were chronically ill and aided those who were shunned by the system. And He calls us to do the same kind of work. We are called to extend love and justice towards those who are repeatedly defeated by the powers that be. I saw these aspects of ministry in gleaning at the farmers’ market; not because of anything I did, really, but because of the generosity of the vendors who were willing to provide food for those who were in need.
On the first Sunday of my internship with RISE, I was asked to help serve communion. That Sunday, I felt like I was standing on holy ground. I always thought that serving communion was something that elders or deacons in the church did, but never the lay members of the congregation. Over the course of the summer, I would be assigned to various tasks on Sunday morning, from communion to helping out with the children’s church program, Happy Hour. There is much that happens on Sunday mornings that people do not see but are, in and of themselves, forms of ministry because they are necessary. Setting up for worship is a form of ministry in that without the people who help with that each morning; the pastor would be unable to do her job.
What I learned about ministry from worship at RISE is that not all ministry looks like a preacher on Sunday or a Bible study during the week. Yet, that image is often the one that comes to mind when one thinks about ministry. The volunteers who help serve communion and help with the children are also ministers in their own right. So while Sunday morning sermons and Bible studies are indeed forms of ministry, there are many other forms that God uses that we may never recognize immediately because they are not as obvious.
My definition of ministry would be any act that by its very nature extends the love of God to another person. This would mean that actions such as opening the doors of the church building to homeless persons is a form of ministry and not just something nice to do for those who are not as well off financially. There is something very profound that happens whenever we as followers of Christ take the time to extend the love that we believe God has for us to other members of our community. It could be that these forms of ministry are forms of worship in and of themselves because we proclaim that God loves us and also that God loves the people in our midst.
Communion has come to mean something that I hold very close to my heart. Communion, for me, is a promise. It is a promise that no matter what, we are a community in Christ. It is a promise that we are family, that we are brothers and sisters at the end of the day. Communion is a promise that even if we go our separate ways in this life, we will remain a community and a family. Lastly, communion is a promise that when all is said and done, we will all sit at the table of God in Heaven and there, we will once again affirm that we are all brothers and sisters, united with those who have gone before us, with those who came after us, and reunited with those who walked with us. It is our eternal promise to one another. Therefore, it is a truly incredible form of ministry when the community gathers to affirm these promises.
Perhaps the one form of ministry that I spent more time on than anything else this summer was meeting with the people at RISE. And what I found in that community was incredible. I found that as the summer went on, I grew in confidence in my abilities to minister to the people in the RISE community and also outside of that community. I also found that while there were times when we would talk about what was happening in the lives of the people I met with, we would also talk a lot about what was happening in my life. I, as the intern under the supervision of the pastor, would often be on the receiving end of ministry in such meetings rather than the other way around.
What I learned from meeting with the members of RISE was that those who make ministry their life are as much in need to be ministered to as everyone else. As one who aspires to be a minister in some capacity, I learned that I need to allow for time in my schedule to be on the receiving end of that ministry as well. Without receiving this, my ministry will fail because I will not have taken the time to care for my own spiritual needs. Perhaps this is why we have people in our lives who provide spiritual direction. As much as I imagine a pastoral role in the Church as one of ministering rather than being ministered to, there are times when I personally need ministry.
One aspect of ministry that I learned from meeting with people individually was that often, ministry is not knowing what to say, but knowing when not to say anything. Prior to the internship with RISE, I had realized that if I knew what to say to certain situations, what I was actually doing was spouting unhelpful platitudes. But while I was with RISE, I learned to appreciate the value of silence, both when I was being ministered to and when I was ministering. This, to me, is not just a silence of one’s words, but a silence of the mind as well. It is stilling one’s mind and stopping oneself from thinking of ways to respond to what is being said and simply existing in the moment. This is a gift that since being at RISE, I have sought to hone and improve so that I may better listen to the people around me when they need someone to do just that.
I have grown so much in my time with RISE. I have learned to recognize the necessity of hope in our lives and in the Gospel that we proclaim. I have stood on holy ground and realized the power of communion in my life and in the life of the faith community. I realized the need in my life to not only take time to minister but also to be ministered to. Lastly, I have been silent and realized the power that it gives to others, and I have told my story and been empowered by the silence of those who listened. All in all, this experience was nothing short of amazing and I feel truly blessed for having spent the time as part of the RISE community.