Vol 4:3 Mission and the Left-Over Hours of Our Week

Last week I realized something as I was meeting with my spiritual triad – 3 of us meet weekly to talk about what is going on in our lives and how we are seeing God in the midst of it. It is not that I did not know this before, but somehow it came as a deeper realization that changes how we go about engaging others in mission.

I realized that most churches in North America focus on equipping people for ministry for the left-over hours of our week. Is that not what our volunteer hours are? Church ministries seek to equip us to engage in ministry for the time we have left over after we are finished with our daily work, with driving the kids to sports, with running errands, working around the house, and when we are not on vacation or taking some needed time off. That led me to wonder if that is what Jesus meant when he commanded us to “Go and make disciples” in Matthew 28. “Go and make disciples with the left-over hours of your week.”

We all know that is to miss the point, however, that is the way we are and how we act in equipping the people of God for ministry.

Just how much time do we have or give to volunteering in America? It seems on average, both adults and teenagers, that we give about 3.5 hours of our week to volunteer. Now that can add up to a lot of hours when you include the millions of us who are volunteering – over 8 billion. This also includes volunteering for religious organizations, which comprises about 34% of the hours that are volunteered (cf. http://www.volunteeringinamerica.gov/national).

So, then if we realize that Jesus had something more in mind than making disciples with the left-over hours of our week, how does that affect or alter our view of mission, of participating with God in mission, and even transform the way we are the people of God within society?

As has been well pointed out by missiologists, what Jesus expresses in Matthew 29:20 is “as you go about living your life, as you go about what you do during the day, be about making disciples . . .” The imperative or command is not “Go,” but rather “make disciples.” The “go,” which is translated as a command is actually a participle expressing the temporal context – while we are doing something. Therefore, Jesus is expressing that “as we go about doing whatever we do in life, we are to be about making disciples.” This changes our whole understanding of what we are to be about in equipping the people of God for ministry and mission. We are called not only to give attention to the left-over hours of our week, but actually we are to equip the people of God for mission for the best hours of our weeks – while we are working, while we are with our family, while we are running errands, taking the kids to their school events and sport practices and games, while we are shopping, while we are on vacation or taking me time. If we on average volunteer 3.5 hours per week, and then giving us some time to sleep, that leaves about 100+ hours per week in which Jesus calls us to be about making disciples.

Well, how then do we go about shifting how we equip God’s people for ministry and mission?

First of all we need to give primary attention to the primary hours of our week – for example: the places where we work. We need to think of the context of our ministry as not merely the places we go to during our volunteer time (our left-over hours), but rather, the places where we are when we are working. Now some may wonder how we can be about sharing the good news of the Gospel when we are to be working. What may be required in answering this question is a different understanding of ministry, a different understanding of what it means to share the Good News.

Ministry happens not just when we take a moment from our work in order to listen to someone and to share with them about Jesus. We need to think of ministry in more incarnational ways, in more inclusive ways – that ministry happens while we are working, in the way we work, in the decisions we make, the processes that we develop, etc. To minister incarnationally is not to divide our time between work hours and left-over hours, but rather to see all of life as the context for our being missional partners with God, who is making all things new. We minister incarnationally in the way we treat people, the way Jesus would. We minister incarnationally in the way we do our work with integrity, the way Jesus would. We minister incarnationally by acting in ethical ways, treating colleagues and employees and employers with dignity, being honest with customers and clients, producing products and services which benefit rather than harm, and so forth. Seeing ministry in this more inclusive way is what Francis of Assisi had in mind when he expressed, “In whatever you do share the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.”

So, as we go about living and working – as educators, as health care workers, as business persons, as professional persons, as technicians, as laborers, as students, as persons working at home – in all these contexts, these are the primary contexts in which we not only work, but in which we are called to be about the work of God in the world.

So, perhaps, when we commission or ordain persons, it is not only the ones who are called to religious ministry upon whom we ought to lay on hands for anointing, but everyone who holds down a job or goes to school or is looking for work or is retired – these are the ones we ought to be blessing for the ministry of Christ Jesus in the world – because this is where and when Jesus primarily ministered.

So, may we be like Jesus, not only in the left-over hours of our weeks, but during the 100+ hours which are the primary parts of our weeks.

  1. Malcolm Kern says:

    Good thoughts. I got to a similar place by thinking about what happens if we translate the next participle in the Matt. 28 text, instead of merely transliterating it: “In your going, make disciples of all peoples, immersing them into the name/reputation/lived reality of Father, Son and Holy Spirit …”

    If our daily lives are immersed in the lived reality of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then we will indeed be doing what St. Francis advised.

    And indeed, teaching people how to live such an immersive life is quite different from teaching them how to proselytize by formula.

    • Roland says:

      Malcolm, I appreciate the focus on immersing – immersing ourselves in the life and lived reality of the Father, Son and Spirit – gives focus to our living missionally in the world – we live lives immersed in the purposes of God rather than our own purposes

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