Today is Good Friday, and so I spent my lunchtime reading John 19. Somewhere in the midst of the meditation, an insight hit me that is not new per se, but that I haven’t really spent a lot of time thinking about in relation to the crucifixion:

Ministry requires not one but two struggles and submissions: God’s and ours.

The beginning of ministry is that God in Jesus suffered, struggled, dealt with fear and pain and doubt and that in the end he submitted himself to humiliation, more pain, and death.

Without the real, visceral, psychologically tormenting suffering, Jesus’ humanity – his very ability to not just identify with but steal our sins away from us – would have been compromised.

Without his submission, the gospel would not have been accomplished and the God-man would have been just a really good crazy guy.

Without both, ministry’s only foundations are mythical moralism, feel-good gimme-ism, or dejected fatalism.

And it’s true for our ministries too:

Our struggles, like Jesus’, help us to identify with each other and now with God himself. Without them, ministry never matures and deepens and faith is plucked up off the ground or withers in the sun (Matt 13:1-9).The real humanness of leaders (and their willingness to be open about it) is a vital part of this identity, too.  Otherwise, we tend to get confused as to who is the most important – the leader or the master.

My mother-in-law gave up on a ministry like this when the leaders were not only unwilling to face hard questions but even hesitant to mention the word “God” in worship for fear it might alienate some seeker who wasn’t ready to hear that. It became self-help, not faith-building and kingdom-growing.

Now all ministries naturally struggle – what I’ve alluded to that sets apart those that struggle faithfully is that they are open about it and even embrace it at times.  Missional church leaders Roxburgh and Romanuk have documented that change in churches follows a pattern like other organizations that includes times of great conflict and confusion. It is whether and how churches address the struggle that distinguishes those that continue the progress to time of more positive energy and those that stay mired in negativity.

One of the largest pieces of that is submission. What does that mean in ministry?  It means being in constant prayer and observation about the will of God and his goals to achieve his purposes through his ministry with his creation.

It also means not holding our own desires and plans above his, even if they seem super and even appropriate to the situation. I have had to learn this recently as I wonder how (and sometimes if) God is going to use the investment his church made in my education and ministry preparation – as I apply for yet another ‘just a job’ to support my family.

On a larger scale, it can mean sacrificing favorite programs to focus on others more suited to God’s gifts as expressed in that community and the needs of creation in the broader environment. Far too many churches have failed because leaders know how to do ministry and what “ministries” that involves when really people in the neighborhood could use interview clothes more than yet another group offering to cook them Thanksgiving dinner.

In the end, we as people and we as the Church are the imago Christi, the image of Christ, and on Good Friday and throughout the year, we must learn to live with, grow through, and become out of – his and our struggles and submissions.