We over-complicate ministry. It is very hard, yes, but it is also very simple. The way is clear if we can only remember it together—leading Christ’s church means joining the Spirit of God in conforming the people of God to the image of God, who is Jesus of Nazareth. Paul’s point can only be missed if we do not wish to see it. Leaders of the church are given to promote maturity. Maturity means growing to look just like Jesus.
Does that goal trickle back through every part of your vision, mission, and ministry? Is it the assumed goal of all that you live with your group? If not, consider what has replaced it. And, is what replaced it better? Assuredly, no. Nothing else matters when compared with the call to work for the conforming of all people to the image of God’s Son. That itself is something that bridges our inner health with our outer connection.
3. Search for the sources of the springs.
In Susanna Clarke’s fantasy classic Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a great distinction is made between “books about magic” and “books of magic.” Books about magic? Simple! They outline the theory of the book’s fictional system of magic, delineate its history in dry, dusty terms, and offer academic, hypothetical ideas. Nearly anyone could write one. But books of magic? They do not discuss, they are, and they are arguably far more interesting. And far more rare.
I carry these categories with me into the Christian aisle of my local bookstore. Shelf after shelf of books on display. The bright new releases? Mostly books about—seeking to reframe my thinking, explain a particular doctrine, ponder a cultural idea. However, the classics shelf is filled with books of. I pick up, say, John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul, and I have found something that has been handed down through the centuries because it is a work of true substance. It is of, not about. It is invaluable wisdom from someone on Christ’s path before me.
Many of us have become accustomed to the new and bright instead of the tried and true. We drink, as it were, from the streams of another’s life or reading, instead of continually moving upstream. There are many rich springs in the 2000 years of Christian history. There are springs for the mystic and for the scientific mind, for the emotive and the rational, the artist, the poet, the engineer, the researcher, the parent, the laborer, the child. The true books “of” give a sense of real connection to God. They show real experience, real wounds, real struggle, real victory. They are profoundly original, and deeply formative. They have been preserved for good reason. This is not to say no modern work is in this vein (for the sake of my own writing, I hope it may be!), but time winnows thoughts, and only the best stay with us.
In your work and ministry, go upstream! Always move toward the of not the about. Why? Because the about is limited to information. The of invites us to formation. There is nothing wrong with information, but it’s in the specific, forming action of God’s Spirit and Word that we truly deepen into life.