A Ministry That Flows from Love for God and People


In response to my post “Asking the Radical Questions,” Nate Spencer of The Jesus Paradigm commented with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (one of the patron saints of Cerulean Sanctum) that I wanted to expand:

If you love the vision you have for community, you will destroy community. If you love the people around you, you will create community.

I think this can be distilled into a generalization that always works:

If you love the vision you have for {desired ministry outcome}, you will destroy {desired ministry outcome}. If you love the people around you, you will create {desired ministry outcome}.

We live in a Church age where the visionaries of the Faith hold increasing sway over how we do church. These are usually people on the national stage who have successful churches and are always on the leading edge of ministry. Smaller or less successful churches often try to latch onto the vision promoted by these leaders, but the outcomes inevitably fall short, and everyone looks around and wonders what happened.

What happened is that Bonhoeffer’s warning came true: The church loved the vision more.

I don’t believe that this is ever a case of not loving God enough. I think that any movement in the Church that aims at a new vision begins from a love of God.

Where the Bonhoeffer warning comes into play is when the vision fails to love people as much as it loves God or loves the vision itself.

If you look closely, I believe you can find numerous examples in the American Church of the love for a vision overwhelming the love for people.

Take the way we worship, for example. It’s easy to fall in love with worship as an event. We may even go one further and do a good job of loving worship because to worship is to love God.

But how easy is it to have a vision for worship that actually excludes a love for people? And in contrast, what does worship that loves people look like?

I’ve been involved with worship as both a worship leader and as a supporting musician. I have planned worship, led worship, managed playlists, played and sung music, written new worship songs, and so on. I have a bit of expertise.

One thing that I see continually is that forgetting to love people leads to worship that

1. Reflects only the favorite style of music of the worship leader or musicians on the worship team

2. Contains powerful, anointed music that, unfortunately, the ordinary people in the seats find difficult, if not impossible, to sing

3. Fails to incorporate what have been past favorite songs of the people in the seats because those favorites do not match the current vision for worship

4. Mimics the worship style of whatever “famous” church the local church is trying to emulate, regardless of the past worship history of that local church

5. Fails to consider what leads nonmusicians into worship

I don’t mean to pick on worship alone here, but the worship wars are a continual topic online and worship is readily witnessed in our churches.

The reality is that any vision for doing ANYTHING in our churches that does not prominently uphold a love for people as much as it does a love for God or for the vision itself will ALWAYS produce lackluster results—or worse, heartache and burnout.

I’ve mentioned before my career in camping ministry. A surefire vision for burning out camp staff is

God first

Campers second

Staff third

Frankly, you can sink any kind of ministry with a vision that puts frontline workers third. As they are the people with whom most ministries have the deepest connection, Love thy neighbor billboardthey need to be higher up on the priority list and need to be loved almost as much as God. I’ve worked in ministries that got this right and ministries that didn’t. Let me say that any ministry that puts its staff third is a terrible place to work, a place that pours out staff until the vessel is empty. And the opposite is true: A ministry that loves its staff will see ministry come from the carefully cultivated overflow of staff’s hearts, never running dry.

There’s not a person reading this who doesn’t have a horror story of how a vision for ministry steamrolled simple love for people. Isn’t that sad?

Truly, any life-changing ministry that continues to produce results comes down to loving other people more than the vision for the ministry itself. Why this is so hard to see is one of the most maddening mysteries in the modern American Church.

In the end, one of the things the Lord is teaching me goes back to what you and I learned as Little Sunbeams (or whatever your childhood church used to call preschoolers):  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It seems so simple, yet we tend to forget it when it comes to ministry. The question remains though: Does the vision for ministry take into account the Golden Rule?

When I led worship, I tried to always ask the question of what best leads the people in the seats into worship because I genuinely desired to love those people. And that end result didn’t always lead to  my favorite kind of music. Many times it was simplistic songs or hymns everyone knew word for word,  the two or three classics I’d been trying to move beyond for years.

But it wasn’t about me or my vision; it was loving God and loving people. Everything else proceeded from that mentality.

This isn’t so hard, folks. Yet if we fail to heed Bonhoeffer’s warning, it always will be.