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Jesus — Our Model for Ministry

There are three essential elements from Jesus’ model for ministry that serve as an example of pastoral care for us.

By George O. Wood

Books and seminars on leadership dominate pastoral reading. And that is good. The axiom is true that an organization or a church does not rise higher than its leader. But do leadership and ministry equal the same thing? I do not think so. Ministry includes much more.

When I am looking for an example or prototype for ministry, I first look to Jesus. How did He minister? What kind of a minister was He? If He is the Chief Shepherd (Pastor) and I the undershepherd, what kind of pastor or minister am I to be? If I am to follow in His steps, what were His steps?

Let me lift from His ministry a brief moment that encapsulates Jesus’ pastoral concern. I do not pretend that this pericope represents the totality of truth about Jesus as our model for ministry, but I find in it three essentials which serve as an example for us.

The incident I will examine is that of the bleeding woman in Mark 5:21–34.

Time

Anyone worth his salt in ministry is busy. Every day our agenda is full from morning to night: prayer, study, appointments, phone calls, meetings — and interruptions.

As the church I pastored grew, I found I could increasingly delegate. That permitted me to become more focused on areas of my own gifting and interest. I spent the majority of my time directing my own agenda. My to-do list was always full and the calendar had what I wanted on it. I permitted a few interruptions for dire emergencies and people who just needed to get to me, but otherwise my time was pretty much my own.

That pattern is a good sign of efficient and effective leadership — delegation of responsibility and authority, with concentration on your own strengths. It is the Exodus 18 model when Jethro told Moses that good leaders do not try to do everything, or the Ephesians 4:11,12 instruction that ministerial leadership involves being the coach of the team rather than the star.

I stepped out of the pastorate into district leadership as assistant superintendent. My phalanx of about 30 church support staff was gone, and it was only my secretary and me. I brought my pastoral pattern into the new assignment and arrived at my office every day with my list of things that needed to be done. But the phone kept ringing. People kept dropping by.

I got frustrated. They were taking time away from my agenda. I was not getting done what I had set out to do. I began to resent the interruptions.

The life-changer for me was a devotional given by my friend, T. Ray Rachels, district superintendent. He talked about how much of Jesus’ ministry flowed from interruptions. That got my attention.

None of Jesus’ miracles were on His to-do list. He did not get up in the morning and say, “Well, I have got to heal 10 lepers, 2 blind men, cure a paralytic, and set free several demon-possessed people today.”

The same went for His teaching. Yes, He did lay out systematic discourse in the Sermon on the Mount, the Kingdom parables, and the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 5–7, 13, 24, 25). Look at a sampling, however, of what He taught as a result of responding to interruptions. An expert in the Law tested Him on “Who is my neighbor?” and we gained the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law muttered against Him welcoming sinners, and He responded with the stories of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son (Luke 15).

We would have missed the discipleship of Matthew and Zachaeus if Jesus had not interrupted His schedule. We would not have the teaching on the new birth had Jesus not taken time with Nicodemus (John 3), or the teaching on worship had Jesus ignored the Samaritan woman (John 4).

The quintessential example of Jesus taking time and responding to interruptions came when the woman with the bleeding condition interrupted Jesus while He was on His way to Jairus’ house.

Mark notes that Jairus’ daughter is 12 years old, and the woman has suffered from a bleeding condition for 12 years.

Jairus’ request was an interruption to Jesus’ schedule. The Lord had arrived on the other side of the lake and a large crowd had met Him. Leadership dictates that we give the crowd priority, but ministry dictates that we give the need priority. So Jesus broke away from the crowd and accompanied Jairus.

On the way He experienced an interruption to an interruption. The woman broke through the press of people and touched the hem of His robe. He could have kept right on going. But He did not. Why?

Because ministry is about people — or should I say persons, one by one. Jesus’ life mission included unplanned moments when He responded to the needs of individuals.

An old man walked along the beach early in the morning picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean. He knew if they were not back in the water, the rising sun would dry them out and kill them.

A teenager came along and said, “Hey, old man. What are you doing? There are millions of starfish on the beach. What you are doing really does not make a difference.”

The old man responded as he flipped the next starfish into the water, “It matters to this one.”

A missionary friend told me of sitting in Jim Cymbala’s office on a Sunday morning before Christmas. As pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle, Jim ministers to thousands of people in multiple services each Sunday. Between services a young African-American mother with her four children came into Jim’s study. She had no money, and she was crying because her kids would have nothing for Christmas. Jim said, “Carol and I are going to come to your apartment on Christmas Day and bring a turkey dinner with us. We are going to eat with you and there will be presents for your children.”

My missionary friend said he wept as he observed the conversation. To think that the pastor of one of the largest churches in America had time for someone who could not do anything for him.

Leadership says, “Spend time with the influential people because they can give back to you.” Ministry says, “Touch the people who cannot do anything for you.”

Jesus gave His time to others.

Why is it important for us to notice something so obvious? Because sometimes we get so busy in the ministry we forget ministry is about people.

You are not in the ministry to build church buildings (although that may be necessary), or to occupy a position, or to consume yourself with issues or causes that take you away from your most vital responsibility of ministering to people. I get long missives from people who spend time trying to straighten out policy or other people’s views. One regularly sends me 24 pages, single-spaced, typed, reasoning why the version of the Bible he uses is the only inspired one. As I read these diatribes, I wonder what would happen if these saints would get off their computer or lay down their pen and go win someone to Jesus.

Touch

Jesus let people get to Him.

Let’s face it. Our models for ministry are often so-called successful ministers. There has been a recent trend for important pastors to have bodyguards. The minister enters the service at his time and leaves out the side door when he is done.

Jesus took time for the individual. And His ministry took something out of Him. The text says, “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him” (Mark 5:30).

William Barclay gives this analysis: “This passage tells us something about Jesus. It tells us the cost of healing. Every time Jesus healed anyone it took something out of Him. Here is a universal rule in life. We will never produce anything great unless we are prepared to put something of our very life, of our very soul into it. … No preacher who ever preached a real sermon descended from his pulpit without a feeling of being drained of something. If ever we are to help men, we must be ready to spend ourselves. … The greatness of Jesus was that He was prepared to pay the price of helping others, and that price was the outgoing of His very life. We only follow in His steps when we are prepared to spend, not our substance, but our souls and strength for others.”

A child from the church I pastored lost his mother. His teen years proved turbulent and ultimately he committed a crime for which he served 17 years. This man has now come to the Lord and is a faithful witness in prison. I wrote the pastor in the town where the prison is located, requesting if he could call on this young man. He never did.

My wife’s aunt suffered a stroke. She had not been attending church in her later years because of health. (How many people are forgotten because they can no longer contribute?) Her family called a pastor and asked if he could call on her. He never did. Finally, the family found a Presbyterian pastor who visited her.

A friend told me that his brother attended church one Sunday when his family visited. The brother was elderly, but that Sunday gave his heart to the Lord. My friend, a fellow minister, called the pastor and asked if he could follow up the new convert. Nothing happened. When asked, the pastor responded he had been too busy. I discovered his church had 50 people.

How many times do ministers not call on people who need help, do not answer letters or e-mail, and do not respond to phone calls? May the Spirit stir us from lethargy and indifference.

We must be willing to touch people for Jesus, in Jesus’ name.

Transformation

I love the title William Barclay gave to this passage about the bleeding woman. He called it, “A Sufferer’s Last Hope.” Certainly, Jesus was the last hope for this woman as well as for Jairus’ daughter.

Notice the subtle humor in the account of the woman pressing through the crowd to touch the hem of His garment.

According to Mosaic Law, this woman was ritually impure since she had a bodily discharge (Leviticus 15). Most of the time in the Old Testament when a person who was contaminated laid hands on something, it meant he was transferring contamination to what was pure or innocent. For example, a leper who touched a non-leper rendered the non-leper unclean.

A ritually pure person could not touch a woman after childbirth, a Gentile, a vessel touched by a Gentile, certain animals, or a dead body. An individual who had been defiled by the touch of something or someone impure had to go through a detailed, time-consuming cleansing procedure.

Jesus became contaminated the minute the bleeding woman touched His clothes, and He further contaminated himself by taking the hand of the little dead girl (Mark 5:41).

Evidently, the bleeding woman thought she could touch Jesus’ clothes, get healed, and then meld back into the crowd without being noticed. Instead, Jesus stopped and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30).

The disciples thought the question was absurd since so many were pressing around Him. But the woman knew what had happened — and that is why the text says she “came and fell at his feet, and trembling with fear, told him the whole truth” (Mark 5:33).

Why was she afraid? She knew she had ritually defiled a holy man. If Jesus had been a Pharisee, He would have lit into her, “How dare you touch me? You have contaminated me. Get away from me.”

Under the Law, when the impure touched the pure, the pure were made impure. But with Jesus, when the contaminated touched the uncontaminated, the uncontaminated decontaminated the contaminated.

There is a reverse force flow between the Law and the Gospel. Instead of the woman’s impurity defiling Jesus, His wholeness cleansed her. He does the same thing with our sin. He makes us righteous rather than us making Him sinful.

Ministry is about transformation. We bring the good news that Jesus is Savior, baptizer in the Spirit, and Healer. Jesus told us to lay hands on the sick. That is a physical sign of the health in Him being passed into the person with illness so health enters rather than death reigning.

Ministers who have the greatest effect on people impart the life of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit through their example and teaching.

Several years ago I was grumbling to the Lord that when I laid hands on people in a prayer line they did not fall down. Oh, once in awhile it would happen, but only rarely. I felt the Lord say to me, “George, it’s much easier to fall down than it is to stand up. You are helping people stand up, so do not feel you need to imitate others who I am working with in a different way.”

Impartation is really one long transfer of our own walk with God into the lives of the people to whom we minister. If we love Jesus, chances are they will also. If we show a right spirit, they will show a right spirit. If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, so will they. If we are confident the Lord can and does deliver people from drugs and alcohol and all types of bondages, then they will be freed from these diseases of the soul and spirit. If we pray for the sick with faith, then sick people will be healed. If we stir up the gift of the Spirit that is within us, then people are going to get baptized in the Spirit and remain fervent in the Lord. If we demonstrate and teach discipleship, then people are going to become disciples of Jesus. If we witness to the lost, then our people are also going to witness. If we are missionary minded, so will be our people.

You cannot give others what you do not have. But, you can give what you do have.

When my son became a senior pastor, I told him, “Pastoring is not rocket science [that is not to say it is easy]. Two things are paramount: love Jesus and love people.”

We love people when we take time with them, one by one. The Lord uses us to touch people and to be agents of His in seeing people’s lives transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sure. We must never stop learning all we can about effective leadership. But let us never forget that leadership is only one aspect of ministry. Our model for ministry must always be Jesus. He takes time. He touches. He transforms.

George O. Wood, D.Th.P., is general superintendent for The General Council of the Assemblies of God, Springfield, Missouri.

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