By John Greening
Recently I watched a video that challenged me to consider the pace at which I do ministry. The title of the video is Godspeed. It essentially poses the question, what is the pace at which God does ministry?
The setting of the real-life narrative is a rural parish in Scotland. In pursuit of education to enhance his ministry skills, a young American pastor relocates to Scotland to attend school. To cover his expenses, he accepts the role of an assistant pastor in a small parish in the Scottish countryside. Assuming that his main task at the church is to preach profound messages, the young pastor readies to move his books into his church office. He asks the church rector where it’s located. The rector points toward the street. “There is your office: going house to house, getting to know people.” In contrast to the young pastor’s stateside habit of speeding his car past people on the way to his next ministry destination, this approach is uncomfortably new.
As the young pastor walks from home to home, knocking on doors and interacting with people, and as he reads the Gospels in private meditation, it dawns on him that Jesus ministered in a relatively small geographic area and traversed primarily by foot. His pace was probably not greater than three miles per hour. Along the way, Jesus constantly engaged in meaningful conversations with people.
The young pastor begins to reflect on the comparison between this slow-paced parish model of ministry and the all-too-common tourist approach to ministry that most of us Americans practice. We drive by people, missing the opportunity to have meaningful, intimate conversations, and instead settle for brief pleasantries, often avoiding eye contact. The tourist approach significantly reduces the opportunities for sharing the gospel that come most often through cultivated relationships.
This tourist approach is totally foreign to the way Jesus did ministry. Everywhere He went, He walked. Along the way, He met and talked to people. As Jesus listened to their stories, doors of opportunity opened to know and to make known. Virtually every one of those contacts provided an occasion for influential ministry.
This pace of ministry placed Jesus in a fishbowl. People knew Him and observed Him. They saw Him not merely from the distance of the pulpit, but up close and personal as He lived among them. Our secluded Western life takes us away from people into a private world, where others seldom can observe the transforming power of the gospel in our lives.
The young pastor acknowledges what we must admit: we are a restless people, constantly on the move. Slowing down, staying in the same place of ministry for years, and building deeper relationships is seldom the way we live. We allow ourselves to become caught up in an endless stream of shallow novelty.
As Godspeed advances, another rector tells the young pastor, “The people of the congregation don’t need more of you on Sunday; they need more of you on Monday.” The young pastor realizes that the more he comes to know his people and becomes known by them, the more he can connect the Word to their lives.
As I look back on my four-plus decades of type A ministry, I wonder if the quantity of work I produced would have been more significant if I had moved at “Godspeed.” How many people did I rush past? How many messages did I preach that did not connect because of my shallow knowledge of the people who needed the Word? Perhaps these thoughts come to me as I am getting older and might not have the youthful energy I once had. Or maybe my getting older means I am a bit wiser; I am seeing the value of stopping to chat.
The current rule of thumb is that going door-to-door is a ministry technique of the past. Perhaps this observation is true if the action means merely canvassing or talking to people, not with them. However, if knocking on a door is a means of honestly and humbly getting to know people and of building relationships, then this type of ministry may be more influential than the dash and drop approach.
Jesus told the disciples He recruited, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Are you willing to walk at Jesus’ speed, or will you rush ahead because Jesus seems to be walking too slowly?
Take a few minutes. Get a cup of coffee. Sit down in a quiet place and watch Godspeed at www.livegodspeed.org. Keep an open mind. Maybe you’ll want to take a walk in your neighborhood.
John Greening is national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.