When our kids were babies, we had this little wooden toy with shapes cut of in the middle. The boys could remove the shapes, and put them back in place. This gave an all new meaning to the phrase, “Putting a square peg into a round hole.” This was a great instrument for the boys to learn their shapes, but I also noticed that they would become easily frustrated. They would pick up the square peg and begin to try to place it in the circle cut out, twisting and turning it every which way in order to try and fit it in.
But no matter how hard they tried, that square peg just wouldn’t go into a round hole. It wasn’t made for that.
As their parents, Lacy and I would come along beside them and show them the proper fittings for the pegs. They didn’t always get it immediately, but over time the light began to come on, and they got it. We went through this process with Andy and Lincoln, our two oldest boys. And when their younger baby brothers, Abel and Luke came along, Andy and Linc were able to teach them the proper placement of the wooden pegs just as they were once taught.
I opened up with this little analogy because that is how I’ve been feeling in my own walk with the Lord per the last few years. Particularly in how we do ministry. Something just doesn’t seem to fit. I read the scriptures, and then I see how the American church does evangelism. We have our neatly organized weekly Bible studies, our Sunday morning service that is cleanly tapered to a sixty minute time slot, and we take a few yearly trips to missions. And there is nothing wrong with any of this! In fact, these things are great tools we use to proclaim the Gospel and live on mission for Jesus!
But my soul has still been restless in the past few years. And Ive not been able to pin point why that is until recently. I look at the square peg that is scripture, and grow frustrated that our sphere shaped ways of doing ministry dont see to look at all like what is seen in the Bible.
Square peg, round hole.
We have organized the events of the church so very much that I fear that the routine may be keeping us from living the reality of what Jesus has called us to do.
Take Jesus for example. He never walked through Jerusalem advertising that on Sunday morning, He would be holding a church service and would love for everyone to join Him. Evangelism was not based around a single event or even a building. Jesus did ministry by building relationship. And He built relationships by going outside of what we would call a comfort zone and reaching out to those that He didn’t yet know.
Jesus reached out to people not to invite them, but to genuinely get to know them personally.
Jesus took it upon Himself to go out and meet His future disciples! Again, He didn’t pass out flyers or merely invite them in passing to a service. He literally invaded their lives! He met them on their turf, and joined in activities that we’re important to them in order to relate to them.
“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.
When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.
Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.” Luke 5:4-11.
Jesus met the disciples in their own back yard. And they followed Him not just because He told them to do it. Rather, they followed because they could see that Jesus really cared about them, and wanted to get to know them.
Who could forget the story of the wee little tax collector Zacchaeus was a greedy tax collector who got rich off of taking more from people than necessary. That being said, Zacchaeus was not very popular, and probably not a person you would want to be seen associating with. But Jesus didn’t care what people thought of Him. In fact, when Jesus did begin to speak to Zacchaeus, others in the crowd began to gossip.
“And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Luke 19:7.
Jesus, unaffected by the quiet jeers of the self righteous people around Him, took it a step farther. Not only did He seek out Zaccheaus in the town, but He actually went to his house to get to know him!! This is huge! Who does this, even in our world today? Jesus could have merely invited Zaccheaus to come and listen to Him preach. But Jesus wanted more than just another groupie. He wanted more than just another face in the crowd that followed Him. He wanted a relationship. It was not about adding one more warm body to the list of people He had listening to His sermons. His ministry was done in the midst of real life situations, not from the comforts of a Sunday school class.
Samaria was a Gentile town, and the Jews hated the Gentiles. In fact, they even refused to travel through Samaria because they didn’t want to interact with these people. Yet Jesus, a Jew, chose to travel through Samaria. And in the process, He met a Samaritan woman at a drinking well. Not only that, Jesus began to talk to her by asking her for a drink! This blew her mind! Jews didn’t talk to Gentiles! Wasn’t He afraid of who might see Him? This interaction could greatly damage His reputation!
“The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” John 4:9.
Jesus went on to have a discussion with her. But it wasn’t a “hows the weather”, superficial discussion. Jesus addressed the areas of her life where she was hurting. She was an outcast of her town that none of the other women wanted to associate with because she was known as the town whore. In fact, she’d had five husbands, and currently she was involved in a relationship with a man outside of marriage. Because of her reputation, she had to come and draw her water at noon. Most of the other women drew their daily water early in the morning, before the heat of the day had come upon them. But this woman had to go draw her water in the hottest part of the day due to her shame.
Again, Jesus didn’t just invite her to an upcoming church function. Jesus built a relationship with her. And the effect on her was epic! After meeting Jesus, this woman, who’d once been shamed to be seen in town, ran back to her town and began to tell everyone about Jesus. And the Gospel was advanced that day because a relationship was built.
“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” John 4:39.
There are so many more instances of Jesus doing relational ministry throughout the Gospels. He didn’t base His ministry on a weekly schedule or a church calendar of events.
He was driven daily to seek out people and love them.
Even after His resurrection, we see Jesus followers mimicking His example of how to do ministry. Take Paul for instance. Paul and Silas were severely beaten and thrown in prison for preaching the gospel. Things were hard at this point in his life. They could have been worried about their circumstances and said, “We don’t have time for ministry, we are in a pickle!” But that is not what happened.
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” Acts 16:25-34.
Heres the take away. No matter where they were, regardless of the circumstances, they viewed the people God had placed in front of them as an opportunity to build relationships! Trials in life were viewed as an opportunity to love even their enemies and build relationships!
They preached the Gospel to this guard who’s job it was to keep them in chains, and He was saved! Now once God had freed them, they could have said, “Alright, now we need to get as far away from here as possible so we don’t get caught again.” But that was not what they did. Instead, they chose to go to the house of this guard and build relationships with his family.
The blueprint for reaching the lost was never to be predominantly in an organized setting. Ministry was to be sought as we go along our daily lives!
“And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Matthew 10:7.
Ministry is not about trying to invite as many people as we can to attend a church service. It never was! It is sacrificing our time to build relationships with people that are outside of our comfort zones. Although inviting people to church is always a good thing, I think many of us have neglected the “as you go” part of doing ministry!
We have so neatly organized and sanded off the sides of our squared church calendar, that it no longer fits the circular mold of the original way Christ called His followers to do ministry. Look at the people Jesus has placed in your life. Look at the poor areas of town that you drive past every day. Look at the community that you live in.
Are you actively seeking to daily develop new relationships with people? Who among us would be brave enough to take time out of their day to just drive to a poor area of town and ask the people living there if they would be interested in doing a weekly Bible study where they live. Maybe just show up with a grill and burgers to being to cook for them.
Who among us would invite your co worker who no one really likes or associates with to have dinner with you and your family? Mothers who would seek out weekly play dates with mothers who are struggling or single in a hard area of town in order to build relationships.
My fear is that we are not being the church that Jesus had intended. I read the scriptures and see this intentionality towards people in Jesus and his followers, yet today, church is a twice a week event. And in a great majority of Christians eyes, being missional is maybe inviting someone to church if they can muster up the courage.
No relationship building, no Gospel sharing, just inviting people to church. That is not ministry, thats advertising. Ministry is about relationships. Ministry is about Gospel proclamation.
My fear is that we have become too self reliant on a building, a church calendar, and even ministerial staff and have therefore become complacent and ineffective in being true Gospel agents of reconciliation.
My fear is that in our current programatic way of doing ministry, we have become too civilized for the Jesus of the Bible.
The square peg will never fit the round hole unless we begin to listen to the words of our Heavenly Father through scripture. Listening is different than just reading or memorizing a verse. Listening is really putting yourself into what scripture is saying and taking to heart the actions of His followers. The beauty of listening is, once the light comes on and we realize the proper placement of these ministry pegs, then we can go to other believers to allow God to bring their ministries to life.
It’s Called Making Disciples.
I don’t want to play church. I don’t care about fitting into the mold of what is socially acceptable or how the world thinks the church should operate. I just want us to look at the Bible and follow the examples we have been given. We will all stand before God one day to give an account of what we did with the breath that we were given. We will not be able to use the excuse that, “I thought that was the way ministry was done because thats how all other Christians did it.”
“But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!” 2 Corinthians 10:12.
We weren’t called to be like other Christians. We are called to be like Christ.
Standing before God, we will be pointed to the words of the Lord through scripture and asked, “Did you really know me, or just know what you were told about me.” If we say we truly love Jesus, we cannot afford to be wrong about this! We’ve been given the model. The question is, are we using it? Much of current Christianity has ceased to fit the mold of scripture, and its because we’ve stopped listening and grown bored in the routine.
Are you seeking out new relationships daily in hopes of personally sharing Jesus with them?
Like an infant who grows frustrated trying to fit that square peg into a round hole, so many Christians are bored and frustrated with the routine of church. And its because this routine ministry that is much of American Christianity was never the mold given to us by Jesus. We have forgotten that mission is not just something to be talked about on Sundays, its a lifestyle to be lived! And Gospel centered mission cannot be had until genuine relationships occur. We must begin to develop a love for people outside of our comfort zones daily. Search the scriptures, pray, and let God define your ministry. The call from Christ was to make disciples. And making disciples begins at the point of personal relationship.