All Things To All People?

“For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, NRSV)
 While this section of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church focuses on his liberty from narrowly defined religious constraints, many individuals and congregations seem to have unconsciously repurposed his words as a blueprint of how to serve their local communities. This Swiss Army Knife approach to ministry often results in limited resources being spread too thin, high volunteer burnout and turnover rates, and a tendency to be mediocre at a myriad of tasks. These characteristics can leave individuals and groups feeling defeated as they try to stem the seemingly endless tide of need in their communities.

For a fresh way of looking at ministry, let us again turn to the words of Paul:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, NRSV)
Seeing themselves as part of the larger Body of Christ can give congregations the ability and permission to narrow their ministry focus to areas most compatible with their unique giftedness and passions. For example, congregations that serve communities with high rates of homelessness and limited affordable housing will probably focus more on providing access to basic necessities such as emergency housing, meals, and transportation. However, their congregational counterparts that serve communities where housing access is not a major issue, can expend their energy towards enacting public policies which address the root causes of homelessness.  These two congregations would periodically come together during joint worship services or convention annual gatherings and be reminded of and inform each other’s work. This periodic coming together of the larger Body, would also tamp down the temptation to take on the entirety of the housing crisis alone and enable a keener focus on answering God’s call to service in ways best suited to their unique context and capabilities.

What are the implications for you and your church? While the answer(s) are different for each us, we all can rest in the assurance that, through the power of the Spirit, our individual and collective answering God’s call to service is a vital piece of God’s redemptive plan. I encourage each of you to periodically pause, listen, and (re)discover how you can partner with God, other congregations, and community partners in ways that honor and leverage your uniqueness.

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