In the early 1900's, China became a republic with a president. The emperor still had hundreds of ladies in waiting, cooks, and guards, but he was only a figurehead with no real power. When the last emperor, Pu Yi, realizes this he says: "The forbidden city has become a theater without an audience, so why do the actors remain on stage? It is only to steal the scenery piece by piece."
Ministers are tempted to spend our lives stealing the scenery, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, fiddling while Rome burns, and handing out aspirins while the world explodes.
Our vision for ministry is too small. We fall for the lies that what matters is the offering plate, that the website looks good, that we attract young families, and that the band sounds professional and the sermon peppy. We think the purpose of worship is to keep people satisfied so we sing the same songs, pray the same prayers, and preach the same trivialities.
We worry that we are going to hurt someone's feelings. We worry about the mother who thinks her second grader is so smart she needs to be in the third grade Sunday school class. We worry about the senior adult women who say they had 300 for Vacation Bible School back when they were in charge. We worry that a blog on why The Big Bang Theorywas never cool would be too controversial.
We debate the church's wedding policies and wonder if we can take the flag out of the fellowship hall during the reception. We campaign for ten more likes on the church Facebook page and hope the cooks do not see the joke about Wednesday night's chicken spaghetti. We stay busy trying to look like good ministers.
Our ministries end up being too much like Jay Leno, not enough like Chris Rock; too much Taylor Swift, not enough Mumford and Sons; too much suit and tie, not enough spiked orange hair; too much capitalism, not enough social justice; too much country club, not enough Occupy Wall Street.
We are tempted to spend our ministries caretaking, rearranging, fiddling, keeping things going, and acting like the competition is the Presbyterian Church down the street.
Our vision for ministry is too small for a world where people are hungry, damaged, and lost. How can we be satisfied with maintaining an institution when children starve, hearts break, and so many give up? If we are not going big and bold, we are wasting our time, our church's time, and God's time.
God will give us a bigger vision of ministry. Some days we think we just need to be more efficient, effective, and successful ministers, but the church has enough ministers who want to be efficient, effective, and successful. We need passion, anger, and desire.
The church does not need any more ministers who want to maintain the church. We need ministers who will poke and prod the church.
The church does not need any more reasonable ministers. We need ministers who will set their own hair on fire for what is right.
The church has more than enough predictable, conventional, cookie cutter ministers. We need ardent, zealous, fervent, fiery, incensed, inflamed, enraged, obsessive, and impassioned ministers. The church does not need any more temple administrators, Pharisees, or Sadducees. We need Amos, John the Baptist, St. Francis, Martin Luther, Lottie Moon, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa.
The followers of Jesus the church needs are the ones who are never bored with the church because they are always pushing, provoking, and pointing out that we can be more. God needs outliers, nonconformists, mavericks, dissidents, and dissenters. The church has enough people keeping rules. We need exceptions to the rules.
On Sunday mornings our sanctuaries start the day as empty boxes. The minister's job is to be an instrument by which God fills the sanctuary with fury, joy, and revolution. The church can be an electric gathering if we believe that what we do makes a difference, love can be reawakened, and evil can be overcome by living like Christ.
We can want what God wants. We can worry about what God worries about. We can push for what God pushes for.
Rather than be satisfied with small ministries that support an institution, we can feed God's children, heal broken hearts, and show the lost the way home. We can go beyond the routine and be the ministers God calls us to be.