7946052Most of us in full time church related jobs don’t get paid much. Hence those love gifts/honorariums/stipends really help balance the monthly budget. So I appreciated the love gift I received when I took a church camp recently. But what I really appreciated was the card that came with it.

Sometimes, and more often its the college students who do this, they pass a card around and folks get to write personal words of appreciation to the speaker. I really liked this one:

“We love listening to your message (sic) very much…but what we appreciate most is your fellowship and friendship. Thank you for being our cheer leader.”

This message and others like it touched me deeply because it understood what I was about.

Few of us are in ministry for the money. Teaching the word is something I would do no matter who paid my salary. I am in ministry because I believe this is what God wants me to do. I do not see it as a paid profession.

Therefore there cannot be any professional distancing between myself and the communities where I minister. I know I do it imperfectly, poorly often, but I do seek to be a friend to the people to whom I minister. They are my friends, not my clients.

I believe Paul exemplifies this approach to ministry. In 2 Corinthians in particular, he really wears his heart on his sleeve. Here are a few verses from that letter.

“For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.” (2:4)

“We have spoken freely to you Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. Were not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange — I speak as to my children — open wide your hearts also.” (6:11-13)

Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds” (7:2-4)

Not a trace of professional distancing here.

But it is not easy to minister like this. Because there is no professional distancing, there is also no possibility of switching off the caring. So Paul will also say:”…I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (11:28b-29)

To serve with the heart is also to risk having your heart broken.

I remember the good old days before the times of my marital problems. I would receive speaking engagements from many churches and groups. When my marriage began to unravel, and more recently when I remarried, many groups stopped calling.

I know that the evangelical church is divided on the issue of divorce and remarriage. But I expect that friends will continue to enfold you while they work through the complexities. More often than not they held you at arms length till they came to some position. Many never did.

I couldn’t help but think: Was I of value to you only when I could bless you with my gifts? And now that I am politically a liability, I no longer exist? Did you really care for me as a brother or am I just a ministering professional to be used when acceptable and to be discarded when not?

You will probably tell me to stop whining because rejection is the way of the cross and you would be right! To minister with the heart is to open yourself up to be hurt. That’s the way it is.

There will be times when you are tempted to throw in the towel. But you do not because like Paul one learns the hard way that “our competence comes from God” (3:5b) and that we must rely on God and not on ourselves (1:9).

Still it is such a treat when you get a note that affirms not just what you do but who you are, and that celebrates the bond of friendship. “…what we appreciate most is … your friendship.”

So thank guys, for a wonderful weekend. Thanks for walking with me through the dark times. Thanks for risking grace and choosing to stand by me while you worked through the issues.

You are truly my friends and I desire God’s best for you. And whatever I can do to make that happen, let me know.

Oh yes. I also received another bonus. After the chairman of the camp committee passed me my envelope, he also gave me a hug. We are talking about a Malaysian Chinese from a Brethren background here, someone younger than myself. He hesitated for a moment. Then the hug. That’s what friends do.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan