I had never heard the term Philosophy of Ministry until I was recently asked by a professor to do 400 pages of reading and then write one in 14-16 pages. I am studying Missional Leadership Development, so I was to write a Philosophy of Ministry that would lead me to successfully enable and equip others for a life on mission. I was surprised, because I had assumed that the way in which I would discover how I personally did ministry would be by trial and error, not by writing out my pillars for ministry in my first year of Seminary. But I was being asked to write Chris’ Philosophy of Ministry, so I drank two cups of coffee, put in my headphones, and attempted to oblige. I sat before an open laptop, ready to give my comprehensive, coherent, and undoubtedly correct philosophies on topics in missions ranging from planting missional churches to sustainable ministries for the poor, when a profoundly obvious thought occurred to me: I was totally incapable of completing this assignment.
As shocking as it is to believe, I am not an expert on missions, ministry, or philosophy (Well, I am not an expert in anything really). But before you read this as a self-deprecating-turned-inspiring article, hear me out. I have some experience, as I have spent time serving on short-term missions projects and am taking my first steps into the field of full-time vocational ministry. I am actively wrestling through what my personal beliefs and motivators in ministry are in this stage of life. But I am only a 23 year-old, first-year seminary student, and have much of life and ministry to experience. I have not spent any longer than a year overseas, I have not led a family into the mission field, I have not pastured a church, and I have not even finished my education! How was I to write an extensive Philosophy of Ministry with such little knowledge and experience?
I assumed, when I sat down to outline my personal philosophy, that I would not bring to the discussion anything that I expected to be earth shattering or groundbreaking. I did, however, expect to at least be able to complete the assignment! But as I attempted to will my fingers into typing 14-16 pages, nothing I had to say seemed to be worthy to share with my professor, or anyone else who might view my paper. A saddening thought, to say the least. As I moved beyond feelings of personal insufficiency and frustration, it occurred to me that I was completely incapable of writing a comprehensive Philosophy of Ministry. But that was the starting point of a formation of one.
You see, I have always been one to fight against the idea of being, or even appearing, flawed. Deep within me I cannot stand to not know an answer or be proven wrong, and I do all I can to make it appear as if I never experience those messy realities of life. I have spent my life walking on tightropes of personal expectations so high I was doomed to fail from the beginning, prompting me to set the next pinnacle even higher and try even harder. I would compare myself to others and berate myself for not being as impressive and capable as they were. I would read Scripture and criticize myself for not being able to achieve the commands of Scripture. When I found myself failing to love God with all of my being or falling short of loving my neighbors more than myself, I would crush myself under the immense weight of shame because I was incapable of accomplishing even the most basic commandments. So when I realized that this paper had bested me before I had even begun, I was angry. I have spent so much my life attempting to do everything right that when I am wrong or incapable, I become agitated. As I approached this paper assignment, however, my insufficiency was brought into the daylight, dragging behind it one of my greatest broken pieces: my aversion to being human, fundamentally marked by imperfection.
In the overwhelming reality that I could not write the best piece possible for a Philosophy of Ministry assignment, God invited me to stare face to face with the reality he had just beckoned out of hiding from the depths of my soul: that Chris Ward is imperfect. I do not do everything better than everyone else. I do not know more about any given topic than others. I am not more adept or capable than others. I am realizing in this moment that I cannot even confess well! I should not have used the past tense in the previous paragraph, as I am still prone to high expectations and brutal personal shaming. That paragraph is just another example of how desperately I want to appear like I have everything figured out and fixed! I tried to write a paper, but God asked me to stop in that moment. And that was all he asked. My initial reaction to the revelation of weakness in my life is to thank God, then proceed to figure out how I can fix myself, believing that I am partnering with him in sanctification. But that is not our job. That is not my job. So he asked me to sit.
And that is where I am at. I am sitting with God in a pool of my imperfection. My desire is to end this piece with some impressive turn of phrase or paradigm-shifting conclusion, reporting that all is now well in the world of Chris. But that would be my attempt at appearing perfect, and that is not what God has asked of me. Or of us really, his children. He has asked me to simply stop, and sit face to face with my imperfection and inadequacy.* That is all.
As I have sat, however, my vision has begun to change. I am now seeing, in light of my imperfection, God’s perfection. I am now seeing, in the light of my failure, God’s favor. And I believe that soon I will not see God’s goodness in the light of who I am, but will see who I am in the light of God’s goodness. This is not merely a cute use of rhetoric, but a revelation of the foundation of my personal Philosophy of Ministry, and further, my walk through this life with God: God’s perfection and favor as it covers my insufficiency.
Just so you know, I did end up writing that Philosophy of Ministry paper. But it included a prologue that looked much like everything you just read. I do not know if I am allowed to do that in a graduate program, but I did. Because I am still sitting, believing that my insufficiency is a beautiful display of God’s sufficiency and grace lavished over me. And if I fail the paper for it, well, I’ll sit with that for a while too.