Making ministry a part of life, not an event
Larry asked me if I looked up anymore when I heard sirens. I hadn’t thought about it, but no. The sounds of squad cars, ambulances and fire trucks barrelling down our street are now part of the regular rhythm of city life. The Biola English professor and innovator of Hollenbeck House — a 10-month intentional community program in Boyle Heights — echoed my thoughts: It’s just a part of life now.
Life at Hollenbeck
Besides Larry Smith and his wife, I have seven housemates: four girls and four guys live together in a roomy ranchero built in 1888. We walk to the 24-hour donut shop, eat at our neighbor’s home-style restaurant; we ride the metro to explore L.A., tutor at local after-school programs, and we do each other’s dishes. Sometimes.
More than that, we pray together. We invite others over for church. We cultivate conversations about Jesus, joy and how to journey through life’s valleys. And we minister.
Misconceptions of Ministry
Though it has only been a month, it didn’t take long for me to recognize that this year was going to stretch my concept of ministry. Last week, I felt agitated when a neighbor, about my age, lingered around the house. My internal monologue told me I was agitated because letting him hang around would impede on our ability to minister.
Knowing well enough that something was off about that statement, I asked my internal monologue what that ministry looks like. “You know, to a group of high schoolers, or people younger than you.”
I’m not sure when “ministry” confined itself in my mind to those programs, organizations or otherwise churchy activities directed toward particular groups — say high schoolers, children or women. In my mind, ministry is leading a group of Biola students in prayer and worship, or when there are donuts on Sunday morning and everyone is dressed up a bit more than usual — but not that much more, except for the guy in the Hawaiian shirt.
Well, sure, we have the donut store a block away from Hollenbeck House, but really, none of that describes what we do. No Hawaiian shirts here — just a lot of life. Our neighbors come swim in our pool, or bang out worship songs on our piano. We navigate family conflicts together, stay up late to do homework together and rejoice when one of us lands a job. But it’s not that any of those moments are any less sacred than when friends join us Sunday nights for church.
Living in Community
In the tenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul addressed the church after some in their community complained about others getting up in their business regarding their choice of food. Living in community gives us ample time to be in each other’s business, I’m finding. Paul’s advice? Verse 31 states: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Living life with nine other people is massaging my concept of ministry away from stiff, rigid programs to a more fluid definition: interacting with others for the glory of God.
When I wash someone’s leftover cereal bowl, I’m doing ministry. When I spend time fully present with my neighbors, I’m doing ministry. Just like when I lead a backyard church in prayer and donut eating, I’m doing ministry.
Ministry has become less of an event, with loud sounds and flashing lights. Now, it’s a regular rhythm of life, a frame of mind and a natural outflow of living in community for the glory of God.