Characteristics of Christian ministry

“After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before his face into every city and place where he himself was about to go. Then he said to them, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few, therefore pray the Lord of harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road’ ” (Luke 10:1-4).

The limited missions of the twelve apostles (Luke 9:1-6) and the seventy disciples (Luke 10:1-12) occurred before the death of Jesus, the establishment of the Church, and the giving of the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). Those “missionaries” operated under different rules and procedures than did the Apostles and early Christians following Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:7-8). The limits placed upon the earlier groups no longer apply; therefore we often skip past the stories of their activities believing they have little or no relevance today. That is a mistake. Principles were established in them which continue to influence the way we approach mission and ministry today.

First there is the principle of urgency. “The harvest is great.” During his brief time on this earth Jesus was constantly aware of the limited time he would have and the great amount of work there was for him to do. His passion for that work led him to long hours, difficult journeys, and constant service to those in need (John 4:34-35).

Our world is filled with billions of the lost and dying who are without the gospel of Jesus and without hope for eternity (Ephesians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). They can be saved, but only if someone reaches them with the good news of salvation (Romans 10:13-17). We have the good news, therefore we have the obligation to go (or send) and teach (Romans 1:14). If we do not carry out this mission, who will?

Second, we are reminded that Christian ministry makes us vulnerable. All Christians are truly “lambs among wolves.” We go armed with faith and the word of God, motivated by unselfish love, but those among whom we serve are often filled with hate, anger, and selfish pride. In some ways the devout Christian is an easy target, mere prey in a savage predatory world. But we are to accept, or even embrace, that vulnerability, trusting in God to go with us and protect us. “If God is with us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Third, we are to resist distractions and maintain a high focus on our purpose. When Jesus told the seventy, “greet no one along the road” he was probably deliberately invoking an Old Testament story – that of Elisha’s raising of the Shunammite woman’s son from the dead (2 Kings 4:8-37). When the child died the mother went to Elisha for help. Understanding her need the prophet sent his servant to her home immediately as he and the mother came behind. When Elisha sent Gehazi he instructed him, “Be on your way. If you meet anyone, do not greet him; and if anyone greets you, do not answer him” (2 Kings 4:29). It is clear that this instruction was to insure the most rapid possible response. There was no time to be spared for Gehazi’s mission. Neither is there time to waste or resources to spare in our service to God. All that we do is urgent. We must not be side-tracked by seemingly innocent greetings or requests.

On another occasion Jesus responded to a would-be follower, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:40). In other words, secular affairs may be handled by secular persons; those who are spiritual should “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).

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