I am not sure why the story resonated with me. It may have been because I heard it during Music Week at Ridgecrest Conference Center. The overwhelming emotion that accompanies a week surrounded by so many musicians worshipping together has a profound impact.
It may have been the particular time in life when I was seeking spiritual direction and the story spoke to what I needed to hear. It may be that it introduced a new way of viewing life and the world. Whatever the reason, it has been, and continues to be, one of the filters through which I evaluate circumstances. The story was shared by the preacher for the week during one of the daily worship times. The exact language has long since changed over the years as I have shared it through sermons, writings, and conversations, but the message is still intact.
A local church invited a missionary who served in another part of the world to come to the church to speak. As is often the case, a layperson was tasked with meeting the guest at the airport and transporting her back to the church. Many of us have found ourselves in similar situations where we need to make conversation with someone we do not know. We do so by asking questions to get the person talking about themselves, or their family, or their profession, as a way to have a dialogue. The church chauffeur was using this pattern as they drove from the airport. “Where are you from? Tell me about your family.” These and other personal inquiries continued until the question about job came up. It was not a typical question and yet provoked the answer that so moved me.
The host asked the missionary, “Do you like your job?”
The missionary’s response was decisive and blunt. “No, I do not like my job.” But she continued, “I do not like living in another country and seeing their flag flying over our compound. I do not like living where things we take for granted here in our country are rare commodities. I do not like that the lack of proper sanitation causes many preventable diseases. I do not like seeing the level of poverty in the region. But heaven help us when we only do for Jesus what we like to do!”
That last statement knocked the breath out of me.
I do not know what I was expecting to hear, but it certainly was not such a blunt, honest answer. For the first time, I found myself questioning my role in ministry. I knew the why. I knew the what. I thought I knew the how until then.
Was I guilty of doing in ministry “only what I liked doing?” Was I making decisions about music (hymns, anthems, solos, etc.) that would help people mature in their faith, or was music selection based on my personal tastes? Was I ministering to all persons, or was I surrounding myself with people who made me feel comfortable? Did I approach all assigned tasks with equal commitment and enthusiasm, or did I focus my attention only on the jobs that proved easy and likable? Were my personal and ministerial goals challenging enough to require some diligent effort, or were they things that really offered no long-term growth or consequence?
It would be nice to say that my ministry changed immediately. It would also be nice to say that I have never had to deal with this again. But neither statement would be true. I discovered that it was, and is, a slow, continuous process of growing and evaluating.
I still struggle with the urge to sing my favorite songs, or spend time with people I like, or to be lax with tasks that I do not enjoy, or to avoid setting and following through with tangible goals. What changed all those years ago was the knowledge that I have the tendency to only do for Jesus what I like to do. With that information, I can now evaluate how I do ministry to make sure it is not driven by my personal wants.
A few words heard in a sermon illustration over 30 years ago still have an effect today. As I think back, I am glad I attended worship, because it was really something that I did not want to do that day.