The Character of Ministry

I want to start by saying that context is important, and one of the drawbacks of highlighting speaking points on Twitter is that it’s hard to convey context in 140 characters. So please read the following with this caveat in mind: I don’t know what the larger context of the following quote was other than that it comes from the AoG’s recent ST15 conference. Someone thought it was profound enough to share, and that is why I am commenting on it.

One important piece of information is missing: what does pastor Hewitt mean when he says ‘friendly’? We also don’t know in what way pastor Hewitt believes it better to do ministry with less gifted friendly people than more gifted unfriendly people, nor is it immediately obvious. So why have I decided to provide my thoughts (other than someone saying ‘AMEN’)? Because my experience of church involves the attitude that the exemplary Christ-like Christian has particular personality traits such as ‘friendliness’.

So, there are some problems with pastor Hewitt’s quote:

  1. The first has already been mentioned: what does ‘friendly’ mean in this context, and whose determination of ‘friendly’ and ‘unfriendly’ is authoritative?
  2. The second is the question of priority: should friendliness be prioritized over giftedness, or giftedness over friendliness, or is this the wrong approach to ministry altogether?
  3. The third is the message that this potentially sends to ‘more gifted people’ who aren’t necessarily considered ‘friendly’.
  4. The fourth and final is the practical problem: is it true that it is better to work with less-gifted friendly people, and is this what we see in the history of the church?

1. Unless someone who was at ST15 responds to this post, we can’t know how pastor Hewitt defined ‘friendliness’, so that question will be left unanswered. So, how do we decide if someone is friendly? We either decide on the basis of our interactions, or on others’ interactions (reputation, rumor, etc.). And there are, of course, a number of qualifications that go into these interactions: culture, upbringing, life experience, outlook on life, temperament, personality, and so on. For example, what’s considered unfriendly in Canada might be considered friendly in Finland, and what’s considered friendly in Canada might be considered a superfluous waste of time in Germany (small talk?). There is no objective measure of friendliness, which means that judging the ultimate worth of a person’s contribution to any particular ministry by how friendly that person is, is problematic.

2. That raises the question: should friendliness be prioritized over giftedness? What if Pastor Hewitt said the following instead: ‘it is better to do ministry with ungifted friendly people, than with gifted unfriendly people.’ We would rightly ask: which is more important: a friendly disposition, or the ability to perform a task properly? I think we would agree on the latter. Maybe pastor Hewitt means that it’s better to do ministry with people you get along with regardless of their giftedness? I’m not sure. When we work with others, especially those we don’t necessarily get along with, then we tend to experience personal growth, we encounter new challenges and perspectives, and everything else that comes along with working with people — provided we allow ourselves to. And it’s worth asking the question: if I don’t get along with a particular someone, then why? Can our relationship be improved? Can we learn from each other regardless of our differences? To what extent am I the problem? To be sure: it would also be shortsighted to (absolutely) prioritize giftedness over friendliness, as it can be a real problem working with gifted but difficult people (though not always, and the effort can be worth it).

3. What kind of message does ‘less gifted but more friendly’ send to gifted people who don’t fit into the ‘friendly’ mold, and not necessarily because they’re unfriendly? These are the people who are told in Sunday morning sermons and small groups discussions to develop the gifts that God has given them, but who are now being told that first they have to be ‘friendly’ or else they’ll be passed over. The real danger here is that ‘unfriendly’ can quickly become double speak for ‘I don’t like you’.

4. Finally and briefly: historical friendliness. The Apostles had to work with Peter, Jesus worked with Judas (who was probably a friendly guy), and Ananias had to accept Paul into his home. False prophets (e.g. Matt. 7) were probably quite charming, and Gregory Nazianzus, Cappadocian Father and one of the theologians responsible for founding the doctrine of the Trinity that we know today, is well-known for being what we would consider unfriendly. We simply don’t see this kind of emphasis on friendliness in church history.

I think we can agree that this isn’t a quote that can stand on its own, and while more could probably be said, I will stop here.

My Inaugural Post

My writing has taken several names over the years, first as ‘Nascent Thinker’, then ‘Study Thoughts’, and finally ‘Contemplations Along the Way’. Through each iteration I wrote less and less, due in part to a lack of time, but also due to a loss of confidence in what I was producing, in my own competence, and in no longer seeing ‘the point’.

But I enjoy writing, and so here I am attempting it again under my own name. That means taking ownership of my thoughts in a way that I hadn’t before, at the risk of showing myself to be incompetent or foolish or some such thing. I think I’ll leave the ‘about me’ and writing scope for the about page, so there you have it: my inaugural post, ‘done’.

(I just liked the image.)