Yesterday, while I was paying for fuel for my car, the petrol pump attendant discovered that I was a Methodist Minister. He then commented – “Oh, the Methodist umfundisi (ministers) that I know are rich, because they always drive new cars”. Although my vehicle is nearly 20 years old, I was left feeling uncomfortable by association, asking myself “Ought our image as ministers of the Gospel to be one of prosperous well-being?” I am all too aware of how ‘purveyors of snake oil and other preachers’ have used religion for their personal profit. This has made many people sceptical of those who ask for the generosity of donors so that they can remain in the Christian ministry.Acts chapter 18 marks the moment when Paul’s ministry changed from a ‘part-time’ self supporting work, to a full time work. Silas and Timothy arrived with financial support from the people of the Christian church in Philippi (see Philippians 4: 15-19 / 2 Corinthians 11:8-9). This enabled Paul to focus all his time on establishing a Christian church in Corinth. I am suggesting that the actions of Paul in the above passage reveal a helpful principle that can guide any who relies on the generosity of donors to sustain a Christian ministry:
Acts 18:7 tells us that Paul left the Synagogue, and moved in next door. In case we miss the significance of this, Paul gives up the Synagogue: this is the place where he has his status as a well-connected, highly educated, and greatly senior rabbi – a status that would have earned him respect, and given him clients in his tent making business. Paul gives up his access to wealth and status to migrate down the social scale into the home of the “sinner” next door – a non-Jewish, Roman speaking Gentile who would have not been welcome in the Synagogue. Paul gained nothing in his personal capacity by moving, and lost much. I believe this becomes the touch stone for authentic ministry: that those of us who are privileged to be able to serve Jesus through the generosity of others ought to show two signs – sacrifice of personal ambition, and a ministry that is grounded amongst the “next door people’, those people who are not readily welcome through the front door of our religious establishments.
As one who has benefitted from the kind generosity of faithful Christ-followers, I can only say thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve God in this way. At the same time, please would you hold me accountable for the way I use this privilege: may my life always be moving away from status, and towards the “next door” people.
ThoughtCome, and He will give you rest;
Trust Him for His word is plain;
He will take the sinfulest;
Christ receiveth sinful men.
Lyrics: Erdmann Neumeister (1671-1756), Translated by Frances Bevan
Third Sunday of EasterThe Lord is with us
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.154