“Man cannot live without the sacred…We transfer our sense and longing for the sacred onto other things.” So said Jacques Ellul. And in the culture that we live in today the thing we transfer our sense and longing to first, he believed, is technology.
Sometimes, more often than we’d like to admit, we grow impatient in ministry. Or with ministry.
There are expectations for it that we sense, long, believe should be fulfilled. We rightly recognize that at the heart of local church ministry is (1) preaching the gospel for the birth of new life in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. And, consequently, but still mainly through the preaching of the gospel, (2) discipleship, a growing up into Christlikeness by the Spirit’s power.
Along with our expectations of what is supposed to happen, though, come expectations of how and how long. And it is these expectations that we grow frustrated with, or infatuated with.
If ministry—birth and growth— in the local church is ultimately dependent on the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is like a wind that blows whenever and wherever He wants to, then there should be a sense of mystery about it all. That is, while we work hard and do what we must do to plant and water the garden, there should always be a sense of watching and waiting for God to send the rain and to give the growth. The mystery is that we can never forecast when God will do this.
But where mystery in ministry begins to fade, either the Spirit is being quenched or we are transferring our sense of longing and need for him onto some kind of method.
Even more frightening would be that this sense of mystery and wonder is intentionally being removed. We want to predict and produce the wind, the rain, and the growth. So we turn to technology and technique, to plans and methods, to planning and coaching, to atmospheres and experiences. Rather than submitting as servants, we want to control as masters.
It should be said that the things we turn to are not bad things, are even good things. But they are not sacred things, holy things— they are not the equivalent of the Holy Spirit nor substitutes of his power. Without him the church can do nothing. The church can create an experience, but it can’t create new life.
There must, then, be found in the heart of a pastor and a church a sense of awe and wonder, of mystery and silence, of humility and worship at the unexplainable, unexpected, uncontrolled, undeserved presence of God. And, conversely, there must also be found some sense of exasperation, of frustration, of being at a loss for words and actions because nothing appears to be working. Frustration is its own kind of mystery, though. In it we see that it is God, not a new method, that we seek, need, and want.
The sacredness, holiness, or transcendence of God, and our sense of it, cannot be satisfied in, explained by nor transferred to technology and techniques that produce what we long for God to do. Or, more importantly, what he wants to do.
Where there is no sense of mystery and everything is explained or explainable, then either God in his glory and power has departed, or he is patiently and mercifully waiting for us to get bored and give up. Then he will, by His grace, surprise us and come be with his people, and we will fall down and cry out in wonder and adoration, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. Who are we that you are mindful of us?”