How to make your ministry more like Jesus? then sit down

Who are the people who sit down in the public spaces of our villages, towns and cities?

Think about it for a little while, do you notice who it is and why they sit? and is there a difference between those who sit because they have to, and those who sit because they choose to?

The first thing we might do after sitting down in our lounge, then sitting in our car, then walking from the car park space is to find another space to sit down and drink a coffee, or its the reward for an hours shopping, the need to sit down. But how many people might we have walked past who are sitting down not in the overpriced coffee house, and just on a random bench, or piece of concrete.

I was intrigued over the weekend by this sentence, its in John 4; 4-6

He (Jesus) had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave his son to Joseph. Jacobs well was there, and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noon-time’ ‘ (John 4: 4-6)

Aside from the observation that Jesus ‘got tired’ and therefore this reveals a reality about his Human fragility, form and nature. What is more fascinating is that he was tired of the journey, and possibly tired of being with the other disciples on that journey (talking with other christians can be so tiring..) so he left them (they re joined him in a later verse)

Jesus finds strength and renewal by sitting down, being away from his own followers, and being served by others. Jesus didnt arrive in a town with a full on ministry team and try an lead from the front, no he sat amongst those who needed a drink at mid day. The way he showed his disciples, was actually not with them at all, he went alone and sat down.

He Sat down.

How many times do we sit down, amongst others in our ministries? What kind of ‘sitting down’ do we do when we arrive in a ‘new’ situation/town/village? Are we even allowed to?

We might not aspire to ‘be Jesus’ but surely theres something in this for us in terms of practices and attitude.

But ministry is barely like this, at times, at least it doesnt always feel like the default position.

When I first arrived in Hartlepool 22 years ago, it was part of a gap year team with The Oasis Trust, and we, like many other groups and teams of young people were keen, enthusiastic, positive, and full of the desire to ‘do ministry’, to ‘save the city’ and put ourselves in positions to be busy, lead and to save local dying churches who had no youth ministry. And, in the most part, the local church complied with this. We were ‘The Oasis Team’ and given space, time and responsibility – and roles, jobs, activities, groups and stuff to do. We were profiled in the newsletter, photos on the wall, food in the donation box, out for lunch every Sunday, we were ‘it’, and ‘it’ looked like ministry.

But Jesus tired from the Journey, sat down.

When we arrived in Hartlepool, we were up front. Right left and centre. Though we expected it.

Not as long ago, I was tasked, and failed, with being a youth and community worker in a small town in Devon. What i wanted to do was put what i knew into practice, I wanted to sit down, I wanted to be a person who didnt arrive announced and expectant, especially in a small ish town. However, at various times in the course of the year, and before I had even arrived, the local press, church parish newsletters had all circulated that I was arriving, and I was going to ‘work with disadvantaged young people’ and I was going to ‘help kids engage with church’. There was no space to sit down, when I arrived in this new town.

Before I had even arrived, the culture and expectations determined the strategy and approach. And I dont bear any blame, because the culture within ministry is to generally act in this was towards new appointments, new roles, new leaders and be excited to want to tell others and share it. Its part of church culture. Time doesnt often allow ‘sitting down’, culture doesnt either. And its tempting to love the limelight. To be the hero. The pull is all around.

Its one thing being a presence in a community, its another being present.

One of the deeply theological practices of detached youthwork, is the ongoing action of observation and being present in the spaces of the community, and learning through the process of being a presence in it. And sitting down can be part of this. In their book, ‘Working with unnattached youth’ George Goetchius and Joan Tash detail how their YWCA mobile youth work project spent 3 years walking around and being part of the community, gathering evidence, sharing observations, learning from and listening to what was going on… 3 years! wow – some youthworkers have burnt out in that time… most detached youthworkers get 3 minutes prep time on google maps…

Its part of sitting down. Its an attitude of sitting down. Its not a standing up attitude, its a sitting down attitude. A process of learning, of reflecting, of listening, of watching, it is slow.

Paulo Friere says this: ‘Always we have to look. Today suddenly a flower is the reason for your surprise. Tomorrow, it may be the same flower, just with a different colour, because of the age of the flower’ 

So, when Jesus arrived at a Village he sat down. He did not lead the marginalised and confused from the front, he sat down. He waited.

When he told his disciples to go to villages, he told them to ‘find a person of peace’ and wait to be served. Ie, have the attitude of sitting down. Go and find, not go and do. Not even go and lead and make a song and dance, but go and find. I remember part of the oasis training was to try and do ‘balloon modelling’ in the streets, so it would attract a crowd, cause a scene, and this would give an opportunity to invite people to an event. (it was the 1990’s dont judge me) Maybe that would be ok in some cities, but Hartlepool? hmmm. Jesus didnt stir up the crowds when he went to a new town, not just for the sake of it.

Some 19 years later Ive moved back to Hartlepool, been back 4 years now. And sat down this time. Lived here, shopped here, walked the dog here, living here. In a way, arrived here tired and weary after some challenging previous experiences (only to find a whole host of new challenging experiences). Not arriving with fanfare, or expectation. More recently, having now not being in work and travelling, I have wanted to be more present, and so walking around the town, sitting in the town centre, being present in the space. When I sat down in the open area a few weeks ago, one of the people who was begging for money, asked ‘why did i look so happy?’ and a conversation followed, and I learned something. And I felt strengthened through the encounter, renewed for the task. And that sounds selfish, but it isnt meant to be. Sat and waited a bit, do I know whats going to happen next, no…

Maybe the pattern of Jesus ministry, to a new place emerged from the experience he had out of necessity at Jacobs well, and where there was time, and not persecution,it was a way of being that the disciples in the early church tried to do; Acts 3, 1-4, though it is more noticeable that Paul spend time with believers and preached the message – rather than sitting and being, Peter very similar (Acts 9; 32-37) they met with believers. It could be dangerous to think that the way of doing ministry is do the same ‘with believers’ as to do in the new context and town.

I wonder if pioneer youthwork, which can often call to question the busy, the activity and the up front stuff – is less pioneering, and more just about trying to do the kind of approach that Jesus adopted when he went to a new community. He sat down. This may be so far from the culture of ministry, that it is regarded as pioneering, so far from an outcomes orientated funded ministry, that it is alien. But for a new person in a new place – sitting down is what was required.

One of my favourite all time songs is this one, in 1991, from James:

I sing myself to sleep
A song from the darkest hour
Secrets I can’t keep
In sight of the day
Swing from high to deep
Extremes of sweet and sour
Hope that God exists
I hope, I pray
Drawn by the undertow
My life is out of control
I believe this wave will bear my weight
So let it flow
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Sit down next to me
Sit down, down, down, down, down
In sympathy
Now I’m relieved to hear
That you’ve been to some far out places
It’s hard to carry on
When you feel all alone
Now I’ve swung back down again
And it’s worse than it was before
If I hadn’t seen such riches
I could live with being poor
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Sit down next to me
Sit down, down, down, down, down
In sympathy
Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me
Those
We are more likely to find Jesus sitting by the roadside and by the well, than standing in front of the crowds. We are more likely to find Jesus in the conversation, and conversation happens when we sit and listen, or are present and take time to listen. Who are the people who sit down in our local towns and cities? The young people, the marginalised, the lost, the waiting, those with little power, or money, (or ok those whove just got their Greggs meal deal)- where does Jesus go and we follow – to sit down with them.  How might we ‘sit’ more in our pioneering, our youthwork, our lives – and learn, and wait and be present? Jesus didnt just make himself lower than the angels (Philippians), he made himself lowest of the low by sitting down when and where others chose to avoid. How might we make time to be amongst and not just fleeting through.
References
Friere, Horton – We make the Road by walking (1990).
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