"I didn't go to seminary for this."
It was Saturday night and I found myself alone in the church, wrist-deep in copier toner as I fought valiantly against the relentless barrage of error messages populating the screen. As soon as I cleared one paper jam, another three magically appeared to replace it. Insert a new cartridge, and the machine insisted it was empty. I was losing the battle.
In a small church, there is no IT guy. There is no on-call tech support. The solo pastor gig sometimes means just that.
As I sat there in the dark, empty church with my hands buried in the guts of a copy machine I was powerless to fix, I couldn't help feeling sorry for myself. And while I didn't verbalize it this way at the time, the marquee scrolling across my prideful heart at that moment was: "I have better things to do. This is beneath me. This isn't real ministry." In other words: "This has nothing to do with God. He is not present here."
There's something about the common, physical, flesh-and-blood aspects of life that we tend to view as lesser. Sure, we'll pay lip service to the idea that the role of the church janitor or "kitchen lady" is just as legitimate as that of a pastor. But when it comes right down to it, there's an insidious hierarchy lurking beneath the surface. In our heart of hearts, we find it utterly unbelievable that God could be just as present in physical, tangible, embodied tasks as in disembodied ones. They're somehow less spiritual. In the final analysis, the pulpit is a holier place than the janitor's closet.
Our Old Adam always prefers the way of the glory to that of the Cross, and his white-collar heart can't resist looking down on a blue-collar God who rolls up his sleeves to fashion human beings from clay.
A God who spits in the mud to heal the blind.
A God who works through Word & blood & bread & wine—the common things we would scoff at and say, "I see no God here." Gospel ministry in its most purified, idyllic form—we imagine—Is a purely spiritual endeavor.
In other words: Wrist deep in the guts of a copy machine is nowhere to find God. So, no. This is not ministry.
Such attempts to divorce the physical from the spiritual are nothing new. In fact, it even has a name: Docetism, and it appeared as early as the second century, A.D. Docetism (from the Greek dokeo, meaning "to seem" or "to have the appearance of") teaches that Christ only appeared to be human, but in fact, he had no flesh. In other words, he was a kind of ghost; a purely spiritual being who only took on the guise of the physical, and he wasn't truly human. Jesus Christ had no blood, bones, skin, lungs, sweat, or hair follicles, because those things are lesser. They're dirty. They're impure. And God is not to be found in them, because God has nothing to do with our physical, embodied existence.
Against this heresy, however, orthodox Christianity has historically affirmed Christ's full humanity. He is body as well as soul. He ate fish. He drank wine. He cried. His feet ached after long days walking through the desert. The Roman whips drew actual blood. The subcutaneous layer of His skin was actually pierced. The red blood cells & plasma & platelets of the one true God really did stain the wooden Cross at Calvary. And—as Rod Rosenbladt often says—it is on that particular blood that we as Christians are betting all of the blue chips. In fact, our salvation depends upon it.
Gospel ministry is always physical as well as spiritual. It is never disembodied.
In fact, it is deep in the dregs of our copier-toner existence that God is most at work. In the words of Christ, "Which is easier: to say 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? " (Matthew 9:5). Answer: Neither! Both are difficult, but both are necessary. Jesus brings healing to both body and soul, and his disciples carry on in His footsteps. Since we are embodied creatures, full-blooded Gospel ministry always involves both the physical and spiritual. In fact, as is often noted: Christianity is not primarily a religion of the soul but of the body.
Eschatology bears this out as well. When Christ returns, he's not going to throw our worn-out bodies on the trash heap like used up banana peels. Instead, he's going to re-sew the sinews, re-knit the bones, fill our veins with fresh blood, and restore those physical bodies to mint condition. God is in the restoration business, not the garbage business. When He calls our physical bodies "good," what right do we have to say otherwise?
Gospel ministry often happens in places and ways we least expect—ways that are always embodied. It happens in the church kitchen, where meals are lovingly-prepared for God's family of sinner-saints. It happens in the janitor's closet, where hours of muscle & sweat & service have worn the mop handle smooth. It happens in the nursery, where diapers are changed and noses wiped and young hearts shepherded. It happens in the hospital, where a simple re-affirming touch at the bedside of a friend restores courage to a fainting heart. It happens in the food pantry, where boxes of cereal and pasta sustain the bodies that Christ gave His own body to redeem.
And yes, even in the depths of the copier toner, we find God is at work.
It's all embodied. It all matters. And it's all ministry.
So keep your eyes peeled. Who knows where you'll find God next?