It has been said that the seven last words of a dying church is: ‘we’ve never done it that way before.’ It is easy to get into a routine that we are comfortable with. Over time, we get to a point where we do the same thing the same way over and over again. When something is done differently, however so slightly, we tend to get scared, confused, and upset. We do not want anyone to disrupt the status quo. Many churches never come close to meeting their full potential simply because they are not willing to change. I am not talking about a change in doctrine, for God’s Word never changes. However, I am talking about a change in methodology. What we believe should never change, but the way we do things and how we live should be in a constant state of change. If we are going to reach the world for Jesus, if we are going to have a major and lasting impact on our community, we must be willing to step outside of the box and engage in an unconventional ministry.
The account of the pool of Bethesda gives us a valuable lesson in what it means to have an unconventional ministry. Here we have this pool of water located by the sheep market in Jerusalem. The pool is surrounded by five porches. Those who were inflicted with various diseases and physical problems would lay on the porches. At a certain time, an angel from heaven would come and stir up the waters. The first one to step into the water would be healed of all their diseases. This is certainly very odd and different in and of itself. Jesus then comes along and heals a man who was unable to get into the pool. The issue here is not that Jesus healed the man, but that He did so on the Sabbath day which to the religious crowd of that day: ‘we’ve never done it that way before.’ As we consider this passage, we are compelled to ask ourselves, what does an unconventional ministry look like?
An unconventional ministry relies on the moving of the Holy Spirit (v. 3). Water, in the scriptures, is often symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The sick that gathered around the pool were at the mercy of the water. They waited on the water to be stirred in order to have the hope of being healed. An unconventional ministry is one that does not take matters in their own hands, rather, they rely on the moving of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has a tendency to work in ways that goes against the grain of our preconceived ideas of ministry and the church. The Holy Spirit has a tendency to stretch us and lead us into unknown territory and challenge our way of thinking. An unconventional ministry is one that is always fluid and always changing and adjusting according to how the Spirit is leading. For example, it is the Holy Spirit that leads people to us that we need to minister to. There are no accidents with God. There is a reason for everything He does. As a church, we need to be aware of the people that God brings to us, perhaps He is trying to show us something. For example, if He keeps sending homeless people our way and people with other needs, perhaps He is showing us that we need to do more. Perhaps we need to not just do the conventional thing of patting them on the back and giving them a little money and sending them on their way. Perhaps God would have us purchase a large house and start some type of homeless shelter or rescue mission right here in our town. If we continue to see people who need a ride to church, perhaps, the Spirit is leading us to build a bus ministry. If God sends us and raises up talented people in our church that can do all kinds of wild and creative things in order to reach people with the Gospel, perhaps, that is what the Spirit wants us to do. Whatever the case may be, we must be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and follow His leading no matter where that may take us and no matter how much we must change. We must be willing to keep watch and see how the Spirit of God is working and when He stirs up the waters, we must jump in.
An unconventional ministry responds immediately (v. 4 & 9). When the waters were stirred, the sick jumped in. When the man was touched by Jesus, He immediately took up his bed and walked. You see, an unconventional ministry does not hesitate. When there is a need, they meet the need. When there is an open door, they walk through. When there are changes and adjustments to be made, they make those changes and adjustments with a glad heart and without complaint. When there is a purchase to be made that will enhance the ministry, if the Lord has provided the necessary resources, they do not hesitate. No questions asked, they just act immediately according to how the Spirit is leading.
An unconventional ministry deifies religious legalism (v. 10-11). Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath. Not only that, but the man is seen carrying his bed. In Jesus’ day this went against the grain of the religious traditions. If we put this in a more modern scene, it may have happened somewhat like this: It’s a beautiful Sunday morning. All the Christians put on their Sunday best and go to church. They attend their Sunday School class and religiously read through the Sunday School quarterly. They enter the sanctuary for the worship hour and they sit quietly in the same seat they always sit in. The choir comes in and sings the call to worship. The congregation is asked to stand and sing a hymn. Then, announcements are made, a prayer is given. After this, another hymn and the offering is taken. Then there is a special song that stirs our hearts. We then sit quietly as the pastor speaks taking a glance at our watches, counting down to noon. At the end of the service, we file out of the sanctuary, shake the pastor’s hand and out we go. However, on one Sunday, something unusual happens. A new family comes in. They are dressed in ragged clothes. They smell funny. As we glance over at them, we are startled by the sound of music. What is this? It is not the choir. It’s someone different singing a new song we have never heard. The preacher doesn’t even give any announcements. He prays, He preaches. Then there is more singing. The family in ragged clothing comes forward in the invitation. The pastor prays with them. They cry, they shout. As the regulars leave the sanctuary the pastor is not there to shake their hands as he continues to minister to this odd new family. People become angry. Why were things so different today? How dare that pastor welcome that family that smells! How dare they sing a song we have never sung before! We need to call a special business meeting, someone says. We need to stop this. We’ve never done it this way before. You see, I believe in tradition. I believe in the traditional church. There is nothing wrong with tradition. Some traditions are worth fighting for. However, when tradition becomes our god. When we get so comfortable in how we always do things that we get upset over the slightest change, that is when we have a major problem. An unconditional ministry is one that is not stuck in its status quo. It is not one that does the same thing over and over week in and week out. An unconditional ministry, the kind of ministry Jesus would be a part of, is one that deifies religious legalism and simply loves God and loves people no matter what that may look like.
An unconditional ministry stays focused in the midst of persecution (v. 16-18). Jesus was focused on doing the will of His Father no matter how fierce the opposition was. Every ministry that strives to follow the Holy Spirit and reach its community with the Gospel, will face opposition. Satan will use everything and anybody he can to destroy the work of the church. If there is no opposition, then chances are we are not doing anything right. When we are doing what God would have us do, there will be opposition. As a pastor, I am not naïve. I know there are those who oppose us and seek to divide us. As a matter of fact there are sometimes people who don’t even attend our church who will spread all kinds of false information and talk bad about our church in the community. As we continue to focus on reaching this community for Jesus there will be those who will fight against us. Satan will attack both from without and from within. However, an unconditional ministry is not deterred by these attacks. An unconventional ministry stays focused on Jesus and the spreading of the Gospel. Jesus faced much opposition from the religious crowd. But, that did not stop Him from doing what He came to do. Church, we must not allow Satan to have his way amongst us. We must stay focused, stay faithful, do the work that God calls us to do no matter how great the opposition may be.
Jesus certainly did not have a conventional ministry. He was different. Church, are we going to stay in our comfort zones and just keep doing church the same way we’ve always done it? Or, are we willing to defy legalism, ignore the opposition, follow the Holy Spirit, and be an unconventional church?