Twice in the Bible it is written that Jesus fed large groups of people with only a few loaves of bread and a few fish. Everyone generally knows about “the feeding of the 5000”,
Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed. (Mark 6:41-44 NLT, Source: Bible Gateway)
…but we sometimes forget about “the feeding of the 4000″…
So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to his disciples, who distributed the bread to the crowd. A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them.
They ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. There were about 4,000 people in the crowd that day, and Jesus sent them home after they had eaten. (Mark 8:6-9 NLT, Source: Bible Gateway)
…and very frequently forget about “the feeding of the disciples”.
At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? ‘You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all? When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?”
“Twelve,” they said.
“And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?”
“Seven,” they said.
“Don’t you understand yet?” he asked them. (Mark 8:16-21 NLT, Source: Bible Gateway)
…but that last one is kind of a different lesson all-together.
What’s impressive to me about each of the stories is what we don’t read. After Jesus fed the 5000, He leaves for another town. After feeding the 4000, He sends the crowd home. In both of these instances, He didn’t insist on them listening to hours of His sermon or require that they say special prayers. The scriptures say that He had compassion so he fed the people. This is really interesting when you think about who Jesus is, what He did, and what we typically think of when we think of “ministry” in the modern sense.
Having a personal “ministry” is a non-negotiable. That just comes with the territory and is emphasized by the Great Commission (Christ’s final “charge” before ascending into heaven). HOWEVER, a lot of Christians, especially new and growing Christians, may not be ready to take to the streets and start shouting down strangers about what the Bible says and how they should live (and even if they were ‘ready’, I probably wouldn’t recommend it). Ministry looks very different depending on the spiritual gifts of the individual believer, their emotional maturity, and the depth of their relationship with God.
When we focus on Christ’s ministry, we see three main facets…
- Relation building
Relationship building became essential in the early stages of Christ’s ministry. He select disciples to follow him and befriended them as far more than just simple students. Peter loved Christ and Christ is said to have loved Peter so much that when Jesus’ resurrection was announced, He called for Peter by name. That’s a far stronger relationship than anything I ever had with a high school teacher or professor. It highlights that part of our ministry is simply getting to know people personally and finding ways to connect with them in the world while still remaining separate from the world (another lesson for another day).
Education is what we find when Jesus puts on his Rabbi hat. His sermons, His parables, and His “teachable moments”… Jesus took time to educate those around him at every turn, though He never required complete understanding before building a relationship or showing compassion. This is an important aspect of ministry that many establishments have forgotten and has resulted in a lot of misunderstanding about how ‘accepting’ the modern church truly is. Even Christ’s very own disciples failed to completely understand everything Jesus was teaching them all the way to the final pages of the Gospels. That didn’t stop Christ from building friendships and loving His followers. It involves an amount of patience and repetition that is difficult at times and is one of the reasons why when many people think of “ministry” they are quickly intimidated by what ‘education’ they may have to receive and give.
Compassion is really what brought the crowds out to see Jesus. More often than not when we see large crowds surrounding Jesus, it is written that the crowds heard Jesus was healing people or performing miracles. These crowds weren’t coming to hear a dynamic speaker (though that may have been part of it) and many weren’t necessarily coming to be “saved”. Many of the motives were less-than-pious. Jesus didn’t let that stop Him from showing them compassion. He healed those who needed physical and spiritual healing despite who they had been or why they had showed up that day. He sat with the lowest tier of society and associated with whores, thieves, and criminals. For the most part, He did all this without preconditions… meaning that He hung out with these individuals without requiring them to physically do anything. It’s really easy to forget this when we volunteer at a soup kitchen and “see people who probably don’t need free help” or assume that people are taking advantage of your charity. It’s easy for us to let that discourage us and keep us from practicing unconditional compassion. Jesus sets a pretty high bar when it comes to compassion-without-preconditions. All He requires is that they come to Him and believe.
Let’s bring this back to our own ministries. Like I said, some people aren’t really ready to take to the halls of their schools and start preaching to the lost in their classes, at their places of work, or even in their homes. I get it; ministry can be intimidating. Fortunately, there is a lot more to ministry than just preaching. Ministry is many things to many people and where we are in our walk with Christ may influence what facets of our ministry are the best to focus on. The one thing that makes us all the same is that we all have individual ministries. The high school students have ministries. The middle school students have ministries. Brand new Christians have ministries. We all have our ministry in our own way that parallels how strong our relationship is with Christ.
My question… and challenge… to our students was “What is your ministry?” It’s a question we should all ask ourselves, from the most senior Church leaders to the most casual church bystanders. How am I building relationships that glorify God? How am I educating those around me… or educating myself? How am I showing compassion to everyone, including those I don’t care to show compassion to? They are questions that can intimidate us, but can also empower us. Once we start taking our own ministries seriously, God can start using us in ways that we can’t possibly imagine.