During a recent conversation with a high school educator concerning teaching methods, the following statement was made.
"We spend years giving our students tests with choices A,B,C or D, and then send them into the world expecting them to succeed when there are seldom answers to life's questions that are that simple. Most of the challenges they face will require answers that are somewhere in the middle, or not on the page at all, and they don't know how to adapt"
A very true observation and a reality. Although multiple choice tests are challenging, they don't hold a candle to the intimidation of the dreaded essay. We tend to like choices don't we. At least we have a fighting chance with choices. Even if it means we choose the lesser of two evils, its one or the other. We are conditioned to believe the answer is either one or the other. With an essay comes questions. What if the instructor doesn't agree with my opinion, or the path I take to the final point? What if we disagree about what is acceptable and what isn't. After all, the answer to an essay question is subjective right?
Modern Christians have become all about the multiple choice church when it comes to styles and beliefs. We even categorize them like answers on a test, but which to choose? Traditional, Contemporary, Evangelical, Conservative, Reformed, are just a few that come to mind. We have styles and choices to fit anyone. The problem is that people and their lives are not that clear cut. Often times people have conflicting preferences within the confines of their own heart and mind. In other words, our lives in reality are messy. When the body of Christ chooses to focus ministry on people with little or no exposure to God or church culture, our ministry becomes messy. There will be very few aspects of ministry that will fall cleanly inside the lines or choices time and tradition have carved out.
The truth of the gospel of Christ will remain the same, always. That said, how the gospel is offered may look very different. Kindness, compassion, a receptive heart and lots of grace should forever be front and center of any ministry. The expectations of acceptable behavior and conduct should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the body of Christ, not on those we claim to "welcome" into our midst.
Ministry, like our lives, reads much more like an essay answer than multiple choice. Everyone's journey to Christ is different. Hopefully, we all reach the same destination, a real relationship with Jesus. How we offer that relationship to others is not always the same. Almost every single account we have in scripture of Christ interacting with those who knew little to nothing about Him shows Him ministering to people whose lives were messy. They rarely fit into a specific category. His love for them was always visible in the words, actions, and reactions He chose to use in each individual situation. He did things very differently, not only in situations, but inside the culture.
Ministry is not multiple choice. Ministry is an essay, and as such, though messy, has much more potential to take individuals as God created them and lead them to the one and only answer, Jesus Christ. Let's lead them through a love and grace that can only come from God himself.
There is an essay to be written, so sharpen your pencils, buckle up, and let's get to writing.