In my Bible study time this morning, I was reading in Matthew 14. In it we find the familiar story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. As you probably know, in this story from the life of Jesus, He had been followed out into the desert by a large throng of people. He had been healing the sick in the crowd for pretty much the entire day and now it was late. The disciples urged Jesus to dismiss the crowd so they could make it home in time to get something to eat.
Assuming that you’ve heard this story before, you know how it ends. That isn’t what struck me as I read this passage today. What struck me was Jesus’ response to his disciples when they told him to dismiss the crowds. (Isn’t it funny to see the disciples telling Jesus, the Son of God, what He should do?) Here’s his response.
But Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; YOU give them something to eat.’ – Matthew 14:16 ESV (emphasis mine)
They are in the middle of the desert. There are at least five thousand men in the crowd (not counting women and children). Jesus and the disciples are essentially homeless nomads, yet He tells His disciples to feed the crowd. What in the world is He thinking they can do in this situation?
Looking back two thousand years into history, we can see that He is once again teaching them that despite their own inabilities and weaknesses, nothing is impossible through His strength. In fact most of us could probably preach a pretty good three point sermon from this passage without much difficulty.
So, why am I blogging about a story that we all know so well? It goes back to that response of ‘You give them something to eat.’ How many times have we seen an opportunity to effectively minister to someone in need, and not done it because we feel unqualified or incapable of making any kind of difference? Probably quite a bit. There seems to be an alarming trend within the Americanized church that if you aren’t in full time ministry or a leader in the church, you aren’t ‘good enough’ to take on some form of ministry. I will admit that this mindset is often nurtured by church staff members, who in an attempt to make sure nothing is happening within their congregations that is out of line, stifle any layperson’s attempt at launching a ministry. After all, can you imaging the horrific ramifications on the church’s reputation if one of our members starts a ministry that struggles or *gulp* fails?
Church members are seemingly scared to ask for opportunities to launch out to follow a burden they have and church leaders are equally scared to affirm them in that calling. It is a devastating circle that all too often stifles any chance at reaching beyond the four walls of the local church building. Instead of the proverbial circle of life, it becomes the circle of death for new ministry ideas.
Not to single out church leaders for stifling these ministry ideas, there is also another mindset among many laypeople that ministries must be led by someone on the church staff. While it is always wise to get insight and even possibly oversight from an experienced leader, it isn’t a biblical mandate that church staff must lead every ministry the congregation comes up with. It is important to remember that most churches in America are understaffed to carry on the ministries that already exist within their church. I have seen many church members respond in shocked horror or absolute fury when they are given the freedom and encouragement to get their ministry idea off the ground on their own without a staff member doing it for them. Both mindsets are equally obstructive to the formation and success of outreach ministries.
Back to Matthew 14:16. Jesus issued a command to His disciples that I believe still rings true today. ‘YOU give them something to eat.’ When God puts a burden in your spirit to reach a person or group of people, he is giving you that burden for a purpose. You may very well be the only person in someone’s life that can effectively show them the love of Jesus in a way that will change their lives. We need to stop looking at our weaknesses and start looking at His strength. God doesn’t always call the most eloquent speaker, the most educated individual, or the most polished professional. He does call His person to get the job done. So I ask one more time: What are you waiting for?