Mark 6:6b-13 How is ministry to be done?

Imagine a rare car collector saying to any of us, climb up in my maseratti, or Bentley, and take it for a spin, give it a drive and see how you like it.  Wouldn’t you just be floored?  I would be dazed and awed at the chance to drive some of those cars.  I remember just a few summers ago, when my Father handed me the keys to his ’78 corvette and told me to drive it around.  Now a 78 vette isn’t the cream of the crop in terms of corvettes; it is the dog of the whole lot, but it was as close to driving a sports car, as I will likely ever get.  That is kind of what this passage is all about.

 

This is one of the great passages of the Scriptures.  In these 6 ½ verses, we find Jesus instructing his disciples in how ministry is to be done and that means Jesus plans on sharing his calling with people.  He is inviting them, and by corollary us, into the exciting work of seeing the reign of God extended.  In short he is giving them the keys to the kingdom sports car and saying go try it out.

 

When Jesus sends the 12 out with authority over evil spirits he is sharing the power of God with average, normal, generic, fallible people.  But in so doing, he is making a giant statement about how ministry is to be done if it is to be successful.  Ministry must be done with and under Christ’s authority.  That means any ministry, which is to properly represent the Kingdom of God and extend the reign of God, must be done God’s way and for God’s glory.  There is no room for human ingenuity and planning.  There is no room for people to share in the glory and the praise by their grand ideas.  No, to be under God’s authority means that everything, which a disciple does for the kingdom, must be wholly devoted to the Lord.

 

Even Christ was under the authority of the Father.  He only spoke what the he heard the father saying and he only did what he saw the father doing.  He was submissive to the Father in order to see the kingdom of the Father extended.  And because of that submission, we are told that he had received authority from my Father (rev 2:27) and not just some authority but all authority in heaven and earth had been given to Christ (Mt 28:18).   In his earthly ministry, we see Jesus Christ having authority to teach (Mk 1:22), to drive out demons (Mk 3:15) and to heal the sick and forgive sins (Mk 2:10).  And he is choosing to share his authority with people.

 

So what does it mean to have or to do ministry under the authority of Christ? To be under authority is to be governed by one greater.  So to be under Christ’s authority means that we are submissive to his desires and his plans.  To be under his authority means that we are not doing what we want, but we are carrying out the directives that he has given.  To be under his authority is to live life as an ambassador for Christ, bearing his words and doing his deeds in his way.  At the end of today’s verses we read: They went out and preached that people should repent.  They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them (Mk 6:12-13).

 

These verses tell us what the message was and what the deeds were.  The message is simply: God reigns; people must repent.  They are charged to preach the same message that Jesus himself has been preaching.  Nothing more, nothing different, nothing novel.  Just the gospel: God reigns! And they deeds that are to accompany that are also clearly stated: exorcise demons and anoint the sick and healed them.  God’s people are to perform spiritual and physical healing.  We are to believe that God is sufficiently powerful enough to heal through the meager resources of prayer and oil.  We are to trust in the power of God.  To dare to pray for the Father to do through us what he did through Jesus.

 

Are you willing to submit to Christ’s ways and pray for the sick, to believe in the demonic and trust that Christ’s power is sufficient to cast these devils out and to weld to all of this the preaching of the Kingdom?  This is how ministry is to be done in the Lord’s kingdom.

 

Now the rest of the passage, everything between the granting of authority and the declaration of the words and deeds that show one is under the authority of Christ tells us more of the specifics about how to do ministry.  If the beginning and the end of the passage give us the what’s of ministry, the middle section gives us the hows of ministry.  There are 8 how’s of ministry.  How is ministry done?

 

  1. In Partnership

We are told that the disciples were sent out two by two (Mk 6:7).  This is very important.  All ministry is intended by God to be a communal effort.  Ministry is hard work, whether it is vocational ministry like pastoring or lay ministry like working a job and testifying to Jesus.  To attempt to go it alone is foolish and unwise.  We need encouragement and we need another set of eyes to help us discern when it is time to move on.

 

We are told that the disciples are to shake the dust off their feet of any place that is unreceptive, but frequently it takes the eyes of another person to help us discern when a place is truly unreceptive.  The Old Testament required the testimony of 2 in order to convict a person.[1]  It is highly probable that Jesus is sending out the twelve so that there is sufficient testimony to declare a place resistant to the gospel and to pull out and go elsewhere.

 

But there are other reasons why ministry must be done in partnership, in our day and age with its fascination for superstar pastors, the wisdom of ministering in partnership keeps the focus off of the individual and on the Kingdom of God.[2]  In this way, no one becomes a disciple of Paul, or Apollos or Cephas, as was happening in Corinth, but everyone becomes a disciple of Christ.

 

Practically, this could mean a number of things.  It is one of the main reasons for getting married, in order to partner together in bringing about the kingdom and raising up godly offspring (Mal 2).  It could mean working with friends in the ministry, going out with others, much like I did when Mark and I went to India and Sri Lanka a few years ago.  It is why community churches that aren’t affiliated with a denomination are often dangerous places to be, for there is no like-minded affiliation and partnership of ministry that occurs.  It could be a dual pastorate, or it could be a pastor-elder partnership where the elders share the ministry or preaching and visiting with the pastor in order to hold one another up and keep a set of sane eyes on the work and the field.  Personally I have been greatly blessed as the elders and deacons have taken more of the ministry onto their shoulders, visiting the sick, even preaching at times and definitely leading scripture study and prayer.  Each of these things reminds me that the ministry is not built upon my back, but upon Christ’s back through us.  And the plurality of eyes is particularly helpful when dealing with the rebellious sheep, for frequently one of the elders has been able to reach someone that I have been unable to reach and so the Kingdom of God continues to advance powerfully.  How is ministry done?

 

  1. In reliance upon God

 

Not only are we to work with others, but also we are to always place ourselves in a position of reliance upon God.  The disciples are told to Take nothing for the journey… no bread, no bag, no money in your belts…no extra tunic (Mk 6:8-9).  This may be one of the hardest lessons about how to minister for the modern church in the western world.  We so want to plan everything out, and exercise all sorts of prudence, thinking about the contingencies etcetera.  Consider the instructions Jesus is giving:  Go on a trip without food, travel plans, money or extra clothes.  Just head out and rely upon God to meet your needs.    This defies all generally accepted wisdom and prudence, even in that day.

 

But God wants to receive all the glory for all the successes and people just have a bad habit of taking credit for the growth when everything has been planned out and the emergencies are prepared for.  God is inviting his people to risk when they minister and to risk big, they will either be a sensational flop, or an inspiring success of God’s greatness.

 

It is this point, which I think has set the churches of the developing world apart from the church of the developed world.  They have no resources, not plans and no hope other than to trust God and minister and the church has grown wildly across the globe.  But in the west, we through money at every problem, we create teams and strategies and we continue to watch the witness of Christ be eroded in our culture all because we do not live in reliance upon God.

 

So how can one live in reliance upon God as they minister?  Remember the story of George Müller?  The man who began caring for orphans in England a hundred year’s ago or so.  At the peak of his ministry he was caring for 1700+ orphans and many a night they had no idea where the food was coming from to feed the children.  So they prayed and prayed and never in his entire 40+ years did they miss a meal and only once was the meal 30 minutes late.  A modern day story of a similar vein is told in Kisses for Katie of a 19-year-old woman who left for Uganda and serves the orphan children.  She had no money, no plan, and no grand agenda other than to love the needy and pray for God to supply her needs.  She is 25 now (2013) and has adopted 13 children of her own from the Uganda villages and feeds 1200+ children Monday through Friday.  You can read her story in Kisses for Katie.

 

We live in reliance upon God by stepping out when God lays things on our hearts and doing them.  We live in reliance upon God when we give beyond our means.  When we as a church don’t hold back huge quantities of financial resources but direct them toward gospel ministries.  We live in reliance upon God when we are beyond ourselves and only the in breaking power of God will rescue us.

 

How is ministry done?

 

  1. In Simplicity[3]

 

The 2 items that Jesus allows the disciples to take on their journey are a staff and sandals.  Both of them items which would be necessary for their physical care.  The sandals would keep their feet protected in a rocky and difficult terrain, allowing them to faster.  The staff would give them something to lean on and a tool for defending themselves should wild animals come upon them.  They are definitely not going to be fully defended, or prepared for every contingency.  Ministry isn’t supposed to be painful, but it is to be simple.  God isn’t an ascetic, but neither is he a glutton either. We are not to be a people overly encumbered in our ministry with stuff.

 

Westerners have gotten way to expensive to send to the mission field in recent years.  We want to take our electronics but those require generators and batteries.  We want to take our favorite foods for comfort when things are hard.  We want to have travel insurance in case we get sick and we want to have nice healthy salaries too.  Christ isn’t calling us to be destructive to our bodies with these instructions to leave so much and to take so little to care for ourselves.  Rather he is calling us to reevaluate what we really need in order to do ministry and to trust God. Are we really just caring for our needs, or are we living a life of luxury at the expense of the world?

 

Could any of us easily and quickly move in with another, or flee this city for another one if we suddenly found the gospel rejected and the city casting us out?  All that Jesus ever promised his people was food and clothing, he didn’t promise cars, houses, CD’s, iPods, etc…  In simplicity we can once again regain a heart for mission and find out what it really means to care for ourselves.

 

How is ministry to be done?

 

  1. Among the People

 

Jesus’ next instruction on ministering to others comes with these words: “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town” (Mk 6:10).  Jesus’ intention was that the disciples would become part of the people to whom they ministered.  They were to be on the ground, if you will.  They were to see the daily experience, feel the daily struggles, participate in the daily life of the people they were preaching to and healing.  In this way the disciples would see the real life struggles and be able to bring the message of the kingdom to bear upon their lives.  Being among the people would allow them to work with the people, to share life very intimately, but it would also serve to make them dependent upon God and recipients of hospitality.  And like any of us know who have had long term guests, their comes a time when it is obvious that the stay is coming to an end and it is time to move on.

 

What does this look like for us?  It means that we should expect one another to be in our lives, sharing hospitality.  We should be going to the world and the place they hang out and becoming part of their world, but not of their world.  We should find ourselves in the coffee shops, and break rooms with the people.  I remember a boss of mine challenging me once to not use my time over lunch breaks to disappear and keep to myself, but instead to eat with and socialize with the other workers.  That was hard, I had so much going on and that 30 minutes was 30 minutes that wouldn’t come out of my sleep later in the evening as I was in school.  But you know, he was right.  By eating with the people and talking with them I learned about their lives and could bring the gospel in a whole new way to their world.

 

But it also means being a people who are hospitable.  We need to not only go to the people, but we need to invite the people to our homes to eat and share life.  We need to open our houses up to Christian brothers from other countries who are preparing for the ministry.  We need to open up our homes to hurting people in need of family.  We need to allow people to see Jesus incarnated right into our lives.

 

How is ministry done?

 

  1. On the move and with the sense that there will be rejection of the message

 

Being on the move, may sound contradictory to being among the people, but it isn’t.  Jesus tells us to stay among the people in a town until we leave.  He never intended us to spend all our time in one small location.  Rather he expected that his disciples would be on the move, branching out and sharing the kingdom with many people and in many contexts.  He believed the message was simply too important for people to get comfortable and settle in to one place and never branch out.  But I think he also understood that when the message is preached that God reigns, that it would eventually come to a point where the towns would no longer welcome the message or listen to the preachers.  And instead of telling the disciples to press in, he told them to move on and go elsewhere.  There are plenty of opportunities and plenty of fields ripe for the harvest to waste time in hard soil.

 

That is why the disciples were told: And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave as a testimony against them (Mk 6:11).  Shaking the dust off your feet was a Jewish practice one did when they returned from walking in gentile lands before they entered the Promised Land.  It was a way of saying, that area is pagan and we will have none of that in our land.  So in our context, Jesus is telling the disciples to recognize when an area refuses to listen to the gospel message and then done stay there any longer, but instead declare to the area that they are now without excuse.  They have heard the message and failed to respond and now they will be judged like any pagan who fails to turn to the Living God.

 

This is a harder lesson to swallow for many of us.  It is difficult to turn our backs on the unreceptive places or unreceptive friends and move forward to greener pastures.  But what use does it really make to continue preaching to closed ears and hearts.  Cut your losses with the unrepentant and move on.  It may be that the hard love of being blatant and honest is what finally jars them out of their stubborn refusal.  That is the story of Jeff, a student of mine who was culturally a Christian but wasn’t a disciple.  So one day I told him I had no more time to invest in him until he was ready to truly hear and live like God reigned.  It was hard for both of us and we didn’t meet for a few months, then one day he came to me and repented and that started a wonderful time of a few years of discipleship and growth that was great in his life.

 

For the mission world, this may be one of the mostly hotly contested issues of the day.  Do we pour great amounts of resources into the closed area of the 10-40 window or do we put those resources to work in places that are open and receptive.  I think the answer lies in Jesus’ teaching about being among the people but also understanding that an entire life spent trying to reach one Muslim may not be the call that Christ had.  Sure we should go in and preach the message in the Muslim and Hindu lands but we should also recognize the responsibility we have to keep preaching until we find the receptive places in those lands.

 

But ministry also needs to be done with a sense of

 

  1. Urgency

 

If I am allowed to back up a few verses to the words about not taking anything except the sandals and staff.  Might it be that for good ministry to occur there needs to be a sense of urgency and not complacency?[4]  There can be no feeling in the minister that there is always tomorrow.  When the passage says we are not to take two tunics.  It isn’t talking about togas or robes; the word used is the word that would be equivalent to our word for underwear.[5]

 

The sense to proclaim the reign of God needs to be so pressing in our hearts that we don’t even have time to trifle with change our underwear.  Some of you are thinking that is just gross.  Let me put it another way.  The sense of urgency for preaching the gospel needs to be so great that we aren’t willing to waste a single minute in unneeded actions.  This is a call not to waste time in forwarding junk emails that are cute but not gospel preaching.  This is a call not to waste a single minute shaving or primping our hair and makeup because people are dying in their sin and need the words of God preached to them.  This is a call not to waste a single dollar and frivolous refreshments and trite material possessions when that money could be used to expand the kingdom.  It is a call to urgently get out and tell others about the reign of God.  And this is hard for most of us.  We are so self focused that we have forgotten what it is to think this is our last day on earth.  But we need to live everyday as if it is our last, doing the work of Christ, being found doing our master’s business.

 

And the final point I have for you today is that ministry is to be done

 

  1. In Obedience

 

Mark tells us that after Jesus instructed the disciples in how to minister, They went out and preached that people should repent (Mk 6:12).  When we understand the urgency of the message and that there are some ready to accept the message that God is Lord and King and so be saved, and when we are ready to go out in obedience to Christ, relying upon the power of God for success, we will find that there is success.  So my challenge to you today is to recognize that Christ’s life modeled every one of these points.  He came under the authority and direction of the Father, he refused to minister alone but called the 12 to be with him, he relied on the Spirit of God to direct him and lead him.  He incarnated into the world, living among the people but he also travelled widely in Israel preaching to all the cities and not just staying in one place and his sense of urgency compelled him to life a life of obedience and submission to the Father.  And as you recognize it, determine to live the same kind of life and so enjoy all that Christ has for you in bringing the nations into his kingdom.


[1] Sacra Pagina, The Gospel of Mark, v.2; John Donahue and Daniel Harrington, S.J. (Liturgical Press: Collegevill, MN, 2002), p190

[2] Interpretation:Mark; Lamar Williamson, Jr (John Knox Press, 1983), p119

[3] Interpretation, p121

[4] The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel according to St. Mark, Cranfield (Cambridge Univ. Press:New York, NY, reprint 1979/1983, ©1959), p200

[5] Sacra Pagina, p191

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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