Ministry Pt. 3: Loving your neighbor even if you're not "qualified"

Christian ministry is tough.  in theory, it sounds great and amazing.  The "one anothers!"  I'm totally on board.  Love and serve.  Be loved and be served.  Beautiful.

But it's difficult to reach out to people who are hurting because we hurt in different ways.  We experience life differently.  If I have not experienced life like you have, how can I minister to you?  Maybe I should wait for someone more qualified.  She'll help you instead.  That's the danger.

From here, there are two opposite but (equally?) damaging responses many Christians fall prey to.  The first is that some love their neighbors without understanding them.  This is where trite Christian platitudes and good intentions come from.  Generally Philippians 4:13 and other verses get haphazardly thrown into the fray.  This is not ministry.  At best, this provides little help.  At worst, this is person A trying to say something to person B to make person A feel better.  Sure, the Holy Spirit can work through this sort of interaction, but more often than not, this sort of "encouragement" ends up backfiring, sometimes even fostering bitterness, resentment, and loneliness.

The second pitfall comes from fear of the first.  Some fear saying the wrong thing because they don't understand the situation.  They shy away from ministry for fear of messing up.  But here is the thing about sin and suffering (and everyone's both a sinner and a sufferer)- they isolate.  They convince the individual that he/ she is alone, no one understands, and no one can help.  People who do not minister because they cannot relate to the other person well will perpetuate this misconception.

Christian ministry is tough.  Sometimes there actually may be someone more "qualified" (and you can direct someone to that individual), but I'm convinced that God also calls us to become "qualified" to minister to the people he has placed in our lives.  Part of loving, serving, and ministering to one another is not being picky about who the "another" turns out to be.

I once heard a pastor say that he read all sorts of books on all areas of human suffering so that he could better minister to people.  I think that's a great attitude for a pastor to have, but that attitude should not just be limited to pastors and counselors.  Are we not all servants and ministers regardless of whether we are Servant Ministers (deacons), shepherds, or elders?

I think the first step is understanding the needs of those around you.  This entire discussion presupposes that you know there is someine in your life that needs ministering to (hint: there is.  I am assuming by the fact that you have Internet access that you don't live by yourself in a cave somewhere.  And even if you do, people on the Internet need ministering to, too.).  If you don't know how to minister to a person's particular situation, then read up on the topic.  Like I pointed out before, you have Internet access.  God gave us Wikipedia through common grace for a reason.  Read the articles and related links.  Read books.  (And never give/ recommend books that you haven't read!)  Research (and use discernment!) And ask the person questions.  Ask to understand, but sometimes too many questions can be overwhelming.  Again, use discernment.  You don't have to fix them (you can't/ shouldn't try), but you can walk with them.  Prove that they aren't alone.

Christ first loved us.  He became one of us and walked in our shoes.  He felt our pain, and He spoke with and comforted us.  This is how He understands our weaknesses.  We will never omnisciently know how a brother or sister is suffering.  And we probably won't experience the same things.  But we can follow Christ's model of ministry and learn to relate to others the best way we can, and in the meantime, the Spirit will give us the power, guidance, and discernment we need.  Love your neighbor.  Love the one in need.