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How to Do Ministry Like Jesus

How to Do Ministry Like Jesus

For a long time I’ve looked to the apostle Paul as a model for what my ministry should be like. Paul was an itinerant preacher who was immensely gifted at crossing cultural barriers. He toured the ancient Mediterranean, publicly debating with scoffers and establishing new communities of disciples. He founded countless local assemblies based on the sheer power of the gospel message.

And then he left. Whether after days or months, Paul moved on. He appointed elders to care for the newly called out body of Christ in that city, and then he continued onward, to lay a foundation in the other cities and towns that had not yet heard the word.

Paul’s ministry is deeply compelling to me. He’s an heroic figure who endured incredible hardship and violent opposition in order to share the gospel widely and establish new church communities wherever he went.

I’ve often felt uneasy and disappointed with how little my own ministry so far has mirrored that of Paul’s. After all, I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in the last decade, but I haven’t done any miracles like Paul did. I haven’t started many new congregations. Measuring myself by Paul’s example, it’s easy to feel like a failure.

But then, I ask myself: Why have I been so fixated on Paul as a model for my ministry? Without a doubt, Paul was an amazing minister, but there is an even better example for me to look up to: Jesus!

Yeah, I know, it’s pretty obvious that I should look first to Jesus for inspiration. He is the founder of this whole God Movement, isn’t he? But, for a variety of reasons, I’ve often clung to Paul. I guess it feels safer to compare myself to him than to Jesus. Amazing as he was, he was still just a regular person like me, not the son of God.

It feels overwhelming to think about my ministry in relation to the life of Jesus. That’s like getting on my old touring bicycle for a casual ride and comparing my performance to Lance Armstrong. Totally inappropriate. I’m not even in the same league!

But it also makes a sort of sense, doesn’t it? If I’m trying to follow Jesus, why wouldn’t I seek to emulate him, first and foremost? Jesus was the central focus in Paul’s life and ministry. Shouldn’t it be the same for me?

This puts Jesus in a whole new light. Rather than looking at Christ’s ministry as exclusive and one-of-a-kind, what if Jesus is actually inviting me into his own journey? What if I embraced the kind of ministry that he modeled? As crazy as it sounds, Jesus himself said that in the power of his Holy Spirit we can do even greater things than he did during his time on earth.

That’s phenomenal, isn’t it? We can’t just leave the heavy lifting to Jesus. He invites us into the same work that he did.

With this in mind, I’m going to be studying Jesus’ life and message with new eyes. How did he carry out his ministry? What was Jesus’ model? 

Right off the bat, I notice a few things:

Jesus didn’t plant churches. He gathered a tight circle of friends into a counter-cultural community that traveled with him wherever he went. In addition to this inner circle of itinerant Jesus groupies, he cultivated a dispersed network of friends and supporters throughout Judea.

Jesus developed a movement, not an institution. The disciples never set up a fixed headquarters, but rather moved from house to house, often in a clear attempt to avoid confrontation with hostile authorities. Jesus did not attempt to build up a stronghold in a single location, but actively dispersed emerging leaders to spread the movement in their own social networks. (For examples of this, see the Samaritan woman and the Garasene demoniac.)

Jesus healed people. This was a huge part of what Jesus did. In fact, it would probably be accurate to say that Jesus’ job description was healer and teacher, in that order. During the three years of his ministry, this seems to be what he did all day long. When was the last time you saw someone healed at church?

Jesus prophetically confronted injustice and corrupt institutions. As a result, he came under deadly attack by the powers that be. Defying the death machine, Jesus refused to compromise with the status quo. Instead, he taught his disciples a new and living way, completely at odds with the dominant culture.

There’s a lot more to be said here, but I’d like you to join me in this conversation. What do you see as the marks of Jesus’ ministry? How can we as modern-day disciples follow in his footsteps, orienting our lives around the reign of God that he proclaimed and inaugurated?

Related Posts:

Is Jesus Too Exclusive?

Following Jesus is Quite a Workout

  • Tony Marshall

    Hi Micah. Your post resonates powerfully with a book I’ve just finished and am still digesting. It’s Robin Meyers’s “Saving Jesus from the Church”. It talks of following Jesus’ phenomenally revolutionary example of grace, inclusiveness and generosity. As you say, he appealed to the poor, the marginalised and the unpopular for his leadership cohort, healing them and others who were demeaned and dominated by society’s dominant authoritarian norms. Thanks for helping me to continue the search for the authentic Jesus. Blessings and peace.

    • Thank you, Tony! I’m glad this resonated for you.

      Are there any aspects of Jesus’ ministry that you’d highlight as being important to consider as we consider our own mission today?

      • Tony Marshall

        I’m sure you are practising Jesus’ way, and know better than I, but it is kind of you to ask! I suppose the consistency of placing people’s welfare first. Jesus flouted the religious dictates of his day, e.g. Sabbath observance, when kindness and compassion demanded. His response to the woman caught in adultery is another example of his profound compassion. Most importantly for South Africans like me, the example of Jesus’ generosity to the poor and downtrodden in the face of an exploitative religiously ordained (or silent) elitist power and economic system. Our Gini coefficient is a powder keg waiting for a spark. Blessings and peace.

        • Great observations, Tony! I’m thinking about what it would mean for the followers of Jesus to live out this witness today.

  • Diane Benton

    Based on what Jesus said to the scribes (lawyers) and pharisees (governors) there was no place for either in Jesus’ community. Jesus fulfilled the law by becoming it’s victim. The end of law is death.

    • Pretty harsh on lawyers and politicians! 🙂

      • Diane Benton

        It’s probably more accurate to say that laws and government have no place. People are always welcome. I suspect those people would feel outside their comfort zone.

        • I definitely feel outside my comfort zone!

          • Diane Benton

            Yup, so do I.

  • Micah, you’ve made a great summary of Jesus’ ministry model, as well as Paul’s ministry. Well done!

    What bothers me is not seeing anyone who comes close to living this out. Why don’t we see people trying to minister like Jesus – even in small ways?

    • Adria Gulizia

      Peter, some of us are trying! As a worker in the Friends of Jesus, I recently came to the conclusion that *relationship* is so much more important than *membership*. Jesus said his disciples would be known by their love, not by which meeting/church/parachurch organization they belong to. In the past month, I have visited with, listened to and loved on folks in three different states, with whom I have or am (hopefully) building ongoing, authentic relationships. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will empower each one of them to go forth and make disciples of all nations – and that my car has many miles left in it!

      • Adria, we are kindred spirits!

        I recently blogged about the need to stop thinking about membership.What we need is genuine community. That is what I seek, not a church to attend or join.

        (If you’re interested in my post:

        • Adria Gulizia

          I really liked your post on this, Peter! I looked around at some of your other writing, and I have to say it’s really interesting. I don’t know if you’re free Labor Day weekend, but it would be great to get to know you at our next Friends of Jesus Fellowship Gathering if you can make it to New Jersey! You can see more info here:

          • Thanks for the invite. I really appreciate it and wish I didn’t live so far away. For now, I will need to learn what I can online and connect through the Internet. Thanks, again!

  • chrisew

    Hi Micah. Thank you for your article about using Jesus as the model for ministry. Have you ever thought that Jesus and Paul seemed to on different paths? Jesus was all about the Kingdom of God. Paul is about grace and salvation. A few years ago I read some literature from some hyper-dispensational folks who said that Jesus’ ministry is now on hold until the Gentiles are brought in under the teachings of Paul. If that is true it would explain the difference between the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of Paul.

  • Carrie

    Great post! Bob Logan did a study of the behaviors of Jesus, and he describes them in his book, The Missional Journey. A few of the behaviors he came up with that resonate with me are: 1. Staying connected with the Father (obvious, I guess, but important for people like me who have a tendency to rely more on “the plan” than on the Father) 2. Living with purpose: Jesus wasn’t just wandering aimlessly around the countryside; everything he did was with the purpose of displaying the Kingdom. 3. Another commenter already said this, but I concur that serving the least was a clear example from Jesus’ life and ministry.