We are just one preposition away from ministry in Jesus’ Name. Instead of viewing ministry as ministry ‘to’ people, we need to be in ministry ‘with’ people. Theologically, this is the incarnational principle: Emmanuel–God ‘with’ us. It resonates with Jesus’ final promise, “I am ‘with’ you always.” By making ‘with’ the operative preposition, some important things occur.
First, it means we take initiative. We do not wait for people to ask for help, we offer it. We do not wait until some come to us, we go to them. We see God taking this initiative immediately after the Fall, when God went in search of Adam and Eve. And that is the recurring pattern in the rest of the Bible, to the extent that we speak of the ‘divine initiative.’
Second, ministry with people means we have gotten specific. We have entered into the lives of real people, in real places, and about real things. Nothing is abstract. As Henri Nouwen put it, we live here-and-now, not there-and-later. This does mean recognizing that we cannot do everything–but we can do something. And what we can do, we do–to the glory of God. This is what Wesley called practical divinity: faith working by love.
Third, we commit to duration. The emphasis shifts from an event orientation to a relational orientation. We commit to specific people and places for the long-haul. We enter into the lives of people, getting to know them, and they us. When we minister with people we no longer show up and then go away, we stay put.
Happily, I know pastors and churches who order ministry this way. In time their congregations are woven into the fabric of the community, and hearts are bonded ‘with’ one another in Christ.