Do you believe the mundane matters in ministry?

Embracing leadership in the small things

August 26, 2019

I’ll never forget the quiet of the church building on my first day as pastor. I had previously served on a large church staff with many action-packed weekly ministries. The building was a beehive of activity. But in my new role as pastor of a small church, it was a different experience—one my Bible-college training and Christian upbringing didn’t quite prepare me for.

I suspect most of my ministry colleagues have made similar adjustments. I once heard Chuck Swindoll say to a gathering of ministers, “In ministry life, there are more moments of the mundane than the magnificent.” This is true, but why is it so hard to adjust to a ministry of the mundane?

Pastors are rightly motivated to see God do a grand work in their midst. After all, that’s why we surrendered to the call to ministry in the first place. We want to be vessels through which God changes the lives of the people we serve. We read the book of Acts and are inspired, again and again, by the way the Spirit of God builds Christ’s church. And we ask ourselves: Why can’t that happen here, in this community, through this local church?

We all want God to do something big, and we want that big thing to happen through our ministry. This isn’t necessarily a bad or carnal impulse. We should dream, as Paul did in Romans 10:1, for the salvation of those who are alienated from God. We should read the Great Commission and the words of the Lord in Acts 1:8 and the picture of the gathering of the Kingdom from all nations in Revelation 5 and 7 as both a challenge to spread God’s name and a promise of Christ’s activity in this generation. Nobody should go into ministry with only a casual interest in seeing people moved from death to life.

God is in the ordinary

However, this doesn’t mean we, ourselves, have to be overcome with frenetic activity. Sometimes God moves in big, catalytic moments like conferences and memorable worship services or large-scale events. Other times, however, God moves in the quiet, small things.

I’m reminded of Elijah, who experienced an adrenalin crash after his showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Many in Israel still worshipped Yahweh, yet still he was despondent because the big convert, Queen Jezebel, remained hardened in opposition. As God ministered to his discouraged prophet in 1 Kings 19, he demonstrates God’s unwillingness to be held captive by our expectations. Elijah stood and watched a series of big natural phenomena: a strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire. Each time, the text is clear that God was not in any of these events. God was in what came next: a whisper.

Does this mean God isn’t in control of earthquakes and fires and wind? No. Does this mean God doesn’t use big events to bring about his purposes? No. But the point God is making to Elijah and to us who speak and minister for God, is this: God is also in the whisper. He’s in the quiet, ordinary moments of life.

Gregory the Great wrote, “Purity of heart and simplicity are of great force with almighty God, who is in purity most singular, and of nature most simple.” Most of our professional ministry training prepares us for the big moments. This is good. But I wonder if we go into the pastorate expecting every day to be Mt. Carmel, when more days are like Elijah’s solace under the juniper tree.

We have a natural restlessness. In part it’s a product of the culture in which we live, where we are constantly awaiting the next big thing. Our smartphones light up with alerts from social media, email, text, and phones. Each one has the promise of something new: a new conversation, a new opportunity, a new news story. We are mastered by the moment.

I find it extraordinarily difficult to turn this off. It’s a constant battle that I don’t always win. I find it hard not to check my phone regularly, even when I should be present with people. This is a symptom of not just a busy culture, but a busy heart. We are restless creatures because we are running from the solitude that allows us to meditate, to be quiet, to hear God speak, to repent. It’s uncomfortable to face ourselves, so we fill our time with distractions.

The way of Jesus is not just active ministry. It’s time away with the Father. It’s not just crisis and confrontation; it’s the ordinary, mundane, and common. As much as we need to plan the next big event, we need to experience routines, and rest and renewal. At times, this might mean a sabbatical or time away with the family. Often it’s simply structuring our lives to include moments that are not big or consequential: breakfast with friends, a few hours to read and grow, or pursuing a life-giving hobby. I’m reminded of Thomas Carlyle’s statement that silence is “the element in which great things fashion themselves together.”

Cultivating the mundane in our leadership

It’s one thing to cultivate this “theology of the mundane” in our own hearts, but it’s another altogether to incorporate it into our leadership. Leadership books often coach readers to evaluate all of life through the grid of “How does this activity contribute to our five- and 10-year goals?” Instead, try accepting that all of life doesn’t have to be driven by the next big moment. Enjoy this present ministry. We do this in a few ways: 

  1. Model in your schedule the kind of healthy spiritual rhythms you’d like others to develop. 
  2. Take the long view of church ministry, where the Spirit of God slowly changes the hearts of his people, rather than making every Sunday “the big Sunday.” 
  3. Work to balance your desire for growth with a commitment to pastor the people in front of us, rather than the people we wish we had.

Sometimes our well-meaning impulse toward missions and evangelism reduces the mundane to meaningless. We need to recall that God’s Kingdom means he rules over all the earth, not just over what happens on Sunday. It isn’t always the big moments—the dramatic altar calls, the big donations to fund a project, the talented new hire on the church staff—where God is working. The daily, obscure work that fills ministry life matters too. Painting a nursery wall, stuffing bulletins, conversations with neighbors, cleaning up after a potluck—this too is Kingdom work.

God is at work in all kinds of churches in all kinds of ways. The Spirit of Christ is drawing people to himself and changing lives through the church of 100 just as he is in the church of 10,000. He is working in the mundane, the everyday life of the church, even when it seems nothing is happening but an occasional whisper.

This was originally published by Christianity Today.

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is the Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a columnist for World Magazine and a contributor to USA Today. Dan is a bestselling author of several books including, The Dignity Revolution, A Way With Words, and The Characters of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24