Who are you ministering to with your presence?

October 4, 2018

I was serving in rural Kenya with a mission team building an aquaponics system that would benefit a local church. It was hard work, and we were behind schedule. One afternoon, with precious few hours of daylight left to work, a local woman came to visit and see the project. Our team leader asked me to visit with this woman under the shade of a mango tree. While my exhausted body was internally shouting “hallelujah” for the break, I was cringing at the thought of my team members continuing to sweat under the blazing sun while I sat and drank water in the shade. Every time one of them passed by our chairs, I explained that our team leader asked me to tend to our visitor.

I’m ashamed now as I reflect on how devalued I must have made my Kenyan friend feel. I was too busy trying to convince everyone that I wasn’t a slacker to see how she must have felt to repeatedly hear that I was told to sit with her. I valued the project more than I valued her. I saw her as a distraction to the work I was there to do instead of a sister in Christ worthy of my undivided attention. Being fully present with her under the mango tree was the ministry priority.

Perhaps my team leader picked me to sit under the mango tree because she knew I valued productivity over presence. God certainly did. I thought I was there to help her, but I learned how to be with her. I’m grateful for the lesson I learned that day.

Finding value in what we do

Like many people, I have bought into the ethic that my success is determined by my accomplishments. My day is described in terms of productivity. If I’ve gotten a lot done, it’s been a good day. My day feels wasted when I have nothing to show for it. We are tempted to find our value in what we do. Therefore, the more we do, the more we’re worth.

As narrow as this ethic is, it becomes dangerous when we apply it to ministry. Our success in ministry is determined by our faithfulness and our obedience. Followers of Christ can’t follow the logic of this world. We must live countercultural lives. The gospel declares our value in whose we are not in what we do. We are primarily called to someone, and secondarily to something. We are called to be before we are called to do.

As we go out into the world to make disciples, we get near people. We involve ourselves. Time is the currency that we spend and invest. As we converse and mutually share with others, the ministry of presence becomes evident. This ministry of presence creates opportunities for us to share the gospel, make disciples, and show Christ’s love to our brothers and sisters.

The ministry of presence begins vertically

The ministry of presence originates with Christ. He is Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23). Our good Father knows the value of presence. He is our “very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). More importantly, we’ve got his presence through Christ with us always (Matt. 28:20).

Loving our neighbor begins with being present in our neighbor’s life.

Kingdom people value the ministry of presence. We have the privilege of our Father’s presence. We want to be with him because we love him. We seek his presence continually (Ps. 105:4). We find our joy in his presence (Ps. 16:11). We spend time with him in prayer, worship, and study.

Doing is good; we are to be doers of the Word (James 1:22). But all our doing comes from our knowing. We do what God says because we know and love him and want to make him more known and more loved. The more time we spend in his presence, the more we desire to do what pleases him and the better equipped we become to accomplish it. Jackie Hill Perry once tweeted, “I can be of no good to anyone if I have not met with God.”

The ministry of presence spreads horizontally

When we live coram Deo, in the presence of God, we begin to see like him. He is El Roi, the God who sees (Gen. 16:13). We see the people around us. We see the broken, the lost, and the wounded. Our response is love of our neighbor. The world may look away, but we lock eyes. When the world chooses distance, we draw near. The world often abandons, but we pursue. We are to put off indifference and put on compassion.

Loving our neighbor begins with being present in our neighbor’s life. God has strategically placed each of us in neighborhoods, offices, schools, gyms, and coffee shops. As we invest in the lives of the people around us, we form relationships. Spending Saturday afternoon with the neighbors isn’t an inconvenience; it’s an investment in the kingdom. We love our neighbors enough to share the gospel with them.

We don’t have to overcomplicate it. For example, my friend hosts a neighborhood book club. Ladies don’t come to her house to discuss Hezekiah; they come to spend time with their friends as they discuss the latest best-seller. Over time, they get to know each other well. The group begins to see the genuineness of my friend’s affection for them and her love for God. They see the gospel displayed in her life and her home as they hear it with her words.

Our presence in others’ lives creates space for us to share the gospel in our conversations and in our conduct. Who is better equipped to reach your neighbor than you?

The power of presence

Being with my friend in Kenya ministered to her. It wasn’t what I did for her. She wasn’t looking for my handouts; she was looking for my hands. Our hands joined, our eyes locked, our lips speaking praise for our God who is with us always.

The world needs our Father, and we are his image-bearers (Gen. 1:27). We can show them what he’s like. We can tell them what’s he’s done for us. But our showing and our telling happens best when we are physically present with them. We can’t retreat into our walls and disappear in front of screens each night. We must interact with the people God has placed in our lives. Rosaria Butterfield writes in her book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, “I know I can’t save anyone. Jesus alone saves, and all I do is show up.” We must show up and invest in the lives of others. We must practice the ministry of presence.

It starts with you. Who gets your physical presence? Where are you investing for the sake of the kingdom? Kingdom building requires us to be present with those closest to us, and when the body of Christ does this, our efforts multiply globally. The kingdom advances worldwide through God’s people investing in the lives of the lost around them.

The church is more than weekly corporate worship. It’s not limited to one language or skin color. It's not confined to a hemisphere. The church is everywhere you find God’s children. And wherever his children are, they are present in the people of the nations, tribes, and languages around them. As God’s people flourish in his presence, we joyfully work together to advance his kingdom on earth so that others might know the joy of his presence.

Christy Britton

Christy Britton is married to Stephen and is a homeschool mom to 4 fantastic boys. Her family worships and serves as covenant members of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. She is a justice seeker and orphan advocate at 127 Worldwide. In her minuscule free time, she loves reading, writing, hospitality, gospel conversations, good … 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