I have a friend who likes to talk about his decision to come to Denver’s Westside. It was 1965; his thought was that he would stick around 3-5 years, because that was the commitment needed to fix poverty, violence, and poor education. It is 2012 and he is still there. There is a popular idea among church and ministry leaders that goes something like this: “I will stay around just long enough to work myself out of a job.” On the surface this sounds noble, empowering, and a little romantic. However, the more I think about this notion the more I dislike it.
Authentic ministry always includes things like presence, community, mutuality, and walking alongside the other. When leaders stand behind statements like “I am going to work myself out of a job,” it often becomes permission to stand apart from those we have been called to work with. Standing apart is not terribly Christian.
A number of years ago John Perkins wrote about ministry in and among at-risk communities. For Perkins ministry needed to be done together and it needed to be done right. Perkins proposed three “R’s” for ministry – reconciliation, redistribution and relocation. Anyone who has taken these ideas seriously knows that it isn’t about working yourself out of a job. It is about becoming a part of a community. When you join a community their issues become your issues. People cease to be ministry projects that require fixing or guidance and instead become family and friends who need a hand to hold. When we become family, walking away becomes unimaginable.