by Grady King
Congratulations! You have worked hard. You have done your share of late-night papers, projects and assignments. And, you have endured. Now what? No matter the path your take from here, church ministry, missions, Bible translation or The Academy, hold on to Christ, no matter what. Your vocation—your calling is to be IN CHRIST, ALONE. In Christ. For Christ. With Christ. About Christ.
I say this as if it is simple. It is not. Simple does not mean easy. In Christ alone is profoundly challenging, yet comforting, orienting, yet disorienting and always, re-orienting. Just one teaching or character trait of Christ can be all you can handle for an entire season in your life.
In Christ Alone is for your soul—because losing one’s soul is not about the afterlife, rather here and now. It is possible to be engaged in ministry, busy with religious activity and lose your soul. This is why the images for ministry in the New Testament all involve effort and responsibility—an athlete, a solider, a farmer, a witness, a herald, a steward a servant. Not only do they intimate effort, intentionality, focus, but a cost as well. It is a cost far more than the debt you have incurred at this institution. As I reflect on my life in ministry, I now realize that I had no way to answer the question, “What price are you willing to pay?” at age 22. I had no clue. I simply dove in the waters of ministry and swam for my life. Unfortunately, I did not have a functional grammar of the Holy Spirit or calling. Yet, God surrounded me with good friends, mentors, teachers and those who helped me navigate treacherous waters of ministry.
Between the island of Sicily and mainland Italy runs a narrow strip of water called The Messina Strait. Connecting the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west with the Ionian Sea in the east, this skinny strip of water is only 2 miles wide at its narrowest point. The 20-mile long strait widens toward the south and it relatively shallow at 300 feet. Yet for such a narrow, shallow water body, it has long posed problems for sailors. The treacherous currents are so conflicting and strong that seaweed has been pulled from the ocean floor.
The Strait’s treacherous conditions may have been the location that inspired the Greek myth of Scylla and Charybdis, two sea monsters that plagued Odysseus and his crew on their journey.
Homer describes these monsters—
Scylla–a fearful monster, barking like a dog, with twelve feet, six long necks and mouths, each of which contained three rows of sharp teeth. The opposite rock, which was much lower, contained an immense fig-tree, under which there dwelt Charybdis, who thrice every day swallowed down the waters of the sea, and thrice threw them up again : both were formidable to the ships which had to pass between them. (Hom. Od. xii. 73, &c., 235, &c.).
In your ministry, you will always be navigating the Messina Straight with conflicting currents in your own soul, faith, culture and church. You will find yourself caught between Scylla and Charybdis—two unpleasant alternatives. Sometimes the currents will push you toward Scylla—the six headed monster will lunge at you from every part your being—mind, soul and spirit to tear your faith IN CHRIST ALONE apart. Other times, the currents will pull you toward Charybdis and pull you into the whirlpool crying out to God for deliverance IN CHRIST ALONE. The monsters of the spiritual warfare are real—principalities and powers manifest themselves in human personality, systems, institutions, and yes, even down at church, as you already know. Yet, the church in all her struggles is the body and bride of Christ. The monsters can be in your own soul as fear, guilt, shame, rejection, and self-loathing. Again, IN CHRIST ALONE, my hope is found.
I asked a few ministers to share one thing that that would say to you about ministry:
– “Your preaching and ministry will only be as strong as your praying”
– “Always, always, always keep everything you preach, teach and practice focused on JESUS!!! If it’s not saturated with Jesus and focused on Jesus, what would be the purpose? Who would it benefit?”
– “Pay attention to yourself—your teaching and way of life. Self-awareness is your greatest ally in ministry.”
After spending 12 years in one church my last sermon was about IN CHRIST ALONE. I said, “It is humbling to realize that within a very short time, maybe even days or a week someone will walk into this church who never knew Grady King, the ministry among and with you, and don’t care.”
This is why I charge you in the presence of God and these witnesses, to navigate the Messina Straits of ministry IN CHRIST ALONE.
In Acts 27, Luke records that Paul was a prisoner in transport on a ship with 276 people headed to Rome. A violent storm, a north easter rushed down from Crete and the ship was driven by the storm and they were barely able to keep the ship under control. Luke records they were being “pounded violently by the storm”. Paul assured the crew they would survive because an angel told him they would.
“Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. Therefore, I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.’ After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.” (Acts 27.33-36)
So in the storms you navigate, hungry and exhausted, gather around people on the same journey, take bread, give thanks to God in the presence of all and eat.
IN CHRIST ALONE
With God’s people.
by Grady D. King, D.Min, Oklahoma Christian University, College of Biblical Studies, Student Awards, April 16, 2019