October 3, 2017

What Hurricane Harvey is teaching me about being a minister

All over Houston, private citizens pulled their fishing boats behind pickups. They launched their vessels at the water's edge, which could be anywhere that a street became a bayou.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett put out an extraordinary call in the midst of the storm. He said the fire department, Coast Guard and police are overwhelmed — they needed people to help their neighbors. And folks responded.

The boat that evacuated my family belonged to four fishing buddies from Virginia, who drove through the night to come help. Ordinary citizens, they responded and teamed up with a county constable and starting rescuing people.

With 9-1-1 and other official emergency services inundated, the Cajun Navy (and our offshoot, the Texas Navy) began receiving and dispatching rescue requests. I went to a website, entered some info, and then got a phone call from a woman in Louisiana who was the volunteer dispatcher. An hour or so later our boat arrived.

Harvey introduced me to the idea of “crowd relief.” Think crowd funding (Kickstarter, etc.), add in a little high-water rescue, with a bit of house remediation and construction, and you have the Gospel in action. The mission of God, lived out one boat, mop, and neighbor at a time.

In the wake of this season’s devastating storms, we have seen ordinary citizens step up and work alongside government and disaster recovery professionals to help our communities. And that’s got me thinking quite a bit about what it means to be a Christian, and a minister.

The catechism in The Book of Common Prayer is clear: the ministers of the Church are the people. Not just those up front, and not those with theological training. If you are a baptized Christian, you are a minister of the Gospel.

What the disaster recovery efforts are showing me is a fundamentally new way of thinking about ministry and mission in a local context. It's bottom-up innovation, it's democratic, it's chaotic, it's hard to control. It's not bad, but it's very different, and I think that the traditional rules that we have for institutions (including the Church) might not work anymore.

As a leader in the church, I must be ready to help empower those around me to pursue God’s mission as they see it. Folks don’t need to wait for an “official” ministry or some special request. If you see a way to help someone, do it. If you see a way to share the love of Jesus, do it.

And then come and teach me and the rest of us how it’s done.