Lately I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on the ministry of Jesus, as I seek to understand “what to do” with someone who is expressing an interest in knowing God. It’s my full-time occupation to spread the Kingdom (and not just because I get paid), and I’m increasingly realizing that I just don’t know how to do ministry. I don’t mean that I’m ill-equipped to perform certain tasks. If someone comes to me with a specific struggle or theological question, I have enough training and experience to usually help in some capacity.
What I’m talking about is the big picture of things. I’m realizing I don’t have a crystallized understanding of what to do in order to help move someone toward maturity in Christ, like if they didn’t ask any questions and just said “Here I am. What now?” I’ve read enough books on the whole idea, but it seems like the best books just try to copy Jesus, so I’ve decided to look more closely at his ministry for myself. The thing that has been most striking to me is that there seem to be three distinct phases of Jesus’s ministry, and they seem to closely reflect stages of my life. I’ll name them and also denote them in terms of where I see them in Matthew’s gospel:
Phase 1: Come and See (Matthew 1:1-16:20)
Phase 2: Give Up Your Life (Matthew 16:21-28:17)
Phase 3: Bless the Nations (Matthew 28:18-20)
Let’s start with Phase 1. In John’s account of the very beginning of Jesus’s ministry, the refrain “come and see” is repeated twice in a very short space (John 1:39 and John 1:46). To understand Jesus’s desire to simply show or demonstrate who he was in this stage, just flip through these chapters of Matthew and glance at the chapter headings: “Jesus calls his first disciples, The Fulfillment of the Law, Ask Seek Knock, Jesus Heals Many, Jesus Calms the Storm, Jesus Raises a Dead Girl,” and the list goes on. Jesus calls followers to himself saying little more than “follow me,” makes some pretty vague and provocative claims about himself, and proceeds to perform stunning miracles before their eyes.
In this stage of his ministry, Jesus simply wanted to demonstrate for his disciples that in him, “the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17).
There’s a sort of transition within this first phase in Matthew 10:1 when Jesus sends out the disciples to demonstrate the coming of the Kingdom of God themselves. The disciples shift from being observers of Jesus to active participants in the ministry. This is still “come and see” because Jesus hasn’t yet revealed his Messianic identity to them, but the way they will see is now by trying it for themselves. Jesus becomes more “hands-on” in his approach and continues this up until Phase 2 (the feeding of the 4,000 and 5,000 are pretty clear examples).
Then a seismic shift happens in the second half of Matthew 16. If you haven’t felt it while reading this chapter, try going back and reading Matthew’s gospel through this lens of “phases of ministry” and I think it’ll hit you like a ton of bricks. I imagine that on the way to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus was thinking it’s about time his disciples knew who he really was and what that means for how they ought to live. So upon arriving he poses a provocative question (“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”) and sees whether they’ve put the pieces together (Matthew 16:13). Peter blurts out that Jesus is the Messiah, and then the next verses rapidly fall like dominoes: Jesus affirms Peter’s confession, establishes the Church upon it, gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom, orders his disciples not to tell anyone about
I love that at New Life Church, our yearly ministry calendar quite clearly reflects these three phases (each roughly consuming a third of our year). A typical ministry year:
September-December: Come and See (Welcome Week, Fall Retreat)
January-April: Give Up Your Life (Core Retreat, Spring Break)
May-August: Bless the Nations (Leadership Training program)