Last week our church held our Third Annual Beauty for Ashes Women’s Conference. Let me first say that our ladies did an amazing job planning this event. All the work and attention to detail paid off as many people shared that this was the best one we’ve done to date. Also, our men served at the conference so that the the women could simply enjoy the day and not have to work on anything other than the primary ministry taking place.
This year the theme was freedom.Through worship and teaching, the goal was to encourage women to walk fully in the freedom that Christ offers. But not only this, each person attending was challenged to usher others into freedom. One of the speakers works with teenagers in the juvenile detention system and shared about the purposes of God to set free the captives and minister to the brokenhearted.
This is the essence of incarnational ministry. Like Jesus, we are called to step into people’s lives and become agents of change for the glory of God. This is one thing I love about our women’s conference. The focus is always on receiving a blessing for yourself and then looking to see whom you can share that blessing with. Far too often in Christian circles we believe that we come to events or special services simply to “recharge” or get encouraged. But to what end? Why do we need to be recharged? What are we getting encouraged to do? The answer is that we need to be charged up and encouraged to go out into the world and serve our King by serving people.
This leads to why I’m writing this post.
For the first time, Beauty for Ashes is becoming more than a one-day conference. The ministry is expanding to bring relational service to the women of our community. Relational service is the foundation of Christian ministry. Christian ministry, at its heart, is not about large speaking engagements or curricula that people purchase and work through. It isn’t primarily about teaching or even worshiping together. These are all important, but they are all intended to be in service to the work done by individuals caring for other individuals. Jesus modeled this. He spoke to crowds, but he always came up to hurting people to touch them, speak to them, honor them, and (more than anything) relate to them. The power of the Gospel can certainly impact communities and groups, but this is possible because it impacts individuals who make up those groups.
I’m not suggesting that we think of our faith in individualistic terms. Far from it. Relational service is all about community. As the phrase implies, it is build on relationships. We have for far too long in the Western Church overlooked community to reach individuals. This is what TV preaching and mass media ministry rely on. And they serve their purposes. But at some point, for a person to become a faithful disciple, the Gospel needs to hit home locally. It needs to come in the context of a community or communities. It comes to families and neighborhoods, towns and cities.
The second aspect is the focus on service. Jesus claimed to have come to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20.28). Yet our ministry models today often minimize the aspect of service. This is partly due to a generation which pulled away from a strong proclamation of the Gospel in favor of good works. These churches and ministries concluded that to reach the modern world the church needed to downplay miracles, personal sin, and the deity of Christ. As long as churches would serve the poor and support what became known as the Social Gospel, it was believed, the ministry would prosper. As a backlash to this movement, many Christians who are committed to the traditional Christian truth claims have a distrust for social work and serving the poor.
However, the same Bible that teaches us that Jesus is Lord also teaches us that we are commanded to serve the least, the last, and the lost. This same Bible asks us what good it is to tell a hungry man to be blessed, but then refuse to give him food (James 2.14-17). It is often in serving individuals in need that doors are opened to share the Gospel. By serving those are hurting, we have the opportunity to expose those individuals to the God who can meet their greatest needs and fulfill their deepest longings.
So now Beauty for Ashes is more than a conference. It is a means of engaging women in service to individuals in our community. It will mean feeding people. It will mean befriending people. It will mean providing resources for people. It will mean good ol’ fashioned helping. In this, the Gospel will be present and the Spirit of God will be working. Our hope is that women will receive freedom for themselves and then be encouraged to share it with others. We expect to see lives transformed. You know, like Jesus did.