My family and I recently visited an event in our area called Mountain Craft Days. The gathering is a collection of craftspersons, artisans, and entertainers interpreting the rural folkways of Western Pennsylvania. We spent time talking with a blacksmith, touching animal hides a tanner proudly trapped himself, and enjoying the antics of an early colonial magician. I’d be lying if I said the smells of homemade foods didn’t catch my attention all afternoon. But one exhibit, in particular, fascinated my family.
A potter was manually kick-starting a potter’s wheel as we approached. On the table sat a wet lump of clay without a form or figure. There it was--something with infinite potential waiting to be molded by the artist. Little by little, he worked his hands around the lump of clay and began creating a vase. It was incredible to watch up-close. The potter talked with the crowd as he started working, and there stood my children watching in a trance as the wheel spun around and around. My wife asked a few questions about his technique and then randomly, he said something that has stuck with me:
“Back in earlier times, much of the pottery made was crafted for practical purposes. You could actually do stuff with it…it was meant to be used! Today, a lot of the pottery you see is decorative. You can’t use it for anything.”
I’ve been considering the ministry implications of his off-the-cuff statement; do we focus on practical ministry or decorative ministry? What I mean is, are we serving and investing in ways that help people authentically engage a chaotic world through the love of Jesus (practical), or are we diverted to the shiny, extra, not so impactful things that have little relevance in a person’s life (decorative)? The last thing we want as leaders is to invest in people and at the end of the day, what we gave them was only good for putting on the shelf. You can’t use it for anything.
If you’re like me, your calendar fills up quickly in ministry. When that happens, I have to decide which things to prioritize. Will I give my attention to tasks that can wait for tomorrow, or is there something more meaningful that can’t be put off? Don’t get me wrong. There are situations when we have to deal with mundane tasks because they need to be done. Life is full of those moments. But don’t let them become your focus and steal your valuable resources and time. It’s not practical!
In my cupboard sits a piece of homemade pottery I purchased from Mountain Craft Days as a reminder to invest today in the “practical.” Jesus constantly did that when he healed the sick, restored the lost, repaired broken families, patched communities, and ate with sinners instead of dealing with the decorative, like his tassel length, absolute observance of tradition, admiring the temple building, or keeping his hands clean when someone’s illness threatened his ceremonial cleanliness. Jesus loved practical ministry because it was meant to be used! Learn from the potter and live like Jesus.