I have a friend who characterizes his ministry work with the phrase Ministry by Walking Around, or MBWA, for short. As a chaplain, much of the ministry work we do involves a ministry of presence. We often practice a ministry of presence in practical ways such as in, simply, “walking around.” Allow me to illuminate more of why a Ministry by Walking Around is important and how, as Christians, we ought to use it within whatever scope or sphere of influence God has given us.
Ministry By Walking Around: What Walking Does
Walking, especially in Western culture and more specifically in America, has a profound impact in that it creates a “slowing” motion. Our movement as human beings is greatly diminished as we walk (especially in the age of modern transportation) and ministry by walking around from the very outset presents us with a counter-cultural form of movement. But within this counter-culture mode there are some important things that occur.
MBWA: When we walk, we slow down. When we slow down we see more.
If you will recall your driver education, a big point is made of the Field of Vision that occurs. The faster we travel, the narrower our field of vision. We miss smaller, slower movements as the rushing landscape flies by. This is why speed in neighborhoods and around schools is remarkably slower – the slower the car travels, the wider a person’s field of vision and the less likely for potential harm or accidents.
The same is true within ministry by walking around, as we slow down we see more. We can see the hurt and pain that a spouse carries. We can see the need within a person’s heart and soul. We can understand where we ought to put our time and attention.
I came to know the Right Reverend Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester several years ago. He once shared with me about an annual practice he developed during the season of Lent whereby, he would walk the parish. He shared that by walking around he certainly had less appointments within the span of a day, but that the quality, richness, and depth of the pastoral visits within the parish were unmatched. He might be by for a tea – and he had to be much more intentional with his time in order to make the appointment. His eyes, ears, and heart were open to so much more as he walked along the way.
For my friends and colleagues serving in large and mega-church settings, we can worry much about “scaling ministry” and moving quickly to meet demand, but when we work out a simple ministry by walking around, there is a quality inherent within the slowing that walking naturally engenders. We mustn’t fear the slowing character that comes with walking – it will help us to see more.
MBWA: When we walk, we exercise. When we exercise, we gain health and strength.
For the young men that I work with in the Valor Christian High School Boy Soccer program, they have a seemingly less of a need to walk around. For the professional athletes and coaches that CrossTraining works with in Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League, there is less of a need to walk around. But as we grow older, our bodies change, our metabolism slows. As we get older, we have more and more a need to maintain proper physical health and condition, but our bones and joints cannot take the same exertion of force that we once did when we were young.
Walking provides a therapeutic benefit – one that is felt physically and emotionally, as well. When we exercise we are clearer mentally. When we exercise we are stronger physically. When we exercise we gain a benefit of health on several different levels.
For CrossTraining, it is an important value as it is codified for us within the biblical framework of I Timothy 4:8,
Physical training is of some value…
Sometimes we dismiss or diminish the importance of taking care of our earthly bodies. But God has given us charge to be good stewards of all that He has entrusted to us – this includes our bodies.
Now, for many of the people that CrossTraining works with there is a wrongful balance and emphasis placed upon the physical (which is why we intently work to build into the spiritual fitness and training). But I have seen, too often in the church world that there is an impoverished view which has resulted in a large number of Christ followers not paying any attention to their physical health – overindulgences abound, especially around things like food and drink. Ministry by walking around, if we can capture a vision of this within our neighborhoods or our work or our other touches of community (youth sports, etc.) can be an antidote to bulging waistlines and poor heart and health condition.
MBWA: When we walk, we become vulnerable. When we are vulnerable, are more open to giving and receiving.
While in seminary, we developed a dear friendship with a couple from Scotland. Unused to the speed by which America moved, in the early years I remember frequent remarks about how “unsafe” it was to walk around. Crossing streets (even with lights and crosswalks, etc.) seemed, to them, to be risky feats to only be undertaken by the greatest of daredevils.
It is true that when we walk, we are more vulnerable and susceptible – to the elements, to noise, and to a plethora of other things. But in the same way that we might view walking around as risk-taking, there is plenty of benefits to be derived on the other side, too. From a fall-color walk or hike in the mountains, or feeling the warm sand of a beach beneath our toes – walking can be a place for us to give and receive, from others and from God, Himself.
In ministry by walking around, we can give and receive – whether we are walking with others or simply walking with God. When I walk with my wife, I can hold her hand. I can look more intently at her (without worrying about traffic ahead). When I walk with my children, I can receive the joy of a skip in the step or the attempt to avoid cracks in the sidewalk and a thousand other games children play. When I walk with God, I can receive the beauty of His creation. I can give Him the burdens of my heart.
We don’t like vulnerability. We don’t like exposure. By nature, we seek protection – physically, emotionally, spiritually. It goes back even to the first days in the Garden with God – we used to walk with Him. We used to enjoy the expression of relationship and the vulnerability that those walks once offered. But now, because of sin and because of shame, we hide. We look for coverings – we use fancy clothes, fast cars, positions of power – all these things that embody “upward mobility” become prized values which steer us away from authenticity and vulnerability. But when we walk, we give up many of those things and we become more susceptible to the heart change that God may want to exact in our lives.
Well, there are a few more things regarding ministry by walking around that I cannot touch this week – let’s look at another one next week.
Rev. Brad Kenney