Teaching, cleaning, painting, singing… life is busy in the body of Christ. But what about when it isn’t? What about when you can’t teach and you can’t clean? You’re too weary to paint and you’re too empty to sing?

I think we generally find it easy enough to minister in the body. We are part of the family and we expect to do our part. It’s easy enough being the biceps of the body, but what about when you’re the broken arm?

The humility of helplessness

There are seasons in our lives when we cannot minister to others as much as we’d like. There can be many reasons for this:

  • We may be physically ill.
  • We may be mentally or emotionally unable to function.
  • We may be in all out warfare with our own sinful desires.
  • We may be overworked in other areas.
  • We may be seeking to address some sinful habits in our lives.
  • We may be facing a trial that is threatening to overwhelm us.

There is something deeply humbling about meeting with the body and not ministering to others but instead letting others minister to us. So humbling, in fact, that sometimes we refuse to do it..

The frustrating patient

It’s a classic scenario. The teenage boy with a broken arm who’s climbing trees and playing sport. Mum keeps telling him he’s got to go easy on the arm, but he just can’t slow down.

When ministry is pride

To refuse to admit our weakness in moments of helplessness is pride. To insist on carrying on meeting the needs of others while avoiding the help of the body is to fail to admit our own need for the ministry of God’s grace through the body.

In other words, to focus on ministering when we should be focusing on our relationship with God is a deep offence against God.

  • It is a practical denial of the gospel which rests on our admission of helplessness.
  • It is a response of pride that avoids admitting weakness and helplessness.
  • Worst of all, it assumes that Christianity is about what we do for God instead of what God has done for us.

Can helpless people minister?

I am not suggesting that helpless people shouldn’t minister. If helpless people couldn’t minister, Christians couldn’t minister because admitting our helplessness is the foundation of gospel living.

What I am saying is that there are seasons of life when we should probably step out of our role as creche worker or usher or teacher for a time. There are seasons when we should not, or cannot, minister as we would like to.

In those times, our hearts may condemn us. We may feel guilty for not doing as much as we used to. But we need to see the deep-seated pride that drives that thinking. We need to recognise that if God has put us in a place of helplessness for a time, that healing will come as we allow the body to minister to us in our need.

By and by, the broken arm will heal. And we will once again do the heavy lifting for a while.

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About Jason Harris

Dr Jason Harris is a writer, pastor, and academic. He has authored multiple books, articles, and papers including his book Theological Meditations on the Gospel. Jason has a PhD from James Cook University as well as degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research. Jason has lived in Cairns, Australia since 2007 and serves as pastor at CrossPoint Church. You can contact Jason at jason@jasonharris.com.au.


  1. Ben Kwok 22 June, 2010 at 7:12 am - Reply

    Thanks Jason — it might be helpful for churches to review ministry positions i.e. annually, to help those who are struggling. Also, I’m thinking about Bible examples / passages that might relate to this topic — any thoughts?

  2. RoSeZ 22 June, 2010 at 8:38 am - Reply

    This was a good post. Thank you Jason… =)

  3. Jason Harris 22 June, 2010 at 10:29 am - Reply


    Yes, for several ministries, our church has gone to a system where, instead of being on the roster until you ask to get off, you have to sign up again each quarter. The idea is to make it easy for people to assess where they’re at regularly and not feel pressure to do something just because they always have.

    I would think Elijah after Mt. Carmel was an example. Additionally, Paul seemed to find himself as the “broken arm” quite often. He seemed to have many who ministered to him during those dark prison days.

  4. PJ 22 June, 2010 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    Great article Jason – it caused me to wonder again at God’s magnificent design evident in the make-up and mission of the church.

    I think our ecclesiology is best understood by reference to Paul’s metaphor of the body…I’d love to read more of your thoughts on this subject.

    If I may take your central idea a bit further – the body has parts specifically designed to repair and strengthen the bits that are broken and weak…(white blood cells, platelets etc.)…when one member of the local church is ‘broken’, God has graciously gifted some to minister to such ones – the gifts of exhortation and helps come to mind.

    I agree that when we are the ones who are broken we need to have the humility to let those with these gifts minister to us.

  5. Jason Harris 22 June, 2010 at 7:14 pm - Reply

    Good thoughts PJ. This topic may come up again if I ever get around to finishing my “deliberate living” series. =P

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