Mark’s gospel tells the story of brothers James and John who both try to claim the prime places in Jesus’ kingdom – one wants to sit on his right hand and the other on his left, the best seats in the house so to speak. What was in their minds when they asked this? Did they think themselves better than the others? Were they just trying to get a perceived advantage for themselves? Whilst we don’t know what was in their hearts, the impact on the other disciples was clear– anger, frustration, just who were James and John to promote themselves above everyone else?

How we interact with others is a key part of everyone’s lives. No one lives as an island – entirely isolated, our encounters with others shape the pattern of our living.

Ministry is a relational task. Is it even possible to minister without working with others in a relational way? Every day involves meeting people, offering care, planning and praying for the community of God’s people. While those encounters can be one of the greatest joys of ministry, they can also be places where the brokenness of our humanity creates chaos. We know that we need to build one another up and create community but habitually pride creeps in and we try to gain an advantage over one another. Like the disciples, we get angry at one another, misunderstanding grows and communication breaks down.

Usually, Interim Ministers are placed in churches where there has been a period of disturbance in a congregation’s life. That disturbance can take a variety of forms and the particular situation is unique to each congregation. It may include conflict and the breakdown of relationships or congregational life. Interim Minister’s work with congregations who find themselves in difficult places is to help establish better practices, explore new norms and travel with congregations giving a time to let wounds heal.

Breakdown and damage in congregational life cause a lot of distress: guilt – that this “shouldn’t” happen in a Christian community, anger – at things done and said and grief at the loss of what has been precious. It can be a challenge to the image a congregation has had of itself, sometimes moving from a happy family to a dysfunctional family.

Yet, stress in relationships is also very normal. It isn’t only in ministry that work is relational – life is relational. Does anyone go through life without messing up their relationship with someone else at some point? In so many places damage is wrought by the unthinking response, or the word spoken without thought, or trying to keep things the way we think they should be.

We don’t know what James and John were thinking when they made their request for the best places in the kingdom to Jesus. We do know, that whatever their intentions that request made the other disciples angry. Even amongst those closest to Jesus, relationships could be difficult. Jesus’ response is to lift their vision from their immediate concerns to a wider view of the kingdom – he reminds them that there is more to what they are asking than they can see at the moment and that there is work to be done which is Jesus’ work to do. The conflict for the disciples is de-escalated as Jesus directs their focus back to the purpose and work of the kingdom.

Maintaining the vision of the kingdom of the Prince of Peace is a discipline for all who follow him That adjustment of focus is something we need to recall ourselves, and one another to, every day, as we travel together in the way of the kingdom.

By Sandra Black