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Mud Pie Ministry

This excerpt is taken from my devotional book Cottage in the Kampung:

“That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.” Mark 1:32

I have watched so many Bible movies (and as a child seen so many flannel-graph stories) that the scenes in my mind, as I read Bible stories, are often a sterile picture where Jesus wears that pristine white robe with the blue sash slung across his shoulder and His long curly hair and beard are brushed and shiny. He looks well-rested and peaceful and there is a lovely tree scene in the background (that definitely comes from the flannel graph).

But when I read Mark 1:29-34, I banish the peaceful scene from my mind. Jesus was visiting the home of Simon and Andrew. Easy enough. Flannel graph has got that covered: slap a few sitting figures and a house background on the flannel board (make sure one of the figures has a white robe and blue sash). Simon’s mother-in-law is sick (add bed and woman lying down). Jesus heals her (switch figure to woman standing up). But what happens after that cannot be covered by felt figures. Sorry.

Ministry is messy.

Discipleship is messy. 

Life is messy.

Have you ever been around sick people?

How about every single sick person in town (Mark 1:33)? Sick people cough and wheeze and they blow their noses. The really sick ones groan and the feverish ones sweat. I visited several hospitals overseas that were so full of sick people that patients lay on mats in the hallways. Even in our own home, when one or two of us get sick, I feel the need to wash the sheets and spray disinfectant everywhere. Sickness is just gross. Jesus was surrounded by sick people.

Have you been around demon-possessed people?

In many third-world countries, “crazy” people and demon-possessed people (sometimes it is hard to tell the difference) roam the streets, wandering into neighborhoods and stores…and people’s houses. Just the other day we were going to a shop downtown and there was a man lying on the sidewalk in front of a display window. The few clothes he wore were dirty and torn. They were so filthy, in fact, that they were the same color as his dirt covered brown skin. His pants were not pulled up far enough to cover himself decently. He just lay there on the filth of a trashy sidewalk. I was uncomfortable when we passed him by to go into the store. Later when we left the store, he was gone and I was relieved.


Was it because I felt bad for him? Was it because I felt helpless to know what to do? Did I not want a dirty crazy man to get my life messy? Jesus was surrounded by crazy demon-possessed people. I bet most of them were filthy. All of them in town came to Jesus that night.

Flannel graph cutouts just do not capture the chaos that must have been the scene that night. I don’t think Jesus’ snow-white robe and royal blue sash escaped the scene without germs, smudges, maybe even a rip or two, and definitely sweat, both his and others’. I bet Jesus’ shiny curly hair and beard were tangled and filthy at the end of the evening.

Ministry is messy.

I wonder how long into the evening Jesus healed the sick and drove out demons? Mark doesn’t say. But he does say that before the sun had even risen the next day, Jesus was awake and praying. Personally, I think I would have taken a day off. Obviously that would have been the wrong choice. At any rate, my thought here is that Jesus was not afraid to get dirty. He touched the sick, He let hurting people surround Him. His ministry was messy because people are messy.

It’s OK not to have a flannel graph ministry.

If we are ministering to people, then it’s probably more of a mud pie ministry. And if we are trying to follow Christ but our ministry feels more like a mud pie ministry than a flannel graph one, we are blessed, because Christ just so happens to have a mud pie ministry too.

  • What other examples do you know of (or can you find in Scripture) that describe Jesus’ ministry as more of a mud pie ministry than a flannel graph ministry?

  • What can you do this week to get your hands dirty in mud pie ministry?

Published inCultureDaily WalkFrom the Word


  1. Great insights, Jana. I think a belief that Christianity and the church should be pristine and neat has often held us back from ministering to those with the greatest need, and has kept us from acknowledging our own needs and flaws.

    • Jana Kelley Jana Kelley

      Thanks for the encouragement, Mary. I agree. I have seen that weakness in myself for sure.

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