Some days, ministry has a weight to it that can overwhelm you.
Perhaps this is an odd metaphor, but when God gives me a heavy message to share or significant task to do I feel like I’m like a delivery man who is cautiously transporting nuclear energy. What’s in my hands will either fuel lives with power or poison them with radiation-all based on how I handle it…or if I somehow trip in the process.
This tension only increases when we work alongside people who seem on guard against God or church.
I’ve experienced that sensation while leading three different Big Day of Serving events in Ohio. There’s a sort of dangerous thrill that comes with working with people behind-the-scenes who may or may not know Jesus Christ…all while you set up some powerful service projects for students to serve Jesus Christ.
It all begins with the first cold call and continues into the relationship you form behind-the-scenes. You can usually tell how certain personalities or people will be easier to work with than others. It’s a hurdle common to church environments, youth groups, and more.
This is when we’re tempted to start telling stories of transformation.
Have you ever noticed how when we’re trying to convince someone that something is worth doing, we default to telling the positive stories of life change as a selling point? It’s just as tempting to avoid mentioning the details that didn’t turn out like we wanted them to.
What do you feel like telling your church when you or your ministry are being evaluated? Do you share how your efforts have failed, or at least one story that seems to make it all worthwhile?
I learned something at the last Big Day of Serving that humbled me on this.
My team was blessed to work with the mayor’s office in Akron, Ohio. They did a phenomenal job of identifying projects we could sink our teeth into and make a huge difference in.
One of those projects came through the passionate suggestions of a local resident who has been a bit of a thorn in the side of the city for years. He often writes letters to the newspaper, criticizing how the city isn’t doing its job like it should.
I don’t know how you’d respond to such a critic, but my temptation would be to fire back some emails on all the things we’re doing right.
(Again, this would be the moment I’d want to amplify “stories of transformation” as a shield to help deflect the impact of what I was hearing.)
A city as large as Akron could do the same thing, telling a critic how “We’re doing what we can,” or “We’ll get around to that sometime in the next budget year.” Instead, the city invited this gentleman to take part in the Big Day of Serving with us as a project leader.
Instead of raising a shield, they let him use his sword to help cut through the problem.
I met the man and his three-legged dog (who, incidentally, isn’t named “Lucky”) as we walked around the week before to preview a particular park he wanted cleaned up. It was obvious that this was a guy full of passion who had much to share about how things just weren’t getting done according to his perspective. The City representative not only listened to him, but (while wearing his usual dress clothes) followed the critic into the muddy woods to see things first-hand.
The whole time this was happening, I again felt that tension of whether or not this was going to end up amazing or blow up in our faces. It was a risk putting this critic in charge of a site that we’d be sending youth workers and students to. It didn’t help my fears when he used some loose language that I imagined I’d later read about in the evaluation forms that our work teams fill out after the event.
On the other hand, this man was as much a part of the reason why we were doing the Big Day of Serving work projects themselves. Maybe his soul was the real thing that our students would be “working on.” Could you just imagine the type of passionate, “Peter-like” Christ-follower this man could be if God somehow got hold of his life?
Maybe I should tell you the rest of the story.
There is one, by the way.
Instead, I’m going to end right here for now and dare you to live in this dangerous, nuclear tension I’m outlining.
Thom and Joanie Shultz describe it in their book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore:
- Divine Expectation: Realize that God is actively involved in everything, all the time. He has something dangerously thrilling for you to share and carry into the lives of other people. If you aren’t experiencing some “fear and trembling” in your ministry, quit being such an expert and remember how powerful the One you serve actually is.
- Fearless Conversation: Make the cold call. Say several bold things in a message. Let others use loose, random language around you without you amplifying or mirroring it. Ask great questions, and let those around you do the same.
- Genuine Humility: Carry a notebook and write down what you hear, seeking evaluation instead of praise. Be radically relational, honoring how God may be speaking to you through a voice you don’t want to hear.
- Radical Hospitality: Make everyone feel as important as the world-changer Jesus says they actually are. Seek to understand them through the lens of caring curiosity, and create an on-ramp for them not to just join you…but so that you can also join them.
Carry and deliver whatever wild burden God gives you… hobble forward if that’s the best you can do.
Which reminds me of one last thing…
the three-legged dog?
Its actual name is “Hope.”
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I’d love to hear what you’re experiencing or learning in whatever your situation is. Please chime in.
Thank you for loving students!
*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*