Sometimes I feel like my ministry has the stability of a house built of playing cards. As if the slightest unexpected movement might knock the whole thing down.
I can have a great night planned for youth group and then a few disruptive students kill the mood of a small group. Next thing I know, my plans for an awesome discussion are co-opted by a loudmouthed 16 year old. I can envision an amazing camp or retreat experience, and then I find that we don’t quite have the budget to do all I hoped to do. Late at night, ten days before I’m preaching, I’ll discover a great idea for the structure of my sermon. Then, somehow, my week will become so busy that I don’t end up writing the sermon until Saturday night.
During this last week I felt like I was going to have another one of those moments where the cards were going to crash down.
Our high school youth group has been sponsoring two families during this Christmas season to provide presents for each of them. Both families have single mothers and two young children. Both families are facing extreme financial difficulties. It was up to our youth group to provide the presents for these families during Christmas time or they would have almost nothing to give one another.
During the first time that I announce this opportunity at youth group, the students are barely even paying attention to me. There are multiple conversations going on and despite my efforts to quiet them down, I know that very few people are actually paying attention to what I have to say.
The weeks pass by and we don’t receive too many presents from students. I know that we are getting closer and closer to the delivery date while our pile of presents remains the same. “This is going to be an embarrassment,” I tell myself.
One week before we are scheduled to deliver the Christmas presents we finally start getting more presents to give each family. Around this time, I receive a phone call from the program director who chose the families that one family won’t be able to receive our presents on the scheduled day because the mother has medical issues and needs surgery.
I am sad to admit that my first thoughts are not about the mother, but instead are about the changing logistics of my youth group plans.
“Lord, all I’m trying to do is provide an opportunity for our students to experience serving others. I’m trying to show them about following your command in Isaiah 1 to care for the fatherless. Why won’t this just work out?” I pray.
24 hours before we are scheduled to leave, I receive a phone call from the mother who we still are planning to visit and she tells me that she won’t be home when we deliver the presents, but her daughters and their grandmother will be.
Can this event get any worse?
I check the weather forecast for Wednesday night, and during the same hours of youth group there’s a 70% chance of snow showers everywhere. To quote Han Solo from Star Wars Episode 4, “It’s worse.”
The house of cards called my ministry feels very unstable at this point.
The Wednesday night finally arrives and I’m nervous because I have to inform the students that we’ll only be visiting one family instead of two. I don’t know if they will bring any more presents or if what they do bring will be wrapped. I don’t even know if many students will come since our only agenda for the night is getting the presents ready and delivering them.
I’m already emotionally preparing myself for a letdown.
Apparently, God had something else in mind.
By the time we get started over 30 students had shown up, many of them with wrapped presents in their hands. I could see the excitement on the students’ faces for what we were about to do. After we discuss some Bible verses that show us why we are called to provide for others, we got all the presents together and piled in our church vans.
There was no snow yet as we drove about 25 minutes to the family’s house. Pulling up to their yard, one of the two girls, who was four years old, was peeking out the window at us. I could hear how excited our students were getting behind me in the van.
Congregating near the front porch, the family invited us in their living room. All 34 of us filled their living room to the brim as we brought the presents in. There were so many gifts that they completely surrounded the girls. We let each of them open three gifts then and they were to save the rest for Christmas.
Our students were awe-struck as they watched these girls open their presents. The students loved getting to see a tangible impact in others because of their own actions. They caught a glimpse of what following Christ’s calling can look like.
On the way back to church the students were elated and they couldn’t wait to do that again with our second family when they are able to receive our presents.
One of my favorite memories was when the youngest girl opened her Adventure Bible that our Christian Education Director had provided. I felt so blessed to be a part of this entire experience. I was surrounded by my high school students who spent their own money to purchase really nice Christmas presents for people they had never met. Parents and grandparents of these students, and other adults in the church had also contributed many items. 8th grade Confirmation students wrapped many of the presents. Representatives from our whole church body had been involved in ministering to this family.
Seeing the young girl receive the Bible was when I got to see the everlasting impact our church was having. That moment made all those times of doubt and frustration worth it.
Now, I know that we are called to provide for people in need throughout our whole lives and even when we don’t get to see the fruits of our labors. I know that our Christian faith calls us to action not just once a year through an Adopt A Family program.
And that is the best part of the story. While driving in the church vans, students were asking me about our plans for 2011, and they got more excited about the mission trips than anything else. They were beginning to see that Christ calls us to mission throughout our lives too.
Reflecting upon all of this at home that night, I thought about my house of cards. I noticed that it was still standing. I began to wonder if maybe it’s a good thing that I have a tentative grasp of ministry. Maybe it forces me to depend on God to provide the real foundation for my ministry instead of myself. Maybe I shouldn’t strive to be in control because then I leave no room for God to show up and do mighty things.
But it sure can be scary to live that way!