Last Friday, I loaded up on my pain meds and had my mother taxi me to the local Michael’s craft store. Sunday morning loomed on the horizon, and I needed a few Christmas activities to keep young hearts and hands engaged. I took my time, making sure to pick out things I would like to do, knowing that my enthusiasm as the children’s Sunday school teacher would translate over to them. Over the next twenty-four hours, I read my lesson, made notes, and photocopied the corresponding papers to go along with the day’s activities. I even purchased McDonald’s gift cards for each one of them and stuffed them inside cute little stockings from the Dollar Tree. Sunday’s lesson was well-prepared, thought out, and greatly anticipated by my teacher’s heart. I just knew it would be a hit with everyone.
Sunday arrived, and I suppose it was a hit with the two kids that showed up. My two kids, per usual. Occasionally, another child will trickle into our midst to bolster our numbers, but not yesterday morning. It was just me, my kids, and Preacher Billy (a.k.a. their dad) working on cute crafts, eating delicious snacks, and hearing, once again, the story about the good news given to some unsuspecting shepherds on a night some 2000 years ago. And while my heart hungered for more kids to come and be a part of my plans, I wasn’t surprised by the turnout. I’ve come to expect it since our ministry move here this past June.
We (I say “we” because ministry life is so much more than my husband’s paid position) pastor a small congregation on one of the busiest streets in Fayetteville, NC. Our facility is dated, but it is large and could easily hold 400 people on a Sunday morning. Mostly, we average around 75. We came here in sort of a missional capacity—to revamp and revitalize this church with a fresh witness of God’s Spirit. Over the next few years we’ve been charged with the church’s growing and its re-establishing itself as a self-supporting, vibrant house of worship.
I suppose we thought that growth would be automatic. After all, it was clear to both of us that this was the place of God’s choosing for our next. On the front side of our arrival here, the challenge intrigued us, and we were ramped up for watching our God work a miracle in and through this little church. We’re still waiting for that big miracle—one that says on paper and with numbers that God, through us, has accomplished huge growth for the kingdom. In small ways, we’ve seen some growth. Not so much in numbers, but in the interior work of our collective hearts. We’re getting to know our new people, and they are getting to know us. It takes time to grow a church, and it takes the right motivation—love for God and love for his people.
And we certainly do love… love God and his people. But despite our loving, growth has been minimal. Thus, we wait for the movement of God, realizing that in our own strength, we can do nothing. We hope. We pray. We move forward, planning for a crowd, but being content with less. Sometimes with a less that includes only two kids who look a whole lot like my own. Who’ve heard the story of the shepherds a hundred times over. Two who are used to seeing me as their mom throughout the week and would, more than likely, desire to see someone else take the lead on Sunday mornings. Two who are still willing to humor me when it comes to my teaching style and to “craft” alongside me, even though they would prefer the company of their peers. Two who are stuck with me and their father, regardless of the ministry twists and turns that lie ahead for all of us.
Ministry life is hard at times, especially when it seems all you’ve got is the two. I know many of you attend large churches with tons of programming, a rockin’ band, and a collection plate filled to overflow. Some of your churches have two or three services, a large amount of volunteers to equip your programming, and a plethora of Sunday schools/Bible studies from which to choose. It’s not about if you have anywhere to plug into at your church, but rather, which outlet to choose. I understand. I’ve lived that life previously. But now I’m here, with my husband and with the two and with the few others who come together on Sunday mornings for worship at Christ UMC, and there are times when I wonder about it all. And I hope that it’s enough, that we’re enough. That the simple acts of obedience we follow through with on a daily basis will some day make their marks on our congregation… on our city.
But that’s an “unfolding” for another season. I’ll have to wait for those answers and that revelation, and mostly I’m OK with the waiting because I understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that God’s kingdom isn’t built solely through big churches and big programming. Rather, I believe that the kingdom of God is most solidly built one brick at a time. One hug at a time. One prayer at a time. One kind gesture at a time. One dollar at a time. One well-planned Sunday school lesson at a time, if only boasting the audience of the two.
The two serve as the why behind my mid-week planning for Sunday services. They are the reason behind my Friday trips to a craft store. They are the rich soil for the ministry of my heart in this season, and while I might not always feel like I’m enough for them, they are always enough for me. Accordingly, I’ll keep to it, even as I commission you to always do the same. I’ll keep planning for the crowd, expecting the crowd, but never feeling unsatisfied by the two. For with the two, a world can change.
In fact, I think my Sunday morning lesson with my two wasn’t so far off from that Bethlehem lesson for the shepherds all those years ago. We don’t know how many of them showed up at the manger (whether two or four or an entire passel of sheep-tenders), but we do know that they left that moment “spreading the word concerning what had been told them about this child and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”
Indeed, a small beginning—a tiny gathering of recipients—for the greatest revelation known to mankind. I don’t imagine that God ever wondered if it was enough. Instead, he was content for truth to fall into the hearts of a few, knowing that in seasons to come, truth would expand its witness throughout the ages to include the hearts this generation. Our hearts. Yours and mine. Christ kept to his plan; he keeps to it this day… one brick at a time until the kingdom is fully built. I’m so glad that he didn’t get hung up on numbers back then but that, instead, he got hung up on a tree… for me, for you. His ministry may have been collective in scope but it remains personal in priority and nature to each one of us.
May we always be found willing to follow his lead by reconciling our ministries and our hearts to the one or two who show up for the receiving. In the end, we will probably be surprised by the far-reaching effects of our simple acts of obedience therein. Keep to it, sweet friends, keep planning for God’s more in the midst of your seemingly less. He is faithful to complete that which he began in you. And while you might not always be aware of what your single, simple faith is yielding in others, he is. And for that you will be richly rewarded. Have a blessed walk to Bethlehem this week, and as always…
Peace for the journey,
Thank you for stopping by today and for all of your prayers. It’s been a rough two weeks; the new drug, Taxol, has worked differently on my body from the first two drugs, Cytoxan and Adriamycin. In short, it has greatly affected my energy level (in conjunction with the cumulative effect of several chemos) and from the waist down, my body has experienced incredible, deep pain. Walking has been very difficult for me at times. Thank God for pain meds and for a husband who is willing to carry the heavy load of household chores and child management.
I am forever grateful for the energy I need to help my kids with their homework every night and to get the Christmas shopping, decorating, and card writing organized. Even though its been a struggle of my will at times, I’ve never experienced a more meaningful, peaceful Christmas. As it should be.
Below you will find my thoughts from today, in addition to a challenge to each one of you. I pray you take the time to watch it. I’m certain I’ll give you most of the week, as I won’t be posting for a few days. I have some wonderful thoughts that continue to brew in my underneath; one in particular about “chasing fires.” So bear with me, it’s coming. Blessed week to you all. As you walk it through, be mindful of the wonderful gift you’ve been given in Jesus Christ. He and his Truth are a sacred trust that we must endeavor to seed into the soil of our everyday lives.
Keep to it; I love you each one.