There are some really important but too often forgotten ministries in the Church. I have sweet memories of people, many of whose names I don’t recall or never knew, who brought me Jesus in countless, beautiful ways. Their ministries are often unseen but make an incredible difference. Every church has these beautiful people – maybe you’re one of them!
Take the gentleman who sat in the row ahead of our family when I was a little boy. He would turn around during the service and ‘sneak’ me a mint or small candy. He did this, I’m sure, not only because he was kind but because I was restless. He could see that my parents were outnumbered, and he didn’t like me kicking his pew with my busy little feet. It’s the ‘joyful old guy who gives candy to kids’ ministry, and every church has this guy… he’s Jesus in disguise. He’s not the grumpy old guy. Every church has that guy too, but he’s not Jesus in disguise. Ok, well, maybe he’s Jesus really well disguised.
One of my favorite overlooked servants is the ‘lady in the choir who can’t actually sing but thinks she can’ ministry. This is a vital gift in every community. It’s so important that even if your church doesn’t have a choir you need to find that singing lady in the congregation and you need to sit near her so you can hear her voice and watch her worship. This lady is absolutely unconscious to any thought that what she’s doing isn’t working the way we tend to think things are supposed to work. This lack of self-awareness and cultural harmony is a gift to be cherished. She sings because she LOVES, not because she’s good. We all need this because we all stink at certain things and we need to do them still because of love. We need to serve in the sheer delight of being loved and redeemed, delighting in God’s goodness, and this ministry will show you how that’s done. More to the point, the really weird thing is that any of us imagine that what we’re doing IS good! God rejoices in our little efforts the way a parent tapes up on the fridge the crayon portraits of the family cat drawn by a three-year-old. I can hear every mom say to the artist, “That’s so beautiful!!!! You’re a Rembrandt!” as the paper meets the metal. And it is beautiful. And so are we in the eyes of our loving Father.
Then there’s the ‘sitting in the same place every Sunday’ ministry. This doesn’t take a lot of talent but it’s pretty amazing. When people sit in generally the same place every week they get to know the people around them who are also, generally speaking, sitting in the same place as well. There is a kind of informal mico-community that grows up around that space, sometimes marked by as little as a handshake or nod. It means you’re likely to end up at the communion table together most of the time as well, and that too has a kind of bonding effect. The real ministry of sitting is simply ‘presence and absence’. If someone is missing one Sunday those nearby always make a mental note – “Oh, Jim and Sarah are at the beach this week.” If Jim and Sarah are missing for four weeks in a row, someone makes a call or sends an email. There are days when those present share laughs and pictures together – the weddings, the grandkids, the vacation. They also end up crying together as they sing because sometimes there’s an empty chair that won’t be taken again for a while; someone in that group is now worshipping in heaven and the empty chair bears silent witness to the reality of community and faith.
I have always enjoyed two ministries that teens bring the community. The first is the ‘avowed mischief-maker’ ministry, and that’s usually a guy. He’s kind of ring-leader of mostly innocent jacked up stunts that make some adults laugh and others cringe. I love that guy because he keeps reminding the church that it’s not supposed to be neat and tidy and needs its hair messed up from time to time. That guy usually ends up in Seminary. The second one is the super-zealous, world-changing, all-in, Gospel-saturated, give it all to Jesus, Passion-attending, Hillsongs-listening super saint who believes our greatest danger in addition to the devil himself is a tame approach to spiritual things. Every church needs a fire-starter and this young person prophesies with every breath that the Lord who started this operation isn’t about to let it drift into indifference. OK, I’m not enthusiastic about all forms of enthusiasm, but let’s face it: it’s easier to channel life than raise the dead. If her waving hands hit you in the eye during a song, just smile and thank God you’re sitting near the flame.
Let me also mention the ministry of Trudgery. Most people aren’t aware of this spiritual gift. I frequently saw it in action as a child, and always in winter. My first six years were spent in northern Illinois, and there were many Sundays when deep snow surrounded the Lutheran Church my family attended. I can remember watching ancient ladies in these fur-topped boots that rose to just about the ankle trudge through the snow into worship. They weren’t happy about it either. It was the drudgery of trudgery. We’re talking serious, frozen-tundra, Chicago Bears vs Green Bay Packers kinda cold and those trudgers were there; they mocked the snow; they scoffed at the ice; they laughed in disdain at the cold. They would not be stopped.
Trudgery means people press on. It’s a silent gift of faithful presence. We need that witness because life is cold and the skubalon is deep and sometimes faith just looks like trudging through rather than dancing along. Vital to this ministry, however, are fur-topped ankle-high boots… one must have a sense of joyous fashion as one trudges along. The faux leopard print is just garish and tacky and delightful enough to keep us smiling as we trudge along. One can be a happy trudger.
Finally, let me mention that ‘Hike the Coffee’ ministry. I’m not suggesting people actually snap a cup of java behind their keister to their friends and family, but rather that we grasp the quiet, confident, powerful role the preparer of the sacred brew plays in the good ordering of public worship.
In football, QBs get all the press, but QB’s aren’t doing anything without the Center. He’s the guy hunched over the ball who passes it back to the QB to start the play. It’s an indelicate position. You bend over and allow the QB to rest his hands on your backside and you pass the ball back between your legs to the QB and then proceed to have your face smacked around by a defensive lineman trying to get to the ball. Maybe the worst thing is the anonymity of it all: You know who Tom Brady is but you can’t name Tom Brady’s center. Tom will marry a fashion model and make a gazillion dollars. Not so much the Center. Here’s the truth: no one knows who the guy is until he messes up. We pay him no attention unless he snaps the ball over the head of the QB (or a Kicker), at which point his picture and name show up on the screen as the guy who messed it all up. For the Center, fame only comes with mistakes.
The Coffee Gal/Guy at Church is who really starts the play. I’m telling you – no coffee, no worship… well, no intelligible worship anyway. Coffee preparers are invisible unseen spiritual warriors who prepare the way for the prophets, pastors, and people, who make straight in the desert a highway for the Lord. No one knows them. They are the mystical beings that live in the church building who magically make the liquid of life appear, piping hot and accompanied by whatever elements may be needed to make the divine elixir the drink necessary to secure peaceful fellowship and attentive minds. No one notices their work… until it isn’t done. OMG!!! Then we know. Then they’re famous!
The truth is that we need to make room for all of these lesser recognized gifts and celebrate them all the time. The gift of envelope stuffing, and chair storage; the gift of diaper changing and the gift of freezing outside so people are warmly greeted; each of these – and so many more – are the silent and beautiful graces that mark authentic communities, all the time everywhere. The next time you see someone serving in one of these vital roles, do thank them… usually, just a knowing nod will do.
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