Over the weekend, a friend of mine posted a picture on Facebook that brought back some memories. When I was in college, I launched and directed a Christian theatre troupe that traveled to youth rallies, retreats, camps, and even Sunday night devotionals to talk about our faith through sketches. It was great fun, and an early crucible for me to learn about leadership. This particular picture was taken 15 September 2001 at a congregation just outside Pittsburg. The congregation had invited us to perform for a small youth rally. However, if you noticed the date, the nation was in a moment of crisis. The question was raised of whether we should go, given the circumstances. I decided that we should go, and I asked who wanted to come. It was a difficult decision, one that I really struggled with both before going and after returning. We went and did our thing, having a great time in the process. Also, about a week later, we received word that some teenagers who had been at that rally had decided to become Christians afterwards. In the end, it was a missional win.
As I looked at the picture and reminisced over that particular trip, I started thinking about how we define effectiveness in ministry. What defines a “win”? How do we measure “success” in ministry? For all practical purposes, this particular trip was questionable. We traveled from Searcy, Arkansas, to Pittsburg during a national crisis when travel was being discouraged. As I mentioned, it was a small rally. The recruiting quotient was really low. Only a few teenagers accepted Christ’s offer of salvation and were baptized, and even this was after the rally. Was this trip “effective”? Was this trip “successful”? I know many who would say that we wasted our time going. (In fact, another theatre troupe has turned the rally down, noting that it was “too small” for them to perform at.) Yet, the Gospel was proclaimed and some accepted the call. Why can that not be enough success for the Church?
I spent four years working as a hospital chaplain. During that time, I came to the conclusion that no area of ministry is more emotionally, psychologically and spiritually challenging than chaplaincy. During my first year, I was the pediatric chaplain, serving the Pediatric ICU and outpatient pediatric oncology unit. Yeah. The next three years, I spent working in the hospital’s Emergency Room. Yeah. My days were simple: Visit and pray with as many people as you can; complete your consults; make your unit meetings. My days were difficult: Visit and pray with as many people as you can; complete your consults; make your meetings. A “win” in chaplaincy is not being thrown out of a room. In four years, I think that happened twice. The question never was how people had I visited; it was had God been present to those in crisis. And for that person or that family, being present and offering a prayer was, often, enough.
I have been in full-time ministry since 2001 (1997, if you count the theatre troupe). Although I have done some consulting, I have yet to be invited to headline a national conference, although I speak at 2-3 conferences a year. I have yet to serve a congregation larger than 200, unless you count those where I did my internships. On paper, I would judged by many to be an ineffective and unsuccessful minister. Yet, Jesus did not call us to build big churches. He called us to “go” and “teach” and “pray” and “forgive” and “baptize” and “make disciples,” and leave the kingdom-building up to Him, His Father, and the Spirit. To that end, I think I have been effective because I am fighting the good fight, running the race, and keeping the faith. And so are you. Brother and sister in ministry, I hope you find this encouraging. Grace and peace.