on letting people be messy in ministry – another “blessed by men” entry

Posted: August 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

I started in church bus ministry just volunteering a couple of times a month on the bus my church was using to send kids to a weekly youth church, about 45 minutes from where we lived.  I had originally volunteered because my daughter was riding the bus every week, and for the life of me I couldn’t imagine what a church service could offer that would make a bunch of teenagers want to ride a bus 45 minutes each way on a Tuesday night.  It was all curiosity for me. 

Quickly I was hooked on the services – music of the sort that slid me right into worship, good messages, and of course the opportunity to be a part of my daughter’s world.  That bus ran for a little while, and then some adults reached a consensus that not enough was changing in the kids that rode the bus, and it was canceled.

Meanwhile, I had been hearing tales about the bus from the next town over.  It was driven by a pastor whose heart for broken and marginalized people really spoke to mine.  I heard he had his hands full.  I heard stories that finally drove me to email him, asking permission to come and chaperone for his bus. 

He was quick to welcome me, and that was the beginning of one of my very favorite passages, ministry-wise.  Every week I would catch the bus and it was packed.  We had an interesting mix of a few church kids/compliant types as well as quite a few kids who cussed and smoked and needed regular reminders about where their hands were not allowed to go.  Because the bus was long and I am short, I would often stand on the back seat, my head bopping the ceiling when we hit big bumps, so that I could see whose hands were where and what was being passed around from hand to hand. 

My friend the pastor really empowered me to just take the chaperone job and make it my own.  He didn’t dictate a list of rules to me.  He didn’t try to direct the way I directed the kids.  We just both showed up and served with our whole hearts, and even in the places where I probably was getting it wrong, he was gracious and encouraging. 

During this passage, I did a lot of ministry in highly non-standard ways – stuff that one is just flat Not Allowed To Do while serving in some ministries.  One of the kids I was working with moved into my house.  Several others spent so much time at my house that they might as well have lived there.  Sometimes my whole living room floor was covered with kids crashing over a weekend. I was always driving carloads of kids all over the place, on my own time.  I was for sure not following the rules recommended by those who work to keep people from getting accused of acting inappropriately. 

I was messy in my ministry – willing to love kids like they were my own, but not always very circumspect in how I walked that out.  My friend the pastor did not panic or kick me off of my bus chaperone duties.  He watched and listened enough to know my heart, and if my methods were often not the sort recommended in ministry policies, I think he understood my intentions and motives.  He let me be me, serving as I would. 

When the Tuesday night service got switched to another night that didn’t work for bus trips any more, he and I talked through doing a “youth church” night at his church.  Here was the fun of that:  by this point, I had totally bought into what we were doing and made it mine.  So I was quick to ask whether we might make a meal each week for the kids, and he wasn’t all negative about it.  He was open and flexible.  We made the plan and jumped in, and along the way he let me do the lesson each week with the kids.

Sometimes I did really well.  Sometimes I was boring.  Sometimes I talked with lofty, heads-in-the-clouds lingo, and when I announced that my lesson was over, he would patiently take a deep breath and boil my material down to something that was ACTUALLY REACHABLE for the kids with whom we worked.  In that instant of his sharing with the kids, I often would suddenly understand that I had been talking way up high in the language of ideals and symbols – up in a space where most of the kids we worked with weren’t very excited about going.  With a few short sentences, he would grab what I had put on a shelf high above their heads, rework it, stir in some fun and often hilariously inappropriate jokes, and extend it in reachable terms to the kids.  And he would NEVER do this in a way that made me look bad in front of the kids or made me feel like I was falling short. 

My friend the pastor taught me a lot about letting people be messy, and not insisting that they get it perfectly before they serve.  I learned it because it was ME that was messy and imperfect in my ministry.  He didn’t kick me off the bus and tell me to come back when I could do things in order.  He trusted my heart, my intentions, my motivations.  He let God work in me and through me.  And OH BOY did I grow, empowered by that great encouragement.

In church, we tend to want people to get it right immediately and always.  The way my friend the pastor blessed me was this:  he let me minister from right where I was.  He didn’t chastise me for short-sightedness.  He didn’t try to micro-manage my lessons.  He let me be messy in a myriad of ways – he let God work on the mess, and he just encouraged me as I encouraged the kids. 

Let’s face it:  you gotta trust God A LOT in order to turn over ministry work to someone with as much room for growth as I had.  My friend the pastor trusted God, even enough to let me work with his kids.  It really was one of the very best things I ever got to do, and will forever be grateful for the things I got to experience and the growth I took with me along the way. 

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Comments
  1. Cala says:

    I love it when you write about that time period. It’s cathartic. Pastor Chuck influenced my life in ways I am just now starting to realize. Love this. I needed to hear it for the sake of myself and others in my path… lol

  2. Pam Spangler says:

    isn’t it crazy how God works!

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