Confession time. As a church kid, I used to be all about being faithful to what I saw as my ministry. It was what I was taught, learned to own, and used to fashion my identity.
I led Sunday School classes.
I showed up for prayer meetings.
I wore a True Love Waits ring.
I taught during Vacation Bible School.
I went to youth camps.
I lived for summer mission trips.
I followed Christian celebrities.
I wore “Christian” products.
At one point, I even stopped listening to “secular” music.
I even wrote devotionals.
And while all these were good, my faith revolved around what I was doing. I was doing ministry. It was as if I was scared of having nothing to show to prove my professed conversion. I was Martha when I wanted to be Mary, Susan when I wanted to be Lucy.
That was then.
See, every so often, God sends us a wake up call.
In my case, He gave me two sons.
One unforgettable day, I looked at my boys and it hit me: The hubby and I weren’t doing things right. We weren’t being faithful to the two souls we were most responsible for. It was an absurd thought, but true nonetheless. It was like taking the ice water bucket challenge–cold water being dumped unceremoniously on you is not my idea of fun.
So we had long discussions.
We went through a lot of what-ifs.
But in the end, we knew we had to make some changes.
Otherwise, if both our boys walk away from the church when they were older, it would be our fault.
There was nothing gripping about what they were seeing.
We were just doing ministry, and that gets to be a chore after some time.
We started right where we were at: we changed the words we used to shape our lives.
First on the list, yup, was “doing ministry.” [Not easy at all, not when it was all we knew.]
To us, for so long, ministry as what we did because we were Christians. Which isn’t the problem. But we had allowed what we did to define us–being busy with ministry was what proved we were good Christians.
Who are we? Oh right, we are the ones who step up and do all these things.
That proverbial cart before the horse? That was the problem.
What we did was driving who we were.
[And then there was that same struggle every time I chose to see people as ministry. First, because I imply I am better than them, and on my best days, I know that just isn’t true. It leads to a “me vs. them” complex–I know better, they are wrong. Second, because it allows me to label and compartmentalize my life. The weekend is when I do ministry, and my Sunday School students are my ministry. The friends I hang out with during the weekdays? Well, they’re not my ministry. Someone else will have to get to them. And finally, I end up promoting an agenda. And nobody likes people with agendas. It tells them you’re not really interested in them for their own sakes. You’re just there to check something off your list. But I digress.]
Quite frankly, I was floored by the realization that anybody could step in and do what I was doing. One didn’t have to be in a real relationship with Jesus to teach Sunday School. So if being busy at church was all my children would catch from me, I would have failed them. I would have failed my charge as a parent.
It blew my mind, but the fact my husband and I spent all our free time volunteering at church was not going to make our sons want to do the same. That we were fluent in church-isms and knew which Bible verses to use for every occasion–whether it was in context or not, was not going to instill in them a passion to learn those words and phrases.
Being busy with what we saw as ministry wasn’t going to change our sons’ lives.
It wasn’t going to attract them to Jesus.
The cart before the horse.
Crash and burn.
So we switched things around, tried letting the horse pull the cart.
What was this faith-thing about again? Oh right, Jesus.
We found our way back to the cross.
We shuffled things around, left a few places behind. Added new faces, marked new territory. All because we wanted to redefine the hashtags of our life together.
It has been a few years now. God is so good.
And guess what? We’re back to doing a few of the same things. But this time, we are centered. We’ve got nothing to prove. And, we no longer call it ministry. We eat, have fun, volunteer, study, help out, serve others, laugh, show up, and be the church. Without compartmentalizing things. We’ve learned to lump everything together and simply call it life, this thing we do.
We no longer do labels.
We simply are.
And there is so much freedom in that.