I remember sitting in the back of that simple sanctuary. There was nothing fancy about it. No stained glass windows. No colorful, streaming lights. No speakers big enough to shake the floor. It did have some basketball hoops that tucked up into the ceiling, so the room could be converted for double duty at a moment’s notice, and there was a cafe area. Well, if you consider a folding table up against a wall a cafe area, that is. It offered water, coffee, apple juice from the pitcher, and a bowl full of granola bars. (You could get one with chocolate chips if you came early enough). The pews were actually well worn chairs that had been lovingly pushed into tidy rows, many of which were filled with people as young and unsophisticated as me. The pastor was up on the stage that Sunday, wearing jeans, probably with his hands in his pockets, wrapping up a sermon that would not bring him world-wide acclaim, an invitation to a podcast, or a book deal. It was plain to see that this church, only a few years old, was not a church of means. However, as I sat there in my comfortably worn chair, what was about to happen next would mean so much to me.
At this time in my life, I was a little over 30. I had a toddler and an infant, and a constant case of sleep deprivation. I also had a fairly new faith. Though, I had been raised in the church as a child, one where the seeds of a loving church family were sown, I didn’t actually accept Christ there. In fact, as I became an adult I also became more and more skeptical about Christianity altogether. And I would have probably stayed that way, if I am being honest, if I hadn’t met my husband who was a Christian and so good looking that his sheer handsomeness made trying church out again feel worth it (but that is a story for another day). What is important to know about this story is that by the time I was sitting in the back of that little sanctuary, digesting my chocolate chipless granola bar, I had been a “Christian” for about five years, but I was still trying to figure out what it actually meant to follow Christ.
And so this is where I was, when the pastor, standing on that modest stage, raised the microphone to his lips and said a little something like this. “Church I want to ask you something. As you know our youth group is growing and we have come to a place where we really need to buy a church van.” Now, I don’t remember my reaction at the time; it probably wasn’t much. I do know that in my mind I already knew what was coming next. Except that it didn’t.
He continued. “But, we feel like before we buy a van for ourselves, we feel in our heart that we are supposed to buy a van for another church across town instead. Would you consider giving to this special collection?”
That wasn’t what I had been expecting. We weren’t a church that was likely to have the funds to purchase multiple vans. Most of us were part of young families, many on one income, not exactly the demographic of folks who have piles of spare cash lying around. If we didn’t buy our own church van first, then it was possible that we may never get one. But that is what we were being asked to do, give sacrificially to help another church, without any plan to help ourselves. It didn’t make any sense. Except that it did.
And as I sat there, that day, trying to figure out what I just heard in my still young heart for Christ, I watched the people around me come to life. There was nodding and clapping and I’m sure an “Amen” or two, and suddenly that small, simple sanctuary was filled with joy. And that is when I started to get it, what it really meant to follow Christ. Being a Christian wasn’t about being part of a perfect church, or being a perfect person, it was simply about trying our best to live like Jesus. Jesus, who gave sacrificially to bless others, without any plan to help himself. That was it. And that was everything.
And here’s the thing. It is still everything today. Which is why, on this New Year’s Day, I have chosen to share this story with you. Because while it might make more sense to start the year with a blog about how to plan for a perfect year, or top ten tips to market your ministry in 2022, or how to attract online followers like a star, the truth is none of those things truly matter. And I know that as a ministry leader you already know that. But I also know how easy it can be to compare your ministry to others or feel like you have to have everything Instagram perfect. This stress can sometimes be especially intense at the beginning of a new year when events are being calendared, strategies discussed, and bigger, better goals are being set. Sometimes it can feel like you have to get everything right to do the job you feel called to do.
So this is what I want you to know. You don’t. All you have to do is get one thing right. Show people how to live like Jesus. Which isn’t fancy or clever or popular, but it is what matters most. That is what changes lives, just like it did for that sleep deprived young mother who is writing this to you now. So, as you begin planning your new year of ministry I want to give you this encouragement. You already have all you need to do the job you have been called to do. You have a heart for Christ. Share that genuinely, daringly, and simply, just like that pastor, standing on the modest stage with his hands in his pockets did all those years ago. Because that is all that is truly needed.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened with the van, here is the rest of the story. The congregation did end up buying that van for the other church across town. Then, not too long later, we came into a van of their own. Today, that simple church has grown and changed, but I still sit in the back of the sanctuary and often visit the cafe area, which is now an actual cafe area. And though, we are now a church with more means than we had back all those years ago, what is still most meaningful is Jesus. And that is enough, because that is everything.