This weekend, I encountered a significant moment of mission.
This weekend, I was able to have a meaningful conversation with a local musician. His band has been doing very well, and gaining a lot of traction, but recently something went wrong that apparently caused a derailment.
That might not seem like much to the average onlooker, but for someone who has invested their very life and livelihood into a band, it can be extremely disastrous and painful. Bands become families, and any kind of crisis affects all involved. So when I saw this band member, I approached him from the standpoint of, “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to–I’m just here.”
The guy seemed genuinely appreciative, and while he was understandably vague about details, he began to open up about his personal emotions and his grief, not only for himself, but for those he loved. He described the situation as a defining moment.
As I listened to him, I realized that I, myself, was also in a defining moment.
I have to admit, after several years of simply being present within the creative community, I have felt a bit discouraged not to see much in the way of anything tangible to show others. I still try to describe this mission to people, and I have a hard time doing it because it’s so based on intangibles like “being there” or “encouraging people” or “having conversations.” But here I was, present in a key moment of this guy’s life–and I realized that if I had not spent the past three years invested in the progress of this band, building trust and loyalty, that conversation would never have happened.
This event reminded me of something very, very important: Ministry is not just about words. Ministry is about presence. In many parts of our culture–including the modern music community–the words mean nothing without trust and presence. The time people need ministry the most is when they are in crisis, and in those times of crisis the people who have built trust are the people who can be close within those moments.
It was a conversation that only lasted a few minutes, but it was a key moment. It didn’t happen because I’ve been covering the music scene (in fact, the whole “press” thing could have completely shut him down). It happened because I’ve been in this guy’s home, had lunch with him, talked with him, listened to him–been his friend. I had earned his trust, and he told me as much.
A pastor friend of mine once told me that in the postmodern culture, it takes about five years of faithful relationship-building before the gospel will even be listened to. When you’re in the day-to-day of relationship building, it’s easy to forget that God uses those seemingly mundane moments for a purpose. I’ve spent many days feeling like I was doing my best to be obedient, but that I really wasn’t making much of a difference. This one conversation made me very glad for all those mundane moments, reminding me that this is, indeed, a mission, and that God can use us to make a positive difference just by our being present. No agenda, no ulterior motive of “hitting ’em with the gospel”–just allowing our presence to be the thing that ministers, and letting God use that however He will.
And here’s something else worth mentioning: even though I believe the person in question is a believer, knowing the circles he runs in, I do not believe I would have been able to be present in that moment under the banner of institutional church. Despite my continuing belief in the overall community of faith, the institution itself really becomes a point of separation. In more ways than anyone wants to admit, it stops us from being present in the world around us. We occupy nearby space, but there is a division, a chasm, and a growing lack of trust, between the institutional church and the world around us. People inside the “bubble” often do not see how wide that divide is–as evidenced by what I shared in last week’s rant. I don’t think this guy would have trusted me with that moment of vulnerability if I had approached him as a “pastor.” I would have been kept at arm’s length.
I’ll say it again–ministry is not about words. Ministry is about presence. Folks have had their fill of being preached to by people, many of whom don’t bother to live what they preach. They are hungry for love and acceptance, and we as believers could be the agents of that love if we would just shut up once in awhile, and just be there. Being present in another person’s life might seem like the most un-noteworthy thing imaginable, but in the defining moments, it can be the very thing that makes the difference.