We spent a lot of time in churches and in meetings this past summer, telling about what God’s doing and how we’re trying to join in and follow along. Looking back, the best way I can describe those times is “encouraging.” Granted, we spent most of our time with people who are already supportive of what we do, so it’s easy for you to imagine all the positive feedback we received. It was a boost to our spirits, a boost to our work… and sometimes a boost to our egos.
We heard all kinds of praise, and I get that. When I was a kid growing up in church, being a missionary was one of those “top level” callings right next to being an astronaut. For me and others who grew up in that kind of atmosphere, it’s easy to put certain people on pedestals.
But we “missionaries” are only human beings, struggling to follow Jesus, just like any believer. These pedestals make me really uncomfortable. Foreseeing the kind of “pedestalization” we’d receive, we did our best to emphasize not OUR work, but the work of God and others, and then to encourage those we talked with to find ways to serve wherever they were. It helped us keep perspective – but sometimes we still ended up on the pedestal.
I don’t want to belittle what we do – but I know the only reason we could be here is because God has called us to do what we do. Jesus doesn’t call every person to serve in a different country… but Jesus does call each of us to show God’s love in a real and tangible way, right where we find ourselves. Even people in Christian ministry and mission can fall into the trap of thinking that having this “title” is our way of following Jesus. It’s not. Following Jesus means following Jesus, not filling a job description.
And the more I reflected on that this summer, the more I saw people who inspired ME. People who showed me what it means to walk into difficult places, armed only with God’s love and courage. People who exemplify what it means to follow Jesus, right where they are…
Ministers who face criticism – and possible firing – because they speak honestly, boldly and prophetically to their church communities.
A church family that intentionally spends more of its budget and time serving the community than themselves.
Hospice chaplains who spend hours on the road every week in order to spend a few sacred moments with the dying.
A minister couple who courageously stepped away from church ministry in order to focus on keeping their marriage together.
Pastors at so many churches who struggle to find ways to reach their rapidly changing communities.
Church members who faithfully spend time serving their homeless neighbors every week.
A woman who voluntarily spends her days sitting, talking and praying with the residents of an assisted living facility.
A church family that, after years of ministry in one community, is trying to reconnect and reinvent itself – not through new campuses, worship gimmicks or building renovations, but through activities that serve the neighborhoods around them.
A group of people who put their gifts to work every day in an urban office setting, serving thousands of people around the U.S. and the world by supporting Christians, ministers and mission workers.
80- and 90-year-old ladies who – instead of waiting for someone to visit them – spend their days driving around town, taking care of the “old people” in their communities!
Parents who help their children struggle daily – and victoriously! – with conditions like cystic fibrosis, autism and ADHD.
Small rural church families, their buildings surrounded by tobacco and soy fields, touching and changing lives in their own communities and around the world.
To me, these folks are heroes. Some of you reading this know who you are – thanks for continually reminding me what it means to serve Jesus sacrificially wherever we are.
After all, it’s not the pedestals on this side of heaven that really matter…