When asked to consider the details of ministry, and particularly to offer ‘theological reflection’ on those details, anyone actually IN ministry would likely say: ‘Here’s the theology of details: There isn’t any (theology, that is)!’ At least, that’s what many of us would say on a good many days.
But then there are those other days, those other moments, where the smallest thing can shine with the brightest light. THOSE are the days that we want to capture, hold onto, remember… and REPEAT! Those are the days, the moments, that make ministry worthwhile, that make us say ‘THIS is why I do this.’
One of my great joys in ministry is accompaniment. It's not about what I do, but what I get to witness, encourage, support, nurture, and see others do. So when someone does something they find UNremarkable, I make it my business – my vocation! – to remark.
Terri left worship the Sunday before Christmas and said she left a card at the desk for me. A hastily written note said: “Courtney, I’m off work again all this week. So if you want me to get the bread and juice for all the Christmas Eve communion services like last year, just let me know how much to get and where you’d like it and I’ll take care of it.”
Such a small detail, yet it was so divinely cared for. And because it was, Ken and Kim had something work with when they said, “Just leave everything in the kitchen. We’ll come in on Saturday afternoon [Christmas Eve] and get the trays ready for the three late services.” (It’s a large congregation. We see about 2500 people on Christmas Eve.)
Detail: Communion tray prep.
And then there's this:
Matt and Erin are deacons and were serving at the 7:00 pm Christmas Eve service. Their task at the start of worship was to hand out bulletins as worshippers arrived, help people find seats, and be sure everyone had an individual and much-coveted candle for the beloved singing of 'Silent Night' and sharing of the Christ light among all gathered. This candle is a very important tool in a Christmas Eve worship, yes? Yes.
Matt and Erin’s oldest, Nate, who is 4, came to Christmas Eve services looking quite smart and grown up in his jeans, plaid shirt and little corduroy jacket. Nate took it upon himself to take the smallest of the baskets, filled with candles, and simply walk the aisles of the worship space, basket in one hand, candle in the other, holding it above his head, just waaaaaving it around. If someone indicated they needed one, they did not take it from the basket themselves. Nate personally selected their candle and handed it to them. (The biggest belly laugh of the night occurred when someone came back to Nate to get a second candle for another family member and was asked ‘What did you do with the one I just gave you?'. It was fantastic!) Looking for all the world like the guy at the ballpark that tosses peanuts, hot dogs and drinks to you from the aisle, there was Nate - making sure everyone had what they needed to share the light of Christ. Honestly, if there’s anything more divine than that detail, I don’t know what it is.
And finally, consider this:
Dave is not a deacon, nor an elder, or anything ‘official’ in any capacity. He is a faithful worshipper, a generous spirit, a regular participant in men’s small group and building-and-grounds support ministries, a constant and affable presence and one of those all-around-great-ask-for-what-you-need-and-it’s-yours-before-you-finish-asking kind of people that churches long for (and want to clone!). Christmas morning, following a bustling night of Christmas Eve services which found all of Dave’s kids and grandkids surprising him by attending all together, Dave was in worship (yes, that funky and weirdly-attended Christmas-is-a-Sunday service).
After worship, as the deacons put the chairs away, Dave noticed just how much remnant wax (from all those candles Nate so strategically distributed!) was on the floor. Even knowing that no one would be in the building for the next few days in the holiday week, and even knowing that it would be cared for elsewhere, Dave stayed and swept the entire surface of the worship area. He found the push broom, his faithful partner in life, love and faith found the dust pan, and together Dave and Jodi cleaned up the worship space so that the next people to step into it would find it in the best possible shape.
Again: detail. Again: divine.
Ministry – in churches of every size, shape, stripe, and situation – is ABOUT the details. Actually, it IS the details. In my own work, it’s about making sure we have deacons for every service, that they’re prepared and instructed for their tasks of preparing for and serving during worship. It’s about being sure that there are hospitality teams at doors and desks and making calls to say ‘thank you for visiting.’ It’s about answering questions about the church: who we are, what we believe, how we function, who does what, what it means when we do this, and where they can do something to be involved.
Ministry IS the details. But more than that, for me, ministry is being a companion on the journey. It is that joyous moment that really defies description (despite the multiple paragraphs I’ve tried to employ here). It is people who out of love for their church and their pastor, and most of all love for God, just say ‘Here’s this thing I can do, and it’s no big deal, so let me take care of it, so that you (pastor, leader, other member) can take care of something else. Something more important.’
But the truth of the matter is that there’s NOTHING more important than the details and the way they’re handled. There’s nothing more important than someone who has the opportunity to do something that they know they can do. The task of ministry, then, is to detail the Divine… to say – to them, for them, and with them – “This mattered. This mattered because you gave of yourself. This mattered because you helped. This mattered because you tried. This mattered – and matters still – because it shows the rest of us (even and especially those of us who do this for a living) that the Divine is in the details.”
In those moments when ministry is making me crazier than I was when I started, those moments when I think looking at one more list of names, creating one more calendar or one more plan (or last minute change to a plan!) will be the death of me, I give thanks to God when I recall that “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4: 4 – 6)
Even in the details.