The current trend in nonprofit fundraising is to “tell a story.” All of the articles tell you to put a face on your ministry by sharing one or more solid success stories. This is all well and good in that it helps people to understand the goals of whatever ministry is being promoted. But the reality is, for every glowing success story, there are many times when it just doesn’t work. You cannot save everyone. Sometimes ministry sucks.
Talk to anyone who runs a shelter for abused women. In spite of the best counseling and support, way too many abused women will decide to go back to their abusers. If you run a rehab center the reality is way too many people cycle in and out of programs for years before the grip of addiction is broken, many people never reach that point of healing. For those who work serving homeless individuals and families, it’s a shockingly rare situation that can move people out of the cycle of poverty and into secure housing, work, and a future.
If you pastor a church, you know how heartbreaking the work can be. You do your best for the members of your church, lovingly guiding, teaching, and encouraging them. But so often people choose to go an entirely different direction. Members of your church will fall victim to attacks, whether subtle or direct. People you considered solid Christians will fall away. Couples you thought were a great example will have affairs and/or divorces and lives are destroyed. People in your church will shock you in their ability to turn on each other.
As someone who has helped to run an orphanage for a very long time, I can tell you firsthand it can be incredibly painful and frustrating work. We can raise and care for a child for years, doing our best to pour into them and guide them into healing, but it doesn’t always work. Ultimately as a child moves through teenage years into adulthood, they make their own decisions. It tears us up when we watch young adults we’ve worked so hard with make decisions that will head them in the wrong direction.
So what’s the point of this rambling stream of negativity? Believe it or not, this is meant as an encouragement for those who are currently serving in ministry, and suffering through the pains and frustrations of failure. No, it doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can make all of the suffering and pain worthwhile.
Very recently a great young man who was raised in our home passed away much too young. Marcos was about 40 and passed after an extended illness surrounded by his wife, friends, my wife, and myself. Obviously, this was a painful event, and a great deal of mourning and healing is still taking place. In spite of the painful situation, the evening he passed away, in the midst of the emotional storm we were all going through, I found a moment of profound joy.
We knew Marcos’ time was short, and several people rushed to the hospital to visit and say their farewells. About an hour before the end, three different men showed up who were raised together with Marcos in our home. Although none of them are blood-related, they consider each other brothers and they’re some of my many children. All three have built their own lives, and have their own growing families, but in the midst of that trauma, I saw them in a whole new light. In a few moments, they went from being my children to being responsible men handling a difficult situation with astounding grace. Over the course of the evening, one made a point to comfort the new widow, giving her space and allowing her to grieve, but also making sure she had everything she needed. One went to work with the hospital sorting out the paperwork, the billing, and all the bureaucracy that goes on when a life ends. The third one brought a guiding hand and a calm voice to begin making funeral preparations. All three demonstrated a maturity that I had never noticed before. I’ve never been prouder.
Ministry doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does. Those men who stepped up in a hard situation are examples of how ministry can change lives. Not everyone who walks through your church, rehab, shelter, or orphanage will receive the help you want to give them, but some will. We can’t (and shouldn’t) force our will on anyone brought into our ministry, and many won’t want our help. But when it does work, and lives are changed, hang on to that. It’s why we do what we do. We also never know how the seeds we plant might take root and grow years down the road. Our job is to do the best we can, representing Christ well.
Jesus didn’t reach everyone. Many people rejected His message, His healing, His offer of help. But some accepted Him, that’s why He came and did what He did. He knew most people would reject Him, but His efforts were worth the few who made the right decisions. We are not Christ (far from it) but we are called to share of Him and carry out the work He has called us to do. The work we do is worth the few who can be reached. Keep it up.
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