Friday, February 04, 2005

Does My Life Matter?

By John McLarty

You’ve been head elder for thirteen years or you’ve taught Junior Sabbath School forever. You’ve been faithful, but you can’t tell it’s made much difference. Maybe you’re a pastor and have served the same congregation for five or ten years. But your dreams of growth and community impact remain largely that–dreams. You question whether your ministry is actually contributing anything to the advance of Christ’s kingdom. If you are not careful, these questions about the value and impact of your ministry may turn into questions about the value and significance of your life. You’re using oxygen. You’re taking up space on planet earth. But does your life really matter?

Most of the time when you wrestle with these questions, God leaves you to walk by faith and not by sight. He asks you to trust him with the future. But occasionally he may pull aside the curtain and allow you to see.

Recently, Adventist Today published an article that contrasted the apparent success of mega-church pastors with the experience of many Adventist pastors who struggle with meager attendance. In response the member of a small church wrote an open letter to her pastor:

“You may not be a mega-church pastor. But I don’t know those pastors. I do know you. When I came to your church hurting from the spiritual abuse of my past, you saw me for God’s child. You listened to me. . . . I know there are maybe even a dozen people out there who are not drinking and drugging any more and that your ministry was a large part of that. I know there are half a dozen children out there who are not living in the drug world or otherwise being abused, and your ministry was a large part of that.”

When this woman’s pastor asked himself about his significance, he thought of Sabbath morning attendance, church giving and numbers of baptisms. And those were not impressive. He did not think of people fighting their way out of drug and alcohol addiction. He didn’t think of kids now in college who only a few years before lived in squalor and abuse or the older immigrant who counts on him as lawyer, counselor and life-skills adviser.

The way society counts things, this pastor is insignificant. His church is not going to be featured in the newspaper or in the Adventist Review. But for a few individuals, his ministry has made a life-and-death difference.

I think if Fred Perry. Fred was a biology teacher at Memphis State University and served as the youth leader to Memphis First Seventh-day Adventist Church when I was in the tenth and eleventh grades. While he was youth leader, the youth group did not increase in size. I don’t remember any conversions or dramatic stories of divine intervention. But through college and graduate school, as I wrestled with intellectual challenges to my faith, the memory of his own mix of questions about tradition and commitment to the church helped anchor me. I am sure that Fred has no idea of the impact on my life of his faithful service.

Sam Walker was the head elder in the first church I pastored. I don’t know if he ever saw any “fruit” for his labor. I do know I learned at least as much about ministry from him as I did from any seminary class. Sam is dead now. I doubt he ever had any idea of the impact he had on my life and through me on others. Sam was just doing his job.

Teaching Juniors, serving a small church, sorting packages in a mail distribution center, making burritos at Taco Bell–the world is filled with all sorts of obscure, unremarkable tasks. At times the weight of repetition and anonymity can make your work, and even the entirety of your life, seem utterly insignificant. But God gives each of us our work, and there are no unimportant jobs. Juniors, small churches, the mail and burritos matter to him. And so do you and your work.

To paraphrase a famous Bible passage:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments. There is no more to life than this. And God will bring every job into judgment, even the secret ones, whether they are grand or small (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

John McLarty is Pastor of the North Hill Christian Fellowship, a Seventh-day Adventist Church, Federal Way, WA.

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