More Than Meets The Eye

This past Friday I shadowed an Akron Children’s Services Board social worker to get a feel for what their job entails and the impact they are making on family restoration.

The woman I had the opportunity to shadow did a great job of showing me one case in full circle.  First, we want to the home of a 20-year-old woman living in fairly rough project housing who recently had her two children removed due to issues of apparent neglect.  After some words of encouragement, challenge, and clarifying their shared goals for child recovery, we dropped off the agreed upon contract to the court system for processing.

Next, we went to the 20-year-old’s mother who currently had custody of the children.  She was 35-years-old, watching her two grandchildren in a small apartment with her boyfriend, both of whom were recently laid off.  Again, the social worker gave words of affirmation and blessing, along with some key steps for them to be taking in the midst of this redemptive process.

As we drove back to the headquarters my assigned partner for that day began to tell me about her own personal loss.  Married to a pastor who committed adultery resulting in divorce, she felt guilty of her absence from the institutional church over the past few years.  However, in her slight defense she quietly said to me, “but I still feel like what I am doing is ministry.”

My response was simple, “_______, what you are doing here is more ministry than any sermon ever preached from the pulpit or any program you could ever attend at a church.”

I am reminded of the comments made by educator James Wilhoit who states:

“Christians have frequently concluded that since the presence of social virtues does not necessarily indicate a sustaining faith in God, their cultivation is of little spiritual value.  This belief has contributed a sad chapter to our social witness and downplayed some important strategies for spiritual growth.  All persons of good will, Christian and non-Christian, should celebrate the presence of virtues that promote a society of shalom and justice…We need to see that all true formation has its origins in God, who through Christ is reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-20).  We must be very sober about the power of sin, but we need to see Christ, who ‘sustains the universe by the mighty power of his command’ (Heb 1:3), as being behind growth in virtue, in love, and in justice” (35-36).  This has a very practical implication.  This means that Christians may avail themselves of avenues of change that promote the presence of gospel virtues.  Our change does not come in two forms:  good Christian church-based change and ordinary change.  All true formation has its origin in God, and we must humbly receive it as a gift.  I have seen well-meaning Christians reject programs designed to help develop life skills simply because they were “not Christian.”  We must be discerning, but much of what contributes to our positive spiritual formation may be ordinary activities that, when humbly received from God, are used to weave the wonderful tapestry of our formation”  (Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered, 35-36).

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~ by Dave Smith on September 23, 2009.

2 Responses to “More Than Meets The Eye”

  1. “_______, what you are doing here is more ministry than any sermon ever preached from the pulpit or any program you could ever attend at a church.”

    I can’t help but wonder, Dave, how different the world might look if all pastors shared those sentiments.

    I chose to quit pursuing “the ministry” for the reasons you mentioned above. The church isn’t about preserving itself; it’s about loving and serving the world, no strings attached.

  2. Yea, it’s definitely a tough balance.

    I think there is an interesting cycle that promotes our time, money, and focus to see the “programs” and “service” as “true” ministry.

    Due to consumerism, we desire the highest of quality in worship service and programming. To deliver such a product our hired, pastoral professionals will spend the majority of themselves and resources into ensuring such quality. In light of that, you just assume this is where the “real ministry” is taking place, since it’s the major focus of the church.

    I don’t see this cycle breaking, but I do think there can be a shift in some assumptions we may have.

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