Monday, December 14, 2009

More Smiles than Tears

A few years ago at summer camp, during an evening chapel, the leader of the band introduced a song with a warning that because the lyrics were about God being your Daddy, those without a father might find this song particularly emotional. He encouraged the crowd to leave quietly when the song was over so that anyone who needed to could stay and receive counseling. Before the song started Dan knew which student would be hurting, and he started to pray for him, even as his own heart ached for his relationship with his own father.

Respectfully the crowd left, one by one, the mood was somber in the large auditorium. One student, 16, nearly a man, remained at the end of the pew, with a hunched over back and hidden face, shoulders shaking with each sob.

His group of friends--an inseparable kind of posse--remained with him, desperate to cheer him up, or do something. Dan watched as they first tried to make him laugh with antics and jokes, and then tried to get him to talk with awkward platitudes. Their extroverted young minds ran out of options as their normal stash of tricks failed to get their friend to even lift his head. They looked up to Dan, saw him watching them, and came over.

"I tried to make him laugh," the first student said, "but he didn't even see me."

"And I tried to talk to him, but he won't talk," said the second friend.

In Dan's quiet way, he encouraged them to leave, gave each student a firm grasp of the shoulder in encouragement, and passed them as he covered the short distance to the hurting student.

He said nothing as he sat down beside this aching boy, wrapped one arm around his shoulder, and quietly wept with him. How long they stayed that way, two hurting young men, just letting the pain out through tears neither shed often, no one can say. Those who saw were wiping their own tears and respectfully turned away.

After enough time had passed they stood up, wiped their faces, and walked out.

The next day the well meaning friends told Dan, "He's okay. He's really okay. What did you do?"

"I hurt with him."


There is a misconception that words--especially if they are loud, eloquent, passionate, or creative--are at the heart of ministry. But what sermon can you recall more than an idea or two from? What speech can you recite after hearing it? What words took away your pain in times of grief?

God spoke in understatements.

Through a man who stuttered, God set an entire nation free from slavery.

Through a small shepherd boy, God led a nation into greatness.

Through a whisper in the wind, God healed the spirit of frightened prophet.

Through a carpenter, God offers salvation to all who will accept.

Through a reserved man, God has changed hundreds of lives.

It is love, consistency, deep relationship, and togetherness that have brought success in Dan's ministry.

Ask A, a Jr. high student with a hard family life, who feels loved by Dan because they share inside jokes.

Ask J, who has called Dan and asked for counsel right away and has not been let down.

Ask any of the young married couples, whose joy and excitement Dan shared before the wedding, and then whose hurt and fear Dan walked them through after marriage.

Ask M, who counted on Dan to take care of little things she could not take care of herself, who was blessed when he not only helped her but thought of ways on his own to care for her.

Ask any of Dan's former students or leaders what has made and impact on them, and they will tell you, to a person, it is his character, his consistency, his genuine love, and his sharing in their lives.


Last weekend turned out to be a frustrating one. We truly believed we were called to go to Chico, to serve at a particular church, and Dan turned down other jobs because he was so convinced.

But someone there, a great guy with a big personality, believes that pastors need to be extroverts to be effective. He loved Dan, and he loved his credentials, but he wanted him to be an extrovert, just like this guy is.

The problem is that the Bible does not require pastors, or anyone, to be extroverts. He uniquely made each person, and if He had meant for all pastors to be one way in personality, He would have put it in his list of qualifications. In fact, we have found in 10 years of ministry that those who are overly extroverted are sometimes a turn off to many people who are unsure if that pastor is genuine. The ones we know have turned out to be genuine, and once you get to know them you see that they really just are that nice to everyone. But not everyone takes the time to get to know them, and it can be a detriment to a ministry.

The sad thing is, we bonded with the pastors, Dan preached an incredible sermon and cast a vision that got the youth group, parents and leaders all excited, and we started to build relationships.

But, one person can ruin what could be beautiful. And Dan withdrew his name because he was unwilling to come without this person's full support.

In short: We are not moving to Chico.

The sad thing is, this man is wrong.

And he can't see it.

He is truly a wonderful guy, who I agree with in many things, but in this area, he is wrong.

Dan's effectiveness in ministry--the fact that he has impacted people for eternity at a deep and real level, lots and lots of people--is not in spite of his introverted personality. It's BECAUSE of it. Students are drawn to his sincerity, he reserved nature, his depth of character, his down to earth approach to life, and his genuine care for others. They are also drawn to his love of adventure, his athleticism, his competitive nature, his love of rock climbing and video games, his joy for life, his sense of humor, and his desire to help anyone he meets to know Christ more.

But of course, you are not going to know all that within 30 seconds. Of course, like any great masterpiece, that could take time to come to full light. But great ministries, like great masterpieces, are worth the wait, and from the beginning the creation is clearly something special.

I am sad, hurting, and praying for the students we got to know. We would have been honored to be part of their lives.

I am disappointed we are not going to be working with the associate pastor. He, his wife, and his children, are the kind of people we aspire to be: salt of the earth, tightly knit, in ministry for the long haul.

I pray that God uses what happened this weekend to unify this church, so that they are all on the same page.

I pray that we continue to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, our counselor and our comforter, rather than blame people or grow bitter.

I pray that we follow the Lord to wherever He leads, no matter the cost.

 Let the world despise and leave me,
They have left my Savior, too.
Human hearts and looks deceive me;
Thou art not, like them, untrue.
And while Thou shalt smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love, and might,
Foes may hate and friends may shun me;
Show Thy face, and all is bright.

No comments: