My pastor occasionally states that ministry is local. That is, ministry happens best at the local level, where there is face-to-face contact on a regular basis. Although there is nothing wrong with having a broader reach through whatever means God provides, such as the internet, print, radio, television (although an argument can be made against the helpfulness of many television ministries in the last number of years) or events such as conferences and network meetings, the foundation of ministry happens right where we live in our daily routines. Pastor Phil has a vital coaching and consulting ministry through which pastors and churches from around the country call on him for his expertise and experience. Yet, clearly the local church is his priority. I appreciate that about him. He is grounded, yet visionary concerning how God is working here and abroad.
I once spoke with a former professor who had spent much of his adult life in denominational leadership, consulting with churches throughout the USA and helping to strengthen them. An important ministry, to be sure. Yet he lamented the fact that he had never spent a substantial amount of time in one ministry location. He had no local church to call home. He felt that was one of the biggest downsides of having traveled for much of his ministry career. He did not experience the joy of growing older with a consistent group of people, while watching the younger generations grow, too.
This is an explanation of why I do not seek an expanded ministry platform beyond the reach of what God has planned for me. It is a cautionary tale, reminding me of my place in this world.
I love to network. It is an acquired taste within the last ten or fifteen years. It does not come naturally, but I have learned to enjoy meeting new people who are like-minded in their passion to serve God in any capacity, especially in the arena of children’s ministry. Occasionally I go to network meetings and conferences. More often I dialogue via the web through various social media. It is fun to learn from others. Their can-do-it attitudes. Their creativity. Their love for God and children. Sometimes, I might even have something to say which benefits them. For that I am thankful.
There was a time when I was in my 30’s when I envisioned impacting the lives of churches and leaders through writing, consulting, training, and so on. In fact, I even spent three years full-time in that kind of role consulting with churches throughout the USA, and with a few congregations abroad via the web. I relished helping churches strengthen their local ministries. Large congregations or small; it did not matter. I poured out my heart to them the best I knew how in any situation.
I have come to realize, however, that some dreams must be set aside (or in my case, killed) for the sake of more important matters. For example: 1. The children with no dads in the home; indeed, in a couple of cases there are several children each by different birth fathers, and the man currently living at home is not their dad; 2. The children who are at risk of gang recruitment; 3. The parents, young and not-so-young, who lack any framework for understanding, much less implementing their parental responsibility for the spiritual upbringing of their children. And the list goes on.
My heart’s desire is that at the end of my days God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” He will not be impressed with the stature of my public ministry platform. Foremost among his criteria will be my obedience to his commands.
It is a strange, counterintuitive experience, being called to the margins, away from those experiences from which public ministry platforms are typically made. This is partly why I have been saying, “no thanks” or “not now” to specific opportunities which float my way through cyberspace and other means.
I want to hear the heart of God for my city, my neighborhood, my church family. So, I will hear about the great events in children’s ministry by proxy, reading the reports from others. I plan to go to one last large conference early next year because I have already pre-registered. Beyond that, all bets are off. It is likely that my conference days will be over for the foreseeable future. After all, ministry is local. That is where my attention needs to be focused.