Left behind. Yes, it's the name of a book series with related film productions, but that's not what this is all about. In this case, left behind is how I'm feeling.
Several years ago I read The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shaine Claiborne and wrote a review which brought an unusual amount of traffic to my blog. I was a bit embarrassed by the attention because it was a less than positive review of a worthwhile and popular book. While I appreciate the efforts of the author in inner-city ministry, I felt at the time like he would have no regard for someone living a life of radical obedience to Jesus Christ in a more rural setting. Is there a place for ordinary radicals where I live or will urban ministries always have more glamor? Does true ministry involve packing up and moving to the inner city? If everyone does that who will do ministry to my hurting neighbors?
I'm still trying to bloom where I am planted rather than transplanting myself elsewhere and have moved on to other books. Many of them likewise describe urban ministry but I find inspiration in them to get outside my comfort zone in ministering to people who are part of my rural community but still aren't like me. Or like those with whom I gather on Sunday.
More recently, the only active 20-somethings in the aging congregation of which I'm a part announced they are planning to start a new ministry for their peers -- young adults who are spiritual but alienated from traditional church settings. As a first step, they will step away from our congregation and seek alternative settings for worship.
This is very interesting to me. I realize I don't fit their target demographic, but I would love to be part of the conversation. Alas, it is not to be. I'm in their rear view mirror as they move toward a shiny new ministry. My books and what I have gleaned from them don't interest them. They need to do their own exploration.
This week I found out the leader of a trip I'm taking in January won't be leading it after all. He has accepted a position with a group specializing in new church plants. I knew he was involved in that sort of thing and was looking forward to interacting with him maybe a little as we traveled, though his ministry looks different from mine. Now he has moved on. Others I thought would be in the group have also dropped out because of conflicts with other ministries. Even when signing up to go where I thought they were going, I have still been left behind.
As part of my own journey, I extracted myself from the organizational structure of the local church in order to focus on ministry inside and outside the church building. I hear that many Christians have no friends who aren't also Christians. I may have fit that description at some points in my life. I now spend much time in public places interacting with people whose lives are being torn apart by sin. But I also still show up for church services or activities -- Sunday morning and evening, Wednesday evening, and more. There are many hurting people who show up there looking for a message of hope. And it's my home. I should be there to welcome them.
I've been sharing my journey into rural community ministry with an online fellowship group as something new and different. But recently, I was reminded that I'm still in a traditional church setting. What might feel radical and different to me looks extraordinarily ordinary from a more detached perspective. On Sunday mornings I facilitate an adult Sunday School group. On Wednesday evenings I try to speak some sort of word into the chaos of children's ministry with too wide an age range. So very ordinary. For a while I had a teen helper I brought in from the outside world. My first success story in the making! But she now has a job and can no longer be involved.
Jesus told a story about a farmer who went out to sow. Some seeds fell on the path and were eaten by birds. Other seeds fell in rocky soil and sprang up quickly but then died for lack of roots. Other seeds grew but the growth was choked out by weeds. But some seed fell on good soil and yielded a bountiful harvest.
I seem to be still in the sowing mode with no sign of a bountiful harvest. What I thought was going to be new ground with new opportunities for harvest I now realize looks a lot like the old place. And yet there is fertile ground here, in spite of rumors to the contrary. I keep turning to the Master Gardener looking for new cultivation techniques, a fresh approach to the ancient practice of sowing seeds. It all looks like ordinary gardening to the neighbors who are involved in more exciting pursuits, but I've never done it like this before. Maybe I need to focus more on doing it and less on trying to present it as something fresh and new to those who surely see how extraordinarily ordinary it is. Maybe I need to focus on what I'm doing and be less distracted by those who are moving on to greener pastures.
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).
Faithfulness means continuing to study and practice creative agricultural methods while trusting the growth and harvest to the "Lord of the harvest" (Matthew 9:38). I need to have faith in the viability of the seed, faith in the fertility of the soil, faith that rain will come when needed, and faith that there will someday be a harvest if I don't give up. My ministry results may never look like anything worth looking at but I have a farmer's heart and cannot NOT sow seeds when the weather warms and the soil is dark and rich.