By Walt Wiltschek; office coordinator of Brethren Volunteer Service, at-large editor of Messenger magazine, and district executive for Illinois and Wisconsin District
When I was a youth pastor in Maryland fresh out of seminary, I was fortunate to have in the congregation a retired pastor who became a trusted and invaluable mentor for me. He said many wise things to me over the time I knew him, but one I most remember involved his grandchildren, who also attended the congregation. The family was going through a lot while I was there, so I had tried my best to get to know them and connect.
“You know,” this retired pastor said one day, “no matter how good a preacher you become (and I wasn’t a very good one then), or how many good sermons you preach, or how many Sunday school classes or youth activities you lead, that’s not what my grandkids are going to remember. They’re going to remember when you came to their house and shot basketball with them on their driveway. They love basketball, and when you came and shared that with them, that’s when you became real.”
It seemed a rather routine thing at the time–and I’m not very good at basketball, either—but that’s stuck with me ever since, and something I’ve tried to make part of the youth ministry I do, and the other ministry, as well. Woody Allen once famously said that “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” And while I’m not sure that Woody Allen is the best model for anything theological, in this case I think he might have gotten it right. It’s amazing how much of ministry is simply showing up—being there—accompanying people on the journey of life and faith.
In an article I encountered recently, author Rich Anderson noted that “The life of Jesus is the blueprint for just showing up.” Every miraculous and ordinary thing he did and said in his ministry exemplified showing up for people in need. Anderson goes on to give some contemporary examples of showing up, including a nurse who proved to be a great help to his nervous 100-year-old mother during an emergency hospital stay and even brought her flowers to help her smile—a nurse who hadn’t been scheduled to work that evening but came in for overtime because he felt it was important to show up that day.
In Matthew 10:40-42, in The Message translation, Jesus says, “Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice.”
Mother Teresa once famously said that we can do “small things with great love.” As we in the Church of the Brethren and other denominations sometimes bemoan our shrinking numbers, perhaps we can also do loving things with our great smallness. Whatever our size, we can still show up and let God use us. Sometimes just showing up itself and being there is enough. Sometimes that’s the first step to listening or responding or taking action. But it begins with being there.
Thank you for showing up in the ministries of your congregation, community, district, and the larger denomination. Thank you for responding to people in crises, connecting across cultures, volunteering, stewarding resources, equipping fellow believers, supporting pastors and churches leaders, or doing the behind-the-scenes work that keeps everything going smoothly. However you participate in the ministry of showing up, you’re doing holy work.
Learn more about the work of the Church of the Brethren that provides opportunities to carry out the ministry of showing up at www.brethren.org/greatthings or support our ministries at www.brethren.org/give.
Walt, I appreciate what you have written so very much. Thank you.
So appreciate your message Walt. I’ve recently battled breast cancer and accepting help was difficult for me. Thank you.