Three days ago, I came home to a plastic grocery bag hanging on my mailbox.
I wondered if it had blown down the street from someone’s trash can, removed it, and threw it in the garbage. Two days later, I went out, only to find another one. And this time, when I looked up and down the street, I saw that every single mailbox had received one. Clearly this was intentional, but what was it for?
I waited for enlightenment and, when it didn’t come, threw it out again.
It wasn’t until several days later that a post on my neighborhood forum explained the bags. A local group is collecting canned food for a holiday drive; the bags are meant to be filled and left by the mailbox, where volunteers will pick them up on a designated day. Suddenly, the random grocery bag made sense. It was not waste, but a useful tool.
I didn’t think of the grocery bag again until this past Sunday, when our pastor was discussing a rejuvenated “trash to treasure” ministry in our church. The gist of it is this: congregants donate well-kept but unneeded items, and after a while of collecting them the church then sells them all in one day during a giant bazaar. One hundred percent of the money made from the sales goes to church “direct need” ministry: grocery and gas cards for those in need.
The sale is a big deal at the church. But it wasn’t always. In fact, it was faltering until a new member in the church – with prodigious skills in organizing – volunteered to run it. She’d never managed a major ministry before, but believed she had the talent and the call. She told the ministry staff she wanted to take it on and – to their credit – they let her. Since then, the sale has blown up into a legitimate community event, and makes a lot of money that’s funneled directly to the less fortunate. And it’s all because a woman who was uniquely suited to running it came along and was permitted to do what only she could do. That ministry was basically waiting for her to come along and really kick it into gear, and the church gave her carte blanche to do what she felt needed to be done.
In the same way that the grocery bag made perfect sense in the context of a canned-food drive, then, believers of varying skills and abilities make perfect sense in the context of particular ministries. They fit right into a ministry like a key into a lock. In fact, there are some ministries just waiting to be revitalized or started by just the right person. And although it’s always important for believers to serve wherever they happen to be needed, I think that sometimes as a church we get so busy putting people where they’re “needed” that we forget to put them where they can do the best work: where God wants them.
The truth is that we all have something that we’re meant to do and skilled at doing and that will contribute meaningfully to the body of Christ. Among us are painters and Japanese teachers and gamers and writers and speakers and programmers and graphic artists and who knows what else. We’ve all been made to do unique and particular things, so why not allow believers to exercise the full range of their skills and interests on behalf of the Lord?
One of the reasons I’m fond of my current church is that they’re pretty big on this: they like enabling what they call “God dreams.” A woman who loved to knit wondered if she might create a fellowship group centered on knitting and crafting; it’s currently going strong with many members. Another believer wanted to start a group to help parents of opioid addicts, and it’s provoked a tremendous community response. A grandmother raising her daughter’s children started a support network for grandparent-parents. And so on and so forth.
I understand that not all churches have the resources (or even the desire) to support new and fledgling ministries this way. Some churches have enough trouble finding people to do the grunt work of moving folding chairs or putting up Christmas trees; they’re so busy finding people to do the necessary that they can’t spare much of a thought for anything else. And other churches are reluctant to put their weight behind something that might not necessarily end up working out. But there are a few things that individual believers can do to enable “God dreams,” either theirs or the dreams of others, and in this the season of giving I wanted to share them with you:
1. Support dreamers in consistent prayer. Pray for them. Pray for what they are doing. Pray that they will receive discernment and wisdom and opportunities. Pray that God will bless and work through them. And don’t do it only once; do it regularly.
2. Support dreamers with your resources. If there is a fledging ministry that you enjoy and want to support, please do! Don’t be stingy. If believers are offering a service or a product you enjoy and desire, buy it! And if they aren’t, but you still want to offer support, donate! And if you don’t have money, offer encouragement. Or your time. Or your prayer.
3. If you have a “God dream”, reach out! Don’t ponder it in quiet and secret, wondering if it will ever happen. Talk to your pastors, your church leaders, your friends, your family. Maybe God is making a way for you that you don’t even know about yet. Maybe the skills or the idea you have is exactly the right fit for something that someone else has already been thinking of.
4. If you have a “God dream,” start now. Start small, maybe, but start now. You don’t always have to have the support of a church or a congregation behind you. You can knit for the homeless/start a card ministry/begin a support group on your own and in your own good time. If you want to take a few baby steps forward, do. You never know what might come of it.
Above all, don’t be a discourager. All around us there are people in the body of Christ wanting and waiting to work, and trying to figure out where they “fit” that makes the most sense. Sometimes these people make sense in the context of already-existing ministries; sometimes they’re meant to start a ministry of their own. Regardless, the possibilities are limitless where God is involved, so we must be careful not to put restraints on ourselves or on others.
Go dream wildly.