I feel uncomfortable even having to mention this again.
So when I was doing mission work in Memphis all this past summer, I, for a couple weeks, was in charge of “Street Clean-Up” in the afternoons. So basically I led these church groups from other states around inner city Memphis and picked up trash with them.
First off… People get really angry when they pay to be on a mission trip for a week and then spend their afternoons picking up trash. It’s not “spiritual”. So for them to not be super pissed off and petty, which they still usually were, I would tell them the history of how street clean-up got started as a part of the ministry, which I was informed of from the beginning by this awkward sheet of paper.
So the story goes: the pastor was walking around. He saw an unofficial trash heap in an empty lot. There was a girl sitting in the trash and eating a hot dog. He decided to take teams out to clean. Now we clean. For hot dog girl. And now the community likes us. So we clean up just to show the people that we care about them and that we don’t want their children eating hot dogs in trash. And other spiritual things.
I always felt super awkward talking about that. Because how irrelevant is the hot dog that the girl was eating? I don’t like pointless details, and that hot dog was super pointless.
So I hated that all summer. And I never even met hot dog girl.
But it was a funny thing. Because when we would go out and pick up trash, these kids would run up to us and want to help. They’d want to talk to us. And I, being the one with the staff shirt, would take the liberty to forget all about the stupid trash and go pick up the kid without shoes who wanted to run through the broken beer bottles to get to us.
And suddenly that kid’s bare feet were very relevant to me and why I wanted to spend my afternoons picking up trash. It wasn’t about the work I was doing. It was about the barefoot kid and the beer bottles that became a part of my heart because of where I was placed.
So after that I kinda got why I had to always talk about the hot dog. It was relevant to the pastor’s heart for the community. That little detail is what broke his heart and made him want to do something.
And so now when I do any sort of community service, I specifically pray for hot dog girl. Because it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, honestly. I can be picking up trash or painting houses or sorting paperwork. But I always pray that I’m not focused on completing my task for the sake of completing my task and being able to say I put in my hours to help the community. I pray that doing whatever I do leads me to come into contact with something that breaks my heart. A silly little detail that changes the way I see things. And when you look at it that way, you can kinda start to see that it’s a matter of the heart. If you say you’re about ministry, you should be overflowing with love with everyone around you. You should be all about helping everyone in any way you can and allowing your heart to be broken, not doing an organized “ministry” activity and calling yourself a missionary because of it.
You minister right where you are. Whether it’s organized or not. Your heart’s intention should be apparent by the way you are willing to work to change the things that are not aligned with the way you know they should be. That’s what ministry is, I think. Doing “unspiritual” things and expecting God to show you His heart for the people involved. And that whole heart portion of it is what matters.
(That means that work and school and buying coffee can be ministry. Just let your heart break and open yourself up to initiating change where you see it needs to happen. It’s not about what you’re doing. It’s about your heart’s motive in it. That is all.)