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One toy which could render several potential parallels in today’s society is the train whose caboose has square wheels on the Island of Misfit Toys. For example, there are many people who want to go places but somehow feel held back. For some, there is some sort of disability (whether real or perceived) that they feel limits them. Others may feel weighted down by a painful past, which seems to stop them in their tracks. For these individuals, such issues are addressed in other areas of the chapter, and will not be lingered on here.

For our purposes here, we look to correlate this particular misfit toy with a different kind of individual—the one who is called to stay. The very concept may be new to some readers, and for some, the limiting insinuation may even be off-putting. And yet, these people are the anchors which keep so many other things grounded to a solid foundation. They are those whose contributions are sometimes overlooked or underappreciated, even by they themselves. It seems that we live in a world that gives large amounts of credit to those we recognize as being on the front lines. In any type of ministry, it’s natural for the individual operating as the mouthpiece to be the most identifiable in conjunction with ministerial efforts. And yet, these individuals do not—usually cannot—act alone. Nor should they: I daresay all outreach efforts need numbers of support workers. Furthermore, there are practical aspects to consider with trains: not everybody can be at the front. Consider this: if each, individual Christian were the leader of his or her own train, the entire kingdom of God would be running in different directions. How many of these cross–running trains would collide or jump the tracks?

For each ministerial direction, a good, solid support system of unseen anchor–cabooses are necessary to ensure success. And, these often unsung, behind–the–scenes types are vital, because not only do their efforts add the substance of great infrastructure to an already-great plan, they are also the ones who can ground and stop a runaway train.

Those whose calling is found in support roles, fulfilling unrecognized jobs, or otherwise working outside the limelight can often fall into the trap of underestimating the value of their own contribution. These individuals of inestimable worth are the people who copy coloring sheets for the children’s vacation Bible school classes, wash the dishes in a back room after an award or ordination banquet, or keep the church van running so neighborhood children can be brought to the assembly. They are the unseen workers who clean the church building on Thursday so that visitors feel secure and safe bringing their children to our nurseries and classrooms on Sunday. These are the moms making casseroles to send to bereaved families, suddenly undergoing the grief-stricken funeral process. These are the elderly ladies and gentlemen on their knees in a prayer closet at home while younger church members are on a mission’s trip to Haiti building facilities for orphans. They’re the individuals painstakingly collecting the entire congregation’s contact information so that prayer-chain communication throughout the week is possible. They’re unsung but reliable contributors who give tithes and offerings like clockwork so that course materials can be purchased, building repairs can be made, and food pantries can be stocked.

These people aren’t out, doing what many might call “big things.” Many of them will never criss-cross the globe, “winning the world for Jesus,” because they are daily reaching the world around themselves for Him.

Being called to stay can feel like a thankless and anonymous designation. This is sometimes compounded when those at the frontlines forget to thank the quiet contributors who make all forms of ministry possible through their own personal sacrifice. (Or, it is likewise compounded when that “thank you” is ill-timed. I can’t count how many times a worker was publically thanked via crowd applause, and they missed it, because they were still in a back room somewhere, working. The irony…)

If this worker is you, understand that it is your contribution that provides the essence of ministry. You may feel that your impact is small because it goes unannounced, but God sees every selfless move you make even when man does not (Matthew 6:4) and honors the treasure you lay up in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Furthermore, you may never receive all the worldly applause and accolades that you deserve, but you will not be shortchanged your reward in heaven (Matthew 5:12).

There will be souls in heaven as a byproduct of what you do.

Squirt gun that shoots Jelly

The notion of a squirt gun shooting anything besides water is silly, right? Well, undoubtedly that is why this malfunctioning toy made the list of “misfits” in the original Rudolph movie. And yet, there is a viable comparison that can be made to some of the personalities in the world today. Often, it seems that a dialogue will be taking place in a group setting: some sort of planning narrative which must occur in anticipation for some kind of function or event. Let’s use the example of a group of people planning a big fundraiser function wherein the local church will sell food items at an upcoming community event in the hopes of sending the money to missions. In such a setting, most people are comparable to squirt guns which shoot water. The ideas are flowing, creative juices moving, smiles and excitement circled the room. But then…

Then, in walks that one guy

You know who I’m talking about. He’s the “Yeah, but what if…?” guy.

Immediately, he’s the one who wants to make sure adequate insurance binders are in place to protect the church from liability. He’s the one who points out that last time there was a food fundraiser, nobody remembered plastic forks and it was embarrassing. He’s the guy wants to discuss local county food–handling rules so that nobody participating in the fundraiser claims food–borne illness as a result of items brought from people’s private homes. In fact, he’s the guy that wants to make sure local authorities are okay with fundraisers that sell food made in people’s private homes. He’s the one who wants to label all foods with ingredients in case a participant has a food allergy.

He’s that guy.

What a buzz kill (can I say buzz kill?). Just when everybody was having fun and planning what probably would’ve been a successful, “everything-worked-out-okay-in-the-end” event, he’s the one that comes in with all the “what ifs” which often feel to others like things are being unnecessarily over–complicated.

He sprays a sticky, heavy, inconvenient truth; and yet anybody who’s ever been involved in creating policy or bureaucratic infrastructure of any kind understands that such proactive brainstorming is not only preventative, but prudent. In an age where ministries suffer continual attack, those who are able to foresee and predict potential issues, liability, or backlash are usually very valuable at keeping Church functions cohesive with the outside community.

Certainly these people have become more recognizable for their vitality to operations during the COVID-19 shutdowns. These are the policymakers, the writers of safety–procedures, the inspectors, the guardians, and the watchers. These are often the ones who observe subtle nuances and piece together larger scenarios: such as signs of abuse, marital problems, or even anticipating ministerial burnout amongst their peers. Then, in their same “what if” style they begin to investigate and often can bring troubles to light before they have escalated. Unfortunately, these people are, at times, ostracized in cases where people want to quickly throw something together without worrying about all the potential problems a particular scenario could encounter. For this reason, these people often feel rejected; but it’s important to understand that it is not actually they themselves who are rejected, but rather the voice of preparation wisdom (Proverbs 23:9). If you have, in your circle of resources, one of these “what if” people who walk in and spray a sticky, untimely truth all over the room, give these people audience. These individuals are often underappreciated until the need for them has arrived, at which point everybody realizes the greatness of this person’s contribution. They are often the ones pre-anticipating social, community-related, technical, or even legal trouble and make the organization aware of such potential issues in advance. For every event or function that comes off without a hitch, it’s usually thanks to the fore-thinking of these individuals; who insist that ideas be patted not only with ingenuity, but with practicality.

It is true that jelly is heavier than water, stickier, and harder to clean. But, these people add vital substance, nutrition, and protection to an otherwise vulnerable and exposed outline.



Cowboy riding an ostrich

The cowboy riding an ostrich is an unexpected blend indeed. After all, we all know that cowboys ride horses, right? This very line of thinking is precisely where some of our troubles come in when dealing with people in ministry. After all, we are creatures of habit. If something has always been a particular way, then obviously, it would need to continue to be that way.

Yet, we live in times of continual change. And unfortunately, as the outside world has evolved, some of the infrastructure of the church has struggled to keep up, causing church congregations to dwindle and questions of relevance to surface. (Now, before the reader becomes defensive, understand that I am not about to say that we need to modernize or “upgrade” our doctrine to be palatable to today’s society. When it comes to change, some things are not up for grabs. In fact, quite the contrary: in a world where everything is shifting, we need God’s immutable truth now more than ever.)

The kind of resistance–to–conversion I’m referring to occurs in tandem with people and their comfort zones. I’ve witnessed so many churches who find themselves divided over the simplest deviations of process. A few examples are:

“That’s not how we did it when Pastor Steve was here!”

“I don’t like the new schedule.”

(Or, my personal favorite…)

“Hey, that’s my pew! I sit right there every week!”

This opposition to adjustment can manifest in many ways. Sometimes a younger pastor or youth leader comes in, and the older crowd struggles to accept his “newfangled” ideas about using modern tools of technology in conjunction with ministry. Perhaps new songs have been introduced which the older crowd finds off-putting. Differences of curriculum, schedule, or other process cause skirmish amongst those whose comfort zone is challenged by these modifications. Some even become frustrated by fresh methods of getting youngsters into church.

For example, I knew particular youth pastor who would give donuts to the teenagers who attended church on Sunday mornings. This went over pretty well with this younger crowd, and attendance was growing. But, some of the elderly people in the congregation got upset and accused him of “bribing” kids to come to church. (I mean seriously, this guy took a real verbal beating for this maneuver…)

There’s a complication faced by modern-day churches (I studied this at length while writing The Millennials Paradox). We live in a world where attending church–and unfortunately, serving God–are no longer held in priority by most people in society. Unfortunately, our modern culture’s mentality completely separates the notion of being a good citizen from being God-fearing, church-going-folk, unlike yesteryear. In fact, only approximately 10% of the American population holds a Biblical worldview.[i] This means that for much of the secular world, only two things will bring them to our religious assembly: (1), some kind of a lure or incentive that appeals to them; or (2), the individual reaches the end of his rope, becoming broken beyond what he alone is able to repair, and somehow finds his way to church in search of relief from this pain. While the second is a novel reason to come to church—and is usually the beginning of a very good testimony—the prerequisite of such a state is a broken and damaged life, and is also contingent on the hope that the person actually finds his way to church rather than turns to other more–damaging means, further deepening their trouble and pain. Obviously, if we can avoid the second scenario by administering the first pre-emptively, many of us are all for this strategy.

It’s an unfortunate fact that some people who claim that they want their church to grow, truthfully do not. It’s not that they conscientiously recognize some notion wherein they want other people to miss out on salvation, but, having their religious–safety–zone infiltrated by a bunch of “non-Christians” makes them uncomfortable. So, they say with their mouth that they would like to see their church grow, but the instant someone new walks into the building, they get a stare-down. Sure, we all want the lost to find Jesus, but we’re not sure we want the “lost” from our community mingling with our “found.” Or, perhaps our church also serves as our circle of friends, which sounds perfect until new people come in, interrupting that social chemistry. Maybe the rejection is less intentionally cruel than all of that: perhaps we start noticing what we might consider “shady” characters attending our church, and our watchful eye begins to grow concerned for the safety of our children. This is a legitimate concern! (By the way, if you’re struggling to figure out how to balance the protection of existing congregants with the influx of new unknown-and-therefore-not-yet-trusted potential attendees, this is where your jelly-squirting personality can be a good resource).

So, how does all of this relate to a cowboy who doesn’t ride a horse? The parallel is simple: we’re going to have to begin allowing God to use whatever vehicle He chooses to utilize in order to bring people to His kingdom. We may, with our laser-focused idealism think that God is going to keep clean lines between demographics in all these proceedings. We assume He will take all the homeless folks down to the shelter or food bank and reach them there. We may graciously give God our permission to take all the substance abusers down to the rehab center and reach them there. I’m sure we all have some nice lady in mind who we have pre-selected for the single–mom ministries of our communities, and so on. (Again, we typecast ministries by personality or appearance…)

But God may have other plans. And if we are truly, truly about doing his work and reaching people for the kingdom of God, we have to let go of the vehicle we think He should use in order to get there, and instead get ready to climb on board any vehicle He tells us that we should be taking.

UP NEXT: Boat that won’t float

[i] Gallups, Carl. Masquerade: Prepare for the Greatest Con Job in History. 2020. Crane, MO: Defender Publishing, LLC. P. 109.

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