It was the smallest of ministry opportunities.
Mary, the pastor's assistant at my church, called one evening to ask if I'd be part of a new group that would stay late on Sunday mornings to straighten pew racks and prepare the sanctuary for the following week. I was one of several single women she was calling to solicit help, she said, explaining that she hoped to provide an opportunity for the women to get to know one another while performing a needed service for the church.
I readily agreed. While I wondered what made unmarried women uniquely qualified for the pew-cleaning task, I was grateful for an opportunity to meet other singles. I'd been attending the church for more than a year, but with 800 members and no singles' group, it had been difficult to make friends. Couples tended to gravitate toward one another, and the greeting time built into the morning services allowed for quick handshakes and hellos, but little else.
Eight or 10 women turned out the first Sunday, and we gathered in a small circle in the back of the sanctuary while Mary offered simple instructions. We briefly introduced ourselves, then fanned out across the sanctuary to begin our task.
Although we worked in pairs at first, following Mary's suggestion, we realized that the job would be finished more quickly if each of us took a section independently. I crossed to the front left section and made my way across the first row, placing pew Bibles back in their racks, turning misplaced hymnals right-side-up, and collecting discarded bulletins. I continued row by row until I reached one with books already neatly in place.
"I covered that section already," another woman called from the aisle nearby. Leaving our now-tidy area, we walked to the other side to help a handful of others still at work, and were finished a few minutes later.
The group was smaller the next Sunday. We exchanged smiles, but our conversations were brief and efficient: "Did you do the center section?" and "I have extra visitor cards if you need any." The intended fellowship opportunity seemed to have failed.
In fact, as the weeks wore on, the task only increased my feelings of isolation. As I wove between pews, I overheard couples who lingered after the service, chatting with one another and making plans for lunch. On the Sunday before Christmas, the clattering of my shoes moving across the tile floor was the only sound as I worked alone in the abandoned sanctuary.
The lonely task was reshaping my view of ministry. I'd heard numerous sermons challenging Christians to "do great things for God." I'd always imagined those "great things" to be ministries with obvious, wide-ranging impact—evangelistic tours resulting in countless new converts for Christ, or hunger programs bringing relief to people throughout the world. But a look at Scripture caused me to wonder if God had a different measure of greatness.
God's View of Significance
The Gospel of Luke tells of Simeon and Anna, two quietly devoted believers who had the privilege of seeing Christ as an infant. Simeon is described simply as "righteous and devout" (Luke 2:25), and Anna lived at the temple, "serving day and night with fasting and prayers" (Luke 2:37). There is no record of either performing a monumental task for God, but the Lord honored their unseen faithfulness by revealing the Savior to them. In reading their stories, I was struck with the realization that small acts of devotion can have great significance in God's eyes.
Still, like the task itself, the rewards for the ministry seemed small. There were simple moments of enjoyment: finding a comical note that a child had scrawled to his dad, or joking briefly with a woman who'd returned to her seat to retrieve a forgotten water bottle. But such encounters were infrequent, and I sometimes battled resentment at being asked to perform a menial task that seemed to bring no recognition or real reward.
I reminded myself of the biblical admonitions to do "all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31) and to be "faithful with a few things" (Matthew 25:21). I had to admit that, while not especially fulfilling, the job was a simple one that required little of my time. And when I compared the cluttered view of the sanctuary immediately after the worship service with its well-ordered appearance following our work, I realized that our task did make a difference, however small.
Reaping the Benefits
Eventually, a church staff member took over the pew-cleaning task, eliminating the need for our small ministry. It wasn't until after the group disbanded that I began to reap the benefits of my involvement.
One Sunday, a small article appeared in the church newsletter, announcing the start of a monthly lunch gathering for singles. Donna, part of the pew-cleaning crew, talked me into going to the first lunch with her, since I was the only other single she knew.
"It won't hurt to try it once," she said, prompting me to join her. We went to several lunches together and met Laura in the process. While the singles' group never jelled, I formed strong friendships with both women. Through those friendships, I later met Kim and Gracie, and another set of friendships formed.
A decade later, I looked at these four faithful friends, each of whom had enriched my life in a unique way. Donna had become a favorite traveling partner, joining me for beach trips and mountain get-aways. Kim and I had bought "fix-up" homes in the same neighborhood, and shared decorating ideas and home-shopping excursions. Gracie had hosted dinners and prayer groups that helped me connect with others at church. Laura had offered moral support during countless late-night phone calls.
I marveled that I could ultimately trace each of these friendships back to the small ministry that had seemed so solitary and ungratifying at the time. My reward had been great, after all.
Karen Kurtz is a communications specialist for a hospital in North Carolina.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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