As promised, I wanted to spend a little time talking about what Bart Campolo said at Forest Home's Briefing conference. Each night was incredible in its own way but the talk which has stayed with me the most since was his talk from night 1 (September 3). Bart said that in ministry and/or missions work "sometimes you get so busy meeting people's need that you never really get close enough to them to get to know them." He told a story from when he was the head of a big ministry (or was at least working with one) and he used to go around telling stories about how God was changing lives in order to solicit more funding and more support. He realized that he was talking so much about helping the poor that he didn't even know any poor people anymore and he was telling stories from ten years ago.
So, after a while, he ended up moving to a poor community in Cincinnati just so he could live amongst the poor again. Now, instead of a big program and tons of volunteers, Bart simply has dinner on Mondays. Every Monday, Bart and his friends have a meal together. They don't sing worship songs, they don't have preaching, they don't even do church, they just hang out. People ask him, "are you changing lives?" "are you impacting people?" and to these questions he simply says, "no." Bart says he's not changing any lives, nobody's getting healed, nobody's lives are being totally turned around for Jesus, nobody's getting saved. All he can say about some of the people he works with is, "I can't do anything about his future, I can't change his life, but he had a good night."
Bart's point in all this, I believe, is to paint a real picture of what working with the poor, and indeed ministry in general, is really like. We can't save them all, we can't even save most of them, but we can give them a good time, a good friend--we can truly love them. We can't save them all but we can love them all and that should be the end-all of ministry from our perspective.
He talked about God's will in all of this. He said, "the problem isn't that God's holding out," it's not like He doesn't want everyone to be saved and healed, "it's that God doesn't always get what He wants." He throws the full-court shot at the buzzer, not because He thinks he's gonna make it but because every once in a while... every once in a while we listen. Every once in a while we, broken people, respond to Him and the shot goes in.
If we live only for success, if we expect the miracle shot to go in every time, if all of our relationships are about influence and "changing lives" then we're sure to think that we suck at ministry. We'll say, "Shane Claiborne, Bart Campolo, Mother Teresa... they're good at ministry... I'm not." When the truth is, even for someone like Bart, stuff still falls apart in their hand.
So many ministry, my own included, are structured and measured in terms of success stories, of changed lives, and we're geared almost exclusively toward influence. We're all about "leadership" but love isn't about influence. Love isn't about success stories or even changed lives. We can't save them all, but there isn't anybody we can't love. If love was our end-all then we wouldn't be surprised when it all falls apart in our hands, we wouldn't be surprised when our favorite student skips town and starts selling drugs, we wouldn't be surprised that the miracle shot didn't go in. They call them miracles for a reason.
On what then do we base our ministry? How do we measure our success? Simply by love. Are we loving the people we work with? Are we serving them and being friends to them?
Mother Teresa didn't have a lot of stories of healing... she watch just about everyone she worked with die right in front of her... but man, her whole life was a story of love.
A book I just read and a book I'm just starting, both prepared me to deeply appreciate what Bart talked about that night... In The Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen and Relationships Unfiltered by Andrew Root.