Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Portable Pulpit

I know it has been awhile since I have blogged :)   I felt the inspiration to write again the other day when I was talking to a friend who was bemoaning the lack of ministry opportunities coming their way.  It reminded me of how close minded we can be about what we consider "ministry".  Please don't get me wrong…I have been guilty of this too.   I mean it can't be ministry unless it's up front, in public, for all to see right? :)

I was taking in all the person was talking about and I started to share my story with them.   Three years ago this April, my life and ministry partner decided to walk away.  And when he walked away, so did a lot of the ministry opportunities that I was given.  He was the up front man, the "talker" in the eyes of a lot of people.   I have been ordained since I was 23 years old and have been working in the ministry full time since then.  I am considerably older now :)    Since my divorce, I have been asked to "preach" publicly one, count it, ONE time.  And that opportunity was given to me by my parents while we were overseas on a missions trip!  When my husband walked away, there were no churches or ministries beating down my door with opportunities.   In my previous job, I discipled several young people who went into full time ministry.  No calls about coming to speak or share for anyone.   In fact a lot of the ministries and ministry people I was connected with seemed to disappear altogether.   Out of sight, out of mind.   I was no longer part of a power couple, so apparently some thought my ministry abilities were connected only to the fact that I was married to a minister.   The SINGLE opportunity that came my way was that of the position of a church receptionist.  And thus began the real transformation of what I considered "ministry".

While answering the phones, I began to have such a clearer understanding of how important each and every person is in the body of Christ.   I knew these things, but I had been on the "up front" side for so long that I had forgotten what it was like to not be one of those people.    My definition of "my pulpit" became the same description as a telephone and a desk.  I realized that I was the first impression that people would have when they called the church.  Some were seeking simple answers, some needing prayer, some wanting to complain and be validated in their complaints and then some just seeking information.   What I said or "preached" to them would set the tone for their attitude towards the church in general.  If I did not express care or interest in them over the phone, they could leave with the thought that the church in general did not care for them.    My callousness could cause them to not darken the door of the church and have the opportunity to hear the message the Pastor would bring.

And the transformation of my thinking continued from there.  After about a year at the receptionist  position, the job of Community Impact Director  a.k.a. Outreach Director came open at the church.  Now I seriously do not want to offend or shock anyone with this next statement BUT I did not ever dream or set out to be an Outreach Pastor.  I did not pray for the opportunity to present itself to me to go out into the "trenches".   The position came open and the Pastor needed someone to run with it and asked me.  I was trained in ministry to "see a need and fill it" and I knew that I could do the job so I ran with it.  Close to 2 years later, I can say that I now have what I call a "portable pulpit".      This week my "pulpit" took the form of my Toyota Four Runner.  It was out delivering food to people who were needy for physical food and even more needy for the hope of Jesus.   Some weeks, it has taken the form of balloons and candy where over 5,000 people have come through a door for an event like Trunk or Treat and left feeling loved and cared for.   My "pulpit" has looked like 3,000 backpacks filled with school supplies and has reached children and families with the knowledge that someone cares about them and that Jesus thinks they are special!

My point of all of this "me" stuff, is what I told my friend.   Why do you consider ministry only what happens on a Sunday or a Wednesday or behind a piece of wood or plexiglass?    Why is it that we think the only time that God can really use us is when there is music to be played behind us and a carpeted altar for us to kneel at.   ALL of those things are good and powerful BUT God is not to be boxed or limited.   He is everywhere that we are.  He is in the work place, at school, in the restaurant.   So are those needing to be ministered too.  They surround us every day at the water cooler, at the bus stop, waiting in line.   People are passing them by on every side.  All it takes is you to stop for one second and give a minute to care!  That is ministry.  An encouraging phone call.   A positive text.   Making a meal when someone is sick.  Giving a ride to someone stranded.    We are all ministers and our "pulpits" come in different shapes and sizes.   We only miss them we when are limited in our thinking as to what they should look like!   Ministry comes often when no one that can pat us on the back or sing our praise is around to witness it.   And that way, God gets all the glory.   What does your "pulpit" look like today?  Are you ready and waiting for it?

In this thing called life with you!  Your Friend - April Phipps