Up until this point in time, my part in the ministry has been focused on children. I find that this is pretty standard for young people who are interesting in entering the ministry. Young people are encouraged to participate in their congregation's various youth outreach programs, such as vacation Bible school, the youth Bible studies, and sometimes programs like LOGOS, which many churches of various denominations use as a way to introduce their young congregants to some of the more important Biblical foundations of Christianity. Children are a critical part of the ministry, although their needs are sometimes overlooked. This was a problem even in the early days of the church. "People were bringing children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these'" (Mark 10:13-15). I understand the importance, then, of children's ministry and I have participated in all of these programs, first as a participant, and then, later, as one of the counselors or teachers working with children.
Perhaps my most interesting element of working with children through the church has been my experience as a counselor at a Christian summer camp. I have been privileged to work as a summer camp counselor at a non-denominational Christian church camp in my local area. I worked there multiple summers, beginning with the summer prior to my senior year of high school. I found the experience to be very interesting for multiple reasons. First, I was surprised to find that a number of the children who attended the camp did not regularly attend church and were not familiar with some of the basic tenets of Christianity. To be able to introduce them to some Christian principles in a setting that was fun, loving, and supportive was a way of showing them that Christianity is, in many ways, about love and community, rather than being about rigidity and rules, as it is oftentimes portrayed. I think that this is especially important for children who come from Christian homes, but where church is not made part of their daily lives, because they may get the impression that church is a burdensome obligation, rather than an opportunity for the expression of faith and the experience of a supportive Christian community.
Part Two: Spiritual Gifts
Although I enjoyed my time working with youth and think that I would find it rewarding, I have to acknowledge that I do not believe it is the best fit for me, as a minister. My strengths are not those strengths one associates most strongly with a youth worker. Youth workers are supposed to, primarily, be teachers. I am not. On the contrary, teaching is one of my weaknesses. I understand that, in any role I choose in the church, I will be called upon to be a teacher. In fact, Jesus was, first and foremost, considered a teacher, and as a church worker I am compelled to attempt to follow His lead in any way that I can. However, because teaching is not one of my natural strengths, I do not believe that I best serve children entering into the church as a teacher.
My two greatest spiritual gifts are evangelism and administration. I have done much to consider what the combination of these two gifts means for me, in terms of working to help bring others to Christ. I believe that I might best be suited towards working in a social-worker type environment, helping people deal with crises and life challenges, and, in doing so, bringing them to God. I envision a future in which I work with faith-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs or where I work with the homeless. Situations like this require someone who has an inclination for administration, as helping people attain aid, find job training, find shelter, and get back into an established life pattern requires an ability to navigate many different administrative channels. I think it is critical to help those in need. In fact, I believe that helping those in need is an elemental part of Christianity. "If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered" (Proverbs 21:13). However, my greater gift is that I believe that I can help these people achieve long-term success with my gift for evangelism. By helping introduce them to a relationship with Christ, I will help provide them with the tools that will prevent them from relapsing once they have found stability.
Part Three: Church Evaluations
I have looked at ministries in my church as well as in other churches, because I am interested in seeing the various ways that people reach out into the community to share their faith. The two church programs that interested me the most where actually run by churches of different denominations, but could easily be incorporated by my home church as means of outreach into the community. I believe that my interest in community outreach is strongly linked to my gift of evangelism, so that I see every opportunity for the church to act as something positive in the community as a way of demonstrating Christ's love for people.
The program that I found most appealing was one where the church worked to help restore homes in the community for the poor. Many churches have similar programs. The one I specifically studied was a program where the church had a rotating volunteer core that would work on homes for seniors. There are many churches that do programs where they go into the community and paint the outside of homes, but this church program worked in a slightly different manner. The coordinator would work with seniors and find out what things they needed fixed in their homes. From that list, the coordinator would work with volunteers in the church. While I was observing this program, they fixed air conditioners, replaced a refrigerator that was beyond repair, and pulled out moldy cabinetry after one homeowner had experienced a flood. In other words, they made meaningful changes that impacted the daily lives of these seniors in a way that went beyond the superficial changes of an exterior paint job.
I really liked the idea of a program like that one, where the members were going out into the community and working with people in a way to make a difference in their lives. I believe that this type of outreach is critical to the notion of salvation and that ignoring the needy is a terrible sin. I find support for this in Ezekiel 16:49, "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy'" (Ezekiel 16:49). To me, part of being a Christian is demonstrating love for others. Helping people who are in need is one way of showing love. I think that there is powerful symbolism in a church going as a group to help people in the community, without regard to whether those individuals are also members of the church. To me, it is a powerful statement of evangelism, before ever introducing the people to Scripture.
Part Four: Interaction with Church Leaders
As with my evaluation of various different churches, I looked at leaders in various different churches when trying to form my opinion of the ministry. I grew up with positive church leadership and had a fairly naive opinion of ministers for most of my childhood. The church leaders that I knew personally were good men and women who were called to do the Lord's work. That does mean that they were infallible, but their intentions were good, their actions were generally positive, and when they did make mistakes, they acknowledged them and tried to remedy them.
However, as I grew older, I began to encounter some of the people who find their personal power in the ministry. This is not always negative; I do believe that working in a church is a calling and that by working with one's calling, one finds personal power and fulfillment. However, I have seen many instances where church leaders have abused that power and placed their own personal goals above the needs of their congregation and above God's work. Moreover, as I have grown, I have seen this happen to good men and women who began with good intentions. Even great Biblical patriarchs, such as David and Solomon, fell prey to this weakness and corruption. What that made me realize is that, working in a church, one has power. Being viewed as an intermediary between God and people is a very powerful position, and church leaders are viewed as intermediaries, even in non-Catholic denominations that stress the fact that individuals have a personal relationship with God. There is a…