Waynesboro Mennonite Church recently engaged in a presence ministry activity, blessing us as much as the people with whom we were serving. As part of the Parenting Project, several families who had poor relationships with their teen-aged children had been ordered to take a 10-week course, one night a week, both parents and teens, with the Youth and Families division. Our church offered our church as the meeting location.
Pastor Howard Miller suggested that we volunteer to come early and fix a hot meal for the families and eat with them in a spirit of friendship. The first evening our guests were wary and reserved. They expressly did not want to be there. We sat among them, offering no criticism or advice, but looked instead for common ground. The meals were appreciated. As the program progressed, they grew more accustomed to us, but remained cautious.
The representative for the Parenting Project came to a Sunday morning worship service to tell us that whether we saw it or not, our presence was indeed making a difference. Those families who felt forced into the program were amazed that we would go to this trouble to make them feel welcome. “These are families who don’t get a lot of positive reinforcement otherwise,” she said.
That thought stuck with me. We all have experienced encouragement that meant a lot to us, perhaps more than the person speaking the words intended. And it doesn’t take much effort to pass encouragement along. The Preacher tells us “Cast your bread upon the waters: for you shall find it after many days.” We will receive ‘good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over’ for encouraging words, sincerely and lovingly spoken.
I recently saw a couple who probably fall into the category of families who don’t get a lot of positive reinforcement when we were seated in a restaurant near a very Goth couple and their baby. The babe crowed at me, jabbered, kicked and slapped the table. I told the parents, “You are obviously doing a great job with him–he is so friendly and outgoing.” It was a holy joy to see defensiveness drain from them, to be replaced with pleasure and surprise.
If your church, or you personally, are not practicing ‘presence ministry,’ you are missing one of the simplest ways to feel and pass on the joy of the Lord.