“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8
My first real interactions within the local church didn’t occur until I was 15-years-old. A local youth pastor from a Baptist church a couple blocks away swung by our home and invited my brother and I to come hang out with the youth group. They were headed out to get ice cream and I was along for the ride. I don’t remember much about that first hangout, but I remember making my way to the little church building on the corner of Church St. and Wells as often as I could every day after that. Our town was small – around a thousand people called it home – and the church was a literal beacon there. Pretty cool people and a distraction from boredom - it was everything I could’ve wanted while I was still stuck with a Learner’s Permit. Little did I know, God would use my superficial reasoning to turn my world upside down. And I couldn’t be more thankful that he did.
I think about those early days often. Some days with regret – I knew so little, yet thought I knew so much. Some days with intense longing – can the passion of those early days after becoming a believer ever truly be replicated? And other days with pure joy – I could not have scripted that intersection of God’s mercy and my rebellion if I had tried.
In reflecting on the work God has done, I’m stricken by a singular thought that pervades my everyday perception of what ministry is really supposed to look like.
Back then, when I was only 15, there were people throughout our church who simply made themselves available to me and who never seemed to give it a second thought.
I think we were on the front-end of texting back in those days, so it was likely a phone call to the youth pastor or pastor. “You guys at the church?” “Yep. Come on.” It was miles-long bike rides with our pastor and some friends. It was nights spent playing Playstation on the church projector outside on the side of the building. It was possibly hearing about those nights again in church business meetings the next weekend after. It was long talks about the Scriptures and Praise Team and pushing PowerPoint buttons. It was praying for unspokens and going to lock-ins, carwashes, summer camp, and meal after meal after meal after meal together.
It was discipleship all along the way and it was exactly what I needed.
Often in my busyness, I’m tempted to believe that my priorities are on my to-do list and that people are usually just in the way. I get lost in thinking that, somehow, ministry takes place with my head in the clouds. I’m reminded that ministry can be those things sometimes, but more often than not, it takes place face-to-face, and usually occurs when I’m most uncomfortable. It’s a reality that my introversion cannot explain away.
There’s a certain kind of guardedness that falls flat when we engage appropriately within the body of Christ. The kind of guardedness that says my time is mine and so is my story. You begin to hold these things too closely and it’s likely the gospel gets bound up there, too. But fruitfulness in the life of the local church starts to spring forth somewhere around the time you begin to be deliberate about sharing not only the gospel, but your life, too.
This is what the Apostle was getting at in his reminder to the church at Thessalonica in 1 Thess. 2:8, writing that he had become “affectionately desirous” of the believers there. Indeed, Spurgeon’s “dearest place” is only ever as dear as the people who comprise it and the Savior who loves it. The ones we stand in the midst of on a Sunday morning are the flesh and blood set around us as a perpetual help in remembering the flesh torn and the blood shed for us. Let us do our gospel-best to not stand in the way of what the Lord might do when we share our lives abundantly with one another.