During the first night of VBS I smiled at one of our best volunteers. This guy is a longterm kidmin volunteer, sports coach, and even ex-military. He can handle it all. “How’s your night?” I asked, barely even waiting for an answer. “Oh, just fantastic,” he responded with a high level of sarcasm. I paused, realized that I should probably not keep walking, and turned back to find out what was going on.
This volunteer had a child in his crew who we did not know. He had signed up from our Facebook advertising. He was six years old. He knew every cuss word imaginable and he knew how to use each in appropriate context. He demonstrated this knowledge numerous times. He knew how to use his middle finger. If the volunteer said go left, he went right. To say he was a challenge would be an understatement.
Fast forward to the end of the week. The volunteer was done. He had used every bit of self-control he had to continue to show love to the child with no self-control. It has been a week of long nights and much frustration. There was light at the end of the tunnel… VBS was almost over. In fact it was the very last large group worship time, just minutes away from saying goodbye. During this end time, I mentioned from the stage something about kids who had trusted in Christ. Our challenging friend leaned into this volunteer and said, “Is she talking about me?” This volunteer responded, “I don’t know, let’s talk about that.” He walked through the gospel with this little one and eventually led him to Christ.
After all of the hoopla of the last night of VBS ended, this volunteer came to me with tears in his eyes and said, “I need to talk to you.” I thought he was mad at me and was never volunteering again. Instead he said, “I think i just led that kid to Christ.”
We learned more about the family. We learned more about his situation and his past. And it was truly heartbreaking. Our prayer is that we can continue to connect them with our church. To be honest, that would make our ministry harder. And messier. He is now a challenging kid who knows Jesus, but he is still a challenging kid.
But if we don’t reach this kid, who will?
Recently I read the familiar passage in Matthew 18:12-13:
“ What do you think? If someone has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go and search for the stray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over that sheep more than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.”
I love that passage (and we all sing about it in “Reckless Love”, right?). But I had totally forgotten or never realized that the passage is smack dab in Jesus’ teachings about faith like a child and protecting children at the risk of millstones.
The stray sheep we are to go after is a child.
We get comfortable with our ninety-nine suburban children. We get very busy trying to make ministry more attractive and more entertaining so that we can maintain the ninety-nine.
Who is going to go after the one?
Who is going to go after the kid who is really tough behaviorally? Who is sharing Jesus with the child with special needs? Who is going to go to the child in the neighborhood that everyone drives to avoid? Who is going to reach the child who is homeless? Who is going to reach the kid who just got kicked out of school? Who is going to care for the kid in a far away country that is closed to the gospel?
I think our assumed answer to many of these questions is, “Someone else.”
None of us can reach every single child. However, the gospel calls all of us to love the kids who are hard to love. The gospel calls us to go reach the kids that everyone else has given up on. The gospel calls us to stretch beyond where we are comfortable so that we can reach the kids who are far from God. It is messy and it is tough. Your ministry will look different and feel different and possibly even smell different. The ninety-nine we are used to are often much easier, but the gospel calls us beyond. After all God came after us when we were smelly and difficult and very, very far from Him. What can you do in your own context that involves going after the one?