Sometimes doing what you can is more important than what you can do.
You'll find them in every church. They hold babies in the nursery, take meals to the sick, show up for church work days. They pull weeds, chaperone teens, host missionaries, bake cookies for VBS and quietly write checks.
They are the useful people.
Which church they attend matters little. They will inevitably dig in and do whatever they can to help.
In her 20s, my friend Virelle began attending a new church where she met Gary and Lorraine. "Gary was sitting cross-legged in the nursery — wearing a suit and letting children crawl all over him," Virelle says. "And it was easy to spend time with Lorraine; you just had to volunteer to work in the church kitchen."
Lorraine regularly rounded up half a dozen young women and organized trips to New England to give the harried mothers some needed recreation. Blessed with a large home, Gary and Lorraine hosted missionaries on furlough, invited in teenagers and cooked up tasty meals that could feed dozens.
"They just used everything they had," Virelle recalls. "[My husband] Steve and I often say we'd like to manage our time and energy and resources like they have."
I've been thinking a lot about this idea of usefulness. It's a proven fact that my generation — particularly the single people — are least likely to attend, volunteer or give to the church.
I think that's sad. Young adults have a lot to offer: energy, time and disposable income, to name a few. (You may be debating me right now on the disposable income — school loans, you know! — but how many of us have had to drop $20 on diapers this week?)
Mark the Slacker
There was once this young guy named Mark who exhibited uselessness. In fact, one of the leading evangelicals of the time was so convinced of the young man's slacker tendencies that he refused to involve him in his ministry. Consider Acts 15:36-40:
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing." Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Like some modern young adults, Mark had flaked out. Consequently he missed out on some exciting ministry.
Cars and Coupons
My family modeled usefulness for me. My earliest memories are of attending the singles group events that my parents organized. As a 5-year-old, I loved those young adults that my parents frequently invited into our home.
When we moved to a new town the summer before my freshman year of high school, our new church of 100 didn't have a youth group. My parents started one. Each Sunday night, a dozen or more teens invaded our living room. Mom made brownies; Dad led "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" on his guitar. The little youth group flourished. Not because my parents were dynamic, trained "youth people," but because they saw a need and filled it.
I remember a 20-something bachelor named Mike who attended that same little church. Mike was quiet. He was also good at fixing cars. He kept the cars of the widows and single moms in our church running. And he never accepted payment for his services. He simply did what he could.
The other day I saw this woman on a talk show who clipped coupons and donated the food she was able to purchase to churches in her community. Because of her organizational talents, she could often purchase $100 worth of food for less than $5. I was touched by her passion to use her coupon clipping skills for the kingdom.
Everyone has something to contribute to God's work (Romans 12). Part of the challenge is just showing up. While the Bible doesn't come out and say, "Make yourself useful!" the concept is implied. The imagery of a body, in which each limb, organ and muscle does its part, reinforces the idea that you should be doing simply what you are able.
In a day of sophisticated spiritual gifts tests and leadership training, some Christians may feel like they have little to offer. Others may feel that pulling weeds, making peanut butter sandwiches or holding babies doesn't properly utilize their "gifts."
The pastor of my church has been an impressive model of usefulness to me. I often see him pushing carts of chairs long after Sunday service has ended. This is a task any able bodied person could do, but when the team is short-handed, Pastor is quick to pitch in.
I am technically challenged. However, I recently began playing around with the movie program on my computer and creating simple slideshows. When the children's ministry director saw one of them, she asked me to create a slideshow to highlight our Vacation Bible School program. I have friends who are far more gifted on a computer than I am, but making that slideshow was something I could do. So I did.
What can you do? Make a list. Don't just list the spiritual things you're good at. Include the things you're simply able to do: lend moral support, clean someone's house, write letters, make phone calls, prepare a meal.
Now look for the places where you can be useful. One of my friends loves children. She began a babysitting ministry, where she donates one night a week to a couple who needs a night out. Ben, a cadet from the Air Force Academy and older brother of five, showed up each week to help me teach fifth grade Sunday school this past year.
Giving is another established — though slighted — form of usefulness. All resources belong to God, but He entrusts some of them to us. Psalm 37:21 says: "The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously." You would think that oodles of Christian cash would be flowing into the church then. But Barna reports that less than 5 percent of adults tithe.
Single adults and people under 25 years of age stood out as two of the groups least likely to give: In 2007 less than one percent of these two groups tithed. Quite a contrast to the givers mentioned in 2 Chronicles who gave "freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord" to build the temple (29:9).
If, after taking inventory, you realize you've failed to be useful in serving or giving, it's not too late.
Remember Mark the Slacker? Toward the end of his life, Paul wrote to Timothy: "Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11). What? The former slacker had reformed. Somewhere along the line, Mark got it. He dug in and earned a reputation for being useful.
So make yourself useful. Stop waiting to discover what you can do for God. Do what you can.
Copyright 2008 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.