The holidays are coming up, and maybe you’re thinking about volunteering with a local ministry or your church’s special outreach project. It can be a difficult commitment to make. November and December are busy months of the year, and getting involved will just add one more thing to your plate.
I know how you feel, but trust me, definitely make time for it.
I started working at a local ministry almost five years ago. Every day it seems I learn something new about what it means to be a Christian. Between the people I work with and the people we serve, I’ve gained a “great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:13).
Here are three of the most important things I’ve learned while serving in a local ministry over the past five years:
1. You don’t have to travel overseas to minister to the unreached
After high school, I went on a short trip to Asia to visit a missionary family. Afterward, I couldn’t look at the world the same way again.
For the first time in my Western life, I got to see how the other half of the world lives. No modern plumbing, no internet, no cellphone service. Instead, these people had unstable electricity, tiny living spaces, unclean water. They were doing whatever was necessary to make ends meet.
Beyond the difficult living conditions, millions of people there had never heard about Jesus.
Fast-forward seven years to when I showed up for my first day of work at a local homeless ministry in the U.S. I didn’t expect to find people living in similar conditions to what I witnessed in Asia. But I did.
Without a home, men and women were making the most of what little they had to survive each day. Even more astonishing, many of them hadn’t heard the Gospel preached either.
Maybe you think you need to learn another language or fly halfway around the globe to be a missionary. But you don’t. Just get in your car, drive to a local ministry, help out there and talk with people.
The experience isn’t as exotic as an overseas missions trip, but the work of ministry and evangelism is just as important here in the U.S. as it is overseas.
2. God forgives more than I can
We apply God’s unconditional love and grace to our faults and failures, but we can forget they apply to other people’s sins, too — even people our society has a tendency to give up on.
It’s easier to have compassion on people who are innocent victims. Your heart bleeds for those “good people” who have bad things happen to them. But as Christians, our ministry and outreach can’t stop there.
The drug addicts, robbers, domestic abusers, sexual assaulters and even pedophiles in our communities do not fall outside God’s grace. You might wonder, like I do, How can God forgive these kinds of people? The answer is in a verse most of us know:
He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Our minds can’t always comprehend that kind of forgiveness. Thankfully, God’s love for others doesn’t depend on our ability to wrap our heads around why or how it’s possible.
Working in a local ministry, I’ve been challenged not to limit God’s eternal forgiveness to my human willingness to forgive. There are things I struggle to believe are forgivable, but God chooses who to forgive and restore, not me.
3. The harvest is great, but the workers are few
Imagine if everyone at your local church took part in some local ministry. What impact would that have on the people within your community?
That’s a lot to expect from church members. Especially this time of year. Life gets busy. Every day, it seems like the to-do list grows longer. It’s hard to take time to care for yourself, let alone help your neighbors with their needs.
But Jesus made it a priority to minister to His neighbors. He took the time to care for them, talk with them, heal them, and He ultimately gave His life for them. As His disciples, He expects us to do the same, and not just when it’s convenient for us.
As His church, we are visible representatives of Christ’s power to save (Matthew 5:14-16). By looking at how we live our lives and interact with our neighbors, the world gets a glimpse at who Jesus is and what His work accomplishes.
At times, I’ve had to ask myself, Based on the things I prioritize in my life, how do my unbelieving friends view Christianity and Jesus?
It can be a convicting question to wrestle through. And I think it’s a question we should wrestle with corporately as a church, too. Based on the things my church prioritizes during the week, how do unbelievers in my community view Christians and Jesus?
So, are you thinking about volunteering at a local ministry or getting involved with your church’s outreach this time of the year? Take my advice and go for it. You won’t be sorry you did. There’s something about ministering to others that brings us closer to Jesus. And it probably has something to do with the fact that Jesus said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).