Posted by: Lance Parrish | May 13, 2014

The Ministry of Presence

Have you ever had those days when you sit at your desk at work and stare blankly into your computer screen wondering if you’re efforts are making a difference for your organization? We’ve all been there, right? Of course we have. For a minister, it is especially challenging. When I am in my office, I make it a priority to work hard because I know that the time I spend at my desk prepares me for when I’m with people. I know that if I don’t spend time preparing for my lessons, or working out the details for summer camp, or calling CAPPS to make sure we have enough vans to transport our teens safely then I’m not positioning myself for success when I am around the people.

The temptation that I feel as a minister is to minimize people (when they need me) because I’m too busy getting ready (at my desk) for the next time I’ll see them (at church). I sometimes fall into this trap where my work becomes more important than the people I’m working for – and that’s a dangerous place to be as a minister because ministry doesn’t always happen at church. People are the lifeblood of my job. Teenagers are why I am doing what I’m doing. My job wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for parents and teenagers, so they’re kind of a big deal. They deserve my undivided attention – especially outside of church.

Today, God reminded me of a great truth about effective ministry. Whether you’re a full-time, part-time, or volunteer minister to people I have found that this one principal makes the biggest difference in people’s lives. That principal is presence. Being present with people, especially in their distress, gives you more grace and good-will with people than any lesson, devotional, or Bible study you could ever craft.

When I was at Abilene Christian University, Taylor and I took a class together called Teaching Ministry. David Wray was the professor of this class, and it was easily one of the most practical classes for daily ministry that I took while I was at ACU. I have referred to my notes from that class on countless occasions in my professional career as a minister. One thing that has had a deep and lasting impact on my ministry is this idea that Dr. Wray taught us called the ministry of presence. He taught us about the present nature of Jesus, and how his time on earth was spent sitting and talking with people. Jesus came to be with people, to serve people, to heal people, and to give them his undivided attention. This was a radically different approach to ministry as compared to the Pharisees of the time. Presence changes everything. When people sense that you care about them enough that you’ll disrupt your schedule to be at the hospital with them – it changes everything.

When my dad passed away, a friend of mine from high school stopped by the house to give her condolences. She brought with her a book, and she sat down in the corner of our living room and said, “Lance, I’ll be right here. If you need anything, please ask me.” After a couple of hours I went over to her and said, “Angela, it’s ok if you need to go.” She looked up at me, smiled and said, “Lance, I’ll be right here. If you need anything, let me know.” Turns out I did need something. I needed a hug. I wasn’t sure when it was going to come, but I knew that I would eventually need a hug. And when that moment came, she was there to give me a hug.

I probably got more hugs during those three days between my dad’s passing and the funeral than I have in my entire life. Why do I remember hers? Because she shared the ministry of presence with me. She, through her actions, communicated to me that she cared about me and that changed everything. The ministry of presence is what makes all the difference in ministry.

Today was one of those days for me. I visited a hospital room where a woman was literally taking some of the last breaths she will ever take on this planet while her husband held her hand. I visited with the parent of a 13 year old girl as she shared with me some of the struggles they are going through as a family. I sat at a dinner table with a father for lunch as he shared with me how he and his wife are trying their best to raise their 16 year old daughter but are scared. Then I had a Bible study (which wound up being a great philosophical debate about faith instead of an in-depth Bible study) with a college age young man who is considering giving his life to Christ in baptism.

Today was a day that I got no work done, but I worked a full day. Today was a day where presence is what made me successful at my job.

Who will you be present with?

Thanks for reading.

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