People Not Productions

An experience from now about four years ago has returned to my memory and has since not let go, the experience's story haunting me in a way, calling me to take wake up…to pay attention…

The story is of a young girl we will refer to as "Jess," a girl of about thirteen who had a bright future. She was a member of the elite marching band at her high school. She was the very essence of a bubbling, socially-connected, ambitious teenager. She was also a very significant performer and team leader on my creative ministries team. Jess consistently outperformed other teens and took command in performance after performance. She became an irreplaceable asset to our productions' effectiveness.

And then it happened. One day Jess collapsed and began violently shaking for seemingly no reason. The attack on her body was brief, but that single moment in time collapsed my socially and academically elite performer's life plans forever. Jess was soon diagnosed as being epileptic and now prone to seizures. Jess now wondered if she would ever be able to get her learner's permit and become an independent driver…some of those closest to Jess no longer knew how to behave around someone who might pass out at any moment in front of them...the confidence that had once illuminated from every aspect of this girl's life was now gone. Her family's structure also wrecked havoc on her emotions being split between a mom and a dad that did not live together.

And yet, every Sunday, she was there willing to serve in spite of it all, with a cheerleader face on. Despite the risks and the warning of others "common sense" to stop relying so much on this now unstable servant, I promised myself that I would strive to give her even greater roles and responsibilities…did not our Lord put the fate of nations into the hands of imperfect people?

Every show I prayed for her and every time she came through for me, no one ever knowing what this young girl was really dealing with in her life…each time with a huge smile and standing ovation from the crowd…

…until that one holiday show that would change my thinking forever. It was about a half hour before show time on a production where Jess was the lead part and a part that no one else could play. Without her, there would be no show and this was precisely what we had- no Jess. As the show director I was going crazy wanting to know where my star performer was! Finally she emerged from a small bathroom on the stage's side. At quick glance one could tell that Jess was trying hard to wipe tears from her eyes, suck up sniffles, and fix her hair…

In the pressure of the moment, I did what I should not have done and I have forever since been haunted by my choice. I ignored my Jess's obvious need. I didn't even follow up afterward and find out what had troubled my star so much. I did not stop to deal with what was so much more important. I let a production be more important than a person. At that moment, Jess needed the church to be the church and not an impersonal non-profit that was just using her…

I have been asking myself recently, why are we here? What is my purpose? Is it to just be a production and program director?

No. The story of Jess and the stories of many others have shown me over and over again that the church (and thus the pastors) exists to help others with whatever their facing, to do it through a perspective Jesus would have, and bring them closer to Him through the experience. From the paralyzed, the sick, and the tormented, Jesus always stopped what he was doing for these. When we cease to truly help people because we are too busy making sure we wow the kids with Awana stores that knock the socks off Chuck E Cheese and produce epic re-enactments of Narnia, we have failed in our purpose as a church. People don't need these. What they need is love, understanding, and hope that we as pastors need to help them find from our Savior.

I've never considered myself a very smart man; rather a slower learner but one who never forgets and I aim to never forget the memory of Jess's tears that she had to wipe away herself.

Lord, may this year be one in which my actions show that I care more about people than productions just as you do.

Matthew 25:37, 40
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "