I can still see her face.
The young Venezuelan girl eased into our Wednesday youth group meeting, joining others from a visiting missions group. Our students didn’t know she came to help us prepare for a trip to her country. I learned later that she was so poor that they had to buy her some presentable clothes for the trip.
None of our students welcomed her. No one struck up a conversation with the obvious stranger who looked a little different. Our youth milled around her as she sat and listened to all of their conversations. I tried to imagine everything our Venezuelan visitor heard from the gabby teenaged American girls ignoring her. If the conversations were usual fare, some of the girls talked about what others were wearing and some of them talked about what they were going to do Friday night.
Surely, the visiting girl must’ve heard it all. Then she sat back and watched all those same girls stand and raise their hands in worship.
When the leader of the missions group invited the Venezuelan girl onstage, the first thing she did was pray. In Spanish. I looked over and wondered what the girls who had sat around her were thinking. When she finished praying in Spanish, she looked up and began speaking in English. The room fell into a hush. Surely some of the girls in the audience thought, “She heard everything we said.” As I listened to her give a heartfelt appeal to come to Venezuela, I couldn’t help but wonder whether she was thinking in the back of her mind, “You are going to come to visit us? No way. This place isn’t real. I don’t know who you people think you are.”
I don’t know. Maybe our visitor never had such thoughts. But if she made any effort to listen to the America that was around her that day, I believe she could not have helped but notice the superficiality. Our youth ministry has matured since that day, and we have many core kids who are solid believers. But one of the reasons I felt comfortable in writing such an outspoken song was because I also once was a kiddie-pool Christian. As I continue to learn a life of faith, I look at my students and see myself twenty-five years ago. I don’t know where I missed it as I grew up in church, but giving myself over to Jesus and letting him help himself to my life never really crossed my mind. This song was my attempt to remind all of us that James says faith without works is dead. In other words, if Jesus is really in you, he’s going to pour out of you.
The sad truth is that many of us in the American church aren’t close enough to God to see what anybody else would want with him, so fulfilling The Great Commission becomes only a duty. At that point, what little energy we muster in Christ’s service is hardly a labor of true love—for the Lord or for a lost world.
First Corinthians 12 helped open my eyes to our individual roles in the body of Christ. It’s a short chapter. Go check it out.
I learned that everybody has a ministry in the Church. Ministry isn’t reserved for only the people onstage. I once thought that if you didn’t sing or act or speak—or if you weren’t off in Africa wearing one of those little missionary shirts—you weren’t in ministry. I mistakenly believed that I was just part of the audience. Eventually, I discovered that there is no audience in the body of Christ. There are only believers, only servants. We’re the body. We’re the hands, the feet, the ears, and the toes, and when everyone in the body isn’t performing his ministry, the body suffers. It limps and crawls. It doesn’t work. We’re the first and primary way that Jesus is going to love on others. We’re his chosen vessels. He chooses to love them through us. That’s his design for the Church. We are their clearest picture of Jesus. And how we respond is how they’re going to see God.
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