By Youth Specialties on April 17 2014
Whenever I host a dinner party, there's about 10 minutes right before guests arrive where I have nothing to do. Everything is clean. The table is set. The food needs to stay in the oven just a couple more minutes. Usually, in those 10 minutes I take a moment to sit down and wait. This often gives me just the right amount of time to over-analyze the meal and my preparations. If only I had taken time to get fresh flowers. If only I would have dusted that picture frame above the TV. I can be a little obsessive over the details in that small window before guests arrive.
Last night, just before youth leaders filled my tiny home for dinner, I took a second to over-analyze the assortment of chairs around the two tables I had set up for dinner. It's easy to dress up a table. Throw a tablecloth and some center pieces on it and it's a little more pulled together. But there's not a whole lot you can do about ugly folding chairs and mismatched kitchen chairs from Ikea.
For a second last night, I longed for a beautiful formal dinning room with one long table filled with perfectly matching chairs. Images of Pottery Barn showrooms flashed through my mind. For a second, all I could focus on was the ugly metal folding chairs instead of the beauty of the meal I had prepared for a group of people I cherish. For that moment, I wasn't focused on the blessing of being able to host dear student ministry volunteers and friends instead all I could see was the mismatched and the tiny apartment.
And then as quickly as those 10 minutes came, guests arrived and they were gone. No one mentioned the mismatched chairs. When I crawled into bed last night I opened up my devotional to Luke 2:4-8:
"So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
How many times have I read this scripture? Dozens and dozens of time. But this time, it hit me in a whole new way. God brought His Son into the world in the most mismatched and humble way. He used teenagers and shepherds. There is nothing pulled-together or Pottery-Barn-showroom about being born in a barn filled with animals. It reminded me how often I get so caught up in the details that I forget about the joy God brings into the world through the most mismatched and unlikely of situations.
I started thinking, what if the church looked a little more mismatched? I think about the big churches and student ministry models that we sometimes feel stacked up too. If only we had a Starbucks in the Narthex or a multi-million dollar youth facility… Don't get me wrong, I know those tools are used to further the Kingdom. But I'm wondering if, instead of looking up to those huge pillars of ministry, we started with what we have.
What if ministry began in our homes and our neighborhoods and moved up from there? If adoption and foster parenting wasn't so foreign but something we talked about and prayed about more together in the Church? If our internal ministry events looked more like outward opportunities to love those who live all around us? It could be a little messy, sure, and it may not match up to what we've always been before.
But I'm sensing an urgency in my own heart to not be okay with the norm. I'm praying that I can surrender the need for it all to be pulled together and that I would recognize the joy in the mismatched.
Stephanie Riebe is one of the student ministries directors at Castleton United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. She’s in her eighth year of full-time student ministry. She loves, road trips, witnessing Jesus transform the life of teenagers, Vera Bradley, mission work, running, and coffee—and not particularly in that order.