You’ll never know unless you take a punt

Despite lockdown, we recently started doing a weekly food distribution from our church. I say ‘despite lockdown’, probably more because of lockdown. As people are now struggling to make ends meet, the community needs that are already here in normal times have been exacerbated. There are already moves to stop food wastage in the community, so there is food to be had for those that want it.

Our hope is not that we will just dole out some food. Nor are we interested in doing it with a view to a little talk that people can ignore; the price they must pay for a bag of food. We are doing it first because it’s the right thing to do in loving our neighbours. But we are also doing it with an eye to establishing proper relationships which will open doors for the gospel. The aim is to chat with those who come by and, where we can, share something of the gospel. But if not, just help with a bag of food anyway.

I think there have been some helpful conversations so far. There have been some useful connections made. But, all in, it’s probably been quite unexciting. I don’t think we’ve been inundated with people with queues of them forming down the street. It’s been one or two, with a few low key conversations, and probably not much more than that. But who knows how things will develop in time?

I have another friend exploring a different ministry opportunity in the town. I linked him up, thinking there was a specific role available that he would be excellent in. Turns out, the whole thing isn’t quite as fleshed out as all that, but there is an opportunity for something. I’m sorry this sounds so vague (it’s not my place to go public about it), but then that rather matches the vagueness of what it turns out is on offer.

But there does seem to be an opportunity for something helpful to develop. At this stage, it’s difficult to see exactly how it might work out helpfully for the gospel, but there does seem to be the makings of something. Again, I think it will all end up being low key, unfussy, no frills type stuff. But unless you take a punt on it, you don’t know where you might end up.

I am reminded of another conversation I had with somebody a while ago. They were umming and ahhing about whether to meet up with someone who had contacted them. Was there much point? It was difficult to see how we were likely to be doing anything with them. But I encouraged them to go and meet anyway. What’s the worst that will happen? You have a cup of coffee and nothing transpires. But it’s usually worth going and meeting with people, whoever they are, because you never know what the Lord will do with it.

I think there is something in that approach more generally. If you don’t take a punt on doing something, the chances are you won’t get anywhere. Most ministry looks pretty low grade in the grand scheme of things. A lot of what we do is pretty ropey stuff. But you just never know what the Lord will do with it if you are willing to take a punt on it. Frankly, there will be some duffers that just don’t work and fail to achieve very much. Welcome to most ideas about anything in any context! But when you take a punt on doing something, you never quite know where the Lord will take it.

We can point to some things that have worked out pretty well on this premise. We have some over-subscribed English Classes that are serving our community well. We have an exciting dialogue evening going on with our local Muslim friends. These are things that we just took a punt on and they went pretty well. But we’ve also tried running a youth group that had to be put out of its misery and someone tried to setup a job club which, despite the evident needs of the town, didn’t really draw many people in. These are just two among a host of others. We’ve had our share of duffers too.

Which is why it’s always disappointing when people feel ‘let down’ by what proves to be entirely unspectacular. Most effective ministry is! Even the things that feel most thrilling often aren’t very exciting at all when it becomes apparent that lots of people may be in the room, but very few are actually doing any evangelism from the church and even fewer are actually trusting in Christ through that ministry. All the while, the little quiet, unspectacular thing going on might be seeing ones and twos slowly, quietly, edging closer to the kingdom or growing in their faith. Of course, the spectacularly exciting things can yield results too and the quiet things can be ineffective as well. Which tells us that, in reality, judging these things by what feels successful and exciting to us is rarely a good idea.

And that is why it’s always worth taking a punt on something if you have the man-power and slack to do it. Not because the thing is vital of itself, but because you just never know how the Lord will use it. It may or may not be ‘programmed’. It may or may not be the sort of thing that will turn heads when you mention it to people asking what ministry your church is involved in. But, unless you have a go, you will never know what the Lord will do.