Who’s In Your Canoe?

In this week’s online Vibrant Faith webinar “What Parents Really Need From Your Church,” featuring Dr. Jim Burns (president of HomeWord), one of the participating ministry leaders offered this in the Chat Box: “The ministry of presence in these families lives cannot be underestimated. That is where all our other ministry begins, just being with them in the midst of their busy lives.” This post was quickly followed my many more responses, essentially asking—What does that actually look like?

We know it’s true that our presence is what deeply impacts the people around us, but when we slow down to consider how we bring the ministry of presence to people, it all seems fuzzy…

Several years ago I was meeting with some of my ministry team members to discuss strategy—we were fishing around for common threads in each other’s own stories of transformation. I asked my teammates to talk about the spots along their life’s timeline when real transformation happened.

One said his life changed when he spent a day in a canoe with his church’s worship pastor, fishing on a mountain lake. I asked him to focus on what was actually transformational about that day. He thought for a minute, then said it must have been the slow, unhurried pace of the day. I responded, “You could have had a slow, unhurried day with almost anyone—was it the slowness of the day or the person sitting across from you in the canoe?

“Well, it was that worship pastor, of course,” he said.

“What was it about him that set the stage for transformation in your life?”

There was an uncomfortable silence while he searched for the intangible “right answer.” Finally, a little bewildered, he said, “I guess I don’t know.”

I think most of our transformational moments happen in the context of relationships with people who are casually catalytic—I mean people who’ve been transformed by Jesus and are therefore more viscerally like Jesus. It’s their Christlikeness—Jesus living unfettered through them—that surprises us, challenges us, and opens us to healing.

But, like my teammate, it’s hard to put our finger on exactly why some people move through life leaving a wake of transformation behind them while others don’t. And that brings us back to the “engine room” of the Ministry of Presence. Today we’re glutted by ministry resources. We’ve become quite skilled at our “tips and techniques” in ministry. But somewhere along the line we’ve forgotten that real impact flows through a transformed life.

St. Francis of Assisi famously said: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.” What does it mean to be made into an “instrument” God can wield as He transforms lives? How do we “sow” the fruits of the Spirit? Maybe our simple determination is this—metaphorically, we invite Jesus into our canoe on a mountain lake where we leave the distractions back on the shore. There we sit across from Him, full of anticipation and relaxed in His presence. We lean forward, close enough to take Him in with all five senses. And we remember how beautiful and unpredictable and mesmerizing He is. And we give over a little more of ourselves to be transformed. And in our transformation, we bring a little into all our encounters with people…

So find yourself an opening in your schedule and a metaphoric canoe on a metaphoric mountain lake. Invite Jesus to sit across from you. Listen. Pursue. Invite pursuit. I think you’ll come away transformed

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following JesusHe’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution, The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. In the Spring of 2024 his new book Editing Jesus: Confronting the Distorted Faith of the American Church will be published. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.