In the early days of our teen coffee-house ministry, a lady in her late eighties approached me with skepticism about whether opening the church like that was doing any good. After I described how positive relationships between volunteers and students were developing, she leaned in close with a withering eye and said, “Good. Kids need somebody to tell them to get their acts together. Somebody’s got to show them how to keep on the straight and narrow.” And to an extent that’s a true need. Young people learn by example, and it’s our responsibility as Christ’s image bearers to teach the world about him though everything we do. But in her estimation all youth of today are lazy, wayward hooligans who need some sort of morality bootcamp. Initially I bristled at her implication. What a sweeping judgement of an entire generation that she hadn’t even interacted with! But I bit my tongue, smiled, and then said, “Actually, I’ve found that these kids just need somebody who will listen to them. Many don’t have parents or safe adults they can talk to openly, without feeling judged. They just want to be heard and feel accepted.” At this her shoulders relaxed a bit and a smile softened across her lips. She paused. “I bet that’s true. We all need that, don’t we?”
When I look at the pages detailing Jesus’ earthly ministry in scripture, I see more consistently than anything the power of showing up. Simply carrying the Holy Spirit within us can change the atmosphere wherever we go. We don’t always have to have a plan. We don’t have to anticipate whose path we’ll cross. We don’t need a golden word or solution prepared for every situation. There is power in humbly showing up and communicating with our presence: You are cared for. You matter. You are valuable. You are not alone. Keeping our mouths shut and our ears open is often a more effective witness than the more natural reverse.
One of the major hang-ups people seem to have about personally investing in ministries, outreaches, and discipleship is thinking they don’t have what’s needed — the experience, age, finances, energy — to serve well. That must be one of Satan’s most effective schemes: planting doubt and defeatist attitudes in our minds. But if you have breath in your body, God can use you if you’re willing. Bedbound or on the go, toddler or centenarian, knowledgeable or uneducated, it doesn’t matter. You can listen. You can pray. You can be present.
For me, a formerly reclusive writer with no people skills, it meant brewing a pot of coffee and making myself available to the young people of my community. God took care of the rest. Though the teen coffee house has since closed, I’m still in touch with several of those kids who opened up to me in ways that I couldn’t have prepared for. They knew I didn’t have all the answers, but they knew I’d be in that church basement every Thursday with a kettle on waiting for them, and that’s what mattered most. Now I work for a ministry-focused coffee shop serving countless people of all ages and backgrounds every day. They talk to me about their lives like we're old friends, they tell me their troubles and triumphs as I stir their lattes. The same need of those caffeinated kids throbs in the heart of leathered construction workers and new mothers. No matter who were are, we all want to be heard and to have our voices valued. Are we willing to set our judgements, agendas, and doubts aside to be that sounding board for somebody else? I hope so, because it is so worth it.