If you’ve ever owned a home, you know the damage that can be done by a slow leak. According to the EPA, the average household leak amounts to roughly 10,000 gallons of water per year. While the drops that come from a slow leak don’t look like much, over time they make a sizeable impact. Given enough time, water even in small amounts, wears away hard stoney surfaces. This is the process of erosion. When given space and time, steady drops of water cause rock to change shape.
There are times when the work that we do, the effort that we give, the ministry that we engage in feels like small drips in a big bucket. Teaching Sunday School week after week, playing the organ Sunday after Sunday, training ministers year after year, these things can feel monotonous, rote, routine, seemingly minor chords in a symphony. Does the time that we spend, do the words that we speak, do the prayers that we pray matter?
Five years ago, I had a conversation with my cousin. We reminisced on the foundational elements of life in our local church when we were children, that exposed us to the inner workings of ministry and provided us with opportunities to cut our public speaking and leadership teeth. The pageants, the speeches, the welcome, the choir leadership, usher school. There were countless others. When I was in high school, I told my church that I wanted to teach Sunday School. So, they handed me a group of very active pre-K children, a Sunday School book, and a room, and told me to have at it! They made space for my gifts.
My cousin and I began vision casting. What could we do to create space for the gifts and callings of a new generation of young people? How could we nurture their curiosities and midwife their anointing? How could we expose them to the inner workings of ministry and equip them for assuming the leadership reins? The Listening Tree was born!
The Listening Tree was a two-year project, partially funded by a grant from the Forum for Theological Exploration, where church leaders met with youth and young adults on Sunday afternoons to explore Christian vocation and ask self-awakening questions in a bi-monthly, inter-generational dialogue. When we received the grant, we were asked what impact we hoped our project would make in our local congregation. Our response was that, “Youth and young adults would be actively engaged in ministry in our church, holding leadership responsibilities, while being mentored by more seasoned church leaders. We also hope to create a welcoming and affirming remnant, loving without judgment and advocating the same among their colleagues and peers. Finally, we hoped to foster closer relationships between leaders and lay people, especially across generational lines.”
Meetings consisted of sharing a meal, ritual practices, icebreakers, bible study, discussions about current events, and sharing personal stories and reflections. Everyone was treated equally regardless of age, gender, or leadership positions. We didn’t use titles in our meetings and all sharing was done in a circle. No one was more important than anyone else. As with any ministry endeavor though, it is easy to become discouraged. When people are not consistent, when commitments aren’t kept, when resources run short. There were many times that we threatened to stop the project because we weren’t sure if our efforts were in vain.
During one of our ministry meetings, we all shared things from our bucket lists. One of the young adults expressed an interest in seeing an opera. One of the church leaders shared that she loved the opera and invited the young lady to accompany her one day. This past Sunday, they posted this picture on Facebook.
Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” -Ovid
Not only are those intergenerational relationships forming, but this year our junior leadership program was reborn. Junior deacons, deaconesses, and finance officers will being to serve throughout our congregation.
My cousin and co-founder passed away suddenly in 2014 before she could see the fruit of her labor, but her drops are still falling on stone. And so are yours. Keep pressing.