I had lunch about a week ago in Lawndale, a Chicago neighborhood. About thirty of us gathered, ate some excellent Malnati's pizza, and heard about how we could support the upcoming (Sept.) Christian Community Development Association's annual gathering to be held in Chicago.
CCDA is the brainchild of Dr. John Perkins, Wayne Gordon and a whole lot of other folks who believe that Christians can make a difference in under resourced communities. Twenty years ago CCDA held its first annual gathering. 130 attended. Last year in Cincinnati almost 3,000 gathered to learn and grow with each other.
I ate lunch with an old friend who I haven't seen in almost twenty years. We served in Young Life together. He's a denominational executive now. To my right was a pastor of a Chicago church. I've heard about her for years but we've never crossed paths before. Across the table was a buddy who works in Chinatown. At the end of a table was a college professor. We sat at the table. Men and women. Black, white, Chinese and Hispanic. Some quite young. Others not so much. Some in blue jeans. Only one tie. We were bound by a common faith and a desire to be used by God to help transform neighborhoods and lives.
I was surprised how many people I knew and if there was someone I didn't know I recognized their name. In the course of human events this gathering went unnoticed for the most part. There were no TV cameras or reporters.
Yet, from a kingdom perspective this was a 'dangerous' group.
One of the speakers started to cry as he pointed out some of the folks in the room. He recalled the contributions they were making to the slow transformation of urban communities. He said, "The work we do is hard".
Hard work. Needing to be done. But still hard. Not without rewards but some times it's tough sledding.
I'm drawn to people who have done and continue to do the hard work of ministry. They are people who have tasted success but are also deeply cognizant of how fleeting success really is. The reality is that the hard work of ministry, any ministry, means facing failures.
I know about failure. Most of you do too.
No one in ministry hits every ball out of the park. Lots of times it feels like no contact is made at all. And there is ample evidence of people who 'got it' once ...people who made contact with Jesus ...deciding somewhere along the line to 'drop it'.
The hardest aspect of ministry is realizing that people will exercise their free will, that they will give in to temptation, that they will reject faith and opportunity and fresh starts and go their merry way.
So, every once in awhile it's good to be surrounded by people who continue to do the 'hard work' of ministry. There is comfort in being reminded that the ministry road doesn't have to be a lonely road. There are others on it who understand.
What's interesting is that in this room filled with amazing people there was a general agreement that the hard road is a good road. Every disappointment creates an opportunity. God was still at work. And so in the midst of the challenge of ministry 'joy' creeps in and does it work in our hearts.
It was a good lunch.