It’s late fall in Chicago. Which means three things:
1. The Bears are a constant subject of conversation.
2. Everybody’s bracing for the impending cold weather.
3. Leaves are always falling. Everywhere. Ceaselessly. Never ending. Always.
My kids and I have developed a system: I operate the leaf blower (I’m sure it stems from that little-boy fascination with anything that goes vrrooom), and they use their kid-sized rakes to clean up the the leftovers. Our system usually works pretty well. We usually end up with a leaf pile big enough for our three-year-old daughter to stand up.
This past weekend, we were raking away when I noticed that that my neighbor’s yard hadn’t been touched.
His carpet of leaves was worsened by the fact that I had unintentionally just made a nice, clean line separating our property (remember Bugs Bunny in Dixie?). It looked awful. I felt awful.
Uh-oh. Conviction time.
I’ve never really connected with my neighbor. Our conversations over the past six months (which I could count on one hand) usually surround football, work, and the weather. The typical boring guy stuff. I don’t know where he stands with Jesus, if he and his wife are a part of a church, or what he believes about spiritual things. Although it was getting cold and late, I asked the kids if they were up for spending 20 minutes to clean his yard. Even though I suspect their only incentive was to amass another pile (and so sustain their evening by another half hour), they were down for it.
We got to work.
As we were finishing up, my neighbor opened his garage door with a leaf rake in hand. Seeing that we were nearly done, he raked the last few pushes, looked at the ground, smiled, and shook his head. His only remark to me: “Aw – you guys are too good. Thanks, man.”
Then he turned to my kids: “Thanks, guys!”
We talked for a few minutes (resurfacing a previous discussion about the Bears quarterback woes), turned, I took the kids, and headed inside for the night. A little colder, a little more tired, but oddly refreshed.
After the kids went to bed, I settled into my recliner. I got thinking how much fun the last few hours were. Not just because we served our neighbor – a good thing – but because we did it together.
I’m struck by how often Paul uses the phrase “with me” in his letters – 17 times. It’s usually surrounded by phrases like:
“…bear with me” (2 Cor. 11:1)
“…all the brothers who are with me” (Gal. 1:2)
“…taking Titus with me” (Gal. 2:3)
“…[Timothy] has served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22)
“…labored by my side with me” (Phil. 4:3)
“…Luke alone is with me” (2 Tim. 4:11)
Paul was rarely alone.
He did ministry with other people. Paul seemed to understand that life is tough. Ministry-life is even tougher. Having someone that you can serve with you is a huge game-changer. Our pastor has a quip that illustrates this: “A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved. A joy shared is a joy doubled.” I love that.
I wonder if involving others meant extra work for Paul. I wonder if he was ever bothered by the people that were always around him. I wonder if he wanted to be alone. Often – at least for me – I’m content to work alone. It’s easier. It’s quicker. And I don’t have to explain anything. If the most current research is correct, most ministry professional are raging introverts. Most of us would probably prefer ministry by ourselves.
But Paul understood something that most of us miss:
Doing ministry alone might be easier in the short run. But it’s costlier in the long run.
Cultivating the lost art of with-ness (yep, made it up) made the difference for Paul. And it can for you, too:
1. With-ness gives your ministry a wider reach than you ever thought.
2. With-ness instills your values and practices in others.
3. With-ness enables to rest knowing that your ministry doesn’t rest on you.
4. With-ness gives you support when you need it most.
5. With-ness gives you fresh ideas.
6. With-ness shows that you’re serious about what you’re doing.
How about you?
What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve invited others to do with you?