by Eddie Pipkin

I’m writing this blog during Holy Week, so there is a very good chance that many of you won’t even be reading it until the following week or even the week after, since you’ll be in that recovery space that marks the days following the “Christian Superbowl.”  You’ll be in the middle of a ton of events and activities (pre-Easter), or you’ll be decompressing and evaluating how everything went (post-Easter).  Some things went just like you dreamed.  Some things did not work out as planned.  That’s why I wanted to share a very small story about the quiet and powerful ways that our work matters, and why it’s worth putting up with the frustration, stress, and spiritual ennui that comes with ministry.

Of course, the hours and hours of hard work and faithful service sometimes result in dramatic changes in the lives of those we do our best to serve.  People find salvation; people find forgiveness and the strength to forgive; people learn to love and to embrace the joyful blessings of life.  Those moments make the grunt work pay off, and this principle is reflected in the off-repeated ministry mantra, “If we reached one person, it was worth it.”

But there is a more subtle principle at play, and it’s the principle that the cumulative small moments of impact matter just as much as those big monumental climaxes.

That’s why I wanted to share the story of “Staple Girl.”

My friend, Julie, runs a thriving family ministry at a local Methodist church with the usual variety of programming and events that keep her and her team on their toes.  They carefully plan and execute those offerings, and they have a desired impact in mind for each, a goal for what they hope to provide the kids and youth who participate.

Staple Girl’s story is different.

The church campus where she works being tight for space, Julie has a workspace in a corner that is in a larger multi-use room.  That room hosts many gatherings – not only official church programming, but also events for outside groups, including support groups.  For one of these support groups that meets on a regular basis, there is a single mom who has to bring along her young daughter, and this daughter had been given permission to sit at the workspace and quietly tend to her homework.

Julie was fine with that (she loves welcoming people however they can be welcomed – I was inspired by her attitude to once write a whole series of blogs about eliminating ministry barriers, culminating in this one titled, “Even Fewer Fences”).  The only problem was in this whole space-sharing scenario was that this little girl, whom Julie did not know and had never met and was not part of her regular Children’s Ministry activities, would rearrange things on the desk and use the supplies on the desk and, for some unknown reason, had a particular fascination with staples.  Julie would arrive on the morning after the girl had hung out at the workstation to find her staples dramatically depleted, sometimes emptied out.

This was irritating.

Use my desk.  It’s okay if you rearrange things a little and use the pens and some paper, bur what’s up with the staples, right?  Stop using up all staples!  Staples don’t grow on trees!  The nameless girl and her staple fetish assumed legendary status over the following weeks.  “Staple Girl” was born.

Allow me to pause the story at this dramatic juncture, to invite you to reminisce about your own ministry irritations, annoyances, exasperations, vexations, infuriations, and botherations.  We’ve all had them.  They come with the territory.

Think for a few moments about that one person who gets under your skin, who seems to exist for the sole purpose of complicating your life and work.  (It is interesting to think how Jesus might have responded to that thought exercise.  Peter seems the obvious answer – “Get thee behind me, Satan” is a powerful clue – but seemingly all the disciples were a headache at one point or another.)

These low-grade tribulations are inevitable.  It is how we roll with them that defines our reputation and the ultimate effectiveness of our ministry.

Will we be joyful warriors, or will we be bitter complainers?  Will we lead with empathy, or will we lash out in judgment?  It’s complicated, because sometimes we can (and need to) fix an issue, and there’s a clever way to resolve conflict without damaging relationships.  Sometimes a disagreement must be resolved.  But sometimes patience and forbearance lead are the path to desirable outcomes.

Back to the saga of Staple Girl, which we last left at a dramatic moment!  Was our friend, Julie, left only with the option of a full-on staple ban or perhaps the implementation of a complex, formal system of individual staple accountability?  Would she need to intervene with a direct personal confrontation with the office supply scofflaw?  Would the shared-use workspace policy come crashing down?

Just as she was ruminating on possible next steps, a beautiful and unexpected thing happened.  She came in one morning to find a childish handmade card waiting for her.  I’ve included the images here.  Staple Girl, who was not a part of any sort of organized Bible class or children’s activity, had nonetheless absorbed the welcoming vibe of that ministry space.  She was, it turns out, grateful for this little corner she occasionally co-inhabited and had experienced as God’s grace working in her life as she sojourned there.

What’s a few staples in comparison with that?

And that is the calculation that all of us are making all the time as we deal with the day-to-day hassles that make up the details of ministry.  Substitute “staples” for whatever it is that is currently driving you bonkers, then measure that irritant against the surprising joys and blessings that pop up and remind you that’s all worth it.  It’s a matter of good gratitude practices – maybe we should all be making more handmade cards to share with people who have quietly brought us joy.  That would be a good way to remember what we’re thankful for and push aside some of those thoughts about vexations and blemishes.

Having served through another busy Easter season, as you begin gearing up for a long and fruitful summer ahead, know that people are blessed in small ways and large ways by your efforts every day.  You may not always have the delightful kind of overt reminder provided by Staple Girl, but it’s happening.  It’s continually happening.  Be attentive to those little signs of connection and growth and celebrate them and meditate upon them. They are tiny victories that are slowly and meaningfully changing the world.

God bless you this Easter!  He is risen!  Isn’t this a beautiful story to be a part of?

How do you and your team do at navigating ministry irritations?  What strategies do you have for keeping a positive attitude when people are pushing your buttons?  How are healthy personal spiritual practices related to our attitude in dealing with the complexities of working with perplexing people?  Share your stories.  They represent a wealth of wisdom.