The wise men arrived at the manger safely. It’s time for the Preschool shepherds to do the same. Cue the angel!
“Look!” said Ms. Joyce to the shepherds. She swept her arm in a big arc and pointed to the manger scene on the stage. “It’s Jesus!”
The shepherds turned to Mary holding a baby doll.
“That’s not Jesus!” quipped a shepherd boy.
Thankfully everyone laughed (for some time) while I tried to catch my breath and signal everyone to keep going. That was many Christmases ago and that shepherd boy is now a teenager. But “That’s not Jesus!” is one of my top Christmas pageant memories. It makes me laugh every time I think about it, and it reminds me of two things.
First, anything can happen in the ministry. We need to be able to laugh and roll with it. Plans will hardly ever have any kinks. Even in the most well-rehearsed play, something could happen. There’s an insurance commercial that points this out. Even though we are extremely careful, things still happen because of the one thing we can’t plan: humans. Other humans. Ourselves. Imperfect and messy humans that make life interesting. So breathe. Laugh. It’s okay.
Second, kids can see better than us. If we don’t present the real deal, they’ll know. They’ll know if we’re being fake. If we’re unprepared for class. If we’re sad. If we’re merely tolerating them. If we’re not listening. They’ll know if we’re presenting a fake Jesus. And they’ll call us on our insincerity by being uncooperative, by challenging us, by not listening to us, or by yelling out the obvious. That’s not Jesus! You’re boring! You don’t get it! I don’t want to do this! When do we eat?!?
It’s true that some kids cause trouble for the sake of causing trouble, and some of their brutal honesty are outbursts from underlying reasons unrelated to us. But sometimes the reason is something we did. This is a tricky part of the ministry: the people.
Whether your ministry serves kids, teens, adults, students, singles, married, etc., there’s a learning curve in figuring out the people we serve and how we can best serve them, while we, ourselves, are still learning and growing grace by grace. And that’s where being real comes in.
Honesty. I think that’s the first step. We don’t have to air out our dirty laundry, read off a list of our shortcomings, or moan about our troubles to the people we serve, but we can come broken to God. We can come to God with aching hearts, troubled minds, and a messy lives. We can tell Him our fears, our insecurities, and our challenges in the ministry. We don’t have to pretend that everything’s okay or that we have a handle on everything.
God understands the moments when we come to church discouraged, or the times when we can hardly smile. He loves us anyway. There’s no doubt about that. And when we’re honest with God, we can be honest to ourselves and to others. When we love God, we can love ourselves and others. We can be real, genuine. We might be sad, discouraged, or worried about something, but we’re still real. Still genuine.
Then when we arc our arms and point, nobody would yell out, “That’s not Jesus!”
Unless, of course, you decide to use 4-year-old shepherds in your Christmas pageant. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.