While we were there in Winnipeg for our mission trip, we spent five days in full-time connection with the various parts of the Winnipeg Inner City Mission. During that short time, a number of very significant things happened:

  • A young girl in the church went missing from her family.
  • Another young girl, in desperate need of a new kidney, successfully underwent surgery that would allow her continue her daily dialysis
  • The church was putting together household items to set up housekeeping for a young mother and her children as she was in the process leaving an abusive relationship.
  • A resident in A Place of Hope celebrated two years of sobriety.
  • Another resident reached the end of her time in A Place of Hope and made arrangements to move out and begin a new and exciting phase in her life
  • A church picnic (that had been as good as cancelled) was resurrected and organized in about two hours.

This was, as far as I can tell, a fairly typical week at Winnipeg Inner City Mission with big doses of both good and bad news and the church doing everything that it could to help when needed and to celebrate when that was called for. In addition we heard some heart rending (and also some heart uplifting) stories of people dealing with some very big things in their personal lives. I can’t imagine what that is like for the staff and volunteers who are there week in and week out and have to deal with all of it. I know that I will continue to hold them up in my prayers that they might have the spiritual stamina to continue their vital work of living out the love of Christ.

But, despite the high pressure of the ministry there, I must admit that I have found it a little bit hard to come back an reenter the day-to-day church life at home. As hard as some of the things that we saw going on were, at least it was always clear what was important and what really mattered. There was a clarity and an immediacy to the needs that they faced that was undeniable.
Now, I am quite aware that the people in my church and in all of our churches often have problems and crises and losses that are very difficult and that are deeply disturbing. They also celebrate very important and meaningful milestones and victories. And I am deeply grateful that I am often given the privilege of being there and ministering to people at those very significant times in their lives.

But, though the problems and issues can be very difficult at times, people’s lives are generally much more stable that what you tend to find in the inner city of Winnipeg. We are not constantly bombarded with one crisis after another. What’s more, while the people involved in the Winnipeg Inner City Mission are very quick and eager to share what they are struggling with – in many ways, the prayers of intercession for the families of the church was the most important time in their worship together – often our people are slow to share some of their deep personal struggles.

So the reality is that we spend less time dealing with deep personal or family crises in our churches. That is a blessing, of course, but does it mean that we have fewer problems overall? Not really.

There is a popular meme that makes the rounds on the internet from time time time. It is called “First World Problems.” The meme mocks the way that people in the prosperous nations of the world get all hung up on problems that are of little immediate importance especially in the face of the poverty, disease and war that plague so many people who live in the Third World. Coming back from a mission trip in the inner city of Winnipeg, I recognize that we often do the same thing in our “First World” churches. When we are not overwhelmed with problems and issues and decisions of ultimate importance, we tend to take our other, much less significant problems and decisions and invest ultimate importance in them.

We do this all the time in the church. And so issues like the following can become major crises in churches:
  • Someone wants to move a piece of furniture and someone objects.
  • A committee is short of members
  • Someone doesn’t like the hymn selection one Sunday
  • Someone is hurt when their idea is not adopted
Of course, these are all issues that have to be dealt with in some productive way, but we tend to make them more important than they really are. They take too much emotional energy and administrative time and we have less and less or ourselves left to devote to the things that are of ultimate importance.
I want to be clear here. I’m not complaining that this is something that self-centred people in the church are constantly doing (though, of course, that does happen). I am saying that I do it to myself as much as anyone does it to me. I make things that don’t matter very much too important. I judge myself and my ministry in terms of solving or avoiding those kinds of problems. In fact, I will often make them more important than anyone else ever does. The results can be very discouraging and very draining.
At Winnipeg Inner City Mission, God was never too far from their awareness because they needed God’s presence just to make it through the day. If we complain that God often feels too distant, could it be because we are investing too much of ourselves in things that don’t matter that much?
It is my hope that I can hold on to the sense of what really matters that was so powerful in Winnipeg and let it guide me in where I put my energy back in Hespeler. I also hope that, by keeping close ties with WICM, we might also greatly strengthen our focus at St. Andrew’s Hespeler.