Being Present After Christmas: The Ministry of Presence

Like many of us, I spent the Christmas season reflecting on the presence of God amongst us. God is a God who is present with His people and His creation. His presence is the best gift He can give to us. Because this is most clearly experienced in the incarnation, Christmas drives us to reflect on the way God is present in our lives and communities.

Present After Christmas

As the body of Christ, we are extension of God’s presence in the world. As we chose to be present with our students and their families, we are extending to presence of Christ into their lives. This means that, while our programs and games are important and necessary, our presence is the best gift we have to offer our students.

I have been blessed with a steady stream of people who chose to be present in my life. By their presence, these people have shaped me into a person who more accurately looks like Jesus. More than any program or sermon, being in the presence of these people has transformed my life. Here are three things I have learned about being present from these people in my life.

1) The Mundane Is Sacred

Nate and Julie started hanging out with me in my freshman year of high school. They were in college and my parents, without my knowledge, asked them to mentor me.

Of all the things I remember about Nate, the most memorable was that he took me out to boring places. He took me to the bank to deposit his paychecks. He took me grocery shopping. He invited me to his rehearsals for a play he was in.

The ministry of presence is not flashy or exciting… However, this is the way of Jesus.

These places and events were boring and mundane, but they also changed my life. I wasn’t being invited to an event. Nate was inviting me into his life. I learned what it looked like to follow Jesus in the everyday events of life. Through Nate being present with me in the mundane, the mundane became sacred.

Being present with our students requires an invitation into our lives. Our lives are more mundane than we like to admit. However, when we chose to be present with others in the mundane, even trips to Target can become sacred.

2) Validation Is Valuable

One night Julie—the other half of Nate and Julie mentioned above—was listening to my doubts. I have a bad habit of thinking too much and my intellectual pursuits were leading to a crisis of faith of sorts. I unloaded my doubts and waited for Julie to rebuke me and put me in my place for doubting. Her response to my rant was simple and life changing. She told me, “Your brain is a gift. Keep asking big questions even if you don’t find the answers.”

We want to give advice and answers but often the best response is to validate the experience of students and affirm their strengths.

Julie didn’t offer me answers or a quick rebuke. She validated my experience and affirmed my gifting as a “big questions” thinker. It was a simple act but it changed the way I processed doubt and faith. It changed the way I followed Jesus.

When we offer our presence to students we will hear doubts, pain, suffering, joy, and celebrations. It is a temptation to become “theology answer people.” We want to give advice and answers but often the best response is to validate the experience of students and affirm their strengths. Offering rote answers can actually stifle faith. Offering validation and affirmation can push students toward Jesus.

3) Silence Is a Gift

Last year I walked into Pastor Kevin’s office with a headful of confusion. I had just received news that a doctor had found a tennis-ball sized tumor attached to the spinal column of my mom. It was also presumed to be cancerous.

I told Kevin the sad news and he simply said, “Damn.”

And then we sat. I talked a little more and then we sat some more. Kevin didn’t say anything. He just sat and listened. After long moments of silence followed by shorter moments of me unloading, I stood up and left his office. I left reassured that God was at work in all this. I didn’t leave knowing my mom would be okay, but I was assured God was moving.

The silence was the best thing that Kevin could offer. No answers needed. I simply needed the presence of someone else and that is all Kevin had to offer.

Silence is painful and awkward. We can feel tempted to fill the space with wise words or a clever turn of a phrase. When the temptation arises to fill the silence and space when we are with students with noise, we should remember these words from MaryKate Morse, “It doesn’t matter what disgust, anger, distancing, or frustration you might experience with their story, you are still the incarnational presence of Christ to them by fully listening without comment.”

Interrupt and Be Interrupted

The act of being present means we offer ourselves to others and invite them into our lives. This is what Jesus did in the incarnation and this is what we must do now. As we choose to be present in the lives of our students, we will have to be okay with interrupting their lives. We must also become accustomed to our lives being interrupted.

Those of us called to ministry must begin to welcome interrupted and interrupting lives, recognizing the sacredness of the mundane, becoming people of validation, and learning the art of silence.

The ministry of presence is not flashy or exciting. No one writes headlines about the pastor who was present. However, this is the way of Jesus. He shows up in our world, he turns mundane meals into sacred practices, connects with our experiences, and listens through our struggles and doubts.

May we allow ourselves the freedom to be present with our students and their families. May we invite students into the patterns and rhythms of our lives. And through this, may the faithful presence of Christ be extended into all the world.

About the Author: Jeremy Penn

Jeremy PennJeremy Penn serves as the college and young adult minister at Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, FL. He earned an MA in Theological Studies from Talbot School of Theology. He is currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Fuller Theological Seminary that focuses on The Church and Post-Christendom. Jeremy and his wife, Crystal, have a daughter, Riley, and a son, Phoenix.