Wednesday, November 05, 2003

How Do YOU Measure Success
Lydia started attending our youth meetings about a year and a half ago. I can’t say just when it was but I know it was cold and dark outside. Our outside surroundings were a lot like her on the inside. Lydia is a beautiful young girl but in her eyes lies a profound sadness. They tell of her years of living a hard life.

I saw that pain at the first event she attended. She seemed unimpressed and I wondered if we would ever see her again. Then she became a regular mid-week attendee. She was at our meetings like clockwork and I remember noting that though she was always there, she still seemed a bit lethargic. To my surprise, she soon began coming to Sunday services and became a Christian.

I quickly learned how troubled her life was. She lived in a non-Christian home. Her father had alcoholic tendencies. Her mother was ill. Lydia had attempted suicide several times.

One day, soon after she became a church member, Lydia was sitting in my office with a friend, sobbing. She had attempted suicide again. This time she tried to stab herself in the stomach. Her father was being verbally abusive and it was only getting worse as his drinking became more intense. We talked for a couple of hours and then prayed together. I assured her I would be available whenever she needed me.

As time went on, Lydia became a central student in our ministry. She became one of the kids that you know will show up to every event. She was quite often early. Mostly, I believe, to get away from home. She was plagued with problems. Most of these are related to her family. My heart went out to her many times as we would discuss her trials.

Then one day she stopped by to talk to me. Things at home were different. Her father had stopped drinking. He was being kind. Her life was going better. We soon found out, however, that her father had stopped drinking because he was being heavily medicated. He had an inoperable tumor at the base of his skull. It would often disturb his nervous system and he would have violent seizures. He was a more loving father but he was very sick. Next, we found out that he was terminally ill. He had a degenerative bone disease. No one in the family was employed. The family was financial crippled.

The situation came to a head just as our summer activities were beginning for the year. Not only had her father's illness worsened; their home was going into foreclosure from debts owed to many different institutions. Yet, in the midst of these struggles, I saw Lydia "get it". In the middle of the pain she was enduring, God was making Lydia realize her role in the ministry of our group.

Lydia was a part of our drama team and she was performing in a particularly difficult skit. In it she played a young girl who was feeling that God was very far away from her when she needed him most. The character that she was portraying on the stage, was a mirror of her own life. In the skit the character's father was dying. In the skit the character's family did not know how they would meet their bills. An interpretive movement (or human video) followed the skit. In this movement as a song was sung about the need for closeness with Christ, Lydia rested in the arms of Jesus, being played by another youth. Her performance was remarkable. No one who saw the skit remained unmoved by its message.

Still, it was intense for its star. Lydia would often break down in tears after she left the stage. She realized the skit's impact but it was incredibly difficult for her to perform.

Then God moved. When our drama team performed the skit at youth camp, the audience was deeply touched. Many people came to Lydia that night to tell her what an excellent job she had done "acting". They were unaware of how art was imitating life in front of them. The next night Lydia shared with the camp the struggles her family was facing with her father's illness. It was difficult for her but she tentatively asked that the camp pray for her family's salvation and then returned to her seat.

That night she received a note from another camper. The letter told her how much the skit had moved her. She explained how she too, had a sick father. The writer however, had not yet shared this information with anyone. She went on to tell Lydia that after seeing the skit and hearing Lydia's story, she had found the courage to tell her youth group and have them pray with her.

At that moment Lydia was beginning to see herself as a minister of God's love. The girl with the quiet disposition and the sad eyes was being used by the Creator. She was taking her own pain and encouraging other
Christians to rely on Jesus for strength. She saw how God was using her difficulties for his glory.

We performed the skit several other times that summer. Usually Lydia would end up in tears but they were tears of resolve, not defeat. She saw how time and time again, God was using her to heal hurts in the hearts of His saints. Sometimes it was almost more than she could bear, but her ministry kept her going.

On days that I feel like a failure I think of Lydia. I think she is the ultimate example of success in youth ministry. When she first began attending our meetings she was bound for hell. In our earthly efforts God created a heavenly miracle and she found eternal life. She grew spiritually as her attendance continued. Then she realized a purpose for her life. She saw a path of ministry. She took hold of the opportunity set before her and in the midst of deep personal struggles she ministered to others.

Too often it seems that our churches want to measure success on numbers. If we all had a dollar for the times we have asked or been asked, "how many students are in your group," we could retire to a nice quiet condominium in a distant foreign land. Numbers are important. Numerical growth is the natural outcome of spiritual growth. The problem comes when increasing attendance drives our purpose. Success in ministry does not lie with numerical changes; it lies with changes of the heart. Success is much more than having a large group. Success is developing ministers. Success is investing time in a life and seeing that life change others. God measures success from the inside out. So should we.

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