Several years ago, a dear friend of mine died tragically. We hadn’t been the best connected in the couple years leading up to his death, and we were now separated by 10 states. The funeral was scheduled, and I paused. Should I really book travel, take off work, put other obligations on hold to attend this funeral? The answer was “yes” but the distance and life stage I was in made me question it (embarrassed as I am to admit it). I made the right decision, I went to the funeral. Seeing the familiar faces of his family and friends instantly proved to me that it was the right decision. We wept together, reflected together, and in our grief we didn’t feel so alone. This was the net result of showing up with my body, not a condolence card.
In an age of increasing disembodied living, we need to understand the sacred value of showing up. The ministry of presence, of being there, is one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another. It’s also a great gift that God gives to us. In Hebrews 10:23-25, we read, “Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Those who follow Christ are laser focused on holding onto their confession of hope. We cling to Christ by faith. And yet we know that it is Christ who holds us. “He who promised is faithful!” This knowledge of Christ’s hold of us might tempt some toward a laissez-faire attitude. Some might conclude that we simply “let go and let God.” But how do we see God being faithful to us? It’s through the gift of others who watch out for us and encourage us. No Christian is an only child, but is saved into a family of mutual care. Notice that the writer to the Hebrews equates “not neglecting to gather together” with “encouraging each other.” The ministry of presence is a ministry of mutual encouragement.
My faith has been strengthened so many times when I’ve looked out from the front, or looked around the room, and seen particular church members show up. There they are singing God’s praise, even when they’ve been in the furnace of affliction. There they are praying God’s promises, even when their lives are burdened in waiting. There they are leaning into the preaching of the Word, even when other opportunities present themelves. There they are taking the bread and cup claiming Christ’s forgiveness, even after a week of many defeats. These faithful pilgrims encourage other pilgrims to keep going. Through the ministry of presence we communicate to one another “You’re not crazy. This is real. Jesus is Lord!”
Also, consider the reverse: neglecting to gather brings discouragement to one another. We ought to beware of the ministry of mutual discouragement. When we don’t show up, we don’t position ourselves to be an encouragement to others. A Christian’s absence from the gathering makes those who are present a bit less encouraged. Add several absences, and the church becomes like a body with missing parts, or an edifice with missing stones. Your relationship with Christ isn’t just for yourself. It’s meant to be shared with the rest of His body. “In humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out no only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil.2:3-4).
Don’t underestimate the power of a ministry of presence. With every passing day, we are closer to the Day when Christ will return. This kind of ministry is needed all the more the closer we get. Hold onto Christ; let Christ hold onto you – all through the ministry of showing up.
For further reflection on this topic, check out Shane Carvalho’s sermon “Show Up” from our series Basics of the Christian Life.