Not long ago I was introduced to the term, The Ministry of Presence. A young couple in our church began a ministry to the homeless people they encounter on the streets of Chicago around where they live. It started simply by reaching out to one or two—talking to them, inviting them to church, providing Sunday lunch for them—and it has grown to over 60 homeless people they serve every weekend.
I love their story because it’s such a clear example of what Jesus would do. Jesus would see the needs on his doorstep, as Justin and Tara have done, and he would start helping them in any way he could. In telling us their story recently, Justin said that he has come to understand what The Ministry of Presence means.
He makes it a habit to invite one of his homeless friends to run errands with him, when possible, as he goes about his everyday work and routine. One day, he invited one of the guys to join him. He took him along, stopped for coffee and a donut, and generally spent the day together. No agenda, no specific purpose—other than to be with this man who was homeless. As they made rounds that day, the homeless man said to him, “All my life I’ve been told I am worthless and no good; they told me I was stupid and nobody would ever like me. I don’t believe that anymore.” Justin asked him why, and he said, “Because if I was worthless, you wouldn’t hang out with me.”
Justin’s willingness to simply be with this man gave him a new understanding of his worth as a person. Justin went on to say that what homeless people need more than anything else is not money or food, but it is a relationship—someone to simply be with them and care about them.
That’s true of most of us, isn’t it? You and I need other people in our lives just to validate our worth. Can you imagine how you would feel if you believed that other people did not want to be with you? The Ministry of Presence is real—and it’s just what Jesus would do, what he did do when he was on earth. Think of the many stories in the Gospels where Jesus was just “hanging out” with people—some of whom were considered undesirable. There was Zacchaeus and Mary Magdalene and the woman he met at the well, to mention just a few.
This is one ministry you can embrace—The Ministry of Presence. You and I can simply choose to be present in the lives of people who need to know that they are loved by us and by God. You don’t have to preach or teach or solve their problems. You simply need to be there for them—and then see what God will do through you. This is a ministry that every Christ-follower should take seriously, for every one of us is qualified and equipped for this ministry.
Galatians 6:2 describes it this way: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” When we care enough about someone to carry their burden, we are practicing The Ministry of Presence. Simply being there for others, sharing their sorrows as well as increasing their joys by our presence—this is the fulfillment of the law of Christ, the teaching of Jesus.
In John 13:34 Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The disciples knew the old commandments—the law which included the Ten Commandments. But this was a new commandment—note, not a suggestion—that Jesus gave them and us, and it should be a hallmark of our lives as Christ-followers.
In order to fulfill the law of Christ—this new commandment—you and I need to know and practice The Ministry of Presence—being there for people and showing them love in action. Love that comes from Jesus through us to them.
What I want to ask you is this: What person in your life right now could use your presence? What person needs to know that someone cares and hasn’t forgotten them? Stop right now, if you can, and let God’s Spirit reveal that person to you. Perhaps a name popped right into your mind. If not, ask God to reveal that person to you. It may be someone very close to you—a relative or close friend. It may be someone you just met. Could it maybe be a stranger you haven’t yet met, but who is somehow in your life—the beggar on the street or your next-door neighbor?
Recently, God has made it clear to me that I need to do a better job of staying in touch regularly with some dear single women who have gone as missionaries to foreign countries. I’ve visited many of them and I know how lonely and tough their lives can be. I know that they need The Ministry of Presence. They don’t necessarily need to read my books or listen to my talks; they simply need to know that I have not forgotten them, and I can be present in their lives by way of the internet.
The Ministry of Presence is not hard to do. You don’t need a degree from a Bible school to do it; you don’t need to be able to quote Scripture or teach a Bible study lesson to be qualified. You simply need to make a commitment to be present in a person’s life—simply be there for them and, by your presence, you will communicate God’s love. That’s what people need more than anything else.
The Ministry of Presence is about being a servant—putting others’ needs ahead of our own. Jesus calls us to come alongside others and become a part of their lives. It means that we will serve people even when it might make us uncomfortable. It means we stand with people in the midst of their anxiety and fear, in their difficult times.
I’m challenging you and myself to take this ministry seriously, to actually ask God to show us what person in our lives needs our presence—simply needs us to be there for them.
For example, let’s say you work with a person who is going through something emotionally difficult—maybe a divorce or a recent death in their family. I find that when people are in these kinds of traumatic situations, they simply want a listening ear. Could you invite that person to lunch or coffee and simply listen? Not on company time, of course, but at a time and in a place that is appropriate, to be truly present with them, giving them your undivided attention.
Or could it be that there is someone very close to you—a mate, a daughter, a sibling—who needs to know that you’re not too busy to spend time with them? I think sometimes we can fail to see that those nearest to us need our presence—our total attention to them and whatever issues they’re facing.
We hear people talk about spending “quality time” with their family, not “quantity time.” However, I would suggest that quantity time is quality time. It’s giving enough of your time to someone so that it may even be a sacrifice—you don’t get to do something you planned to do because you choose to simply spend time with that person. Don’t you think those close to you need some quantity time with you—just hanging out time—so they know you really want to be with them? That’s The Ministry of Presence.
You may have decided that you don’t have certain gifts or abilities, so you devalue the contribution you can make in the lives of others. I’m here to tell you that if you are a Christ-follower, you are totally capable and qualified to have The Ministry of Presence. It’s just a matter of becoming intentional about doing it.
Everyone in the body of Christ is qualified for this ministry. You do not have to be brilliant, persuasive, articulate, or experienced. You do not have to be anything but available to be a wonderful tool in the hand of God. In fact, often The Ministry of Presence is a ministry without words.
You know, sometimes we tend to use the Bible as though it were a band-aid. We stick a favorite verse on others who are suffering, and feel we’ve really helped them. But just as physical injuries take time to heal, emotional injuries do, as well. True, when people are suffering they need the truth of Scripture to help them heal. However, sometimes they just need it demonstrated through your actions rather than through your words. Your presence can communicate what your words will never be able to say.
Keep in mind that when you’re with someone who is hurting, you don’t need to have answers. Often I say to someone in pain, “I cannot explain this. I don’t know why this has happened.” That’s not terribly profound, but it’s often simply the truth. When someone is really struggling with why something hurtful has happened to them, trying to come up with an explanation usually just makes them feel worse. Simply be there; give them The Ministry of Presence without answers.
Someone has said that you and I cannot eliminate someone’s grief or sorrow, but we can share it, and in so doing, that will lighten their load. True believers, mature Christians, grieve. Jesus did, and we will, too. We can’t stop it with words, but we can lighten it by our presence.
Are you available today for The Ministry of Presence? I believe if you are, God will give you an opportunity today to simply be there for someone. God is showing me more and more how to practice being there for people and, for a person who is project-oriented, this is a new lesson for me. I’m truly learning the importance of The Ministry of Presence.
For example, often when I am praying for someone or thinking about them, a thought will come into my mind about what I could do to be there for that person. I’ve learned that when those kinds of ideas come into my mind, it’s most likely placed there by the Holy Spirit and, therefore, I should pay attention.
Many times, I’ll pause right then and write a note, make a call, or add something to my to-do list to remind me to do something for that person which will simply let them know I’m thinking about them and I care.
I have a friend who is struggling with a health issue. Obviously, I can’t do anything to help her resolve that issue, but I can let her know that I’m thinking about her and praying for her. Simply saying that to someone—whether in person, on the phone, or by written word—is an example of practicing The Ministry of Presence.
Inviting someone to your home for no reason except to let them be with you is an example of practicing The Ministry of Presence. One Thanksgiving recently, two people who didn’t have close-by family were invited to my daughter’s home to share that meal with us. It was an expression of caring and concern to them, though we never spoke those words. Words weren’t necessary. They were invited simply to share a nice meal with us. Their invitation to be with us was the ministry extended to them that day. And it was a delight to have them with us.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget what the homeless man said to my friend, Justin. He said he now knew that he wasn’t worthless or stupid like he had been told all his life because, if he were, my friend would not have hung out with him.
The Ministry of Presence is hanging out with someone, even if it might be inconvenient or push you out of your comfort zone. Who is it in your life that would love for you to “hang out” with them? Are you willing to answer the call of Jesus to show his love through the ministry of your presence?