That One Chair
It is winter retreat season here at camp. I am sure if you’ve ever had the chance to be part of a winter retreat there comes a flood of memories – late nights, crazy snow tubing adventures, guest speakers, and hopefully outstanding food. As the camp guy I get the opportunity of seeing all kinds of different youth ministries and their weekend retreats.
This past Friday as I finished setting up our meeting room, I paused for a moment and looked out across the room of empty chairs. Each weekend as we prepare to serve our guests I love taking some time to look at the chairs that will soon be filled and think about the students and leaders who will soon be there.
In my mind there’s always a chair that stands out among the others as if some imaginary spotlight was shining right on it. This happens almost every weekend without fail.
In that moment I can picture myself, 16 years old, standing in the gymnasium of the church I grew up in. The youth pastor and I had just finished setting up for another student ministry event – maybe a coffee house, Wednesday night service, outreach event or something of that nature. We would stand in the back of the room, looking out over the chairs in silence. Then he would say, “I’d do all this work for just one soul. It’s all worth it even if only one person hears the gospel tonight.” As a highschooler standing next to my mentor, I’d eagerly nod and try to resolve the same thing in my own heart.
And here I am 16 years later, looking out over a room full of chairs, praising God for the opportunity to serve Him even if it came down to just that one chair.
I am sure many of you have a room full of empty chairs down the hall… just waiting for students.
Compassion for Every Chair
At a recent camp conference I was challenged by the statement, “Do not allow contempt to replace your compassion.” It got me thinking.
Of course, those empty chairs are soon going to be filled by people with messy lives. They’ll be here, but they’ll be needy, broken, sometimes even demanding. That’s ministry! As a ministry leader I want to prepared and ready for anything. Compassion has a profound way of preparing you for the unexpected.
It does not take a long time of working with people to begin anticipating bumps in the road, potential issues or simply the need for a backup plan. For me, those things can easily tempt me to replace compassion with contempt.
“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” – Mark 6:34 (NIV)
The word compassion always brings to mind Matthew 14, Mark 6 or Luke 7 where Jesus had compassion for people. It was a gut wrenching kind of compassion because He had great love for them and truly saw their great need for Him.
As you prepare to fill those empty chairs this week, I invite you to pray with me and ask God to give us great compassion for every soul and each heart that fills your seats.