A few weeks ago, a dear lady at my church was laid to rest after battling aggressive cancer for more than a year.

At the packed-out memorial service, I heard person after person tell stories about Vera—her friendship and love, secret acts of service she’d performed, and the gentle way she’d spoken of her hope in Christ during her final months. Suddenly it seemed everyone was coming out of the woodwork, remembering this quiet lady’s way of serving others with a steady, personal, behind-the-scenes kind of love.

Weeks after Vera’s death, I’m still feeling convicted about the state of my own ministry. I’ve wondered: How can I grow from where I am—a woman in her late 20s, raising a small child and carrying another, just trying to get in a good night’s sleep, a little Bible reading, and a meal on the table each night? How can I begin to acquire the habits of personal interaction that will allow me to know, love, and serve others well?

Reflections on Vera’s life have given me a few key pointers. 

1. Personal ministry begins in the family.

Vera’s daughters bore witness to the comprehensive, but essentially domestic, nature of her ministry. She may have known and served many outside the four walls of her home, but there were six persons inside those four walls who got the bulk of it.

Each remembered Vera’s lifelong sacrifice of comforts for her children. Each remembered that while she never complained about her own discomfort, she was quicker than anyone to commiserate with her daughters’ efforts and exhaustion. Each told stories about her walking through complex theological issues with them, even in the last weeks of her life.

The bottom line: Vera understood this was her first sphere of ministry—to “love her husband and children, to be busy at home” (Titus 2:4–5).

2. Personal ministry can’t be done mechanically.

Another recurring comment from friends was about Vera’s conversational presence. She knew what was going on in your life because she asked questions—and then actually listened to what you said. Though not someone you’d describe as “outgoing,” Vera seemed to make others comfortable with her natural concern for them.

This full engagement apparently led Vera into a strange variety of service situations. One woman told of her writing letters to a friend’s son in jail when no one else was writing. Another told of her sneaking in and cleaning a woman’s house before the woman got home from the hospital, because she knew the woman’s husband had been living there by himself for a week and it would be a mess. Another told of her shenanigans trying to give a shower to an elderly neighbor lady and ending up soaked, down to the shoes.

You can’t meet people’s needs and show them you care for their whole person without being fully engaged. This is what our Lord requires of us—this kind of praying, burden-bearing, believing, rejoicing, hoping, enduring love (Jas. 5:16; Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 13:4–7). It means your heart, your mind, your creativity, your time, and your comforts will be tapped.

You can’t phone in this kind of ministry.

3. Personal ministry should be developed on a small, slow scale.

Before you get the idea that Vera was either a superhuman or someone idolized in death, I’ll bring us back to reality. Vera was a small, unassuming woman, with limited time and abilities. She didn’t do all these things and build all these relationships in a day, a week, or a year.

Vera had frustrations about the smallness of her life and work. She had to deal with all the everyday problems that come with an old house, a big family, a small income, a long marriage, and a tight-knit church group. She was a saint, but only in the sense all Christians are.

And Vera’s goals were modest. She simply set out to practice faithfulness to her Lord—in each individual supper, meeting, conversation, relationship, and season of her life. One at a time, she saw a person, loved that person, and eventually get closer to that person. Then, when that person had a need, she opened her schedule and met it.

In seeking to grow your ministry from here to there, start with a small and manageable goal: pick two persons you aren’t normally drawn to, and make it your business to know, pray for, and connect with them each week. Or perhaps make a goal of practicing hospitality twice a month. Commit to write notes of encouragement once a month, sign up for a ministry that doesn’t feel natural to you, or have X number of unchurched people in your home in 2017.

Like anything in life, growth requires incremental change.

4. ‘Small’ spiritual gifts are vital to the work of the body.

I don’t remember Vera doing much teaching. I don’t remember her throwing big parties, as some of the other ladies in the church are gifted to do. I don’t think I would’ve described her as “one who leads.” But she did what her giftings allowed her to do, and she did it with cheerfulness (Rom. 12:6–8).

Vera had very ordinary means of serving, but when her friends pulled back at the end of her life to examine the whole, the overwhelming consensus was that this member of the body did her part and left a legacy of service. “For the body does not consist of one member but of many,” the apostle observed. “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (1 Cor. 12:4, 18).

In Vera’s small corner of Tennessee, she left a legacy of personal ministry that blessed hundreds of people, perhaps thousands. The kingdom has been advanced and God’s glory magnified—all by a relatively unassuming life.

And you better believe she’s reaping her reward already.