I’ll never forget the day the Holy Spirit smacked me across the head with a middle-aged woman.
Anna is a 32-year-old with a developmental disability. She came to faith a couple years into our church plant. Baptizing her was one of the clearest points of God’s kindness in my ministry so far.
Anna is a wonderful, faithful member of our church—but she’s not going to direct a ministry or lead a Bible study anytime soon. In fact, she struggles to read and comprehend the Bible for herself.
Anna doesn’t fit many of the conventional programs of a church. She can’t work in the nursery or children’s ministry independently. Many of our Bible studies are at the edge of her capacity. This isn’t because she’s lazy or unmotivated about Christ’s glory, nor is she distracted with lesser things. Rather, formal ministry positions are out of Anna’s reach because of the wisdom of God. She’s not built for those kinds of ministry.
But does that mean she can’t minister? Quite the opposite—I’ve seen God delight in using the unspectacular in spectacular ways. But we, as pastors and church planters, must have eyes to see it.
Here’s what I mean.
Anna and Brenda
Brenda—another woman in our church—lost a loved one recently, and it was hitting her hard. She was struggling. As happens far too often, most church members coming and going in life and ministry didn’t notice the weight of their sister’s grief. Amid their hustle and bustle to get the kids checked in, prepare worship materials, and keep their eyes peeled for visitors, they missed an important ministry opportunity.
In and through Anna, the strength of Christ beamed forth.
But Anna, who’d only been a believer for a few months at this point, didn’t miss it. She noticed Brenda’s grief and moved toward her sister in Christ. Anna begun writing letters to Brenda. She called day after day to check in. Anna was lovingly relentless in showing Brenda that she was both loved and not alone in her grief.
As I watched this relationship unfold, the Spirit used Anna’s example to rebuke me in two ways. First, I was cut to the heart over my pride. I expected God to use me. After all, I’m gifted, trained, and experienced. I’m the pastor! But Anna—with great love and gentle humility—was teaching me things I didn’t even know I needed to learn.
When God used Anna so beautifully, it surprised me. She didn’t have any of the obvious gifts I’m prone to value above others. She wasn’t “strategic.” All of the sudden I realized the depth of my sinful self-confidence. I really thought that somehow my gifts and abilities were a necessary part of the equation. I’d nurtured the idea that I brought something to the table that God needed.
But in and through Anna, the strength of Christ beamed forth. In her weakness, his power was made perfect (2 Cor. 12:9). The Spirit was at work, and he wasn’t waiting around for someone like me.
After I looked up from my prideful navel-gazing, I was enthralled with the beauty and power of the Spirit’s work in the church. God was using Anna, even when her pastor and fellow church members didn’t know how.
Humanly speaking, Anna is hard to equip. She doesn’t fit our normal boxes for serving or leading. She’s an easy disciple to expect little from, especially in church planting. But the Spirit is delighted to use her powerfully.
Should we really be surprised? “Now to each one a manifestation of the Spirit has been given for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). Praise God that he’s not hamstrung by the weaknesses of men and women—the weaknesses of people like me.
Brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is the one doing ministry in your life and church. He delights to use God’s people, even though he needs not one of us. If you’ve been tempted to take confidence in your gifts, training, or position, can I encourage you to repent and ask God for fresh dependence on the Spirit?
Don’t be surprised when God uses the least spectacular saints in the most spectacular ways.
Ministering alongside brothers and sisters with mental and developmental disabilities has helped me to see what was true all along—the Holy Spirit is the only one who can heal the sick, mend the brokenhearted, and encourage the suffering saint. Don’t ever forget that the Spirit is the only one who must show up for powerful ministry to happen. And don’t be surprised when he uses the least spectacular saints in the most spectacular ways.
When you’re just hoping your church plant will survive, it’s easy to only seek out the polished, the put-together, those who will be an obvious “value add” to your plant. Beware of thinking that way. Beware of worldly calculus.
Amid all your visionary labors and busy days, don’t overlook the “Annas.” They are out there, and they are absolutely needed.