We’ve all bumped up against the supernatural at least a time or two in ministry. If nothing else, a clear example is that moment when our citizenship is transferred from temporal to eternal.
The truth is, everything we do is supernatural. In fact, our roles wouldn’t even exist if supernatural wasn’t a thing. In ministry, supernatural should feel super natural—nothing to see here—normal day at the office—move along folks. Yet when Jesus shows up with the miraculous, he often takes us by surprise.
I’d been the youth pastor of a smaller church for a few years. We had a “standard” ministry: Sunday school, midweek, regular events, and about 20 kids. We were very happy in our expected, run-of-the-mill program. And I was an incredibly comfortable youth pastor. I knew what to expect and what was expected of me. I understood what I could accomplish and what would just have to wait. It was a good life…but not supernatural.
I planned a retreat weekend for our youth ministry, and on the creative scale, it was definitely a 10+. Promotion and publicity had gone out on time and without incident. The theme was exciting. The speaker was exceptional. At one point, she entered the venue through the ceiling on a pulley system with fog, lights, and “Mission Impossible” theme music. I was super proud of what I’d done with a shoestring budget and a gaggle of volunteers in a church that didn’t see this kind of production every day.
And I left Jesus completely out of it. Fortunately, he bullied his way back in.
For months, a few boys had been attending youth group, exploring Jesus and the faith life we talked about every week. And when I issued the challenge to invite friends, they took it seriously. We planned for about 40 kids at the retreat, which was a generous doubling of our average weekly attendance, but more than 75 showed up! Plus, at the end of the weekend, that entire group gave their hearts to Jesus and decided to pursue him relentlessly (and did!)
Our student ministry exploded, and I never saw it coming. I didn’t expect the supernatural. I hadn’t asked for it. Rarely did I meditate on it. I probably wouldn’t have recognized it if it had been a retreat theme that practically wrote itself. And that broke me.
I distinctly remember Tommy walking up to me to declare his love for Jesus and to dedicate his life to him. I’ll never forget marveling that “it actually worked.” And then I had a complete meltdown. I was overtaken by the truth that Jesus was moving despite me, not because of me. My well-planned publicity, awesome theme, and spiced-up production hadn’t accomplished any of this. Jesus accomplished it while I was looking at the pulley system instead of the cross.
What if the supernatural became so normative in our ministry that we regarded it as #standard?Click to tweet
Focus on the miraculous.
Here are some things I now do to prepare for the supernatural—habits that might help us all gravitate toward the miraculous:
- Ask Jesus to do something surprising (and allow us see it).
- While planning elements of services or trips, ask Jesus to guide the details.
- Regard exceptionally good ideas as supernatural—gifts from God’s hand. That means he may have plans beyond our plans, so ask him what they are.
- If something feels forced or constructed, abandon it immediately. (I’d rather have Jesus make something out of nothing than make nothing out of something I forced.)
- Plan for twice the anticipated attendance.
- Regularly ask Jesus to search my heart and attach it to truth in the message so I’m not just teaching to kids, I’m teaching to me.
- Routinely recount supernatural moments in your ministry, and ask Jesus to continue bringing them. I look for “Tommy” every day and in every encounter I have with teenagers, parents, and leaders.
- Plan far enough out to allow time for meditation. Ask Jesus to change ideas, change the message, change all the planning while letting you catch up to him.
- Ask Jesus to do something that can be explained only as him.
I like being good at my job, but I never want the job to be something I could do by myself on my best day. I pray that people look in on our youth ministry and say, “That’s explainable only by Jesus.” Then I want them to be unimpressed that he showed up because he does it so often, it just feels super natural.