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A Ministry of Presence

A Ministry of Presence

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In one of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books, there is a picture where Frog and Toad sit next to each other with the sun setting behind them. The caption on the image says,

“Toad sat and did nothing. Frog sat with him.”

I often think of this picture when I think of the ministry of presence. 

frog-and-the-toad-collectionI have noticed that many songwriters, worship leaders, pastors, and ministry leaders generally have difficulty being present. Presence is a vaguely defined word that hospital chaplains often use to describe their work with patients, families, and staff. A ministry of presence is a ministry that can offer a non-anxious, non-judgmental atmosphere where another’s story can not only be shared but heard. Making that kind of bow to another person and offering them a real presence is a unique gift. 

To be present requires a minimum of three things: 

  1. to be flexible, 
  2. to have no apparent agenda, 
  3. to be willing to be emotionally vulnerable in interactions.  

I am guessing you haven’t heard these three things in as many conference workshops. Ministers are the worst offenders of not being present. Our high-intensity lifestyles are filled with so much doing for God that we rarely have time to be present to ourselves, which means we have not been able to be present to God’s Presence, which makes us unable to be present to others and are unable to help them be present to God’s Presence. Trying to give out of our deficit only puts us deeper in a hole. We simply cannot give what we don’t have.

Read A Neglected Mission Field; The Heart of God for more on dwelling in God’s presence.

Present to Self

So, let’s look at what it means to be present to self because this is where we have to start. We can’t even be present to God until we are first present to ourselves. If we don’t offer our true selves to God, we are offering something God cannot receive because there is nothing there, only a false illusion of who we would like to think we are. The problem is that God only sees the real us, the people we are, our true selves.

In his book Chaplaincy: A Ministry of Presence, Matt Sanders challenges us to know our S.T.U.F. (Sensations, Thoughts, Urges, and Feelings). Allow me to break these down.

To describe sensations, we may use words like wobbly, shivery, tingly, burning, itchy, achy, etc. A sensation is a physical feeling or perception due to something that happens to us or comes in contact with our body. Once we identify our sensation, we ask where we feel it in our body. What is the source of the sensation? In essence, we are asking where these sensations came from.

Our thoughts are perceptions, attitudes, and ideas that drive our behavior. Before we can create something, we must first imagine it. Our thoughts are our creative force, and if we can be very honest about our thoughts, we can better understand who and where we are in the present moment. Are your thoughts dark and gloomy? Are your thoughts happy and cheerful? Why are they that way? What is going on in and around us that is shaping our thoughts in this present moment?

Urges can be good or bad, healthy or harmful. As a noun, an urge is a desire, like a desire for ice cream or to kiss someone. As a verb, an urge can be something that we strongly encourage, such as when we urge someone to do something.  To feel an urge is to feel a compulsion to do something. If you are parched, then your urge will be to drink. If you are tired, you will have an urge to rest. There is nothing wrong with an urge or a desire. The question to ask is, why am I having an urge? What is underneath it? Is it an urge that, if I act upon it, will bring flourishing or harm?

Lastly, we have our feelings. Feelings are the emotional state that we are in. Usually, if someone asks us how we are feeling, we go immediately to auto-pilot. We will say, “I’m good,” even if we don’t mean it. If someone presses us and asks us how we are feeling again, we may not have the words to answer.

wheel-of-emotionAt one point, I realized that I was so disconnected from what I felt that I started having to sit down with a wheel of emotions (google it to see a picture) and identify my feelings. I found that I often live from a place of fear, anxiety, and insecurity. If I hadn’t sat down with God quietly and become honest about it, I would not have been able to identify my feelings. 

When I could identify my S.T.U.F., I could find its origin. I could feel it in my body, manifesting through migraine headaches, stomach pains, and sleepless nights. With God’s help, I could start being present to myself, which helped me to be present to God and others in ways that I had never been able to do before.

I Am Not Myself

I realized I was not being myself with anyone, not even me. The person God made me to be was hidden underneath all that S.T.U.F. was just hiding. It can be scary to admit you are afraid, feeling inadequate, and have been living as an imposter, but it is also freeing.

Learning to be present in my work as a hospital chaplain has transformed me. I lead music at church differently, write songs differently, and am present to my wife and son differently. Now, as a minister, songwriter, and spouse, I have learned not so much to witness to others but to be a witness of them. I can only do this because I have been learning to be present to my self. 

My S.T.U.F. vs. The Presence of God

Identifying all my S.T.U.F. doesn’t necessarily take my struggles away, but it helps me be present to them, not allow them to overtake the person God made me to be. Best of all, it enables me to be present to The Presence, to others, and to help others be present to THE PRESENCE.

Offering a ministry of presence doesn’t require doing anything in particular if we will just be our true selves. To practice presence, just be like Frog. 

“Toad sat and did nothing. Frog sat with him.” 

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Note: This is a condensed version of the workshop, Songwriting, A Ministry of Presence, presented on this podcast

 3 Special thanks to Chaplain Matt Sanders for helping me with this concept of self.

4 Lobel, A. (1972). Frog and Toad Together. United States: HarperCollins Publishers.

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Additional Suggested Reading

52 Devotions from the Psalms    Webber on Worship Volume 1

Our Devotional Podcast

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