Talk about contrasts. This weekend I watched a few basketball games. As an opposing player would get ready to shoot a foul shot the fans for the other team would do everything possible to distract him. They would scream, wave their arms in front of him, and do anything possible to make him miss his shot. More often than not, he would make the free throw. This afternoon I watched the final three holes of the PGA tournament. Twice on a tee shot Tiger Woods stepped away from the ball because someone had moved or he heard the click of a camera. His caddy and tournament officials pleaded with the people to be quiet until he hit his shot. College kids can sink a free throw regardless of major, intense distractions while a professional golfer loses his concentration if he hears the click of a camera.
Ministry is much more like college basketball than professional golf. As a minister or lay leader you will have to work through all kinds of distractions. During the course of a week you will hear a variety of voices demanding your attention to their problem. You will have to work through people who oppose your ideas and sometimes oppose you. You will have sermons or lessons to prepare while needing to attend to numerous other issues. You may be called upon to help a family deal with grief while at the same time going through your own doubts and hurts. At some time during the week the phone will ring just as you and your family are sitting down to a meal. It is doubtful you will have some official asking people to please be quiet so you can concentrate on your next action. You just have to work through the distractions. But, how do we do that?
Like everything else we do, we should follow the example of Christ. Reading through the Gospels it seems He was always being distracted by someone or something, and yet He never allowed the distractions to be distractions. As He is teaching the people in the Temple the religious leaders bring a woman caught in the act of adultery and demand from Jesus to know what should be done. I would call that a distraction from teaching, but Jesus makes a teaching moment out of it embarrassing the religious leaders and offering forgiveness to the woman. As He travels to Jairus' house to heal his dying daughter a woman with an issue of blood touches the hem of His garment and is healed. Another distraction. Jesus stops and speaks to the woman, praises her faith, and continues His journey to find the girl had died. Rather than complain about the earlier distraction and how that might have impacted an opportunity to heal this girl, Jesus speaks life to her and she arose. Throughout the Gospels there are numerous stories of how Jesus was distracted from His mission, and yet we consistently find that He never allowed the distractions to keep Him from His work. In fact, He used those distractions to enhance His work.
What should you and I do when we find ourselves distracted from our plans? First of all we should consider if the distraction is heaven sent. Just because we might have plans for the day doesn't mean that God doesn't have other plans for that day. He may have arranged for us to meet a certain person or be at a certain place in order to do something either within us or through us to benefit someone else. Secondly, we should look to see if we can use this distraction as a teachable moment. It could be that God is wanting to teach us something or this situation might exist so we can teach someone else a lesson God wants them to learn. Thirdly, we just have to accept that distractions are part of life and ministry, learn to accept them, and move on. This requires some flexibility on our part, and if we aren't willing to be flexible we probably shouldn't be involved in ministry anyway.
It may be that some of our greatest ministry opportunities will come out of distractions, but that can only happen if we begin to look for those opportunities. If we only focus on the distraction it's unlikely we will ever see the opportunities that might be there. The next time something distracts you from your plans look to see if there are ministry opportunities, and let me know how you met those opportunities.