Less Explaining, More Exploring
I recently took my wife to an event at the Virginia State Arboretum called the "Full Moon Walk." Not to be confused with Michael Jackson dance classes, it was a guided walk through the property that culminated in watching a full moon rise above the horizon line at dusk. Between the colorful red-orange moon on the horizon and the hundreds of thousands of lightning bugs that glittered in the fields, it was an unexpectedly magical evening and a lovely date night. There was a particular moment that caught my attention that night. Among the small group of attendees were a mother with her son, who was somewhere around 6 or 7 years old. The group had just been treated to seeing a small, harmless snake on our walking path, and I'm sure that this wildlife sighting had stirring up the thrill of discovery in this young boy. Shortly after the snake had scurried off and the group had taken a few more steps down the path, the boy tugged on his mom's sleeve, and pointing to a small brown something out in the field, asked, "Mom, is that an animal over there?" His mother took a look and responded, "No, I think that's just some leaves," and the group continued to move on. As I heard her response, I found a voice inside of me saying, "If I have kids, I want to be the kind of parent that says, 'Go over there and find out!'"
This is in no way meant to be a critique of the mother (I'm sure parenthood is full of opportunities taken and missed), but merely to point out that the child could get his question answered in one of two ways - by being given the right answer, or by learning through exploration.
COME AND SEE
As St. John recounts his first meeting with Jesus, a day he remembers right down to the very hour it happened ("four in the afternoon"), we see a similar exchange. John the Baptist had just pointed out Jesus as the "Lamb of God." St. John and Andrew approach Jesus and ask him, "Rabbi, where are you staying?" The scene could have ended very quickly if Jesus had said, "I'm heading over to Galilee," and left it at that. But instead, Jesus said, "Come and see," and invited Andrew and John into the adventure of a lifetime.
There is a shift that has been taking place in the way I do ministry lately. The short way of describing it is that it is characterized by doing less explaining and more exploring. I still teach in my ministry - I give talks, I answer questions - but I have a growing conviction that when I teach about something, I also need to provide the opportunity to experience it. One of my new favorite segues is, "Would you rather hear me talk about 'x' (the love of God, worship, healing, freedom) or would you rather experience it yourself?"
This spirit of exploration has been critical especially in cultivating spiritual gifts, which Paul says we should "strive eagerly" for! (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1) Over the summer we met with a group of college students who had come through our youth ministry program and decided to strive together to unlock and discover spiritual gifts. To start down this road, I asked, "How would you know if you had the gift of healing?" When you ask the question this way, the obvious answer is, "You pray for people and they get healed!" And so the key to discovering the gift is taking the RISK of praying for people, stepping out in faith and seeing what God does.
CREATING A SAFE PLACE TO EXPLORE
Part of our Catholic heritage is our nearly unrivaled intellectual tradition. But information alone has no power to save. If you are involved in ministry of any kind - catechesis, youth ministry, RCIA, preaching, Bible study - make the resolution that with every occasion for teaching you will also include an opportunity to experience what you are teaching on. If you teach on forgiveness, have them call to mind someone they need to forgive and lead them through a prayer of forgiving. If you teach on how to hear God in prayer, spend 5 minutes in silent listening and then have them report back what they heard. If you are reading a Gospel story where Jesus heals, pray for anyone who needs physical healing. If you are teaching on Confession (and can't actually provide the sacrament), pray for people to be released from the shame of past sins they have already confessed (Psalm 103:12 "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us!").
An important component to all of this is creating a safe place for people to explore, to receive, to experience. This includes creating a safe place for people to fail! (I love the above image of the child learning to ride a bike - he'll never learn to do it without giving it a try, but the helmet also makes it safe for him to fail in the process!) Encourage them to pray for sick people, and if God doesn't heal then make sure they know He blesses the risk. Celebrate every step of faith, every risk that invites God to be more present and more manifest. Even where faith is lacking, remember that Jesus wasn't threatened by the skepticism of Thomas (John 20:24-29) and that he honored the prayer of the father, "I believe, help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)
This also requires a risk-taking faith on our part. It means ministering with the expectation that God will show up. We like to rely on information largely because it's something we can control. We can't force God to show up, but I believe the more we invite Him to do so, the more we will see him move in powerful ways.