Nudge: v. to prod (someone) lightly, typically with one’s elbow; to urge into action (Miriam-Webster Dictionary)
In the vernacular of Sault Ste. Marie Free Methodist Church, the prodding comes from the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it’s not done so “lightly.”
“There are two things in my ministry career I’m not good at,” Pastor Marc McAlister confessed, “Celebrating the things we do and telling stories.” After 10 years of pastoring Sault Ste. Marie, he is feeling nudged to do both these things better and encourage his congregation to do the same.
Many of us have felt as Pastor Marc does. There is the tension of wanting to serve and experiencing great things from God by taking a step of obedience, but we choose not to tell others about it for fear of putting ourselves on a pedestal.
“But,” Pastor Marc wonders, “what if we’re robbing God of honour and losing an opportunity to have people’s hearts stirred?”
For some time now, the congregation in Sault Ste. Marie has been listening to sermons about serving, giving, and paying more attention to the needs around them. Marc saw evidence of things happening in his congregation in “fits and starts,” but was unsure of how the messages were being received by the congregation as a whole. He would hear of a food drive here, volunteer programs there. He just didn’t know how to unify the congregation or maintain momentum.
That was until Pastor Marc started listening to stories from individuals in his congregation. People were, in fact, responding to the call to be the person God wants them to be and talking to him about it. He realized that maybe the unity and encouragement could happen simply by allowing them to tell their stories.
He was nudged to make time on Sunday mornings, sharing his pulpit with others.
Wanda, a member of Sault Ste. Marie FMC, shared her story with the congregation this past January.
In the fall, Pastor Marc had been challenging the congregation to step out of their comfort zones and to make an impact in other people’s lives. Wanda felt the nudge.
Wanda is an optician. She makes eyeglasses and contacts. She knew of a program through her work which offered the working poor, those with no coverage, to get their eyes checked and new glasses or contacts for free. This program was never being used and going to waste. Through Pastor Marc’s encouragement and the help of her church, she was able to locate people who could make use of the program. People who previously suffered because of impaired vision were able to see, simply because Wanda stepped out of her comfort zone and reach out to others.
Now this is an ongoing thing – with permission from her boss, Wanda is able to offer this to 25 people a year. The difference this makes in the lives of those who receive this free service is obvious – the ability to see. But this has made a difference in Wanda also. She has started to see the world around her a little differently. She has become open to the needs of those around her. She no longer sees customers as the bottom dollar, but a relationship that can be built. Instead of getting something from them, she thinks about giving to them. She feels it is a step toward becoming the person God wants her to be and influences all her relationships, not just the ones at work.
It wasn’t easy for Wanda to share her story. She doesn’t like to be the centre of attention. Even the process of trying to articulate her for others to hear has been a nudge out of her comfort zone. But when we share our stories, it can awaken hope and action in others. When it comes from other church members and not just the pastor, there is great encouragement that God can use each of us right where he has placed us. There is a common joy to hear the good things that God is doing around us. It is worth it to pay attention to the nudges.
Pastor Marc has decided to continue sharing his pulpit. One by one, as people discover a way to live out what God has shown them through their obedience, they are encouraged to tell the congregation. He just lets them speak. It’s a legitimate offer of worship during the service.
The congregation takes a moment to listen and celebrate how God is at work, nudging those who hear to be a part of the story.