Minding the Gap (in Ministry)

By: Rev. Dr. Clark Armstrong

There is an intricate subway system in London with many levels and sub-levels transporting hundreds of thousands of people every day in thousands of directions underneath the city. Not only can you get lost trying to get from place to place in The Tube (its nickname); danger lurks all around. One thing you always need to be cautious about is when you are entering or exiting the trains. There is a two-inch gap between the car and the platform at each entrance. A wheel of your luggage, an item like an umbrella, or a heel of your shoe could get trapped in the slot while boarding a subway train or exiting from it.

There are red signs posted everywhere that say “Mind the Gap.” Anytime a train arrives, an ominous voice announces clearly “Mind the Gap” as the doorways open for people to exit and to enter the train. This is repeated at least once more during the time while the doors are open and as they close. It is a very important warning.

I have found that it is also a very important principle for pastoral ministry. The gaps or transitions that people experience in life are key times for ministry. When people get married, have a new baby (especially their first), send their child to school for a new year (especially that first year), have the last child leave home, move to a new home, or lose or switch their job — these are times when a change is happening in their lives.

Even when a person gets baptized or joins the church, it is a gap moment. They are stepping through a door onto a platform or a train, so to speak. They are crossing a gap and experiencing a life transition. There is a chance to impact people’s lives greatly during times like these.

Not all the gaps are positive ones as we move forward. Sometimes negative things happen as well: divorce, a serious surgery or accident, or the death of a close family member (even a beloved pet) all afford us the opportunity to mind the gap. We must pay attention to these times also.

Gaps are key moments for ministry because we can help people to adjust to their new changes in life. Transitions are very significant for three reasons:

  1. They provide teachable moments. People are more open to listen and learn when confronting change.
  2. They represent reachable moments. It has been shown that people are more likely to be thinking about God and spiritual things at times of transition.
  3. These times are touchable moments. Gap times provide excellent opportunities to impact others by providing help and love through meeting needs or coming alongside them.

The pastor and the church must be present to love and guide others through the transition and help them adjust to their new normal afterwards. Let’s not miss our greatest opportunities for evangelism, care-giving, and counseling. Mind the gaps!

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