“Don’t tell us how to do anything until you have been here 10 years.”
These were the first words that Patricia said to me after we had been introduced. It happened during my first week at DOOR. Larry, my predecessor, was taking me around Denver and introducing me to the various agency coordinators and leaders I would be working with in my new role as the DOOR director.
Patricia was the administrative assistant to the director of the Denver Inner City Parish. It would be fair to say that she was a person of strong convictions. To her, I was the latest in a series of white men who had come to Denver’s west side to try to do some good.
Her words were hard to hear, because I did want to make a difference. Being told to hang around for 10 years seemed like a waste of time.
After all, I had been to seminary, was well-read on urban issues, and I had a natural inclination to fix things. I wanted to work for justice and be a voice for the voiceless. It didn’t make any sense to waste away my abilities for 10 years.
Patricia’s words have been ringing in the back of my mind ever since that first day. I have come to understand this advice as being challenging and good.
I give leadership to a program that promotes short-term experiences. People come to our DOOR for anywhere from a day to a year. One of the biggest battles we face is with participants who—like me—want to make a difference. After all, they have taken time out of busy schedules to take part in DOOR. They don’t want their time or money to be wasted. I understand and respect this.
There are times when short-term volunteers can make a huge difference. Those who went to the Gulf Coast to rebuild following Katrina come to mind.
But for the most part, authentic ministry takes time—lots of time.
One of my closest friends is the pastor of the Denver Inner City Parish. He has been a part of Denver’s west side since 1965. He came to Denver from Elgin, Ill.; working on the family dairy farm was not in his blood. As an 18-year-old he escaped to Denver to attend college. It was during his first semester at Denver University that he began to develop an interest in the west side. Before long, he found himself on the organizing committee for the parish.
44 years later, this kid from a dairy farm in Illinois has become the people’s pastor on the west side. He stuck around and earned the right to speak into the lives of Denver’s westsiders
Every time someone participates in DOOR, I feel a tension between their desire to make a difference and the time it takes to earn the right to make a difference. I am not sure that this can be resolved in a few easy steps. As a matter of fact, I want participants to feel this tension.
Vital, significant ministry is not instant or quick.
Mutual trust takes time.
There is no swift way around this.