My mom was a wise woman. She always knew the right thing to say and the right time to say it. (That was mainly because I was her favorite child and she loved me more than my siblings, but that didn’t make it less true.)
One of her pearls of wisdom came during my early days as a student pastor. My team was wrapping up a huge week of events: bowling, cookouts, trendy guest speakers, the world’s largest banana split, you name it. It was our version of super hip Vacation Bible School for teenagers.* Our “regular kids” were inviting their friends left and right. Students who had never darkened the door of a church were showing up, and many were starting a relationship with Jesus.
Everything culminated on the last night. We’d planned a massive food fight on the rec field beside the church. We had an obstacle course filled with the messiest grub imaginable, a wading pool filled with Jell-O, and we invited the kids to bring all their leftovers from the fridge at home. It was a genius idea…except that I planned it to start at the exact time the senior adults were getting out of their weekly prayer meeting.
A few evil glares and painful conversations later, I did what any 20 year old male would do in those circumstances: I called my mama. I reported on the week and how well things had gone and the kids who had become believers, and then I recounted the angry tithers in the church who were ticked off because I’d used part of my paltry budget to fill a pool full of Jell-O.
And my wise, saintly, loves-her-baby-boy-more-than-her-other-kids mom, said something I’ll never forget:
“Danny, people tend to see the cost, but they never see the value.”
My well-intentioned but disgruntled tithers saw a Jell-O filled wading pool and kids tossing food around that could’ve gone to feed hungry kids in China. They didn’t see the kids who’d experienced life change. They didn’t hear the stories of students who went deeper in a relationship with Jesus. They couldn’t see that the catalyst might just have been a silly, goofy, money-wasting event that drew kids in, grabbed their attention, and built some relational collateral so we could direct ’em to the gospel.
My point is not that I’m still defending my Jell-O pool twenty years later (okay, maybe just a little. That sucker was unbelievably awesome.). My point is that in all our ministries, there are going to be times when we are tempted to only see the cost. It could be $100 worth of Jell-O. It could be a $50,000 auditorium renovation. It could be a $5,000 projector. Shoot, it could be a $2 cup of coffee while you’re discipling a new Christian.
The cost isn’t the point. It’s the value that the cost represents. That renovation could mean more seats, which means more guests, which means more opportunities to share the gospel. That cup of coffee represents a deep investment to help someone take their next steps.
I’m not advocating that ministries waste money. I’m not suggesting that churches go nuts with the gifts that have been entrusted to them. I’m not proposing that you lay waste to your personal budget in the name of treating your friends extravagantly.
But sometimes, rather than only seeing the cost, we need to think about the value. We have to look beyond the line item and take note of the life change.
That’s what mom would’ve wanted.
*The more I think back on my days as a student pastor, the more I realize how thankful I am for our Student Ministry team here at the Summit. Those folks know how to do student ministry that’s gospel-driven, not event-driven. I was an amateur who sadly knew more about DC Talk than discipleship.