God showed me the beauty of unseen ministries while visiting my grandmother in a nursing home.
This past summer we were visiting my family in Michigan. On Sunday morning, we were worshiping at a local church and met a lovely family after the service. The husband served as an elder, and their five children also attended the church. They warmly greeted our family and talked with us about our summer plans and our visit to our hometown.
After church, we walked in to visit my grandmother at the assisted living facility only to see this very same family sitting in chairs with their Bibles open, the husband teaching through a passage of Scripture, and my grandmother intently listening in her wheelchair. She was the only resident there.
The family smiled broadly at my husband and me and motioned us in. “We had no idea Bernadine was your grandmother! We love Bernadine! We’ve been worshiping with her for years!” As we talked to my grandma and the sweet family, they explained to us how they originally led a small service at the Alzheimer’s unit, and then felt compelled to lead a second service at my grandma’s unit. It was a way for their family to serve others together, bringing the gospel to those who could no longer attend church themselves.
The Faith Behind Quiet Service
When we returned to the car, tears flooded my eyes. I was astonished that this entire family would spend their Sunday afternoons singing worship songs and teaching Scripture to those who are often forgotten in society: the elderly. And how my very own grandmother, whom I regularly pray for, is receiving solid Bible teaching each week.
I was overwhelmed both by the incredible way God was answering my prayer and by the selfless humility of this entire family. I reflected on the faith that this kind of service required. They were spending hours each week teaching the Bible to those who might not even remember their names. Yet they trusted God’s promises, and that his word would not return void. The truths of the Bible were being planted in the hearts of those residents who attended (on that day, only my grandmother), and that was enough of a reward for them.
Secret Service Is Seen by God
Sometimes it can be hard to serve in unseen ways. The pride of our flesh wants to be noticed and applauded for the things we do. Our sinful hearts often have mixed motives: wanting to help others in need, but also wanting to seize some of the glory for ourselves. In Matthew 6 Jesus confronts our tendency of wanting to practice righteousness in order to be seen by others:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)
Jesus contrasts the hypocrites blowing their trumpets when they give to the needy with giving in secret — when not even your left hand knows what your right hand is doing (Matthew 6:2–3). The rewards are strikingly different. Public generosity (whether that be in monetary ways or with acts of service) is rewarded with the praise of man. Giving in secret demonstrates trust in a Father who sees you and will reward you (Matthew 6:4), if not now, in heaven.
Serving in unseen ways reveals the faith and humility of those who serve. They won’t likely find a tangible reward on earth, but instead will find joy and peace in serving God in secret.
Contentment in Unseen Ministry
Serving behind-the-scenes teaches us contentment. We all have unique gifts and ministries in which the Lord has called us to serve. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:4–6). While some gifts are more public than others (for example teaching), all of them require a submission to the Lord’s will.
Serving in unseen ways can foster a quiet contentment in our hearts. We need believers like the gentleman who fills our communion cups at church each week. We need those who clean the building and take out the trash. We need pastors shepherding small congregations. We need a myriad of arms to rock babies in the nursery, allowing weary parents to be refreshed by corporate worship. Each of these ministries is vital to the health of the entire body of believers. God values those who are preaching at an assisted living facility to one frail woman in a wheelchair just as much as those preaching to thousands in a megachurch.
The beauty of unseen ministry shines a spotlight on the One who calls us to serve — not for the praise of man, but to honor the God who gives us joy and peace as we follow his call.