Shoveling Gravel

by Will Peycke

The building revamp project is nearing completion! The next couple of weeks should see the finishing touches on just about everything but the elevator, nursery overhead door, and furniture. Those final pieces are scheduled to come in during the month of July. 

As we’ve watched the work progress over the past few weeks, I’ve often felt pulled in opposite directions: excitement for how the space is being transformed and frustration at the painful reality that this kind of work takes so much time, attention, and money. Part of that tension is due to the role I’ve played as the point person for the project, often being asked to clarify details or find answers for some aspect of the work. My calling and primary task at Kossuth is to pastor families, not facilities. So I can easily swing between “I don’t ever want to do another project like this again,” to “I wish we could start renovating the basement tomorrow.” 

That tension recently brought to mind a memory from 25 years ago. I traveled with my church youth group to work for a week at a camp for inner city kids. The camp had quite a ministry to children and teenagers from the roughest neighborhoods in Philadelphia. It was a girls’ week of camp, so the girls from our group were assistant counselors in the cabins. 

The guys? We spent the week working for the maintenance crew. 

Our big project was helping to install a miniature golf course that had been donated to the camp. Specifically, that meant long days with shovels and wheelbarrows spreading gravel. Lots of gravel. 

Partway through the week, one member of our weary crew finally voiced what several of us were thinking: it didn’t seem fair that we got stuck doing manual labor while the girls from our group were building relationships, talking about Jesus, and seeing lives transformed by the gospel. They were doing spiritual work that really mattered. We were just shoveling gravel.

The maintenance director, Mark, was quick to correct our thinking. What we were doing did matter… it just wasn’t as “glamorous” as what the girls were doing. He reminded us that future campers and counselors would build relationships and talk about Jesus while playing miniature golf on the course we were building. It reoriented our perspective to think about our gravel walkways as a place where campers would experience gospel transformation. 

Today, that memory reminds me to see whatever I’m doing as part of God’s bigger picture. It is quite easy, honestly, to see how fleeting and futile life is (Ecclesiastes 1) and become cynical. If my work is an end in itself, that cynicism would be quite appropriate. But if my work is part of a bigger story that God is writing, then it really does matter—not because it is an end in itself, but because we can trust God to work in and through our work to accomplish more than we could ever imagine.  

Ironically, while teenage me was shoveling gravel in Pennsylvania, Kossuth Street Baptist Church was drawing up plans for what is now the “new” half of our building. I imagine there were at least a few Kossuth folks back then who had hesitations about all the time, attention, and money that project required. Looking back, though, I am certainly grateful this church trusted God to use their work as a platform for building relationships, talking about Jesus, and seeing lives transformed by the gospel.

Here are two takeaway thoughts I’ve been chewing on this month. It’s how I encourage my “split personality” when I feel tension over the building revamp project. 

First, I need to remember that this building is not what matters most. Life-on-life word ministry is what matters most. Stewarding a facility must never become our primary focus. It is possible to become too busy doing good things and neglect the best things. 

Second, I need to remember that this building facilitates what matters most. This is a space where life-on-life word ministry happens. Stewarding a facility supports that kind of ministry. It isn’t what matters most, but it does matter. 

I’m actually eager for our new carpet to pick up some coffee stains. Why? Because that will be a sign that it is fulfilling its purpose! Ultimately, our hope and prayer for this newly-renovated space is not that it would look impressive or be valued for itself, but that it would be a place for building relationships, talking about Jesus, and seeing lives transformed by the gospel. When that happens, it makes all the gravel-shoveling worthwhile. 

When can we start on the basement?