Persuading or Convincing?

Seth Godin’s blogs continually inspire me to examine, re-examine, and think outside the box–precisely his intent. A recent post, Persuade vs. Convince, caught my attention.

“Persuasion appeals to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Convincing requires a spreadsheet or some other rational device.”

Convincing tactics:
  • the “help needed” broadcast in the church newsletter
  • pleading for volunteers
  • guilt-inducing tactics
  • a stated vision. done.
Persuading tactics:
  • personal conversations about the joy of living ministry
  • the use of a discovery tool
  • “no rings, no strings” opportunities (when a potential volunteer shadows an experienced volunteer)
  • a personal invitation to participate in a serving opportunity
  • removing obstacles to serving
  • continually dripping the vision (read more here)
I hope that by now you are asking yourself, “Am I convincing or persuading?” If you are convincing, what kind of results are you getting? Is your volunteer ministry a revolving door? Do volunteers begrudge the time spent serving? Are your ministry teams imaginative and innovative? Are vibrant new ministries popping up regularly?
No? Maybe it’s time to try a new tactic. Try appealing to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Ask your people:
  • Is a life of fruitful, fulfilling ministry appealing to you?
  • What ministry is missing in the body of Christ that you are uniquely designed to provide?
  • If you could do anything and knew you wouldn’t fail, what would it be?

I got it already! … Really?

My last few posts have been aimed at laying a foundation for thinking, talking, teaching, and preaching about true vocation–that is, the call of God on every believer to participate in missio Dei. I hope you are saying, “I got it already! Now what do I do about it?” Wise question. Helping people understand that they are called to ministry is only the beginning. The next step is to establish a clearly defined pathway that leads them to understand and step into their true vocation.

In Luke 10:1-24,  Jesus provides a model from which we can learn.

  • Cast the vision: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few…”
  • Give directions: “Pray earnestly…carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road…remain in the house where you find a person of peace, eating and drinking whatever they provide…heal the sick and proclaim the nearness of the kingdom”
  • Provide companionship for the journey: “…the Lord sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.”
  • Prepare for failure: “…whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you…shake the dust of that town from your feet”
  • Rejoice over success: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name! … In that same hour, He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit…”
  • Give thanks: “I thank you, Father…”

For the next couple of weeks, I will address necessary steps to provide a clearly defined path for your people to step into ministry. Whether you are serving a large congregation or a small one, it is absolutely essential that people can easily identify where the journey of discovery begins as well as the steps along the way.

Larger churches often have an established a process by which people get “plugged into ministry.” Usually the volume of people makes this a necessity. The problems that often arise, however, are due to gaps in the process where people get lost. For example, a common gap is to confuse pointing with directing. Another is to ignore the follow-up.

Smaller congregations have their own set of problems. They often make the mistake of thinking that, because they are small, it’s easy for people to see how to “plug in.” After all, there’s always a lot to do and not very many people to get it all done! The attitude can be, “Just do whatever needs doing!” This approach is haphazard and often leads to unsatisfying ministry experiences.

So, no matter the size of the church you are leading, a clearly defined path is critical.

Hold on… There’s a bigger problem with the examples I just gave than gaps in process and assuming it’s obvious. Did you catch it? If not, you’ve missed a critical first step: the paradigm shift from ministry as avocation to ministry as vocation. (If you need a refresher, read this.) This change in paradigm is absolutely critical to developing a clearly defined path to participation in missio Dei! Get that right and you are ready for the next steps!

Have they forgotten?

When is the last time you preached or taught on equipping? Seriously…when?

It is all too easy for folks to forget their true vocation: serving others. They forget that they are called and gifted–equipped in every way–to do the good works God has prepared for them to do. If you regularly read my blogs, you have seen me use that phrase from Ephesians 2:10 again and again. There’s a reason for my repetition: People forget.

How often do you need to hear that you are loved? How often do you need to hear the words “I love you” from your spouse, your children, your parents, your close friends? Being reminded that we are loved builds us up, gives us confidence, provides security.

The same holds true for being reminded regularly that we are called, gifted, and equipped in every way to step confidently into the serving role God has prepared for each and every believer.  We live in a world where our lives are pulled in hundreds of directions at once…probably more like thousands, given the speed and variety with which we are daily bombarded with information. As ministry leaders, we need to help those we serve sift through the competing demands to hone in on what’s truly important and life-giving.

I challenge you to find even subtle ways to remind people regularly–a minimum of once a month!–of their true vocation. You don’t have to preach a whole sermon around serving as your main point, but you can find ways to include references to calling/vocation, spiritual gifts or serving others in one sermon out of four. At least once every few weeks invite someone to share the blessing they received when using their gifts to serve others. Lift up those stories and celebrate them!

Create an equipping culture that continually reminds folks that they are created, called, and gifted to serve. In so doing, you will build people up, give them confidence, and provide the security they need to step into their world as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ!

Break out the balloons!

I was browsing through a retreat center’s library recently, just grazing the titles. Later I remembered seeing a book entitled, Living with Eeyore: How to Positively Love the Negative People in Your Life, by Elizabeth Baker. I didn’t have time to pull the book off the shelf, but the title stuck in my memory. I happen to know a fair amount of people who live with the “glass half-empty” mentality. I bet you do, too. I like to think I’m a “glass half-full” kind of person, and that is usually true of me. But there is one area where I can miss the mark: church.

As I was preparing for our church leadership retreat last month, I began thinking about what needs to be improved–not a bad thing, certainly. However, in my experience, it often leads me down the path of looking at what’s not good enough, where we are lacking, what we don’t have. In other words, “glass half-empty” thinking. As I found myself on this well-worn path, I decided to turn back and begin again. This time I pulled out our member roster and our volunteer ministry records and did some useful research. I was shocked at what I found: nearly 75% of the folks in our church are actively serving!

I was tempted to think, “Yeah, but we are a small parish, so it’s easier to have a higher number of active volunteers,” but then remembered a conversation with a church leader following a workshop I led on helping people identify their spiritual gifts. She said that they were a very small church–around 50 people at best–but that the 80/20 rule was very real for them. Twenty percent of their members were doing 80% of the work, and not much was happening. It seemed as though the Spirit was encouraging me not to be so quick to dismiss that 75% after all!

In all reality, no church will ever experience 100% of their membership in serving opportunities. (At least, not with the prevailing paradigm of ministry being something we add on to our calendar. Go here, and here, and here to read about a different paradigm.) In fact, 75% is way above the average  of 40-50%, even in the healthiest of churches. Suddenly I found myself in that “glass half-full” mentality, excited to share this great news with the leadership team, then break out the balloons for a real volunteer celebration!

When do you catch yourself thinking more about what you don’t have than what you do have? How many/how much is enough?

  • How many people in the pews?
  • How many Bible study groups?
  • How many volunteer ministers?
  • How many Sunday school classes?
  • How many first-time visitors?
  • How much money?
  • How many who have completed gifts assessments?
  • How many hours logged in community service?
  • How many people engaged in mission?
  • How many/how much (you fill in the blank)?

The God we serve is quite adept at providing more than we could ask for or want. When we realize that we are on mission with him we can trust that he is providing everything we need in order to accomplish his purpose.

Try counting your blessings…praising God for the resources–gifts, people, money, ministry, etc.–that he has provided. Develop a “glass full to overflowing”mentality, break out the balloons and celebrate!

A new thing…

I haven’t blogged for quite a while. It’s not that I’ve grown bored with blogging, nor have I just gotten lazy. No, God has been birthing something new in my heart and mind. The problem has been that I wasn’t in the mood for God to mess with that which has become so familiar to me.

Recently I was scheduled to teach about gifts and service, but found myself struggling with what to say. Now, this has been my favorite subject for close to twenty years, so to teach on it has become second nature to me. This time, however, I realized that I couldn’t speak with the same conviction that I’ve had in the past. That was a bright red signal flag that it’s high time I slow down and open my eyes to this “new thing” the Lord has been trying to reveal.

For years now I have taught, preached, and at times insisted on the practice of gifts discovery in ministry placement. It became part of my DNA after a few years of volunteer fiascoes, like being asked to teach about Paul’s missionary journeys for Vacation Bible School when I had no idea who Saul was, and having my gift of hospitality understood as preparing meals for the newcomers luncheon though I don’t like being stuck in the kitchen. Then there was the assignment to lead the outreach ministry team when my real passion was to work inside the walls of the church… All these experiences (as well a similar stories shared with me by others along the way) convinced me that plugging warm bodies into empty ministry slots was not going to produce fruitful service or create meaningful ministry.

When I first heard about spiritual gifts, I was intrigued. But learning the S.H.A.P.E.* model was what inspired me. At last, a way to match people to ministry that would bless them and those whom they served. No more klutzes in the kitchen and no more grumpy greeters! The S.H.A.P.E. model has served me well for years. But a few weeks ago I was engaged in a discussion about equipping, talking about matching gifts to ministry. My colleague suggested that I was still plugging people into slots. Perhaps gifts discovery is a more thoughtful way to go about it, he said, but it is still slot-filling. Ouch!

That conversation–along with the realization that I am suddenly lacking some conviction in my teaching material–has been the catalyst for me to engage in my own re-discovery process.

I’m excited to take equipping to a new level (in my ministry, at least–you may already be there, in which case I wish you had mentioned this to me before now!) Before I go any further, I want to take you back to my colleague’s suggestion that  we are still just plugging people into ministry. More effectively, perhaps, but plugging away nonetheless. Will you sit with that awhile and see what the Spirit says to you? (And I hope you will leave your comments about what you discern!)

I’ll be back in a couple of days  to share with you the new most important word in my equipping vocabulary…

*S.H.A.P.E. is an acronym for Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences.

Youniquely Designed for Leadership

Is leadership one of your spiritual gifts? If so, I have a question for you to ponder:

Where are you involved (a group or an activity) where you are not providing leadership?

If you can name something, feel free to go back to whatever you were doing before you began reading this post. But if you are still pondering the question, you might just need to read on…

Leaders like to lead. That’s just the way we are wired. The Spirit has given us this gift and we exercise it regularly because it comes naturally, or because we are convicted about being a good steward of the gift we’ve received, or because others see our gift and call it forth.

If there is one thing that a leader dislikes, it’s a leadership vacuum–a group or project that has no leader. So what do we do? All too often, we can’t resist stepping in to fill the vacuum. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s not. Here are some of the unfavorable consequences of giving in to the urge to fill a leadership vacuum:

  • an ever-growing shortage of capable leaders
  • a group or ministry that is on artificial life support–its time has long expired and it needs to die so that something fresh and relevant can be birthed
  • missed opportunities to allow new leaders to emerge and develop their leadership abilities
  • a less than passionate leader doing a half-hearted job of leading
  • a leader whose “big picture” has been torn into so many fragments that it is no longer discernible
  • a leader who can’t muster the energy to get out of bed in the morning
  • a leader who doesn’t remember how to follow…

Jesus said, “Follow me”…

There is real danger in forgetting how to follow.

Be part of something–a small group, a sports team, a ministry project, the PTA… whatever–someplace where, rather than leading, you are following someone else’s lead. Discipline yourself to follow for a change. Deny the impulse to fill the vacuum. In the process of following, you may just learn something new about leading.

Connecting the Clues

This is the time of year when even the most nominal Christians give. They may give of their time, their energy, their resources. They may serve a meal at the homeless shelter with their small group, they may go caroling at a nursing home with the church choir, they may make an uncharacteristic donation to a charity. In the context of Christian community, Christmas is all about giving as God himself gave.

If twentieth-century Christians are to speak the truth for the sociohistorical situation, they cannot merely repeat the story of what Jesus did and said in Palestine, as if it were self-interpreting for us today. Truth is more than the retelling of the biblical story. Truth is the divine happening that invades our contemporary situation, revealing the meaning of the past for the present so that we are made new creatures for the future….”    -James H. Cone¹

How are those you shepherd living out the truth of Jesus birth… the truth that God gave more than we could ask or imagine so that we also might give? What can be learned from the way they are expressing that truth through their Christmas giving?

Begin with your ministry team, a Sunday school class, or your small group and pose these questions:

  • To what are you giving this year (outside of family and friends)?
  • What form is your giving taking (e.g., time, energy, resources)?
  • Why did you choose to give in this particular way to this particular recipient?
  • What might this tell you about how God has uniquely designed you for ministry?

By engaging in dialogue around these questions, you can open the door to discovery, even with those who are resistant to gifts inventories. By examining their motivations, you can help them discover something–a people group, an issue, or a cause–that stirs their heart. By looking at the means by which they express that heart-stirring, you can help them see an ability or skill that they can use for ministry. And if their giving is in the form of making a monetary donation, you just might help them discover the spiritual gift of giving!

Mr. Cone goes on to say that we must investigate the connection between Jesus’ words and deeds and our existence today. Anyone who hangs around the Christian community for any length of time can’t escape the truth that we are created in the image of God whose purpose for us is that we be conformed to the likeness of Christ, who gave everything for us. Never is giving more in the spotlight than at Christmas as we celebrate the Christ coming to dwell among us. Help your people see the connection between Jesus’ existence and their existence today. Point them to the clues to their unique design for ministry, that they might see themselves as a living revelation of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

There is no sweeter gift that you could give this Christmas!

¹Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource, Volume 1. © 1994 by United Church Press, Cleveland, OH.