Watch Your Step!

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.   -Acts 6:1-6 [ESV]

This passage is often cited in reference to the establishment of deacons in the church. It has long been a favorite passage of mine–appropriately so, since I am ordained a vocational deacon. But I remember years ago reading this passage and how it left a bitter taste in my mouth! Before I gained an understanding of spiritual gifts and calling, I thought the twelve were exhibiting no small amount of arrogance by insisting that it wasn’t right that they give up preaching the word of God to “wait tables.” I wanted to shout, “Watch your step there, fellas! If Jesus washed your feet, who are you to think that you are too good to wait tables?”

The more we progress in our ministry, the easier it is to step into the trap of believing that we (clergy) are above doing the seemingly menial tasks of ministry, particularly if the priesthood of all believers is not one of our fundamental values. Gifting and calling applies to every believer, not just the clergy–and all ministry has value. There are times when we need to be willing to serve by doing whatever needs doing, whether it’s below our “pay grade” or not! There is no room in the church for a spirit of entitlement–not from clergy, staff, or ministry leaders.

(Before I go any further, I want to be clear that arrogance was not what motivated the apostles–obedience was! They were being obedient to the calling that Jesus had placed on each of their lives to preach the word of God.)

As equipping leaders, we can set the example by occasionally helping out with tasks that are outside of our gifting and calling. My senior pastor and I decided to give our facility team a “summer vacation.” All summer we’ve been coming earlier on Sundays to set up and staying later to put away. I confess that I’ve grumbled a few times, but it’s given me a deeper appreciation for the ministry of this particular team! I also encourage our ministry team leaders to schedule themselves in their team’s rotation, serving alongside the team members they lead.

I once heard a bishop remark that his consecration as bishop was not a move up the ladder of success, but rather a move step_downdownward into deeper humility. What an exhortation! If it is true that an organization can rise no higher than its leadership, then let’s be leaders who side-step the spirit of entitlement and instead journey downward into deeper humility, that every member of our church will be truly humble, serving others according to their gifting and calling so that we all rise to the example set by Christ!

Roles and Responsibilities

In response to my last post, my good friend commented that his baptism was his ordination. So true! Baptism is the ordination for every Christian in that we are given “holy orders” to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). This is the universal calling for all baptized Christians. How we each fulfill or carry out that directive varies, depending on how the Holy Spirit gifts and equips us for ministry.

For some, there is “further” ordination as they answer God’s call to accept formal responsibility for a body of believers within an ecclesial structure: in other words, they step into the “clergy” category. Is their ordination better–somehow more valid–than the ordination of baptism? I don’t think so! It is a different role with a different responsiblity. I know plenty of saints who do not bear the title of “Reverend” and are absolutely faithful to the ministry to which God has called and equipped them. And I have known a few “Reverends” who were more enamored of the title than the responsibility inherent in that role.

(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / Andres

(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / Andres

Is the clergy role more important than the role of lay ministers? When I watch our Welcome Team greet people as they come in the door, I’m so grateful for their ministry. It’s of vital importance that everyone–especially guests–feel welcome in the church. And I’m very grateful for the Altar Team member who carefully prepares the altar, sets out the bread and wine, and lights the candles to prepare a reverent setting for worship and communion. When our Music Team starts singing, I’m incredibly blessed by their ministry, especially since I don’t sing well at all! I could go on, but you get the point. All of these ministries are important very The people who do them are called and gifted to do what I am not–and what I cannot do by myself. Is my clergy role of deacon more important than theirs? Hardly! My responsiblities are just different.

Every ministry role in my church is valuable. (Admittedly, some are more necessary than others, at least for a season). However, some of those roles have more–and weightier–responsibilities than others. Our nursery and children’s church ministers are responsible for the safety and well-being of the children in their care. That is a weightier responsiblity than our facility ministers, who are responsible for the orderly placement of chairs in our worship space. We need and value both of these ministry roles, however, and I look for the same dedication from one as from the other.

Valuing roles equally is absolutely necessary for a healthy church. And it is one way to avoid falling into the entitlement trap, the subject of next week’s post!

Clergy/Laity Distinction?

question markClergy/laity distinction… It’s a phrase that gets kicked around a lot, especially in the world of equipping leaders. But what does it really mean? Is there a clergy/laity distinction? Should there be? I think that it depends on who you ask and in what context you are asking.

I recently referenced the clergy/laity distinction in a sermon. Actually, I threw down my soapbox, climbed upon it, and proceeded to inform my parish that this distinction is a lie that divides the church and causes no small amount of confusion and misunderstanding. Apparently I was actually quite “feisty” about it, according to one listener! That’s not surprising, since for years I have been on a mini-crusade to promote equality of ministry. But another listener pointed out the irony that I would insist that there should be no distinction between clergy and laity, all the while appearing distinctly different from the rest of the parish as I stood before them in my white alb and deacon’s stole. Ouch!

I was preaching from Ephesians 4:1-16, pointing out that the role of the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, not to do all the ministry themselves. The purpose of this is to create unity out of the variety of spiritual gifts and diversity of responsibilities so that we all grow up together as one body, into Christ who is the head. I referenced the apostle Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 12, using the body as a metaphor to help his readers understand that all the “working parts” are necessary and equal in their value to the body as a whole. I spoke at length on the way we are interdependent and how this creates unity in the church as we each recognize our part–our ministry–and serve accordingly. In this context, I believe there should be no distinction between the value of the ministry of the clergy and that of the laity.

On the other hand… Both the senior pastor and I are ordained. We wear vestments for worship. Doesn’t that distinguish us from everyone else? And our denomination has an episcopal structure; we are governed by bishops. Doesn’t that represent a hierarchy of power? The answer to both questions is, of course, yes. There is definitely a clergy/laity distinction in this context, that of creating order in the church. It is a system of authority that is intended to guard the integrity of scripture and the sacraments. As an Anglican, I value the distinction between clergy and laity in this ordering of our church.

My point? As equipping leaders, we need to be careful about how we throw that “clergy/laity distinction” phrase around. We might actually contribute to the misunderstanding and confusion, missing the opportunity to restore the worth of each and every minister and the ministry they perform.

What difference does it make?

The Christmas decorating is done, the gifts are purchased, the holiday menus planned and theadvent candles grocery shopping completed. Seven pairs of pajamas are are sewn, ready and waiting for  wiggling little bodies to don them (I carry on my grandmother’s tradition of making pajamas for my grandchildren every Christmas). I haven’t accomplished this much so early in the season in years! Now I can sit back and wait… Or not.

I love the spirit of Advent–this season of waiting, of preparing our hearts for the coming of Jesus as we celebrate His first coming and expectantly await His second. But there have been too many years when I have been crazy-busy with all the shopping, decorating, sewing, baking…all the memory-making stuff of family life. Add to that the heightened activity for  church staff at this time of year, and it’s easy to find myself sadly wondering on December 26th just how I missed Christ in all that Christmas!

But not this year. This year I have time to ponder the signficance of Immanuel–God-with-us. I have time to reflect on Christ’s promise to come again, when He will make all things new! And the question that keeps popping into my mind is this, What difference does it make? What difference does it make that I know Jesus was born into our human condition, and that He suffered and died to atone for our sins? (Whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, I might add!) What difference does it make that I accept His promise to return, to establish a new world, a new order of life that is eternal? What difference does knowing all this make in my life today?

Many think that eternal life is something you get when you die. New life, a different kind of life, starts at conversion and never ends. -Bishop Todd Hunter

It’s easy to live for today, perpetually seeking self-gratification, when I think that the only life that counts is the one that begins after my bodily death. But I believe that my eternal life began the day I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, and that changes everything. It means that how I live today has significance for the rest of my eternal life. My life today is supposed to be different from the life I lived before my conversion, and the choices I make today impact all my tomorrows…an eternity of tomorrows!

Jesus came to save the lost. He came to save me, and would have done so if I was the only person alive. But I’m not. There’s a whole world that Jesus wants to reconcile to the Father, and He bids me to help, to do what I can in my little corner. He didn’t save me just so that I could sit around and wait for Him to come back. He saved me so that I can make a difference.

Now that I think about it, the real question is What difference do I make?

That’s a question worth asking every day!

 

Yes or No?

Your word is your bond.

Walk your talk.

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Or, as Jesus put it:

Whatever you have to say let your ‘yes’ be a plain ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ a plain ‘no’—anything more than this has a taint of evil. (Matt. 5:37, J.B. Phillips translation)

I am asked regularly how to cope with volunteers who just don’t show up. I have no magic answer, but there are some trouble-shooting questions I usually ask which can shed light on gaps in the structures and processes a leader employs with their volunteers. But I think the problem runs much deeper than any organizational strategy.

It has become commonplace in our culture to say “yes” to something when we know full well that we won’t honor the commitment. “I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by saying no,” is the typical excuse. But more often than not, that’s not the real reason. If we are honest, the true motivation is that we don’t want to look bad because we don’t want to give up our resources (time, money, energy, influence). We don’t want to appear unwilling to help, or blind to the need. It’s why we walk past the beggar on the street corner without looking at him. If we look, we will see the need and then be faced with our own selfishness in not responding. It’s just easier not to make eye contact. If I don’t see you, then you can’t see my hardness of heart. Sure.

Lest you think I am being judgmental, I assure you that the first person to stand in judgment on this is me! I have said “yes” when I knew my real answer was “no.” I have lied–let’s just call a spade a spade, shall we?–to make myself look better. I have refused to make eye contact with someone I knew would ask something of me that I didn’t want to give.

But here is what I have come to see: Every time I don’t keep my word, I breed distrust in someone. That distrust may begin with me, or I may be just one more in a long line of liars (ouch! such an unpleasant descriptor, isn’t it?).  Either way, I’m contributing to the fabric of distrust that pervades our society and encourages self-protective behavior, which often leads to violence of all kinds. I add to the disease of independence that eats away at Christ’s mandate to serve each other (John 13:14-15) , to Paul’s exhortation that the body of Christ must be interdependent (1 Corinthians 12).

Each time I say “yes” when my real answer is “no,” I injure the body of Christ, or place a stumbling block in the path to faith of someone who does not yet know Christ. You may think I look good in the “yes” moment, but God sees my heart and knows my lie. Just because I don’t look at him doesn’t mean he is not seeing me.

Let’s try this the next time you are tempted to say “yes” when you know you don’t mean it. Stop for a moment. Ask for time to consider the request or, if you know your mind already, just say “no” right then. In so doing, you will honor God, the person making the request, and yourself. Yes, that’s right: you will honor your self… in a healthy manner that encourages the same in others.

 

Caring for Multi-hatters

Multi-hman-juggling-jobs_400-213x300atters are a blessing in the small church…and often a necessity! I am so very grateful for the volunteer ministers in my parish who serve in two–sometimes three–different roles. But I also know that this can cause volunteer burn-out if not carefully monitored. It can also cause team leaders to “fight” over a volunteer minister, necessitating cutting the volunteer in half so that each leader can have him/her.

Oh, wait. That’s not how that Bible story ended, is it? Ok, ok…back on track…

When I began ministry in our parish, volunteer scheduling was at times chaotic. There were basically five ministries that had schedules, and there was little or no coordination between them. Being a small church, many of our volunteers wear multiple hats, serving in a couple of different areas. It was not unusual to find overlap in the schedules, calling for a last-minute scramble to find someone to fill in.  Needless to say, this caused a certain amount of anxiety for everyone involved. Another problem was that some people would serve for weeks without having a Sunday off.

The logical solution was to create a master calendar which would reflect all of our serving roles, making it immediately obvious when a volunteer was in danger of being cut in half expected to serve in two places at the same time, or was serving week in and week out.

In the beginning, I asked team leaders to schedule their teams, and then turn the schedules in to me. I found that it’s really much simpler, however, if I do all the scheduling. I confer with team leaders about preferences and any other special considerations. It’s easier for me to compile everyone’s preferences and work around them as I make up the schedule than it is for the team leaders to try and keep track of those details for all the teams.

I create the schedule three times a year–January through April, May through Labor Day, September through the first Sunday in January. In this way, I avoid beginning a new calendar with a major holiday or the beginning/end of summer. This can create havoc when the new schedule gets lost in the busyness of holiday activities, end-of-summer vacations, and the May madness of proms and graduations! My goal each season is that no one serves more than two Sundays/month, regardless of how many ministry areas they serve. I ask all volunteers to find their own replacement if they have a conflict, and to please let me know of the change so I am not expecting the wrong person to show up.

What are you doing to safeguard the ministry life of your multi-hatters? I know this sounds like a lot of work, and it is. Groan if you must–I certainly do each time I create our master calendar! I think it is somewhat of a cross between a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle and dominoes as I try to make all the pieces fit, then find that moving one piece effects the delicate balance of the others! But, in the end, it’s worth the time and effort. I am removing a major obstacle to ministry, which is one of the primary responsibilities of an equipping leader. Ministry is more evenly distributed. There is less volunteer burn-out. Our volunteers don’t serve week in and week out without taking a break. And, most importantly, no one gets cut in half!

Small Church Equipping Values

big-or-smallHow do equipping values differ between the large church and the small church? They don’t; there is no difference! The values are the same:

  • Prayer–Developing an equipping culture requires Holy Spirit power. The path to that power is through prayer.
  • Vision of the church as contained in Ephesians 4–The role of the leadership is to equip the people for the ministry of the Church.
  • Servant leadership–The leaders and the laity are partners in ministry. Leaders set the example by serving others.
  • Team ministry–No one does ministry alone.
  • Intentionality–Equipping doesn’t happen on its own. It requires intentional preaching, teaching, discovery, and connecting people to meaningful serving opportunities
  • Proactive towards change–Change is inevitable; resistance is futile! Learn to evaluate and respond to change as it comes.

The values may be lived out differently in the smaller church, however, because the challenges are different. For example, smaller churches are often more inclined to view the pastor as the one who performs all the ministry of the church. Their reasoning may be that the church is small so there’s not that much to do. But that completely misses the point in 1 Corinthians 12 that every member of the body has a function and a role, as well as the pesky mandate in Ephesians 4 that the pastor is to equip the people to do the ministry!

Another common scenario in the small church is the person who has served in a particular ministry for so long that she and the ministry have become synonymous. So whereas the small church may only need one adult Sunday school teacher for their one adult class, there may be others with teaching gifts to be employed as well. Creating a teaching team–even if it’s only two–says that shared ministry is valued.

In larger churches, there is usually a variety of classes and programs offered. Keeping those classes and programs running smoothly requires many volunteers. On the other hand, the smaller church doesn’t offer such a wide variety because they don’t have the multitude of people wanting or needing it. So it may be tempting to “fill the slots,” get the ministry essentials covered with a few willing volunteers, and let the rest of the people off the serving hook. It requires a different kind of intentionality in the small church to connect people with ministry because it becomes necessary to look outside the walls of the church for places and ways to connect your people to serving opportunities. And that means it is all the more necessary to preach and teach about following the example of Jesus as servant because serving outside the walls of the church can be less convenient than serving inside the walls!

The values are the same no matter the size of the church; it’s the way those values are recognized and executed that is different. The challenge for the equipping leader in the small church, then, is to adopt the equipping values which apply to all churches, but adapt the processes that are designed for a large church to something more applicable in the small church context.

Are you an equippingleader in a small church? How have you adapted “big church” methods to fit your church? I invite you to share what has worked…or what hasn’t!