Wake up!

I escaped from the cold and snow of Kentucky last week to attend a conference in the somewhat less cold and certainly more sunny city of Greensboro, NC. I’m thinking this blog is a good place to process what I heard into the context of developing people and ministry (and hoping you will agree!), beginning with Dr. Leonard Sweet’s address. Here are some of my take-aways…

Dr. Sweet began by pointing out that many of us in the room are “Gutenbergers,” having a preferred communication style using the written word. The rest of the room was made up of “TGIFers.” Yes, there’s new meaning to that old acronym which, for my generation, meant “thank goodness it’s Friday.” The new meaning? Twitter, Google, iphone, and Facebook! Sweet’s message, of course, had to do with changing the communication methods we Gutenbergers employ–words and principles–to the preferred style of the TGIFers…images and stories.

New news? Absolutely not. In fact, you may already be thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah… I’ve got this!” But before you hit the delete button, let me ask you this: Do you practice what you know?

Take-away #1:  It’s not all about me

Typically, my initial approach to convincing people that their vocation is serving others is to employ scripture and its principles. But what difference might it make if I began with a contemporary image or a story to illustrate the biblical call to serve. Would this more effectively invite the hearer to consider a different paradigm for their life in Christ? Would it lay a better foundation for introducing the principles of equipping… a more effective foundation?

As equipping leaders, we rely on the word of God to make our point about every believer’s call to serve, and well we should. I often feel a sense of urgency and think that God’s word is the most expedient way to convince believers to leave their posh-pew Christianity behind and engage in real life in Christ through serving. But that’s coming at it from my preferred style (Gutenberger) which doesn’t necessarily catch the attention of everyone in my audience.

Which actually brings me to a second point…

Take-away #2:  It is about them

If Dr. Sweet thought he was addressing a bunch of  fuddy-duddy Anglican priests and leaders, he missed the mark. He was speaking to a group of highly passionate, highly missional leaders who are determined to make the ancient Christian faith relevant to the lives of all generations, leaders who are always looking for the most relevant means for reaching the lost. The audience didn’t need convincing; I think most were looking for something more substantive. The old axiom proves itself again: Know your audience.

Take-away #3:  Wake up and smell the coffee!

Dr. Sweet’s message was not new news for me, any more than it is for you. It was a wake-up call! I need to climb out of my comfort zone… my default mode… my preferred way of equipping. I need to know my audience, e.g., Gutenbergers or TGIFers? How do I invite their attention? Through the written word and its principles? Or do I need to first approach them through their other four senses? What might that look like?

  • a story of serving told by someone other than me
  • a visual of some sort–video, skit, art, props
  • an actual serving experience
  • What innovative ideas can you employ?

So…  are you awake now? I hope so, because I have another question to consider:

Is there a difference in the way we “advertise” ministry opportunities to Gutenbergers versus TGIFers?



Recruitment Tactics, Part Two

Earlier this week I vented my frustration over the use of the term “recruiting” when applied to volunteer management. Terminology is often a conundrum. Do we use words that the majority of people will understand, and not concern ourselves with their response (after all, we can’t control what others think or feel). Or do we adopt words that more effectively describe our point, but may be confusing and require explanation?

Frankly, I don’t have the answer…  Except for the term “recruit” (and its various grammatical forms)! I much prefer to invite people into ministry than to recruit them for ministry. You may want to repeat that last sentence a time or two to let it sink in.

As a ministry leader, when I work with folks to help them understand how God has equipped them to serve, I want to develop a relationship. I ask God to help me see beyond our conversation to what he has done, and is doing, in their life. My goal is to help them find the ministry that God has prepared for them (Ephesians 2:10) and which will contribute to their spiritual formation (Romans 8:29).

As we enter into the matching/placement phase of equipping, I am not only thinking about the person I’m working with, but now I also turn my attention to the various ministries. I want to invite this person into a ministry that will be fulfilling; I also want to serve the ministry area by matching someone with gifts and graces that spur it on to meet its objective. I want to extend an invitation to participate in something that is mutually beneficial. This process is motivated by a genuine concern for the servant minister and a deep love for the ministry of the Church.

Recruiting doesn’t convey that same sense of care and concern… in my mind, at least. It doesn’t speak of the asking, listening, discerning, and guiding that goes into an invitation to serve. Rather, it speaks to me of a slot-filling, meet-the-quota mentality. I regularly run across churches that have that same mentality when it comes to getting ministry done. Many of them speak of the need to “recruit more volunteers” and having “recruitment drives.” Before they know it, they are treating volunteers like tools–objects to be used to get the job done–rather than who the really are: children of the Most High God and ministers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I encourage you to take some time to seriously consider the terminology you use and how it impacts those you serve. Which terms do you use that may have a negative connotation? Do you need to change them? Perhaps more importantly,  how do the words you choose shape your perspective towards ministry? How do they reflect your objective? If your objective is to fill slots, then using “recruitment” terminology is fine. But if your objective is to lovingly guide people into ministry, you will want to adopt “invitational” terminology!

Recruitment Tactics

I’m quite frustrated by the use of the term “recruit”—and all variations of said term—in conjunction with volunteer management. (Listen carefully and you will hear the sound of my soapbox hitting the ground!) I cringe when I hear leaders talk about “recruiting” new volunteers, especially when spoken with an air of desperation.Why am I irritated by this silly little word, you ask? Because it evokes a strong memory.

When each one of my three children entered their junior year of high school, we would receive at least three calls a week from well-meaning recruiting officers who represented each of the four branches of the armed services. Now, please don’t misunderstand! I am very grateful for the selfless service of our military men and women, and respect their commitment to defending our nation’s freedom. My irritation was over the fact that these recruiters not only interrupted our family meals (why did they always call at dinnertime?), but they seemed insistent on trying to “recruit” my children prematurely. I felt they were taking advantage of their innocence by trying to convince my kids to commit to something they didn’t fully understand.

Today I was compelled today to look up the word “recruit” in the dictionary. I wondered if perhaps I was being too narrow-minded about the definition and needed enlightening. I found it interesting that Webster’s Dictionary defines “recruit”—in both verb and noun forms—first and primarily in the context of the military. Maybe I’m not so narrow-minded after all!

“…trying to convince them to commit to something they didn’t fully understand.” Does that grab your attention? Prick your conscience? Are you using recruitment tactics? I hate to admit it, but I have. I’ve experienced the desperation of needing a body to fill a ministry slot, of coaxing someone to do something when I know they don’t fully understand what they are committing to… whether that understanding relates to the purpose of the ministry, the time involved, or the skills needed to accomplish the task.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog titled No-Show Volunteer Syndrome. According to my handy blog stats report, that post garnered more attention than the others combined! If you are struggling with this problem, you need to know that there are more reasons for it than devaluing a serving opportunity, which was addressed in that post. Using recruitment tactics is a common cause of AWOL volunteers. Once a volunteer realizes that they’ve committed to a ministry that they aren’t passionate about, a task for which they are not gifted,  a service that saps their precious time and energy, they simply don’t show up. They quickly reason that, in spite of the recruitment tactics they succumbed to, church is not the military and  there will be no court martial!

So, does terminology really matter? It does when it evokes a memory that triggers an automatic defense! What, then, is the alternative to “recruitment,” regarding both terminology and practice? I’ll address this in my next post, so stay tuned… In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject of no-show volunteers!

(If you want to ensure that you see the continuing discussion regarding No Show Volunteer Syndrome, simply scroll back up to the beginning of the post and click on the subscribe button.)


Many have asked me why I chose “Merge” as the name for my consulting practice. I have to admit, it’s a bit strange. What do you think of when you encounter that word? I think of a particular route I used to take to work every day, one which required that I transfer from one road to another via a ramp. I would travel up the ramp, unable to see the flow of traffic until I reached the top. Then it was time for some quick thinking: Do I slow down and try to squeeze in between two moving cars? Or should I speed up and try to get in front of the car that’s coming? How fast is it going? Can I make it? Uh-oh… what about the car who came up the ramp in front of me? Is it really going to going to drive in the merge lane until it runs out? Or is it going to stop and force me to swerve around it? I needed a strategy for merging into the flow of traffic!

For many, integrating their faith into the flow of their everyday lives is a challenge. When conducting a Bible study, we refer to that component as “practical application.” It’s critical, isn’t it? Without a strategy for applying what we learn, it simply becomes superfluous knowledge. As ministry leaders, it is necessary that we help those we lead to develop strategies to integrate–merge!–their faith with their actions. One such strategy is helping folks discover how God has equipped them with spiritual gifts to use in the service of others.

If a church employs a strategy of gifts discovery, it needs to be able to incorporate those gifts into the life of the body. When we read 1 Corinthians 12 we understand that the gifts work together for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. So, the church needs another strategy to merge people with particular gifts into ministries that need those gifts to function rightly.

Thinking of the church as a whole, we search for ways to fit into our community. We look for openings where we can merge into the flow of neighborhood life. If we are going to be the best church for the community (borrowing Rick Rusaw’s and Eric Swanson’s phraseology), we need to have a strategy. How do we make the most of the gifts God has brought into our fellowship to serve the needs in our community in practical ways, so that we become the Body of Christ–alive and serving–rather than just talking about it?

These are just three reasons why I chose the name “Merge” to describe what I do. So… what picture comes to your mind when you encounter the word “merge?” How does it relate to your ministry? your leadership?

Connections Strategist?

That’s me… I’m a connections strategist! I’ve been searching for a title other than “consultant”–something with a hook… a title that would ask for more. I don’t consult with churches to help them increase the number of people in the pews or the amount of cash in the offering plate. I know nothing about conducting capital campaigns to build bigger buildings (even though I’ve endured a few!). That’s the kind of assistance most church consultants offer, and it can be very helpful.

My experience, however, is in another area which is absolutely essential to the mission of the Church. (And, no, I am not biased! Well, maybe just a little…) I come alongside churches to help them connect their people with the ministry God has prepared for them. I help ministry leaders design processes to engage their people in gifts discovery and serving opportunities–two critical components to spiritual formation.

Christ-followers are called by Jesus to “make disciples.”  We can share the Good News and lead someone to pray the Prayer of Salvation, but if we stop there, we have only accomplished half the task. Let me illustrate with a story…

There was once a young man who had gone to Sunday school during his childhood, was baptized and confirmed in the tradition of his church. When he reached a certain age, he drifted away from the church. He wandered down a path that led to alcohol addiction and all the promise of that young life was being lost in a bottle of booze. Then came an event in this young man’s life that brought him to a point of desperation. God intervened in the form of an attorney who was willing to share the Good News and lead the young man back into a relationship with Jesus. The attorney handed the young man a Bible, wished him well, and went on to the next poor soul in need of salvation.

That could well have been “The End”… not only to the story, but to the young man’s “discipleship.” Thankfully, it was not. By the grace of God, there were others who came into the young man’s life and led him back to the fellowship of Christ-followers where he could study the Word of God. That, too, could be “The End” of the story and, at a glance, it looks like a fitting end.

But what happens with knowledge that is never put to use? Haven’t you ever attended a workshop or conference where you learned some really useful tools? You are so excited to get back to your regular routine so that you can try out those new tools, so full of promise. But, back in the real world, you quickly become too busy to apply what you learned and, eventually, it is lost. Sound familiar? The same holds true for Bible knowledge. In order for it to be useful in our spiritual formation, we must apply it to our everyday lives.

The Church is charged with proclaiming the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus. That is not the culmination of discipleship. Rather, it is just the beginning! The Church is also responsible for encouraging the spiritual formation of its people. But churches can also get so caught up in the busyness of doing church that they can’t quite move beyond the preaching and teaching and get to the practical application of being the Church.

That’s where a Connections Strategist–that’s me!–comes into play. I help churches develop strategic methods of connecting people with their spiritual gifting,  gifting with ministry, and ministry with the community. Get it?