Sunday Commute

The Sunday morning commute has become one of the best prayer times of my week.

At the beginning of this year, our church moved from our suburban location–which was a two-minute drive from my home–to a soup kitchen downtown. Now it takes me 15-20 minutes to get to church, with several traffic lights between home and my destination. My husband will tell you that I will drive miles out of my way any day of the week to avoid sitting at traffic lights. But not on Sundays…not anymore. driving_praying

A few months ago I began thinking of the Sunday morning commute as a prime time for prayer.

I’m the associate pastor at my church, so you may think that it’s a given that I would be prayerful on Sunday mornings as I prepare for our worship service. Not necessarily! (If you are a pastor, perhaps you are smiling in agreement!) It’s far too easy for my mind to drift to whatever I need to do when I get to church, who I need to speak with, or anticipate where I might have to fill in for an absent volunteer minister. If I’m preaching, my tendency is to review and critique my sermon for the umpteenth time. When engaged in that line of thinking, I arrive at church wired and ready to get busy with work…not worship.

I spent ten years on staff at a church where I went to work on Sunday mornings. When I left, I was on the verge of burnout. I did not practice self-care. I allowed the demands of ministry to take precedence over my need to worship, to give God the honor and glory that is due him, and in turn to experience the satisfaction of doing what I was created to do: worship God.

Sundays are for worship, not work. Yes, I have responsibilities on Sunday mornings, but my first priority is to worship God. Praying through the drive to church makes all the difference in my ability to prioritize worship over work. Rather than focus on the to-do list, I…

  • acknowledge God’s faithfulness, thanking him for a new day, and for the privilege of living in a country where I can worship him freely
  • thank Jesus for enduring the cross so that I can live free
  • thank God for those he will bring through our church door who are searching
  • lift up all those who are preparing to come to church, asking God to remove any obstacles, and to pour out a spirit of cooperation on spouses and children
  • pray for those who are struggling with the temptation to stay home, to skip church this week, asking God to stir up a holy desire for worship and fellowship with their church family
  • ask the Holy Spirit to annoint the preaching pastor as he opens God’s word, and to stir our minds and hearts to belief and obedience
  • ask God to bless the volunteer ministers as they bless those whom they serve
  • and I pray that God will be blessed by the worship we bring.

What I’m amazed to find is that when the worship service begins, when the first note of the first song sounds, my heart and my mind sync with the Holy Spirit and worship overflows!

So, what do you do on your Sunday commute?

 

All in the Family

Family. God’s original design for all his children.

Our society has become terribly confused about what constitutes “family.” God, on the other hand, is not confused. He has had one plan from the beginning of time, and it hasn’t changed. Family: a mother and a father, children, siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins…grandparents and great grandparents. Then one family would connect with another family, and another, and another to make one big family: the Church.

As soon as that plan was in place, the enemy of our souls began trying to thwart it, beginning with Cain and Abel.  Perhaps this has been the enemy’s master plan from the beginning. If he could destroy the biological family, the Church—the family of God—would struggle to know how to be and, perhaps, eventually self-destruct.

It’s working.

Our churches are filled with people who feel alone as they deal with the vicissitudes of life. There are some who just don’t know how to reach out for help. Others are too proud to admit that they need help. Some have needs so overwhelming that we don’t know how to help. But altogether too often, we just don’t pay enough attention to see another’s pain, their struggle, their loneliness.

Most of us join a church based on our consumer mentality. We like the preaching, the music, the programs, the building…it’s about what appeals to me, the individual.

Families don’t work that way. We are born into a family, having no choice in the matter. We may not like a parent or a sibling, but we are still part of that family, like it or not. And if we are to exist peacefully under one roof, we have to learn to get along. At least, that’s the ideal, right?

But the ideal has almost been forgotten. We don’t have to look far to see that it’s pretty easy to walk away from a spouse we no longer want to be with, from children that demand our attention, from parents who are no longer able to care for themselves. We can just go find someone or something that suits us better, that is more personally appealing.

And as goes the family, so goes the church. When a new preacher comes, the music changes, the building is no longer looking good, or someone expects us to give more than we are prepared to part with—be that money, time, or energy—we walk away. We go find another church that is more to our liking. Or maybe we just abandon church altogether.

It’s a pretty bleak picture, isn’t it? But…

We are children of The Promise.

We have Hope.godsfamilynew480x3401

We can learn to get along.

We can do better than just get along…

We can learn to love one another with the love of Christ!

Amen and amen.

(This is the second of three related posts. You can read the first post here. I invite you to come back next week, and to share your thoughts and experiences!)

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!

The Problem With Commitment

I hear it over and over again:

He didn’t show up to serve on his scheduled Sunday.

She signed up for the retreat, then cancelled at the last minute.

Everyone thought hosting the event was a great idea, but no one showed up to help.

Culturally speaking, we have a problem with commitment. Perhaps it’s a problem with definition. Oxford Online Dictionary offers these definitions for commitment:

  1. The state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.
  2. An engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action

I find this to be something of a paradox. It’s hard to be dedicated to a cause, activity, etc. that restricts one’s freedom. Yes…exactly. It’s hard. Keeping a commitment sometimes requires making a hard decision.

If we are honest, perhaps we might acknowledge that…

  • The problem with commitment is that it requires showing up to do something when I would rather be home relaxing, going out with friends, spending time with family, or any one of a hundred other things.
  • The problem with commitment is that it requires me to be responsible to those who are depending on me, and I don’t want that responsibility.
  • The problem with commitment is that it often requires some sort of sacrifice–and I don’t like to give sacrificially.

I can absolutely own any one of those statements on any given day! I don’t know a single person who is not tempted at some time or another to renege on a commitment. We can chalk it up to our innate desire to serve self.

But here’s the problem with failure to keep our commitments: it undermines trust and tears away at the fabric of our families, our church, our communities, and our world.

It’s not rocket science. Before we say “yes,” we need to stop and ask whether we really mean it. Better to say “no” and do it commitmentanyway than to say “yes” but not keep the commitment. (Matthew 21:28-32)

Before we give in to the temptation to renege, we should ask who will be effected by this decision–who will be inconvenienced, disappointed, left “holding the bag?” (1 Corinthians 12:25-27)

Before going back on our word, it is wise to ask whether the sacrifice of our character is worth it. (Acts 5:1-5)

I don’t want to communicate judgment or unforgiveness. Of course there are times when something unforseen arises that necessitates breaking a commitment. Let’s be sure, however, that this is indeed the case and not a refusal to prioritize, to make the hard decision.

I love my church!

Driving past a local church yesterday, the message on their sign seized my attention.love my church

I didn’t quite know why it hit me the way it did, this seemingly innocuous message. After all, I’ve often said that I love my church! But something just didn’t set well. As I pondered, I realized that it was the little two-letter word, the possessive adjective “my,”  that bothered me.

You see, the church doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to God. It’s not my church. It’s God’s church.

What’s the point? Why pay so much attention to such a small word? Because the more we think in terms of my church, the more we risk inviting a consumerist mentality. When something belongs to me, I can treat it however I please. I can insist that it meet certain needs, fulfill a particular function the way I see fit. I can ignore it, or I can jealously guard it. If something belongs to me, I can control it.

But the church doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to God. The church doesn’t exist to serve me. I exist to bless God as I serve in and through his church. To think of it any other way is to risk loving the church more than I love God.

The role of the church member is to listen to the Head, responding obediently to His direction. She is to do her part, which is to work properly within the body, in order that the body–the church–grows and builds itself up in love in response to the Head’s–Jesus Christ’s–direction. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

As a pastor, I am a steward of God’s church. But that does not grant me ownership of it! I am called to equip the people to do the ministry of God’s church, working alongside them, guiding us all towards unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God. (Ephesians 4:12-13) I love God first, then I love His church!

I hope the folks in that church had a wonderful time celebrating yesterday! I think it’s wonderful to be part of a church that I love, and I’m sure they do, to0. But I always want to remember to whom the church really belongs. “My” church is really not mine at all. It belongs to God!

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!

 

Vision without love is a…

pipedream

My friend Doug and his family have been searching for a church home. After visiting a particular church several times, they arranged a meeting with the pastor, thinking that they had finally found a place to belong. It didn’t take long for that thought to change, however.

As we chatted over a cup of coffee, Doug shared that his family has been searching for a while and had been excited at the prospect of settling down. The pastor’s teaching and preaching was sound and the congregation culturally diverse. It seemed like a good fit.

“What happened that changed your mind?” I asked.

“When we met with the pastor, he did all the talking. He never once asked what we thought we could contribute to the church, much less what we might need. He talked about his vision for his church. That was it. I felt like he was saying, ‘This is my vision; get on board with it.’ He simply had no interest in hearing about my desire for ministry or any needs I might have.”

What a sad end to what could have been a perfect match!

It’s so easy for a leader to get carried away sharing their vision for ministry. Most leaders are visionaries, and certainly there is a time and place for sharing vision–at a congregational meeting or a gathering of leaders. And, of course, with potential church members, who often want to know about the church’s “mission.” (Not that the church has a mission; the church is God’s mission…but that’s a topic for another conversation!)

However, no one likes to feel that they are simply a means to someone else’s end…a tool in someone else’s toolbox…an extension of another person. Each believer is uniquely gifted for ministry and, as a leader, it’s my privilege to help them discover their role in God’s kingdom, whether or not it fits in with our particular vision.

When I meet with newcomers to our church family, I make it a point to not only answer their questions about our church, but to ask about their needs and their interests. Only then am I able to serve them. Yes, I do share our vision for our church because I think it’s important that they know how we as a church participate with God in his mission. But God’s mission includes ministering to those he brings through our doors, recognizing their needs, calling forth the gifts of the Spirit that reside in each individual, guiding them into ministry either as a recipient or as a servant.

Valuing each person as a gifted individual whom God has equipped for ministry and helping each one discover their place and method of serving should be critical to every equipping leader’s vision for their church.

St. Paul–with the help of Eugene Peterson–says it much more eloquently:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.             -1 Corinthians 13:1-10 [The Message]