Return on Investment

A couple of weeks ago I was in Georgia and saw flowering trees.  As I look out my window I see daffodils and tulips trying to emerge.  All this gives me hope that our harsh winter is about to end as spring erupts.  Just as these flowers are responding to their environment, I have found I must create an environment for my team that allows them to flourish.  I operate on the premise that a happy staff is a fruitful staff.  When I equip them to do the ministry God has called them to and provide the kind of support they need, good things are released.  From this perspective, I don’t need to push and prod, but create opportunities and an environment that releases ministry.

That was written by my dear friend and colleague, John Criswell, in his recent newsletter. John currently serves as a Regional Director at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship but, as I reflected on John’s words, I remembered that he had this same philosophy when we served together on the staff of a large church not so many years ago. What’s more, it worked! As my supervisor, John didn’t have to push or prod. Rather, he invested in me and good things were released in and through me.results

As a leader, what are you doing to create opportunities and an environment that releases ministry? Here are a few investments that will yield good results:

  • Help those you lead discover how God has uniquely designed them for ministry. I know I write this over and over, but this understanding is critical to fruitful ministry! Teach them to listen for and recognize God’s calling on their life.
  • Regularly re-visit that discovery process with those you lead through reflection exercises designed to reveal their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their current serving role. Don’t be afraid of losing your volunteer minister! Instead, set them free to pursue something more fulfilling, all the while trusting that God will bring someone who is better fitted to that role.
  • Provide opportunities for ongoing equipping. This can be in the form of conferences, workshops, seminars–if they can’t attend a live event, consider purchasing a video or audio recording for your volunteers. Instructional materials can also be found in books, magazines, ezines, blogs, YouTube, etc. Consider that volunteers have limited time, so be strategic when choosing these resources.
  • And speaking of resources, make sure your volunteers have what they need to do what is expected. Case in point: At the end of the Toddler Church lesson, our little ones look forward to their snack. Believe me, it’s not a pretty sight when the Goldfish snack container is empty! It makes for some pretty unhappy Toddler Church teachers.
  • Be accessible. John had a comfy blue chair in his office that held many of his supervisees when they came to share a frustration or recount a moment of fruitful ministry, and everything in between. John was always willing to listen, counsel, exhort, and celebrate. Yes, he was my supervisor…but he was also a trusted friend.
  • Dream with those you lead. Don’t just settle for the low-hanging fruit. Encourage them to dream bigger dreams for their ministry. Help them reach for more of the kingdom.

How are you investing in your people? What kind of return are you getting on that investment? If ministry isn’t being released–if you aren’t seeing good fruit as a result–perhaps it’s time to review your investment practices.

Questions for Conflict

I’m writing this as I sit in the airport waiting for my flight home. I’ve had the joy of speaking to the leadership team of another church today, casting vision for them to become known in their community as the church that equips people to live their true vocation in all of life. More than 25 people came out on a cold Saturday morning, giving up the better part of their day, to consider why and how they should spend their time and energy helping their church grow.

We opened the scriptures to carefully consider Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, particularly 2:10 and 4:11-16, and how it is relevant to their church today.

We examined the institutional church model with its clergy-centric, hierarchical culture, contrasting it to an equipping church model that values the priesthood of all believers. I strongly encouraged them to trade in their old church paradigm for a new one—one that is actually ancient in comparison to that institutional paradigm!

We examined their culture, asking the tough questions, “Are we who we say we are?” and “Who does the community say we are?”

Leadership was another important topic of our conversation today. What does an equipping leader do? How is that different from any other kind of leader? What makes a leader anyway? One older gentleman who had been in executive leadership prior to retiring was refreshingly honest in confessing that he liked being the “top dog” who had all the control. It was less messy that way. But he learned that he didn’t have all the right answers and, in the end, he came to value the messiness of collaboration over the control of the one-man show. He found that it yielded far more satisfactory results!

And lastly we explored doing ministry as a team. What’s the difference between functioning as a committee—long the pattern in their denomination—and serving together as team? What makes a team? We identified some of the sacrifices that developing team ministry requires, such as time and ego, and how their people might benefit from making those sacrifices.

In parting, I told them that becoming an equipping church is not easy. It’s really hard work. It will cause conflict at times, which will be painful. It takes time. Sometimes it will feel like they are taking two steps forward and one step backward…and that’s on a good day. But, in the end, they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they are choosing to be the church God is calling them to be because they are equipping others to be the ministers God designed them to be.

question markThere are lots of questions in this post. I encourage you to ask them of your church and of yourself. Even if you’ve asked and answered them before, you may find it’s a good idea to ask them again. The questions may well produce conflict, and this is a good thing. Conflict causes us to look at the choices we are making and evaluate whether they are the right ones. Conflict properly handled is a critical step to becoming an equipping church.

The Pastor or the Schoolmistress

“When I get a congregation, I want to be a patient pastor. I want to have eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing and saying in their lives. I don’t want to judge them in terms of what I think they should be doing. I want to be a witness to what God is doing in their lives, not a schoolmistress handing out grades for how well they are doing something for God. I think I see something unique about being a pastor that I had never noticed: the pastor is the one person in the community who is free to take men and women seriously just as they are, appreciate them just as they are, give them the dignity that derives from being the “image of God,” a God-created being who has eternal worth without having to prove usefulness or be good for anything. I know that I will be doing a lot of other things too, but I might be the only person who is free to do this. I don’t want to be so impatient with the mess that I am not around to see the miracle being formed. I don’t want to conceive of my life as a pastor so functionally that the mystery gets squeezed out of both me and the congregation.” 1

Pastor Irene’s Manifesto–so named by Eugene H. Peterson in his book, The Pastor–so resonates with my soul that I’ve read it over and again. This is the pastor I long to be, but I fear I have a long way to go!

As I contemplate where I fall short, I realize that my passion for equipping the people of God for the work of God easily gets tangled up with my impatience with the mess of ministry. When that happens, I become the schoolmistress rather than the pastor who “witnesses the miracle being formed.”

How do I reconcile these two postures?

I must re-frame how I think about equipping the people. For example, I am privileged to hear a person’s unique story as I guide them through a gifts discovery process. I need not be so focused on which ministry will be a good fit that I do not honor the gift of their story, the working out of the miracle that is their life.

I may see some parts of a person’s story as areas where they need to grow, and immediately begin considering where to direct them to get the discipling that will spur that growth. But my first response should be to accept them for who they are today and where they are today in their journey with Christ. It is true that God may not be finished with them yet, but it’s not my responsibility to decide how and when and where God should next work in their life!

Does this mean that I don’t think about where to place them in ministry, or where to direct them for discipleship opportunities? Of course not! But I need to slow down and appreciate each person in my congregation for the unique and beautiful image-of-God that they are.

I may be the only person in their life today who can give them that gift.

1 Eugene H. Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2011): 284-285

Numbers or stories?

As an organization grows and industrializes, it’s tempting to simplify things for the troops. Find a goal, make it a number and measure it until it gets better. In most organizations, the thing you measure is the thing that will improve.

Colleges decided that the SAT were a useful shortcut, a way to measure future performance in college. And nervous parents and competitive kids everywhere embraced the metric, and stick with it, even after seeing (again and again) that all the SAT measures is how well you do on the SAT. It’s easier to focus on one number than it is to focus on a life.

Measurement is fabulous. Unless you’re busy measuring what’s easy to measure as opposed to what’s important.   (Read Seth Godin’s post in its entirety here.)

Several months ago I measured the ministry of my congregation by adding up how many members are serving in a church-numbersrelated ministry role. Imagine my joy (oh, all right…my pride) when I discovered that 75% are serving! I sure couldn’t wait to announce that number, given the typical 80/20 rule of most churches: 80% of the ministry being done by 20% of the congregation.

But in reality, that measurement is not as impressive as it sounds. We are a small parish. Very small. If only 20% served, we would struggle to even have a worship service each Sunday! There would be no nursery, no children’s church, probably no music. By necessity, almost everyone in my parish has to step up and serve just so that we can have what is considered the bare minimum in most churches.

The truth is that what goes on inside the walls of a church is not the true measure of life-changing ministry. It is certainly not a credible measurement of the spiritual health of individual believers. But it is a whole lot easier to measure that kind of ministry than it is to measure spiritual health. And so we do. How many people are serving in church-related activities? How many people are in Sunday school? How many kids attend VBS? How many adults are in a small group? This is what many  churches typically measure. But what do these numbers really tell us?

Numbers are not a reflection of spiritual health. Stories are. Like the one I heard a few days ago: Sarah is one of our toddler church teachers, who works closely with our two nursery workers. Both have just finished college and are moving on to the next phase of their lives, so Sarah invited them to her home for dinner to celebrate their ministry with us. Sarah saw her ministry as coming alongside these lovely young women to encourage them in their faith as they step into adulthood.

Another story I heard recently involved two young families, one in need of a microwave and the other selling a microwave. The couple selling shared that they were selling all their “extra stuff” to raise money to adopt a child. The couple purchasing decided to give them more than the asking price because they, too, would like to adopt one day. The first couple insisted on giving the second couple the microwave as a “down payment for their future adoption fund.”

I don’t really know how to measure that kind of spiritual health, but I’m certain that it can’t be measured with numbers, with how many serve or how many attend. And I’m equally certain that I prefer those two stories of loving ministry to the comparatively cold 75% statistic I came up with when I did my head count!

So, what are you measuring?

When is the last time you heard a good ministry story?

When is the last time you shared one?


First things first

Before the institution (read clergy-centric church) can be transformed, the individual must be transformed.

Equipping ministry is about people first, then the institution. Investing in the individual requires more of us as leaders, but it is the only way to transform the church into the missio Dei she is intended to be.

bible study


First things first.






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!

What makes you come alive?

In a recent article for Leadership Journal, Gordon MacDonald tackled the question: What are the core qualities that offer evidence that one is truly on a pathway toward Christlikeness?

7.  [A transformed Christian] is aware of personal “call” and unique competencies. In other words, It’s not about me, but about what has been entrusted to me and what can be offered to others. The transforming Christ-follower believes he has been given a mission. Usually, if you ask, he can put that mission into words.
We are not speaking of pastors and missionaries only, but all of us. Part of spiritual transformation seems to include a growing sensitivity to a “call,” something “out there” that needs doing in the name of Jesus.
And with the sensitivity comes a capability often called a spiritual gift. It is exhilarating to watch a young Christ-follower awaken to a power given him by the fullness of the Holy Spirit. At first there may be reluctance, even fear. There can be awkwardness, even some failure.
And then, like a young rose exposed to sunlight, the transforming Christian begins to blossom. God’s Spirit anoints with unexpected power and vision, and sometimes you hear one say, “I was made for this.” *

I have taken the liberty of highlighting some of the words that particularly caught my attention, and commend them to yours:

  • What is your “call?”
  • Does your call lead you into mission?
  • Are you experiencing spiritual transformation as a result?
  • Can you identify your capabilities?
  • When have you experienced reluctance…fear…awkwardness…even failure? What have you learned from those experiences?
  • Are you serving in the power of the Holy Spirit?
  • Do you have a Spirit-given vision?
  • Can you say, “I was made for this!“?

Ponder these questions. Seriously, spend some time with them and uncover the truth, not just pat answers. And when you are done, look around and ask, “Who is the Spirit leading me to help ask and answer these questions about their own journey in spiritual transformation?” You just might find God is calling you to a new mission…

You may find yourself called to be an equipping leader!

*(read entire article here)