Everyone has an agenda. What’s yours?

White Christmas is one of my all-time favorite movies. I faithfully watch it every year—have for more years than I will admit to here! I was reminded today of a particular scene… Early in the movie, Wallace and Davis encounter the Haynes sisters in a contrived meeting. When Betty confesses that her sister Judy set up the meeting under false pretenses, Wallace chuckles and comments that “everyone has an angle.” In today’s parlance, we might say “everyone has an agenda.”

The reason this scene came to mind is that I was reading about a pastor who entered a resistance-to-changenew pastorate with some pretty high expectations. When he encountered resistance to his agenda, he became angry at the people who were opposing him. He couldn’t understand how they could disagree with him on several fundamental issues of the faith. He fell into a pit of despair.

Are you familiar with that pit? I am! Want to know the quickest way to fall into it? Insist on your own agenda without listening to those who will be impacted by it.

Years ago I served on the staff of a large church that prided itself on its Wednesday evening programming which had for years been a mainstay of their discipleship offerings. It had begun during an era when most churches had Wednesday night services. Consequently, schools did not schedule extracurricular activities on Wednesdays. Offices and retail establishments closed their doors at 5:00pm. Kids had homework that could be completed in under an hour, and usually without the aid of a parent. But as all that began to change—businesses remaining open until all hours of the night, kids having homework that requires hours to complete and parents pushed to help them if anyone is going to get to bed at a decent hour, and schools scheduling extracurricular activities every night of the week–we struggled to have enough volunteers. I found that my agenda became all about feverishly recruiting volunteers to cook and serve the meals, lead Bible studies for adults and children, and keep the nursery. I became angry and frustrated with what I heard as excuses for not cooperating with my agenda and, eventually, I fell into that pit of despair because I failed to make them see serving as I saw it: a fundamental faith issue.

By God’s grace, I had a conversation with a mother of three kids whose husband traveled extensively. This woman served faithfully in a couple of ministries, but as she shared her struggle each Wednesday to get the kids home from school, start homework, make it to church in time for dinner, stay for Bible study afterwards, then return home to finish homework and get them in bed in time for a full night’s rest, my heart gave way. Expecting her to serve on Wednesdays was saddling her with an unbearable burden!

I began listening to other parents of school-age kids and heard much the same story over and again. Parents said that they came in the door and their family splintered, kids going one direction and adults the other. No wonder my agenda of recruiting more volunteers was meeting with such resistance!  We were encroaching on the precious little family time they had!  What we meant for good was in reality straining for our families. It was obvious our Wednesday night programming needed to be modified. Interestingly, when I brought this to staff meeting, suggesting that we scale back our Wednesday activities, I met with the same resistance I had been offering. No amount of explanation would sway the staff’s thinking. Their agenda was set in stone.

This reflection has been a good reminder for me, and I share it in case you need to hear it, too. Whenever we meet resistance to our agenda, it is wise to stop and listen. We should ask questions that are motivated by a sincere desire to understand, rather than a selfish desire to push our agenda. We need to listen carefully to the answers…listen for the voice of God through the voices of others who oppose our agenda. It may be that God isn’t a fan of our agenda, either!

It’s Not Enough

Have you ever noticed the word “all” in Ephesians 4:13?

…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…

Altogether too often I am tempted to read Paul’s letters as though they were written to one individual (namely me) rather than to a church full of people. I know I am not alone in this approach to reading the Epistles, which can be an obstacle to the kind of selfless service to others to which Christ calls us. It is so easy to be deceived into thinking that being a disciple of Christ is all about me and my spiritual maturity. That attitude, however, is a testament to immaturity, the very state I am struggling to rise above!

The whole point of this passage is that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors/teachers are to equip all the people for the work of ministry–that is, serving others–for the building up of the whole body, not just one or two or a dozen individuals. What’s more, Paul makes it abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that every believer has a role to play, that service to others is the name of the game when it comes to following Christ and being part of His body. I really don’t see Paul making any provision for the “it’s all about me” mentality prevalent in today’s culture!

If I were to stand before Christ today and point to my spiritual maturity, there is no doubt in my mind that He would say something along the lines of, “Well, I’m pleased that you are maturing, Andee. But it’s not enough. There are so many who don’t yet have knowledge of Me, so many who are stuck in their maturation. It is good that you have matured, but it won’t be enough until all have matured! How are you helping others to grow?”

I love how Eugene Peterson renders this passage in The Message:people_are_the_church.20682523

He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

It’s time the church awakens to the fact that we are together one body–not a collection of individual units, each responsible only for himself or herself. It’s not enough that I concern myself only with my spiritual maturity. My maturity benefits the person next to me. His maturity benefits me. Only when we are growing together is the body functioning as it is meant to. Only then can we be fully alive like Christ. Only then will Christ say, “Yes! This is enough!”

I know I need to worry a little less about my spiritual maturity and focus on how I can come alongside others to encourage their growth. How about you?

Back to the Basics: The Word

acts_pageWhat does scripture have to say about who does ministry? Here are five passages that I think are critical to a proper understanding of equipping:

  1. Ephesians 2:10–we are created in Christ Jesus to do what?
  2. Ephesians 4:11-16–who are the trainers? who are they training? what are they training them for?
  3. 1 Peter 2–who belongs to the priesthood?
  4. 1 Corinthians 12–how does this body work?
  5. John 13:15-17–Jesus did what? commanded what? promised what?

If we are to follow Christ’s example, I think there’s no room for doubt that each and every believer is called and commanded to serve, whether it’s washing feet or preaching the gospel, or something in between. Moreover, between the gifts of the Spirit and the efforts of apostles, evangelists, prophets, and pastor/teachers, each and every believer is equipped to fulfill the ministry God has prepared for him or her.

Together these passages beg the question, What part don’t you get?

Need a leader? Disciple one.

In my last post, I wrote about the critical investment of mentoring potential leaders. Since then, I’ve had somewhat of an epiphany:”discipling” is a more fitting term than “mentoring.” Maybe it’s just semantics, but there is an energy in the term discipling that I don’t experience when speaking of mentoring. Oxford Dictionary defines a mentor as an experienced and trusted advisor who trains and counsels. That sounds somewhat pedantic to me,  like a sage on the stage kind of role, one-sided rather than an exchange between two people.

The dictionaries I use don’t recognize the word “discipling,” so I can’t quote a definition to compare alongsidedisciples-follow “mentoring.” But discipling brings to my mind Jesus going from town to town with the disciples following Him, observing His behavior as well as listening to His teaching. He would put them to work, too, challenging them to step beyond their comfort zones by telling them to feed 5000 people with a couple of fish and some bread, or sending them to villages to heal the sick and cast out demons.

Leaders come from discipling–intentional prolonged investment in someone’s spiritual formation. Not a quick Bible study on leadership. Not a workshop designed to develop the leader within you. I am not implying that these things are bad or useless–they can be quite helpful when used effectively. But on their own, they won’t create the leaders we need. No, this is a personal, one-on-one process that takes time, energy, intentionality. The reward, however, is well worth the investment.

To develop a leader requires letting them get close enough to see you when you are not at your best, when you are dealing with the difficulties of life. They are likely quite capable of consulting the scriptures to see what God has to say about feeding the hungry, but it’s quite another thing for you to suggest that you go together to a homeless shelter to serve a meal, debriefing the experience afterwards and sharing honestly how you found it difficult to tolerate the odor of alcohol, stale cigarettes, and unwashed bodies. The disciples witnessed Jesus when He was tired, frustrated, sad, and mad as well as when he was gentle, kind, generous, and forgiving.

While you are discipling someone, both you and they learn about their spiritual gifts. Gifting without discipleship is anemic; gifting under the tutelage of an equipping leader can be much more effective. When you disciple another, the opportunity to explore, encourage, and empower is built into the process. You can avert the train wreck that results from an unnoticed mismatched ministry opportunity, and celebrate the joy of successful, fulfilling service. You get to see up close and personal an emerging leadership style as it matures and bears fruit!

Leadership development is all about discipling. It’s tempting to think there’s a shortcut. There isn’t–I’ve tried. It’s tempting to think you can’t afford to invest the time and energy. Don’t be deceived. In reality, you can’t afford to do anything less. No one is going to do this for you. (Believe me, I speak from experience.) If you are a leader, you need to be discipling someone to become a leader, too.

So…what are you waiting for? Find someone who is FAT–faithful, available, and teachable. Let them get close to you, invest in a one-on-one relationship, pour yourself into them, then watch for a leader to emerge.

*Two resources I have found helpful are Building a Discipling Culture, by Mike Breen and What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement and Changing the World, by Steve Addison.

P.S. It should go without saying, but…if you aren’t leading, find someone to disciple you!

A critical investment

(Continued from my last post)

2. Invest in potential leaders

As I attempted to provide leadership for our ministry teams who are without leaders, I found it surprisingly easy to deceive myself into believing that my over-functioning behavior was an act of service. The truth, however, was that I was simply feeding my hunger for control and closure: get it done and move on to the next task. (This beast is the bane of many leaders, but that’s a topic for another day.) As an equipper, the appropriate behavior is to invest in potential leaders.

Who is a potential leader?

My view on leadership is somewhat atypical. I believe that any and every Christian is called to lead in one respect or another. When viewed through the lens of the Great Commission, we are all called to lead others to Christ. That makes every Christian a leader. The style of leadership is what differentiates one leader from another.

I’ve had the joy recently of watching my granddaughter learn to walk. Sometimes her mommy is in front of her, beckoning her to come. Sometimes Mommy is beside her, holding one hand to help with balance. And at other times Mommy is behind her, holding both hands as she guides her forward.  Likewise, some leaders are out front leading the charge, so to speak. Some leaders come alongside or lead from the middle of the team. And yet other leaders lead from behind, exhorting and encouraging as they propel.

My role as an equipping leader is to help believers identify their unique style of leadership so that they lead from their strengths rather than try to fit the cultural perception of a leader or–worse–abandon the idea of leading altogether because they don’t fit the stereotype. Since my time and energy are finite, it behooves me to identify those who are ready to explore their potential for leading, investing myself in them even as I set the example for them to invest in others.

How do I invest in potential leaders?

Mentor them. And if I intend to practice what I preach–that is, be true to my own style of leadership–it’s imperative that I understand my own strengths when it comes to mentoring. Steve Saccone identified seven mentoring styles that I find helpful:

  • The Wise Sage
  • The Opportunity Giver
  • The Informal Discipler
  • The Example Setter
  • The Coaching Mentor
  • The Spiritual Director
  • The Caring Counselor
  • The Focused Activator

You can read more about them here, and I encourage you to do so. Pray and ponder about which style/styles are yours. Keep in mind that you may feel comfortable with more than one style, which certainly broadens your ability to develop leaders. As you identify potential leaders around you, consider which mentoring style might work best with an individual. If it’s not a style you are comfortable with, perhaps that’s not the person you are to mentor. If you are part of a team of leaders who each understand their own mentoring style, you can direct that person to someone on your team whose style is a better match.

Want to be a more effective equipping leader? Help others…

learn-lead

One Body

Becoming the Mystical Body of Christ

As we gather around the Eucharistic table and make the death and resurrection of Jesus our own by sharing in the “bread of life” and the “cup of salvation,” we become together the living body of Christ.

The Eucharist is the sacrament by which we become one body.  Becoming one body is not becoming a team or a group or even a fellowship.  Becoming one body is becoming the body of Christ.  It is becoming the living Lord, visibly present in the world.  It is – as often has been said – becoming the mystical Body of Christ.   But mystical and real are the same in the realm of the Spirit.

Henri Nouwen Society’s Daily Meditations, October 13, 2013

More and more I sense the Spirit impressing upon me the importance of understanding what it means to be the living body of Christ. For years I’ve thought of Paul’s use of body language in 1 Corinthians 12 as a metaphor–an apt metaphor, to be sure. But he doesn’t say that we are like the body of Christ. No, he says we are the body of Christ.

In light of Paul’s teaching, Nouwen’s meditation lends understanding to how we become one body…the living body of Christ.

communion

The missing link

I am a church member.

I like the metaphor of membership. It’s not membership as in a civic organization or a country club. It’s the kind of membership given to us in 1 Corinthians 12: “Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27). Because I am a member of the body of Christ, I must be a functioning member, whether I am an “eye,” an “ear,” or a “hand.” As a functioning member, I will give. I will serve. I will minister. I will evangelize. I will study. I will seek to be a blessing to others. I will remember that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  (read the entire blog post here)

Wouldn’t it be great if every single church member shared this perspective on membership? There would be no need for stewardship campaigns; there would be plenty of resources for ministry! Ministry would no longer belong only to the “paid holy people.” Instead of bemoaning the lack of volunteer ministers, church leaders would be scrambling to accommodate all those willing servants! There would be baptisms every Sunday as new believers professed their faith in Christ. Small groups would be regularly digging into the word of God–not just storehousing knowledge, but actually living it out as they went about their days blessing others.

Yeah, wouldn’t that be great! A perfectly unified church… But how?

Here’s a hint:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV)

Quoting Eric Geiger, Thom Rainer writes:

For the sake of brevity, let’s deal only with the role of pastors/teachers. Note these truths from the text:

  • Christ (He) personally gave this role. It was important to Him, so it has to be important to us.
  • The role of pastors is not so much to do ministry, as it is to train or equip others to do ministry.
  • If pastors fulfill this role, the body of Christ is built up.
  • As the body of Christ is built up, the believers become unified in the faith.

The passage is clear. As pastors are more involved in training others to do ministry, there will be greater unity in the church. (read the entire blog post here)

Rainer goes on to say that they uncovered an interesting–and unsettling–statistic through their research:

Almost all pastors we surveyed affirmed their critical role in training others to do ministry. But almost three fourths of these pastors had no plans to do so. For most pastors, the reasons behind this gap were simple: they either didn’t know how to take the next steps, or they didn’t feel like they had the time to do so.

Are we, as pastors/teachers, the missing link? Have we developed a plan for equipping our people, raising them up to be fully devoted followers of Christ? Are executing that plan? Do you need to develop one, write down what you are going to do and how you are going to do it…step by step? I’m not sure there’s anything more deserving of our time than equipping our people for ministry.

Perhaps the first step–one we may have overlooked–is teaching our people what it means to be a church member.