What difference might it make…?

I was in Colorado last week to come alongside ministry leaders, helping them develop the skills and systems to create an equipping culture in their churches. Their enthusiasm for creating a vibrant, serving mentality among those they influence encouraged me, and I sensed the question rising in me again, What difference might it make if you simply focused on helping others to live their God-given vocation in their everyday-walking-around life? To BE Christ wherever they are and whatever they are doing?

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you are probably thinking that this is nothing new, and you are quite right. This has been my theme for quite awhile! But the fact that I regularly pray Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven prompts me to continue asking if I’m doing all that I can–all that God is asking me to do–to encourage that reality.

It seems to me that if every believer is living their true vocation in their everyday life, the kingdom will come sooner. So, what does it look like for me to partner with God in making this prayer a reality? What is needed? As I asked this question, this is the answer that rose up within me: Each and every believer should…

  1. understand his or her true identity in Christ (Ephesians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 3:23)pitcher&basin
  2. grasp how the Spirit moves and works through His people (Matthew 5:16)
  3. discover and embrace his/her unique design for ministry (1 Corinthians 12 and 13)
  4. be ready and able to verbally share the gospel message (1 Peter 3:15)
  5. be connected to the body of Christ, the local church (Hebrews 10:25, Acts 2:42-47)

Each step is integral to becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, to facilitating the coming of the kingdom that we believers continually pray for. We can have systems and processes and programs to encourage an equipping culture in our churches, but if we neglect these basic five steps I don’t think that we–as equipping leaders–are doing all we can to hasten the coming of the kingdom of God.

Your thoughts?

Persuading or Convincing?

Seth Godin’s blogs continually inspire me to examine, re-examine, and think outside the box–precisely his intent. A recent post, Persuade vs. Convince, caught my attention.

“Persuasion appeals to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Convincing requires a spreadsheet or some other rational device.”

Convincing tactics:
  • the “help needed” broadcast in the church newsletter
  • pleading for volunteers
  • guilt-inducing tactics
  • a stated vision. done.
Persuading tactics:
  • personal conversations about the joy of living ministry
  • the use of a discovery tool
  • “no rings, no strings” opportunities (when a potential volunteer shadows an experienced volunteer)
  • a personal invitation to participate in a serving opportunity
  • removing obstacles to serving
  • continually dripping the vision (read more here)
I hope that by now you are asking yourself, “Am I convincing or persuading?” If you are convincing, what kind of results are you getting? Is your volunteer ministry a revolving door? Do volunteers begrudge the time spent serving? Are your ministry teams imaginative and innovative? Are vibrant new ministries popping up regularly?
No? Maybe it’s time to try a new tactic. Try appealing to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Ask your people:
  • Is a life of fruitful, fulfilling ministry appealing to you?
  • What ministry is missing in the body of Christ that you are uniquely designed to provide?
  • If you could do anything and knew you wouldn’t fail, what would it be?


How far will you go?

How far are you willing to go to get the attention of your congregation?

A pastor attending one of my workshops recently shared just how far he was willing to go–or perhaps, just how far he was driven! After the nursery attendant quit, the parents were encouraged to volunteer to staff the nursery on Sunday mornings. Most of the parents didn’t want to do it, so they complained and regularly coerced the pastor’s wife into nursery duty. The pastor encouraged folks to listen to see if God was perhaps calling them to serve in the nursery. Having no response, the pastor stepped up to the pulpit on a Sunday morning and said, “You folks can sing songs and worship God this morning. If one of you wants to get up here and preach, you are welcome to do so. I am going to the nursery and care for the youngest members of our congregation.” And that’s exactly where he remained for the entire worship service! What a message he sent to his congregation that day. When one part of the body doesn’t work according to how it was designed, the entire body is affected.

Another pastor I know believed that his volunteer ministers needed to be trained. He worked with his staff to design a fun and effective all-church training event. Four weeks prior to the scheduled training, he took a deep breath and announced it to the congregation, saying, “If you want to continue serving in your ministry role, you must attend this training. If you can’t come, it is your responsibility to meet with your team leader and be trained. Please understand: if you do not attend the training and neglect to follow up with your team leader, you will not be included in the next volunteer ministry schedule.” He repeated the announcement every Sunday leading up to the event. What a message he sent to his congregation that day. We value your time and willingness to serve so much that we are going to be certain that you have the information and training you need for the ministry we are asking you to do.

A staff member from a church shared with me that her pastor has been encouraging each member of his congregation to serve. He recently exhorted them to “exchange your bib for an apron.” What a message he sent to his congregation that day. You have been equipped; now it’s time for you to go out and serve.

Brave men, these pastors. In each case, they risked confrontation, and I’m sure there was some grumbling and grousing as a result of their actions. But the churches didn’t collapse and the pastors weren’t evicted from their pulpits! Each pastor stood firm in the strength of his conviction and challenged the congregation to actually be the body of Christ, according to God’s design.

So… how far will you go?

Full Disclosure

For the past three years, I have been working with our small congregation to develop an equipping culture. My prior experience with a large congregation involved to maintaining and growing equipping systems and processes that were already in place.  Transitioning to a smaller church setting has provided me the opportunity to practically explore the “why” behind some of those structures and processes I have taken for granted.

I recently signed up to help with an off-site ministry event. I had a busy week and didn’t give the event much thought until the night before, when I realized I had a lot more questions than I had answers! I found myself feeling somewhat frustrated because I didn’t have information that would help me feel confident as I stepped into my assignment. As a result of this experience, I learned why a defined process is a useful tool when planning ministry events.

Here’s one way you can develop such a tool. Gather a team of inquisitive, detail-oriented people and start asking questions:

  • What time do volunteers need to arrive?
  • What time will they be finished?
  • If it’s an off-site event, where should they park?
  • Is the event indoors or outdoors? If outdoors, does rain cancel the event?
  • What is appropriate attire? (e.g., work clothes, comfortable shoes, etc.)
  • Do they  need to bring special equipment or supplies?
  • Who do they report to?
  • Upon arrival, where will they find this person?
  • Who will they be working with? (Remember, no one should serve alone!)
  • What specific task(s) will the volunteer be required to do?
  • Will they be trained prior to the event or at the event?
  • How will we promote this event?
  • How will we invite people to participate?
  • Where and how can people sign up to serve?

Ask until your well of questions runs dry! No question is insignificant. Believe me, if you come up with it, someone else will also.

Feel like a tedious exercise? Perhaps. You may not mind walking into a strange place without knowing exactly who will orient you or specifically what you will do. But there are plenty of people who want to know exactly what to expect and won’t sign up to serve until they have enough information to feel comfortable and confident.

By the way… if you oversee the volunteer ministry of your church, I encourage you to sign up occasionally as a volunteer. It’s a good way to evaluate what’s going on in various ministry areas from the perspective of a volunteer. You can then help ministry leaders become high-capacity leaders of high-capacity teams, not to mention helping volunteers have positive and fulfilling ministry experiences. Just remember to seek first to understand and then to be understood. Ask questions that will help you understand specifics of the particular ministry so that you can be helpful while avoiding any hint of micro-managing.

Lastly…debrief ministry events as soon afterwards as possible. Even if you don’t anticipate repeating that particular event, you will discover tips to increase your effectiveness when planning the next event. And don’t forget to celebrate your success!



A new thing, part III

Next question: So what?

(In order to follow, you need to have read part I and part II.)

It’s time we help folks move from looking at ministry as their avocation–something they do in their discretionary time–to looking at their life in terms of vocation.

Back to Wikipedia again: Christian vocation includes the use of one’s gifts in their profession, family life, church and civic commitments for the sake of the greater common good.

What happens when we guide someone through a discovery process designed to help them look at the whole of their life, rather than just how their spiritual gifts apply to ministry in and/or through our church? What if we encourage them to apply what they learned through that discovery process to their 8-5 job, their family life, their friendships, their neighborhood… to their 24/7 life? Our questions might be…

“How do you see your spiritual gift of mercy applied in your workplace?” rather than “Would you like to exercise your gift of mercy by helping with the church’s benevolence ministry?”

“I see you are using your experience of God healing your marriage as you listen to your manicurist share her frustration with her own marriage,” instead of, “Would you like to teach a marriage enrichment class for the church on Wednesday nights?”

Do you see the difference? If we shift our paradigm away from task-based ministry in the church toward equipping people to see the whole of their lives as ministry–as vocation–what effect might that have? Would the church become the diaspora (the church dispersed) at least as often as she is the ecclesia (the church gathered). Would the gospel spread more effectively? Would people’s lives be more holistic and less fractured if we stop compartmentalizing ministry? Would we hear less, “I just don’t have time for ministry!”?

In my experience, the majority of church members don’t see their lives in terms of Christian vocation. They consider themselves Christians because they believe in Christ and they go to church regularly. What a shallow view of the life hidden in Christ! But if we show them how to intentionally apply their unique vocation in their every day living, wouldn’t that lead to spiritual formation* at its best?

The last thing I want to say about this (well, for now!) is that the equipping processes we use may not really need to change much. It’s the context in which we preach, teach, and lead those processes that needs to change. To approach equipping in the context of true vocation, however, will require that we let go of our need to fill ministry slots–no matter how thoughtfully and effectively we think we are doing it–in order to gain the attention and trust of those we lead. In the end, however, I think it will be much easier to get the “ministry tasks” done as each individual discovers their unique vocation in the whole of life (which includes church!) and delights in fulfilling their role when the body of Christ gathers.

*Spiritual formation: the process of being conformed to the likeness of Christ for the sake of others.  -Dr. Robert Mulholland (emphasis mine)

Will you disappear?

A friend recently shared this quote from Rick Joyner with me:

“One of the most important things that we can do to be positioned to catch the wave that is coming is to come to know the gifts and ministries of the Spirit that we are called to walk in, and begin to walk in them. The Ephesians 4 mandate of all true New Testament ministry is to equip others to do the work of the ministry, not just do it ourselves. Those who do not obey this mandate will soon disappear from leadership in the church, and those who train and equip their people will be the future leaders of the body of Christ. These are the ones who are not burying the talents they’ve been entrusted with but are investing and multiplying them. We cannot accomplish what we must in these times without every part of the body doing its part.”   

I want to be honest in saying that I don’t know the context from which the quote came and I don’t know much about Rick Joyner. But I do know that he makes some very good points in that statement.

  • If you want to know what the Spirit is doing, then understand how he works in you and in every believer through the administration of spiritual gifts.
  • Embrace the biblical directive that you–as well as every other believer–are called to use those gifts to do the work of ministry. (Ephesians 2:10) Lead from this position.
  • If, for the purpose of this conversation, we interpret “talents” to mean people, what talents has God entrusted to you? What are you doing with them?
  • As Tony Evans points out, Jesus already died for the church; you don’t have to. So, as a leader, regularly ask yourself, “Who have I equipped and released to serve in ministry this week?” 

If you haven’t engaged any of these steps, you are in danger of disappearing! Don’t want to disappear? Then begin now to train and equip your people.  Discover your own gifts and graces for ministry. Then draw a few others into that discovery process. Let them become as yeast in your community, spreading the delight and freedom that comes from knowing how God has uniquely designed each of his children to serve in a ministry he has called and prepared them to accomplish. A few will find that they are called to train and equip, too, and they will join you in leading this discovery ministry.

This is what it means to be faithful to the Ephesians 4 mandate. In doing so, you will grow as a leader. Moreover, the body of Christ will grow “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.” (Ephesians 4:13, The Message) Amen and amen!

**If you are wondering how to get started or how to equip others leaders in your community to carry on the ministry of gifts discovery, I would like to help you. Please visit my MERGE website to learn more.


What are we equipping them for? Is it enough?

In my last post, I questioned whether we are in danger of turning equipping into another program of the church. I suggested that we as equipping leaders might need to look at our motive for equipping. If we are truly honest, are we motivated to equip in order to fill the empty ministry slot? Perhaps we are accomplishing that more efficiently when we encourage people to engage in gifts discovery and match them to appropriate serving opportunities, but I’m concerned that our motivation is still skewed.

Perhaps we need to be motivated by something more than the ministry roles and serving opportunities of the church–no matter how important and worthwhile they are–and rather be driven by a passion for helping people see the whole of their life as a serving opportunity. Perhaps we need to be motivated by the desire to see each and every believer be the hands and feet and voice of Christ wherever they are and whatever they are doing. Period. Maybe what we need to do is help the harried working mom or the stressed-out executive dad discover how God has gifted them for ministry right where they are.

In our consumer culture, is it any wonder that they are suspicious about our attempts to “equip” them? Why wouldn’t they assume that we are trying to add one more thing to their already busy calendar… the sad thing is that, in too many cases, they are right! We may be sincere in our desire to help them find the best serving opportunity that aligns with their SHAPE* for ministry, but we are still trying to plug them into a serving role that we need to fill.

Last Sunday I listened to a sermon on 1 Peter 2:5. The preacher spoke of us as being priests to the nation and to the world, explaining that a priest (in this context) is simply a person who represents God. How are we equipping believers to represent God? How does the working mom or the middle-aged executive reflect the grace and glory of God in their day in and day out life? Can we simply equip them by helping them discover how their SHAPE for ministry fits into the warp and woof of their every day life without suggesting one more “opportunity” to live it out? Can we let that be enough… until such time as the Holy Spirit prompts them to volunteer to teach Sunday school or serve at the homeless shelter?

What do you think?

*SHAPE is an acronym for Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences. This discovery method originated at Saddleback Church and is my preferred approach for equipping.