A new perspective

I am a lapsed blogger. Yes, it’s sad, but true. There was once a time when I wrote a blogpost every week. Over time, I slipped to one every other week. Now I do well to write one a month. I keep telling myself that it’s OK…I’m certainly not alone! But the renewal notice for my domain name popped into my mailbox last week. To renew or not to renew? That is the question.

To be honest, I have struggled to find a voice lately. For years I have written about equipping, aka volunteer ministry. I’m definitely for it, and have had lots of thoughts and ideas to share about it. But over the past year or so I’ve wondered if I have said all I have to say on the subject. Nothing new or particularly interesting has come to mind. I still equip volunteer ministers in my church, and I still work with church leaders to help them develop their volunteer ministry. But when it comes to writing…well, I just don’t have anything new to say. It’s easier to point to the stuff I’ve already written.

I was blessed to lead a retreat recently, speaking with women about the deeper journey of living from the Christ-self. Not my usual presentation material. But preparing for the WP_20160520_018retreat helped me understand why I feel I’ve lost my voice for equipping ministry. God has been changing my perspective.

I’m a second-half-of-life person. I’ve turned a corner, so to speak, and am finding that the old me and my old way of doing things is something less than satisfactory now. I recently prayed with a woman who is also in the second half of her life. She had been experiencing health problems that sidelined her from ministry she loves. As we talked, the Spirit showed me that she was fearful, prompting me to ask her if she was afraid that God was taking away her ministry permanently. She wept, confessing that she was indeed afraid. “I know this is the ministry I’m called to do because I am so excited about it,” she cried. “It’s what I live for. It’s who I am.”

For several years I’ve asked the question, “What excites you?” during ministry discovery conversations with people. I think it’s a valid question for people in the first half of life. But once we turn that corner into the second half, we begin to see that excitement isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

A few years ago, God decided he had something new for me to do. I didn’t like that idea, but my arms are too short to box with God. No amount of protestation would change his mind, so I reluctantly submitted. These days I have fewer opportunities for gifts discovery conversations with people, and many more opportunities for offering healing prayer. Which brings me back to the woman I was praying with.

God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.                          2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)

As we spoke, I was able to share my experience of God calling me to a different path and a new ministry. I was a bit surprised to tell her that I don’t get as “excited” about healing prayer ministry as I do about discovery conversations. And yet this new ministry is equally as fulfilling and life-giving as the former. As it turns out, excitement is not the litmus test I once thought it was. There’s a lot to be said for obedience.
I guess it’s OK that I don’t have anything new to say about equipping. God is revealing some new things, giving me a fresh perspective in this season of life. Hmmm…Maybe I should renew that domain registration after all, just in case I find a new voice!

 

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]

 

 

Something old may just be something new!

I haven’t blogged in well over a month. I haven’t felt like I had anything new to say. Maybe I don’t. But in the past two weeks I’ve had two conversations with ministry leaders from two churches in two states, each of whom sharing with me something that set off my equipping alarm! I have been reminded that each person learns at their own speed, implementing what they can, when they can. In other words, when someone attends a training or reads a book or blog, there may be only one or two points that grab their attention and around which they take action.

Case in point: in the first conversation, the ministry leader shared that their church had enthusiastically encouraged gifts discovery, providing curriculum and a class for those who were interested in learning. Many of their members went through the class and were excited to learn their spiritual gift. However, there was no follow through. No follow up. No process for helping those folks find a serving opportunity that would utilize their gift in fruitful ministry.

This reminds me of the first Christmas we gave our son an electronic toy. He squealed with excitement when he opened his gift, then cried with equal fervor when it wouldn’t work because we had neglected to purchase the necessary batteries. I saw the same frustrated disappointment on the face of my grandson just a few weeks ago when, after gleefully ripping the wrapping paper off a Christmas present, he was told he couldn’t open the box to play with the toy because his momma was concerned that the small parts would be lost in all the empty boxes and wrapping paper. What’s the fun of opening a gift that you can’t use?

In the second conversation, a ministry leader shared that they had at one time offered a discovery process, but it had now been years since spiritual gifts was a topic of conversation around the church. New folks who had come since that time had not been provided an opportunity to discover their unique design for ministry, and those who had participated previously had not been encouraged to re-visit the process to see what new thing the Holy Spirit might be doing in their lives to birth new ministry.

In each of these cases, a discovery process was implemented–probably in response to a new idea gleaned from a book or a training–but the process was incomplete in the first instance, and relegated to a program (with a predictable end) in the second. I’ve no doubt that the intention of each of these ministry leaders was to encourage their congregation to serve, but they had only a partial understanding and implementation of what is necessary to equip their people for fruitful and fulfilling ministry.

These conversations lead me to believe that I may not have anything new to say, but the stuff I’ve said before bears repeating. With that said, I will focus the next few posts on casting the vision for what is necessary to create and sustain an equipping culture. For those of you who have heard it all before, I hope you will share your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions to make that which is old (to you) into something new for others…and perhaps for yourself, too!

something old made new

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?

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

An exercise in frustration

frustrationIf you are leading a small church and have designed even the most excellent equipping structure, rolling it out to a congregation that’s not big enough to support it and expecting great results is an exercise in frustration.

I have heard this time and again from pastors and ministry leaders in smaller congregations. They have preached and taught about serving, they have developed ministry descriptions for all their serving opportunities, they have a put a system in place to guide people through discovery and placement…yet they are still struggling to have enough volunteer ministers who are sure of their calling to lead ministry.

The values and principles are the same, so why doesn’t it work in a smaller church? What is missing???

Frankly, I was puzzled, too. But a recent conversation led me to a seemingly important insight. In a nutshell, it’s the institutional approach vs. organic approach.  I know those over-played words may trigger a fight or flight response in you, but resist it! Hear me out…

I spent 10 years in a large, well-established church. I learned and applied equipping principles and practices in that context. For the most part, they worked. Then I moved to a very small parish. Applying those same tried and true equipping principles and practices in this smaller context has been far less successful. On my bad days, dismal failure expressed my feelings perfectly!

For example: In the larger church, I could offer a gifts discovery class and have at least 20-25 folks sign up. I’ve offered the same class in my small parish (more than once) and had not one person express interest. See what I mean about dismal failure? Within the equipping process, gifts discovery is an integral first step. How do I move people through the process if they are unwilling to take the first step?

In a large church–say 1000 regular attenders–there may be 10-20% who have been discipled and are ready and willing to serve. Taking 100 to 200 people through the process makes it worth all the effort that went into that carefully designed equipping structure! And the odds of discovering a few folks in that crowd who are gifted and ready to lead are certainly in your favor.

In a small church of 100 regular attenders, that same 10-20% would amount to 10 to 20 volunteer ministers. Guiding only 10 people through a detailed equipping process can look like overkill! The structure overwhelms the number of participants (picture two people living alone in a mansion!). And you may not find one ready leader among those ten.

It seems to me that the institutional approach is to carefully design the equipping structure and processes first, then guide the potential volunteer ministers through them. It’s more likely to be effective for larger congregations.

However, it’s overwhelming for the small church. A more organic approach is to work with a few people at a time, discipling them personally. Discipling is more than Bible study. True discipling includes calling and gifts discovery, leadership development, and serving in a ministry. A lot is learned through your conversations that will enable you to skip some of the steps in the institutional approach (e.g., matching someone to a serving opportunity is much easier when you know them well, resulting in less trial and error). And while you are engaged in discipling, you are at the same time modeling leadership so that “leadership development” isn’t another step in the process.

Tired of the frustration? Investing in this personal discipling will help you design your equipping structure in a way that is congruent with your church. As your people grow, your processes will develop to fit the number of folks participating in them. Your structure will, in effect, be “under construction” as you are growing people into fully mature and devoted followers of Jesus Christ, willing to serve and lead as Christ served and led.

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?

Persuade.community