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)

What’s your hurry?

“Goal-setting,” in the context and on the terms intended by a leadership-obsessed and management-programmed business mentality that infiltrates the church far too frequently, is bad spirituality. Too much gets left out. Too many people get brushed aside. Maturity cannot be hurried, programmed, or tinkered with. There are no steroids available for growing up in Christ more quickly. Impatient shortcuts land us in the dead ends of immaturity.1

Too often I think how quickly can I make this happen? I come up with a vision, set actionable and obtainable goals, and develop my strategic plan to reach those goals and make that vision a reality. This is what our “leadership-obsessed and management-programmed business mentality” tells me is the best way to achieve success.

Here’s the catch for ministry leaders like me: church is not business. As ministry leaders, we are not dealing primarily with products and pricing and financial gain. We are dealing with people–broken, imperfect, messy people–who were initially created in the image of God and who desperately need to be restored to that initial image. God says so.

In Romans 8:29 we see that God’s purpose for every believer is that they be conformed to the likeness of Christ. Don’t be misled by your own interpretation here. We may be tempted to read “likeness of Christ” and think of a photograph or a portrait–a “visual likeness” of the person. But the important word in this phrase is conformed. To conform is to be the same as; we are to be the same as Jesus. And when we look at Jesus in the gospels, what we see is One who serves–He serves His Father God and He serves humankind.

Serving is not something that comes easily or naturally to us humans, and especially not in the rugged individualistic culture of America. So why is it that ministry leaders think we can hurry people into spiritual maturity by establishing programs that channel them through gifts assessments and plug them into serving opportunities? Will this really hasten spiritual formation? Not in and by itself.

Certainly serving is an integral part of spiritual formation. Throughout the New Testament scriptures we see Jesus and the disciples serving others. By definition, then, to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus means we learn to serve. But learning to serve is not simple and it certainly can’t be rushed. Too often I talk with ministry leaders who want to get an “equipping program” implemented so that they can move on to whatever is next on their business…oops, I mean ministry plan. I find myself reminding them again and again that this will take time and patience and perseverance. It requires frequent reinforcement of equipping values through preaching and teaching, not to mention personal conversations and coming alongside others as they stumble through the process. No, we simply can’t hurry this process.

Want to develop an equipping culture in your church community? You need to first accept that there are no steroids and no shortcuts. Your plan must be designed to fit your context, and even then will need to allow for mid-course corrections and be bathed in grace. You will need to ruthlessly eliminate hurry and cooperate with God, who has all the time he needs to conform those entrusted to your care into the likeness of Christ.

If you are experiencing frustration in the area of volunteer ministry within your community, I would be blessed to come alongside and help you design a system that works in your unique context. Please contact me through my website if I can be of service.

1Eugene H. Peterson, Practicing Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010), p.133

Team Lessons From the Fab Five

Watching the United States women’s gymnastic team compete in the Olympics last week reminded me what a high-capacity team looks like!

1. Each one of the Fab Five is an accomplished athlete in her own right. At various points in the competition, one woman’s particular skill would lead the team. But, for the most part, they each brought what they had for the good of the whole.

2. They truly encouraged each other. Early on, it seemed the hugs were perfunctory, but as the competition continued, those hugs became more genuine.  “You can do this,” was heard more than once in the face of faltering self-confidence. A particularly poignant moment was when the camera focused on Jordyn Wieber cheering on Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman in the all-around—the competition from which Jordyn had been unfairly (in my opinion) eliminated.

3. Aly was brave enough to take out what wasn’t working. As she was practicing for the floor exercise, one particular move kept causing Aly problems. She just couldn’t quite make it work, so she took it out. Aly’s routine was less impressive, but she didn’t insist on being the star. The team would have paid the price if she had insisted on trying to impress the judges with a move that was simply not coming together for her.

4. Even after some less-than-stellar performances, not one of those young women gave up. They kept the main thing, the main thing: doing their best to win. They didn’t quit and, in the end, they brought home the Gold!

5. God receives the glory. During an interview after winning the all-around, Gabby said, “I give all the glory to God. The glory goes up and the gold comes down!”

Similarly, high-capacity ministry teams:

  • value the unique gifts and contribution of each individual
  • work together for the good of the whole
  • offer mutual encouragement
  • are willing to let go of things that don’t work
  • don’t attract glory-seekers
  • focus on what needs to be accomplished
  • give God all the glory!

Can your team bring home the Gold?

Vacation bible commandment #1: Thou must collect shells.

What is it about walking along the beach that simply begs me to stoop down and pick up a shell? And is it possible to pick up one…just one? Apparently not for me! Before we left on our vacation, my husband was rummaging through the closet looking for his hat when he came upon a box of shells from our last beach vacation several years ago. He thought it necessary to point out to me the existence of said box, perhaps in the vain hope that I would disobey vacation bible commandment #1.

As I mentioned in my last post, we shared our vacation with Debby–tropical storm Debby–so shell collecting was impossible for the first few days. My daughter hoped to find that treasure of all treasures, a sand dollar, and as soon as she could stand upright on the beach, she and her husband were out combing the sand. Because of the violent surf, I assumed she wouldn’t find anything that wasn’t broken to pieces, but I was mistaken. She found not one but two sand dollars! Fueled by her success, she moved on to a new project: finding tiny shells with which to decorate picture frames. Of course, I pitched right in to help, obediently following vacation commandment #1. I was duly rewarded with two lessons from the same Lord who created all those shells.

Lesson one:

As the collecting progressed, my daughter Katie and her husband became more discerning about the shells they wanted to use. They wanted small Florida Ceriths and Augers. At the end of the island, shells had piled up into a quite a large mound; this became the prime spot for picking up those little treasures. As I took an early morning stroll, I stopped to search the mound in hopes of finding an Auger or Cerith or two for their collection. It didn’t take long for me to get frustrated. How could I possibly spot those skinny little shells among the thousands and thousands in the mound? I was immediately reminded of watching Jeremiah the day before. (You should know that Jeremiah has the patience of Job.) He sat in that very spot and just looked for the longest time, occasionally moving his hand gently through the shells. As I tried to imitate his “technique,” I saw an Auger…and once I spied one, it was as though the blinders were removed and I could see several! I would gently move my hand through the shells and then patiently look until I could see another, and another, and another.

I sensed the Lord speaking to me about the perils of not seeing the treasures he sends me among the people I serve. It’s easy to go about my days looking at the sea of faces without really recognizing their value to God. How often do I look at a ministry team without seeing the giftedness of each individual? What about the times when I am tempted to speed through a conversation without really listening closely to discover how God has equipped this particular person for the good works he has prepared for them to do?

Jesus might have said, “Let those who have eyes to see, slow down and look more carefully.”

Check back tomorrow for lesson two!

Growing up

This week I began reading Eugene Peterson’s book, Practice Ressurection. It’s an insightful work on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians,inviting me to ponder anew some familiar concepts.

“This kingdom life is a life of entering more and more into a world of gifts, and then, as we are able, using them in a working relationship with our Lord.” 1

Peterson goes on to talk about how we understand the concept of gift easily enough. After all, we neither make ourselves nor birth ourselves and so life itself begins as a gift. Immediately we begin receiving gifts–food, shelter, clothing, nurture, education, training, etc. Everything we have is a gift when we are a very young child.

“We have been given much. Now we begin exercising these gifts in community.”  2

Growing up…  From early childhood we begin to learn to do for ourselves. We learn through the gift of training to dress ourselves and feed ourselves. We learn through the gift of education how to apply basic skills like reading and math as we mature into adolescence. During adolescence (rightly described by Peterson as “awkward and often turbulent”) we learn how those gifts we’ve been given translate into adult responsibilities. Life leads us into into making decisions–some wise and some not so much–but all part of growing up.

Let’s apply this concept to the maturation process of the Christian believer. There are the “baby” Christians who are just discovering the wonder of a life lived in and under grace–that wonderful gift that sets us free to accept all the other gifts bestowed by the Spirit. Sadly, there are some who never mature past this point. They fill the pew on Sunday only for what they can receive.

Then there are the mature believers who have heard and answered Christ’s call to a life lived for Him. They share freely the gifts the Spirit provides, serving others in their day in and day out lives. They come to worship not for what they can receive–though they do, indeed, receive much–but to offer themselves to Christ in a loving and working relationship.

But what about the adolescents? The ones who are navigating that awkward stage between being a baby Christian (primarily receiving) and becoming a  mature believer (primarily giving)? Attempting to discern their call through exploring the Spirit-gifts, checking out various ministries, trying on different serving opportunities can be confusing and frustrating and…turbulent! These are the ones that require the most from me as an equipping leader. Having parented three adolescents, I know first-hand that this stage requires guidance and structure, not to mention patience.

If you are an equipping leader who frequently “parents adolescent Christians,” having structures and processes in place will be an encouragement to the people you serve. It will help you help them navigate this stage safely and securely. Providing a gifts discovery tool, a structure for exploring serving opportunities that doesn’t require a lifetime commitment, and being available to debrief the process with them are three things you can offer to help them grow up into the fullness of Christ.

1Peterson, Eugene H., Practice Resurrection (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 2010), pg. 46
2 Ibid.

**If you think examining your equipping process with a fresh pair of eyes would be useful to the people you serve, please contact me at www.andeemarks.com.

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)

A new thing, part II

The new most important word in my equipping vocabulary:

vocation

Are you thinking, “yeah, yeah, yeah…heard that before?” Well, bear with me, OK? (If you are just tuning in, you may want to read my last post.

Wikipedia defines vocation as “a term for an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which he or she is suited, trained, or qualified. Though now often used in non-religious contexts, the meanings of the term originated in Christianity.” Since the early 1900’s, it has evolved to also mean “the notion of using our talents and capabilities to good-effect in choosing and enjoying a career.”

Wikipedia defines avocation as “an activity that one engages in as a hobby outside one’s main occupation.” It goes on to talk about people whose professions are the means by which they make their living, but whose true passions lie in the activities outside their workplace.

If you are a pastor, you are most likely going to associate to vocation with your “call” to ordained ministry. If you are a layperson, you probably think of vocation as your 8-5 job, or the means by which you earn a living. What’s more, laypeople tend to treat their ministry as an avocation.Why? Because church leaders often do.

We (church leaders) approach equipping as a program. We encourage gifts discovery as the means by which we help people connect to ministry. But it’s task-based…a serving opportunity, we call it. As I said in my last post, it may be a more thoughtful approach, but it’s still slot-filling.

I think it’s time for a paradigm change. I think it’s time we stop thinking of the church functionally and think ontologically. In a recent blog post, W. David Phillips writes,

Ontology has to do with being. An ontological understanding of church has to do with what it is, not what it does. And what it is is far wider, deeper, higher than anything it does, or anything we can take charge of or manipulate.

In their book The Equipping Pastor R. Paul Stevens and Phil Collins point out that, “in Pauline thought, Christ does not use his body to get his work done on earth, as attractive as this idea might be.” They clarify that the body does serve God in the world, but emphasize that “God is as concerned about being as God is with doing.”1

Parker J. Palmer says, “Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”2

This speaks again to the ontological rather than functional nature of the church. God’s covenant with us is a covenant of being, not primarily a contract for doing. God invites us first and foremost to be his people, and then to share in his project on earth.

I’m not done yet…there’s more, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you if my musings thus far have stirred up anything within you!

 

1R. Paul Stevens and Phil Collins, The Equipping Pastor (Betheesda, MD: The Alban Institute, 1993), 105.

2Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, (San Franciso, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000), 10.