Precious Commodities

My friend Jill recently posted a great article on her blog about praying for one another. You can read it here. This business of the church family praying for one another has been percolating in my mind and heart for a while now. Why does it take such effort? If we truly love one another as Christ loved us, it should come quite naturally.

Perhaps we are lax in our praying because we are afraid of what might come next. Prayer selfless-love-in-actionoften begets action. If I pray for someone, God just might ask me to actually do something for them. God might require that I be his hands, or feet, or voice—all of which takes my time and energy.

Time and energy have become our most precious commodities. The advent of “easy credit” along with the development of technology has reoriented our priorities. Money may be easier to come by for many of us. Time and energy, on the other hand, are essentially finite. There are only 24 hours in a day, and there is a limit to the energy my body can expend before it has to rest. If I give my time and energy to something beyond my personal concerns, how will my needs be met? Will someone look beyond their needs in order to meet mine?

Yet as I reflect on Jesus’ life in the scriptures, I don’t see Him particularly concerned about having His needs met. What I do see is a perpetual awareness of the needs of those around Him, and a willingness to give of Himself in order to meet those needs. And when He was in danger of running out of time and energy (remember that Jesus had to live within the same human restrictions that we do!) Jesus turned to the Father in prayer, trusting that God would meet His every need. And, as far as I can tell, God never failed Him.

So perhaps the reason we don’t pray for one another as we should is because we don’t want to be faced with the possibility that our trust in God’s provision is lacking, or that God might ask us to sacrifice some of our valuable time and energy to meet needs other than our own.

And yet, that’s exactly how God—Father—weaves his children into one family.

(This is the first of three related posts. I invite you to come back next week, and to share your thoughts and experiences!)

Clean Windows

I sit at my desk and gaze out the window at burnished gold and flaming orange leaves heralding autumn. It occurs to me how much I love clean windows! Earlier this morning I looked out through the accumulation of dirt and smudges on the glass and those same leaves looked dull, joyless. So I gathered up my cleaning supplies and got busy. Now, observed through my clean window, the world looks freshly washed.

Clean-WindowsI do love clean windows…but I hate washing them! I procrastinate and complain about this despised chore, no matter how delighted I am with the end result. I can’t afford to pay someone to wash my windows for me, so I’m stuck with doing it myself. Our windows are old, the kind that tilt in, and it requires strong hands to compress the frame in order to release the sash. Sometimes a window frame has become stiff with age and I struggle to get the sash free. When it suddenly pops out, there’s this little “pop” of relief within me…now I can get on with the washing.  Depending on the season, the sash may be stuck, not willing to budge no matter how much I push, pull, huff and puff. Those are the days when I’m so grateful for the help of my husband’s strong hands and arms. It’s good to have help when the work is hard!

Like looking through clean windows, I love seeing the heart of God clearly. Somehow the world seems freshly washed–and me along with it–when I observe the world around me with his heart. But, just like washing windows, seeing God’s heart clearly requires time and energy…and there are days when I just don’t want to invest in Bible study and prayer, no matter how delighted I will be with the end result. In a different sense, I can’t afford to pay someone to do that work for me (paying the preacher to preach the sermon doesn’t count!) This is work I must do myself.

Inevitably, there are days when the framework of my mind has become stiff with age, resistant to the pressure of  change. There are seasons when I feel the window of my soul has swollen shut with the cares of life and world, and it just won’t budge. In those times, it takes a strong hand to break those places free…tilting the sash of my soul inward so that God can penetrate my heart and mind. In those times I am grateful for the Spirit’s gift of a listening friend who encourages me until I feel the “pop”, or the one more learned than me who has generously written down the wisdom gleaned from their own study and prayer. Again, it’s good to have help when the work is hard!

When my view of life and world is dull and joyless, I know that I’m not seeing God’s heart clearly. I’ve allowed the dirt and smudges of procrastination and complaining to accumulate on the window of my soul. I realize that it’s time to gather up my cleaning supplies–prayer, Scripture, a good friend, the wisdom of a commentary–and get busy. The end result is like looking at the brilliant fall leaves through freshly washed windows…delightful!

How’s the view through your windows?

First things first: Salvation does not a disciple make.

Twenty plus years ago I professed Christ as my Savior.change

I had no idea what that meant or what I was supposed to do next.

Mine was one of those crazy, emotional conversions–the kind some people scoff at, including my pastor at the time. Our church was hosting a faith renewal weekend. I wasn’t interested, but attended the Friday evening session simply out of a desperate need to get out of the house and away from my family. I was not impressed, and planned to skip church on Sunday. God apparently had other plans.

On Sunday, my husband practically bounded out of bed, uncharacteristically enthusiastic about attending church. He was clueless about the renewal activities; had he known, I’m confident he would have been far less excited. However, I didn’t want to discourage this new exuberance for church, so I dutifully got myself and the kids ready and off we went. This particular Sunday was orchestrated by God so that I would accept Christ. I’m not being arrogant–I was the only person who responded to the invitation at the first service! When I went forward, tears streaming down my face like something out of Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show, my pastor whispered in my ear, “Thanks for rescuing me; it was embarrassing when no one came forward!” In his mind, my acceptance of Christ as Savior was not legitimate because it was rooted in emotion rather than intellect.

But for the grace of God, I would have joined the ranks of the pew-sitters. Our churches are full of them–those folks who profess Christ as their Savior, dutifully sit in the pew every Sunday, drop their money in the offering plate, and go on with life as usual Sunday afternoon through Saturday night. An hour or two out of their week, a dollar or two out of their paycheck. Lest you think I’m harsh, I assure you that I’m not passing judgement. Maybe they just don’t know any better. Perhaps their commitment, like mine, was written off as less than sincere. Or perhaps someone introduced them to Christ, led them in a prayer of acceptance, and then moved on to the next soul ripe for the harvest. (I’ve been known to proclaim that evangelism without discipleship is irresponsible!)

I was blessed. After several months of trying to figure out what that moment of surrender truly meant, my husband and I joined a small group in our church where we met Ron and Donna. They spent the next few years discipling us through Bible study, deep conversations, shared meals, and ministry partnership, thus ensuring that our minds were being transformed along with our hearts. They invested in us, in spite of the crises they experienced during those years–crises of health, employment, and teenagers. Whatever was going on in their lives, they were always willing to share themselves and their Godly wisdom with us. It was a life-on-life discipling, one that taught us how to follow Christ in our everyday walking around life.

I have to be honest and say that I’ve not followed their example as well as I could or should. I’ve made excuses for why I can’t invest in others the way Ron and Donna invested in me. But they are excuses, not reasons.

  • If I want to see my faith community grow spiritually, I need to be available to disciple those who are willing and eager to learn.
  • If I expect fewer pew-sitters and more disciples, I need to invest in those people God brings my way who are hungry for more of him.
  • If I want to transform the culture of the church, I must begin with the people.

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?

Recognized Behavior = Repeated Behavior

“You can employ men and hire hands to work for you, but you must win their hearts to have them work with you.” – Tiorio

Here are three simple investments you can make to build a ministry team that works with you, not for you:

1. Be timely in your recognition of your volunteers .

It’s easy to get caught up in the next ministry task or event and forget to recognize the effort expended by your volunteers. I try never to forget that every person who volunteers for a task or event also has a life outside of church! So don’t wait until the annual ministry evaluation to tell them much you appreciate their ministry. Take the time to thank them for their contribution in as close proximity as you can to the actual event or act that you are recognizing.

2. Make a list of things you can thank your volunteers for and do it regularly and often.

Foster an attitude of gratitude for the people God has brought to your team. Each week make it a point to affirm at least one volunteer for who they are, not just for what they do. Think of a task a volunteer has done. What attributes of that volunteer contributed to the accomplishment of the task? For example, Was he generous? Was she hospitable? Be specific and intentional.

3. Make sure your volunteers feel like what they are doing is relevant and important.

Making a clear connection between each task and the ministry it accomplishes is vital to building a team and retaining volunteers. My favorite example comes from a church that had a lot of windows in their worship area. This church didn’t employ people to wash windows; they had volunteers who saw this as their ministry! The ministry leader had explained to his team that there are people who would come to worship and be distracted by the dirt and smudges on the glass, preventing them from hearing the word of God. Those who washed the windows saw it as their ministry to remove any obstacle that would keep someone from having an encounter with God during worship. Chances are if your volunteers see what they are doing as effective ministry, they will keep doing it!

Ridiculously simple, right? Nothing difficult about executing any of these. Simply recognizing behavior and expressing appreciation for ministry will go a long way towards winning the hearts of your team members and building a happy, healthy ministry team!

(Adapted from Franklin University Leadership Center’s Invest a Minute a Day to Become a Better Leader blog, original post by Nicole Shiring)

Living it

Today we say good-bye to an amazing woman of God. Sally went home to her Savior on Tuesday. Her funeral is today. As the news of her passing spread, posts began showing up on her Facebook page as early as Tuesday evening. Her wall is an amazing read…

Thank you for living life to the fullest and being a light to so many of us. And I know you are having a huge party and worshiping our Savior; I feel that truth deep within me.

We’ve lost a wonderful friend, a great influence, and an outstanding woman. However, we’ve gained one of the best guardian angels I can think of. She always looked to help others first and now she can protect us constantly from above.

I am so proud of you. You inspired me to return to church and have a personal relationship with Jesus! I can never thank you enough for that! … I am not nearly as far on my spiritual journey as you are, but I am working towards being as contagious with my faith as you were!

working today was a struggle…. seeing everybody’s heavy heart over our loss was saddening. it just goes to show how Sally impacted our lives in one way or another big or small. just being at work brought back so many fantastic memories of her. I remember her training me in drive-thru way back when and she made me love my job. I love you Sally ♥

Your nephew will grow up missing his Aunt Sally, but I can already tell he has a lot of you in him. He has that light in his eyes that I loved about you so much. You have touched my children so deeply Sally that no one can take that away from them. We love you and can’t wait to see you again someday.

It is amazing but not surprising to see how many people Sally impacted, she was always shining Jesus’s light and pouring out His love on everyone she knew. … I truly would not be the person I am today without Sally,she taught me how to grow in my relationship with God and always be fully satisfied on Him.

Believe me, I could go on and on–the posts and comments certainly do. If I had the time, I’d sit and count them all, but I know that they would number in the thousands.

There are two things I want you to know about Sally:

1. Sally lived her vocation. She heard the clarion call of Jesus and she answered. There were no extenuating circumstances around Sally’s life–it was as ordinary as yours or mine. But she understood ministry as using her very life to point people to Jesus with a smile, a hug, words of encouragement, her testimony about Jesus…everything about her. Ministry wasn’t something she put on and took off. Ministry was Sally’s life–wherever she was and whatever she was doing–as evidenced by the fact that well over a thousand people came to celebrate her life at her visitation last night.

2. Sally influenced all those people and more in just 25 years. That’s right. Sally was only 25 years old.

I am more than twice Sally’s age and I don’t think I’ve impacted nearly that many people. I have a lot of catching up to do. I want my life to be a testimony to the ministry of Christ, just like Sally’s was and is…even in death. And the only way to do that is to live out my vocation every moment of my life.

Creating a Clearly-Defined Path

Here are five necessary steps in creating a clearly-defined path to participating in missio Dei–the mission of God. I encourage you to ponder these as you develop a process for helping those discerning their vocation.

1. Modeling

This is probably the most understated step of the entire process, which is why I begin with it. If you are a pastor, you can most likely articulate your calling easily. And if you wear a clerical collar, others recognize your calling without you having to say a word. However, no matter what your leadership role, you should be able to state clearly and succinctly your call to ministry and how you came to understand it. If you can’t do this, how can you expect others to discover, name, and live out their own vocation? If you as a leader are not modeling the value of living your true vocation, you are sacrificing integrity and influence.  Beware: imposters are almost always found out!

2. Discovery

I’ve written much about discovery and the critical role it plays in equipping people for ministry. Bottom line, most folks need some guidance in uncovering the myriad ways God has been equipping them for their role in his mission.

  • Be a companion on their journey–the guide, not just the map-seller.
  • Choose a holistic method so that those who are intimidated by the concept of spiritual gifts have something else to identify.
  • Help put the pieces together–what is obvious to you as an objective observer may not be nearly as obvious to the person trying to understand their unique design for ministry.

3. Exploration/Application

Exploration and application can easily be the most frustrating part of navigating the path into ministry! We can help those on the journey by creating non-threatening opportunities to experiment with ministry. A former colleague of mine called this the “no rings, no strings” approach. A potential volunteer minister is invited to shadow an experienced volunteer minister for a season, then debrief that experience with the ministry team leader. The ability to actually experience that ministry without being married to it or in any other way committed to continue goes a long way in avoiding the frustration of a ministry mis-match.

Moving from task-based to life-based ministry, you might ask, “What does it mean to apply your  unique design for ministry to your everyday life?” This is the real application of the fruit from the discovery process!

4. Reflection

Reflection is another oft-ignored step in defining a clear path to ministry. Most extraverts need to process their experience out loud, but even the most introverted among us benefit from some well-formed questions to guide their thinking about their ministry experience. Reflection is not just a one-time conversation, but one that needs to be repeated on a regular basis, particularly at times of transition into/out of ministry roles. If we don’t stop to see what God is doing in and through our lives, we risk losing our energy and enthusiasm for ministry. In addition, we miss the stories that God would have us share about how and where he is showing up and showing off!

5. Celebration

The popularity of Hallmark, Dayspring, and American Greetings clearly communicates the value of  appreciating and celebrating others! This is especially true of anyone engaged in ministry. If we are to be honest, ministry is not always fun. It is often hard work, occasionally frustrating, and sometimes heart-wrenching. Taking the step to celebrate serving is critical to a clearly-defined ministry path. Let people know that they are appreciated for who they are, not just for what they do. Send a hand-written note, offer a sincere “thank you” for a task well done, affirm one’s unique design, throw a party after a particularly eventful season of ministry…get creative and celebrate ministry in all its various forms!

These are the steps I’ve found helpful; you may discover others that you would add. But the charge is this: the path must be clearly defined if we expect people to live into God’s invitation and call to true vocation!