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 Path to Sainthood

My husband is a saint. He lives with me, an ordained deacon, who speaks, blogs, lectures, teaches, and thinks about serving…a lot. (He would say that’s an understatement!) It’s not easy to live with someone whose calling is to serve the church when you are stuck with serving the retail masses. One appears so much holier than the other. And for those who think–subconsciously or otherwise–that ordination might just be the true path to sainthood, David would be happy to debunk that myth!

But do I–the “paid holy person”–regularly affirm that his ministry is no less holy than mine?

Last week David was savoring the last few minutes of his lunch break as he sat in his car, listening to some blast from the past rock & roll tune–his way of de-stressing–when he noticed a young woman walking across the parking lot toward his car. She stopped a couple of feet from the door and asked him if he could help and her boyfriend. They were on their way to another town and had run out of gas. Not the most original story and he’s no fool, but he gave her a little money and she walked away. A few minutes later as he was entering the store to return to work, he saw her sitting on the curb by the door. He walked up and asked her what she was doing and she said she was hoping someone would come out who might give her a little more money. What David had given her was not enough, she said, to get her to the neighboring town. He knew this was true. He asked if she was telling him the truth and she pointed to her boyfriend across the parking lot standing next to the car. They walked over together and the boyfriend showed him the gas gauge sitting on empty. David believed the Spirit was prompting him, so he gave enough cash to fill the tank to help them on their way. Were these people taking advantage of him? Who knows. But it was a holy moment as David responded to the Holy Spirit.

Two days ago, David was in his department working when a woman came up to ask for help. As she explained what she was looking for, he realized that he was in for a long, drawn-out story–the kind that often signals a difficult customer. David’s initial inner reaction was irritation. But he sensed the Holy Spirit telling him that the task he was working on would wait, and so David listened patiently as the woman’s story unfolded. Before long, tears were sliding down her cheeks as she poured out her frustration about a contractor not finishing his job, leaving her house in disorder, and a blind daughter who had suffered many surgeries and who now couldn’t make her way around the house because nothing was in its proper place. My husband stood there in the paint department aisle in the middle of a busy day, serving this woman simply by listening compassionately. Would his supervisor have said David was wasting time? Probably. But it was a holy moment as David responded to the Holy Spirit.

My husband is a saint, but it’s not because he’s married to me. It’s because he fulfills his calling to serve as he goes about his everyday life, often in the most unholy places.

Ministry leaders: who needs your help in identifying the ways they live their call to serve in the everyday walking around moments of serve like Jesuslife, in the unholiest of places? Who needs to hear that the true path to sainthood is not reserved for the ordained, but rather open to all who believe in Jesus, who hear and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Encourage them to be aware of those holy moments, ready to act, ready to serve. Ready to be like Jesus.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:45 (ESV)

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.

Seasons of Ministry

question markIt’s been over a month since I’ve blogged. There has been much going on in my corner of the world over the past several months, leading me to consider whether the Holy Spirit might be pointing me towards a new season of ministry. Let me say that it’s much easier for me to articulate that today than it was two weeks ago! I’ve prayed, journaled, met with my spiritual director. Of course, I’ve been true to my behavioral style and processed with trusted friends and my pastor! At last, I think I’ve found a few answers and a lot of peace.

“What’s your theology on seasons of ministry?”

This question posed to me by my spiritual director has been critical to my process of discernment. As an equipper, I often find myself encouraging my volunteer ministers to be aware that the Spirit is continually equipping them, sometimes even for a new ministry. So, when asked this question, the response came easily: The Holy Spirit gives gifts according to His good pleasure. There are a variety of gifts and a variety of services and, when we make ourselves available, He will use us whenever and however He chooses. Hmmm…could it be that this applies to me as well?!

In early October I was ordained to the vocational diaconate of the Anglican Church in North America. At my ordination, the bishop laid hands on me and spoke these words: “A new day, a new anointing. Don’t just do what you have always done, what you’ve been doing. Watch for the signs.”  I am grateful that I’ve developed a  habit of journaling, because the bishop’s words were almost lost in the ensuing busyness of a life enveloped in ministry! But as I found myself in a place of confusion and doubt at the dawn of 2013, I sensed the Spirit drawing me back to my ordination. I pulled out my journal to refresh my memory and pondered the bishop’s prophetic words.

There have indeed been signs that I’m being led back into a season of being equipped for new aspects of ministry. My ordination was an acknowledgment by the Church of my true vocation as a servant of the Church. And while I have the spiritual gift of shepherding and believe I am a pastor at heart, I need to improve my skill set for this new season of ministry. In addition, several of our lay leaders are transitioning out of leadership, providing an opportunity for me to invest in new leaders and further build our equipping culture. I’ve said before that implementing equipping systems in a small church is far different than doing it in a large church (the context where I gained the most experience), so I have an opportunity to hone my leadership skills as I experiment with new approaches to equipping the intentionally small congregation.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?                -Isaiah 43:19

I could easily have missed it. How about you? What’s your theology on seasons of ministry? Have you considered that the Holy Spirit may be doing a new thing in your life and ministry? Look for the signs!

 

The Trouble With Volunteers

By far, the biggest challenge I hear when speaking to ministry leaders is the difficulty–if not near impossibility–in getting enough volunteers. People continually talk about how they just don’t have time to add one more thing to a calendar that already makes their head swim! (An interesting paradox is the number of people who glory in producing a calendar that has no white space…but that’s fodder for another post!)

As full-time ministry leaders, we are often guilty of forgetting that our volunteers have their own full-time jobs to think about. They don’t eat, sleep, and drink “church” like we do. We get really jazzed about some great new ministry idea or a new and improved process for an existing ministry, and then can’t understand why no one is jumping at the chance to get on board. “Why not? Can’t they see that this is a Holy Spirit-inspired idea?”, we ask. Probably not; they are more likely thinking about their employer’s latest “great idea” and how they have been told to get on board with it–their paycheck depends on it. I have to regularly tell myself to just lighten up!

The trouble with volunteers is that they’ve been equipped to be volunteers.

We need to change our paradigm. When equipping people, we need to no longer try to get them to do something else or something more. Too many already have little to no margin in their lives. What’s Christ-like about increasing their frustration by guilting them into being at church another night a week or serving at the homeless shelter every other weekend, even if it is in the name of Christ? Honestly, this is not equipping people for ministry. It’s equipping them to be volunteers.

But what happens when we re-frame ministry in such a way that our people see it as bringing back to Jesus what they are already doing?

As Christians, our fundamental vocation is to glorify God. We come together to offer ourselves and creation, through the Spirit and with Jesus, to God. This is what we are created to do. When we see what we do during our everyday lives as an offering to God, we all in a sense become priests offering the Eucharist, and this blesses and sanctifies our work.

Framing equipping in the context of vocation doesn’t mean that we get less volunteers, we simply bring serving into its proper context and make it meaningful…not to mention understanding it rightly as sanctified by God. When people begin to see all of life as ministry and ministry as all of life, they are no longer volunteers. They are ministers, priests bringing their life as an offering to God. It’s no longer about adding tasks to an already-full calendar. It’s about who they are every day of their lives.

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)

Break out the balloons!

I was browsing through a retreat center’s library recently, just grazing the titles. Later I remembered seeing a book entitled, Living with Eeyore: How to Positively Love the Negative People in Your Life, by Elizabeth Baker. I didn’t have time to pull the book off the shelf, but the title stuck in my memory. I happen to know a fair amount of people who live with the “glass half-empty” mentality. I bet you do, too. I like to think I’m a “glass half-full” kind of person, and that is usually true of me. But there is one area where I can miss the mark: church.

As I was preparing for our church leadership retreat last month, I began thinking about what needs to be improved–not a bad thing, certainly. However, in my experience, it often leads me down the path of looking at what’s not good enough, where we are lacking, what we don’t have. In other words, “glass half-empty” thinking. As I found myself on this well-worn path, I decided to turn back and begin again. This time I pulled out our member roster and our volunteer ministry records and did some useful research. I was shocked at what I found: nearly 75% of the folks in our church are actively serving!

I was tempted to think, “Yeah, but we are a small parish, so it’s easier to have a higher number of active volunteers,” but then remembered a conversation with a church leader following a workshop I led on helping people identify their spiritual gifts. She said that they were a very small church–around 50 people at best–but that the 80/20 rule was very real for them. Twenty percent of their members were doing 80% of the work, and not much was happening. It seemed as though the Spirit was encouraging me not to be so quick to dismiss that 75% after all!

In all reality, no church will ever experience 100% of their membership in serving opportunities. (At least, not with the prevailing paradigm of ministry being something we add on to our calendar. Go here, and here, and here to read about a different paradigm.) In fact, 75% is way above the average  of 40-50%, even in the healthiest of churches. Suddenly I found myself in that “glass half-full” mentality, excited to share this great news with the leadership team, then break out the balloons for a real volunteer celebration!

When do you catch yourself thinking more about what you don’t have than what you do have? How many/how much is enough?

  • How many people in the pews?
  • How many Bible study groups?
  • How many volunteer ministers?
  • How many Sunday school classes?
  • How many first-time visitors?
  • How much money?
  • How many who have completed gifts assessments?
  • How many hours logged in community service?
  • How many people engaged in mission?
  • How many/how much (you fill in the blank)?

The God we serve is quite adept at providing more than we could ask for or want. When we realize that we are on mission with him we can trust that he is providing everything we need in order to accomplish his purpose.

Try counting your blessings…praising God for the resources–gifts, people, money, ministry, etc.–that he has provided. Develop a “glass full to overflowing”mentality, break out the balloons and celebrate!