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…

I haven’t blogged for quite a while. It’s not that I’ve grown bored with blogging, nor have I just gotten lazy. No, God has been birthing something new in my heart and mind. The problem has been that I wasn’t in the mood for God to mess with that which has become so familiar to me.

Recently I was scheduled to teach about gifts and service, but found myself struggling with what to say. Now, this has been my favorite subject for close to twenty years, so to teach on it has become second nature to me. This time, however, I realized that I couldn’t speak with the same conviction that I’ve had in the past. That was a bright red signal flag that it’s high time I slow down and open my eyes to this “new thing” the Lord has been trying to reveal.

For years now I have taught, preached, and at times insisted on the practice of gifts discovery in ministry placement. It became part of my DNA after a few years of volunteer fiascoes, like being asked to teach about Paul’s missionary journeys for Vacation Bible School when I had no idea who Saul was, and having my gift of hospitality understood as preparing meals for the newcomers luncheon though I don’t like being stuck in the kitchen. Then there was the assignment to lead the outreach ministry team when my real passion was to work inside the walls of the church… All these experiences (as well a similar stories shared with me by others along the way) convinced me that plugging warm bodies into empty ministry slots was not going to produce fruitful service or create meaningful ministry.

When I first heard about spiritual gifts, I was intrigued. But learning the S.H.A.P.E.* model was what inspired me. At last, a way to match people to ministry that would bless them and those whom they served. No more klutzes in the kitchen and no more grumpy greeters! The S.H.A.P.E. model has served me well for years. But a few weeks ago I was engaged in a discussion about equipping, talking about matching gifts to ministry. My colleague suggested that I was still plugging people into slots. Perhaps gifts discovery is a more thoughtful way to go about it, he said, but it is still slot-filling. Ouch!

That conversation–along with the realization that I am suddenly lacking some conviction in my teaching material–has been the catalyst for me to engage in my own re-discovery process.

I’m excited to take equipping to a new level (in my ministry, at least–you may already be there, in which case I wish you had mentioned this to me before now!) Before I go any further, I want to take you back to my colleague’s suggestion that  we are still just plugging people into ministry. More effectively, perhaps, but plugging away nonetheless. Will you sit with that awhile and see what the Spirit says to you? (And I hope you will leave your comments about what you discern!)

I’ll be back in a couple of days  to share with you the new most important word in my equipping vocabulary…

*S.H.A.P.E. is an acronym for Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences.

Are you feeding them what they really need?

Yellow OrchidFor Valentine’s Day last year my husband gave me a beautiful orchid. Its blooms were sweet sunshine yellow with a touch of pink in the center–a joy to behold during those dreary winter days! It bloomed for quite some time but, inevitably, the blooms fell off. That’s okay, I thought. It needs to rest. It will bloom again. This is the cycle of life.

But here we are at Valentine’s Day a year later and my orchid has not bloomed again.

Now, to be honest, I don’t have the proverbial green thumb. But I’ve watered the orchid faithfully. I re-potted it in fresh medium.  I gave it a little change of scenery by moving it to a spot with better lighting. The leaves are lovely green, but that’s not enough. I long for new sunshine yellow blooms. What have I missed? Ah, yes…it needs to be fed.

Look around at your volunteer ministers. How long has it been since some of them “bloomed?” When is the last time they came with a fresh idea to bring new life to their ministry? Has their enthusiasm waned? Is their commitment beginning to lessen? Perhaps one or two are teetering on the brink of becoming no-show volunteers?

What’s missing? Have you fed them lately?

If you are an equipping leader, you know the value of having a devotional at the beginning of team meetings, praying with and for your team, recognizing their contribution with a celebration banquet once a year. Maybe you even manage to send out a birthday card or stop them in the hallway to personally thank them. That’s good! But is it enough? What do they really need?

Everything mentioned above is like all-purpose fertilizer, composition 24-8-16. You can use it for most plants. It’s got the basics. But roses prefer 18-24-16. And guess what orchids like? 30-10-10. If I use all-purpose fertilizer on my orchids, I can say that I’m feeding them. But am I feeding them what they really need?

Do you know what your volunteer ministers really need? Probably not. Ask. You may hear…

  • I’m hungry for more of the Word (help them find a good Bible study; be willing to release them from serving for awhile so they have the time to attend)
  • I’m bored (re-visit their discovery process to see what new things God has been doing in their life)
  • I have ideas, but our meetings are so agenda-driven that I don’t have a chance to share (be intentional about creating space for the least vocal person in the group to be heard)
  • I have an issue in my life for which I need deep prayer and counseling (connect them with a spiritual director or counselor; be aware that finances may be a problem and help them find a solution)
  • I’m supposed to be a leader, but I don’t know how to lead (if you can’t mentor them yourself, find someone who can or arrange for them to participate in leadership development training)

Seek out the volunteer who hasn’t bloomed in awhile. Be intentional about having a conversation. Be even more intentional about talking less and listening more. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you really hear what’s missing and what’s needed. Then act. Pray. Help. Nurture. Encourage. Connect. LOVE.

What about you, Ministry Leader? Has your ministry lost its bloom? Do you need “food” that is specifically designed for leading volunteer ministry? I would like to help. You can contact me directly through my website. Let’s have an intentional conversation about what you really need!

Youniquely Designed for Leadership

Is leadership one of your spiritual gifts? If so, I have a question for you to ponder:

Where are you involved (a group or an activity) where you are not providing leadership?

If you can name something, feel free to go back to whatever you were doing before you began reading this post. But if you are still pondering the question, you might just need to read on…

Leaders like to lead. That’s just the way we are wired. The Spirit has given us this gift and we exercise it regularly because it comes naturally, or because we are convicted about being a good steward of the gift we’ve received, or because others see our gift and call it forth.

If there is one thing that a leader dislikes, it’s a leadership vacuum–a group or project that has no leader. So what do we do? All too often, we can’t resist stepping in to fill the vacuum. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s not. Here are some of the unfavorable consequences of giving in to the urge to fill a leadership vacuum:

  • an ever-growing shortage of capable leaders
  • a group or ministry that is on artificial life support–its time has long expired and it needs to die so that something fresh and relevant can be birthed
  • missed opportunities to allow new leaders to emerge and develop their leadership abilities
  • a less than passionate leader doing a half-hearted job of leading
  • a leader whose “big picture” has been torn into so many fragments that it is no longer discernible
  • a leader who can’t muster the energy to get out of bed in the morning
  • a leader who doesn’t remember how to follow…

Jesus said, “Follow me”…

There is real danger in forgetting how to follow.

Be part of something–a small group, a sports team, a ministry project, the PTA… whatever–someplace where, rather than leading, you are following someone else’s lead. Discipline yourself to follow for a change. Deny the impulse to fill the vacuum. In the process of following, you may just learn something new about leading.

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.

 

The High Places

My daily Bible readings the past several days have taken me through 1 & 2 Kings. It’s a challenge trying to pronounce all those strange names  that don’t sound very regal to me! The bigger challenge, though, has been to understand what God is saying to me in these particular pages. Today I got it.

And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places.   -2 Kings 12:2-3

King Jehoash was not the only one who did right in the eyes of the Lord. Granted, more kings did what was right in their own eyes, but there were some who, like Jehoash, were obedient… except in one area. Did you catch that word? Nevertheless, they did not take down the high places. Not just Jehoash, mind you, but the others who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” also neglected to take down the high places. And so the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings there.

At first I thought the Holy Spirit was asking me to examine myself to see what “high places” in my life I have left intact. But then I sensed the Spirit moving on to ask, What high places are we as a church–as the body of Christ–neglecting to tear down?

Self.  Not my self, but “self” as the body of Christ.

My church has become aware of our self-focus. We have not been hospitable to the stranger. We’ve made only half-hearted attempts at ministry together (totus Christus) in our community. We have done what is right in the eyes of God when it comes to our worship, our prayer ministry, our children’s ministry, etc. Yet we “sacrificed and made offerings at the high place” of self each time we neglected the stranger among us on Sunday, or continually preferred fellowship inside the walls over service outside them.

We’ve identified our high place and we are tearing it down, one rock at a time:

  • We recently provided “hospitality training” for all our ministry volunteers–not just those on our welcome ministry team.
  • Each person is exhorted to spend the first three minutes of our fellowship time talking with someone they don’t know or don’t know well. (It’s amazing how often that three minutes stretches into ten!)
  • We’ve scheduled a “Big Serve Day” when we go together as the body of Christ and serve at a community agency.
  • And we are actively searching for a school or neighborhood where we can serve and build lasting relationships. We are tearing down that high place of self, one rock at a time.

There are other “high places,” of course. Maybe one of these sounds more familiar to you:

  • expecting the clergy/staff to do all the ministry of the church
  • erecting ministry silos
  • lone-ranger ministry rather than team ministry
  • resistance to change

What’s your high place?  Whether you lead a church, a staff, a ministry team, or a small group, consider what high place needs to be torn down and how you can begin the demolition!

From Vision to Reality

As I studied the New Testament church in the book of Acts many years ago, I had a vision. Not anything Scripturemystical. Not even anything different from what I was reading, I suppose. But a vision nonetheless. As clear as if I was actually living it, I saw in my mind’s eye THE CHURCH in all her glory. Occasionally the Holy Spirit shows me that vision again, often when I most need refreshing.

It was during a silent retreat last month as I was meditating on Psalm 71. Verse 5 had caught my attention…

For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.

My mind was playing its version of the Association Game, revisiting the memories of my youth when I was first introduced to Jesus Christ. I was thinking of the little church I attended, remembering different faces and connecting them to the roles they filled in our small community and–BAM!–there was the vision again.

It is a joyful church. Not that everyone is happy all the time, but everyone is joyful because they see clearly that they are part of a larger mission…the misseo Dei. Each one has something valuable to contribute for the good of the whole, for the fulfillment of God’s purpose. Those with apostolic gifting are commissioned to go out and tell the Good News of Jesus Christ; those with gifts more appropriate to the local church and community stay home and use them to “keep the home fires burning,” so to speak. When the traveling missioners come home, everyone gathers around to share their stories of what God has been doing both near and far, praising him and giving thanks. There is a sweet rhythm to this life within community.

I realize that this sounds utopian, more fairy tale than anything found in reality. But this vision is what calls to me, day in and day out. Building a church where everyone has a part to play–all the roles being of equal value for the good of the whole–and the mission of God being lived out and fulfilled right in front of us… this is my life purpose. This is what God created and called and gifted me to do.  I am as certain of this as I am of my own name.

What is your role in the misseo Dei? Are you certain of it? Are you living it? If you aren’t sure, engage in some serious solitude–however long it takes until you hear the voice of God. It’s critical to the success of your ministry that you know–without a doubt–the person God has created you to be and how he has shaped you to serve.

If you know your role and are living it, praise God! Now go help someone else to do the same. Have a conversation with someone you know who is struggling to find their place in God’s mission. Explore with them their passions, their abilities, and their experiences. Help them identify their personal preferences and their spiritual gifts. Keep after it until they connect with God’s call and are living it out in community. If we keep doing this, we might just find the vision will become the reality.