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!)

Doers of the Word

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in the mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. -James 1:22-24

These words from James conjure up a vision of a thick fog, rolling and billowing along, fogexpanding into the space before it. As I read or hear God’s word, it is as though the scriptures are the fog, entering into my head, permeating my thoughts, occupying every nook and cranny of my mind.

The word-fog fills my mouth and I taste it on my lips as I speak. Downward through my body it rolls, expanding and filling the dead, empty spaces within me.

The word-fog saturates my heart. It billows into my hands and feet as I move toward others, reaching out in love to serve them…reaching out in love to serve Jesus.

It is only when the word of God is allowed to seep into my deepest self, to thoroughly penetrate my mind and heart, becoming a catalyst for action–only then will it not be immediately forgotten.

If I believe anything less, I am hopelessly deceiving myself.

Meeting Phobia

Meetings… I’m one of the few people I know who has a healthy respect for well-facilitated meetings. I think they are the most efficient way to dream and strategize and problem solve when more than just me is involved. However, I’m definitely in the minority. Many of the people I know just groan at the mere suggestion of a meeting!

Email seems to be the communication method of choice these days. I admit that I like email. I can check it when it’s convenient for me, answering correspondence even if it’s 6am and the person I’m emailing isn’t out of bed yet, much less thinking about work! But when working with a team of people, email is inefficient. Everyone else shares the same privilege of looking at email when it’s convenient for them–which may not be convenient for me! Days can be wasted waiting for everyone to respond and some will inevitably miss bits and pieces of the conversation thread.

Conference calls are less popular but, in my opinion, a step up on the efficiency scale. At least everyone is present at the same time for the conversation… Or are they? I was on a conference call not long ago when one of the participants was walking down the city street. The traffic noise and his heavy breathing were so distracting that the facilitator asked him to mute his phone so that the rest of us could converse! I doubt he could hear much of what was being said.no show meeting

Does your team groan when you mention having a meeting? Do you find that some say they will come but don’t, and others just blow it off completely? If this sounds familiar to you, here are three questions you need to ask:

1. What’s the purpose?

  • Information impartation? Email, letter, or phone call will suffice.
  • Delegation of tasks? Email, letter, or phone call will suffice.
  • Collaboration? Good reason! Call the meeting!

2. What’s your motivation?

  • Vision casting… Is the vision complete in your mind? Can you see it perfectly?
  • Problem-solving… Do you already have the solution for the problem?

Too often we invite people to a meeting ostensibly to develop vision and pathway or to solve a problem, when what we really want is a platform to share our idea and enlist people to get it done. That’s information impartation and delegation of tasks. No meeting required; send an email, letter, or make a phone call.

3. Who are you inviting?

The people who feel valued when they are invited to participate in planning and problem-solving are potential leaders. There will always be people who are happier with an email or phone call asking them to do a task, and that’s perfectly fine. Find the people who want to be involved and who are eager to collaborate. Listen to them, sincerely value their input, invite them to wrestle with your ideas and be willing to entertain theirs!

Work on answering those questions, then come back tomorrow for more about the cure for meeting phobia!

 

Back to the Basics: The Word

acts_pageWhat does scripture have to say about who does ministry? Here are five passages that I think are critical to a proper understanding of equipping:

  1. Ephesians 2:10–we are created in Christ Jesus to do what?
  2. Ephesians 4:11-16–who are the trainers? who are they training? what are they training them for?
  3. 1 Peter 2–who belongs to the priesthood?
  4. 1 Corinthians 12–how does this body work?
  5. John 13:15-17–Jesus did what? commanded what? promised what?

If we are to follow Christ’s example, I think there’s no room for doubt that each and every believer is called and commanded to serve, whether it’s washing feet or preaching the gospel, or something in between. Moreover, between the gifts of the Spirit and the efforts of apostles, evangelists, prophets, and pastor/teachers, each and every believer is equipped to fulfill the ministry God has prepared for him or her.

Together these passages beg the question, What part don’t you get?

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.

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.

The Ministry of Life

What would happen if Christians abandoned our cultural definition of “vocation” as our income-producing job and understood our very routine day-in-day-out life as our true vocation?

  • How would employees behave if the CEO viewed the company as a ministry rather than “secular” work?
  • What would the consumer experience if the retail salesperson understood meeting the customer’s need as her ministry rather than her marketplace job?
  • What kind of students would emerge from the public school classroom if the teacher saw the opportunity to teach as ministering to the forming minds of future Christian leaders?
  • Would the food taste better if it was served by someone who regarded that serving as ministering to the physical needs of others rather than just slinging burgers in a fast-food joint?
  • Would young adults be better prepared for a life in Christ if their mom and dad held parenting as the deepest of ministries rather than a life-stage?
  • How structurally sound would a building be if the contractor recognized drawing of the blueprint, the brick and mortar, the hammers and nails as tools God has given to accomplish His purpose?

What would your community look like if every believer you know lived their life as ministry–every waking, sleeping, eating, breathing moment? Sound too good to be true? Maybe. But it’s what we call forth every time we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Can you imagine what a difference it would make for the kingdom if there was no difference in the behavior of a Christian in the marketplace and that same Christian in their home, or church, or neighborhood? Christ’s reputation would surely be far less tarnished to the unbeliever. Would those who don’t yet believe be more attracted to Jesus if they observed real joy in those who profess Christ?

I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I woke and saw that life was service. I acted, and, behold, service was joy.                -Rabindranath Tagore

What would happen if we church leaders came to understand that our vocation is not only to lead others to salvation in Christ, but to guide them in understanding and claiming their true vocation: to serve Jesus by serving others. What would the world look like if every Christian caught the correlation between life and service and joy? Heaven on earth perhaps?

How are you helping those you shepherd see the ministry of everyday life, that they would live a life of ministry?