A new perspective

I am a lapsed blogger. Yes, it’s sad, but true. There was once a time when I wrote a blogpost every week. Over time, I slipped to one every other week. Now I do well to write one a month. I keep telling myself that it’s OK…I’m certainly not alone! But the renewal notice for my domain name popped into my mailbox last week. To renew or not to renew? That is the question.

To be honest, I have struggled to find a voice lately. For years I have written about equipping, aka volunteer ministry. I’m definitely for it, and have had lots of thoughts and ideas to share about it. But over the past year or so I’ve wondered if I have said all I have to say on the subject. Nothing new or particularly interesting has come to mind. I still equip volunteer ministers in my church, and I still work with church leaders to help them develop their volunteer ministry. But when it comes to writing…well, I just don’t have anything new to say. It’s easier to point to the stuff I’ve already written.

I was blessed to lead a retreat recently, speaking with women about the deeper journey of living from the Christ-self. Not my usual presentation material. But preparing for the WP_20160520_018retreat helped me understand why I feel I’ve lost my voice for equipping ministry. God has been changing my perspective.

I’m a second-half-of-life person. I’ve turned a corner, so to speak, and am finding that the old me and my old way of doing things is something less than satisfactory now. I recently prayed with a woman who is also in the second half of her life. She had been experiencing health problems that sidelined her from ministry she loves. As we talked, the Spirit showed me that she was fearful, prompting me to ask her if she was afraid that God was taking away her ministry permanently. She wept, confessing that she was indeed afraid. “I know this is the ministry I’m called to do because I am so excited about it,” she cried. “It’s what I live for. It’s who I am.”

For several years I’ve asked the question, “What excites you?” during ministry discovery conversations with people. I think it’s a valid question for people in the first half of life. But once we turn that corner into the second half, we begin to see that excitement isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

A few years ago, God decided he had something new for me to do. I didn’t like that idea, but my arms are too short to box with God. No amount of protestation would change his mind, so I reluctantly submitted. These days I have fewer opportunities for gifts discovery conversations with people, and many more opportunities for offering healing prayer. Which brings me back to the woman I was praying with.

God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.                          2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)

As we spoke, I was able to share my experience of God calling me to a different path and a new ministry. I was a bit surprised to tell her that I don’t get as “excited” about healing prayer ministry as I do about discovery conversations. And yet this new ministry is equally as fulfilling and life-giving as the former. As it turns out, excitement is not the litmus test I once thought it was. There’s a lot to be said for obedience.
I guess it’s OK that I don’t have anything new to say about equipping. God is revealing some new things, giving me a fresh perspective in this season of life. Hmmm…Maybe I should renew that domain registration after all, just in case I find a new voice!

 

Equipping Culture, Small Church Style

 

small church

Eighty-five percent of all churches in America average less than 200 in worship attendance.

I can’t say exactly when Rick Warren obtained this statistic, but I know it’s at least a few years old. I’m not inclined to spend time tracking down that information because I can’t imagine anyone in church leadership who would dispute it! Small churches are everywhere. Not every pastor is called or gifted to lead a large church and that, I believe, is by God’s design. Likewise…

Some people love being in a really big room for really big church services. The size of the crowd inspires and encourages them. When they worship Jesus, they see that they are a part of something far bigger than themselves. The crowd helps draw them into a deeper place of faith. And that’s great.

But a lot of people worship and minister best in smaller settings. They’re drawn into a place of deeper faith through a worship experience that is more intimate and relational. The size, structure and spectacle of the bigger church is a distraction to them. It doesn’t draw them in, it puts them off.      –Karl Vaters

I served on staff in a large church with a high level of structure for ten years. I learned much about developing an equipping culture as I read voraciously and attended workshops, seminars and conferences. Most of it was really great stuff and I will always be grateful for the opportunities I had through the support and encouragement of that church. But that experience has also been a stumbling block for me.

My thoughts, habits, and practices regarding equipping people for ministry were developed in the context of the large church. However, I have been serving in a small church these past five years, and I’ve found that most of what I learned about structure and organizational practices just doesn’t fit here. By far, most of the resources available are written and presented for the moderate to large church, not for small congregations. I find this very interesting since small churches greatly outnumber big churches! Where are the equipping resources that pertain to the congregation of 100 or less?

Perhaps there are so few resources available because the answer for the small church is so simple: relationships.

If you serve a small church you don’t need all those structures and processes that are necessary in a larger church. What you need to do is come alongside folks. You need to meet with them, get to know them, invest in them. Help them discover how God has wired them for ministry, then help them find a place to live it out. (That may be in the church, but more likely it will be outside the church–more about that in a future post.) In many ways, this is much easier than the practices I employed in the larger church–less administrative detail to attend to, fewer systems to continually evaluate and tweak, fewer cracks for people to slip through.

Letting go of the large-church mentality proved to be a bigger challenge than I anticipated. However, I think it’s making me a better pastor, a better leader…a better equipper.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service… -Ephesians 4:11-12

Do you have vision?

Not “a vision”…just, do you have vision?Image

Vision is seeing God at work in your present situation and moving with Him. It’s about getting in on what God is doing in the world and being a part of it where He has placed you.  –Rick Warren

Can you see where God is at work around you? If you have not developed this kind of vision, having “a vision” is of no use because it’s simply your vision. Your vision–and mine!–is pitifully small next to God’s vision.

Return on Investment

A couple of weeks ago I was in Georgia and saw flowering trees.  As I look out my window I see daffodils and tulips trying to emerge.  All this gives me hope that our harsh winter is about to end as spring erupts.  Just as these flowers are responding to their environment, I have found I must create an environment for my team that allows them to flourish.  I operate on the premise that a happy staff is a fruitful staff.  When I equip them to do the ministry God has called them to and provide the kind of support they need, good things are released.  From this perspective, I don’t need to push and prod, but create opportunities and an environment that releases ministry.

That was written by my dear friend and colleague, John Criswell, in his recent newsletter. John currently serves as a Regional Director at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship but, as I reflected on John’s words, I remembered that he had this same philosophy when we served together on the staff of a large church not so many years ago. What’s more, it worked! As my supervisor, John didn’t have to push or prod. Rather, he invested in me and good things were released in and through me.results

As a leader, what are you doing to create opportunities and an environment that releases ministry? Here are a few investments that will yield good results:

  • Help those you lead discover how God has uniquely designed them for ministry. I know I write this over and over, but this understanding is critical to fruitful ministry! Teach them to listen for and recognize God’s calling on their life.
  • Regularly re-visit that discovery process with those you lead through reflection exercises designed to reveal their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their current serving role. Don’t be afraid of losing your volunteer minister! Instead, set them free to pursue something more fulfilling, all the while trusting that God will bring someone who is better fitted to that role.
  • Provide opportunities for ongoing equipping. This can be in the form of conferences, workshops, seminars–if they can’t attend a live event, consider purchasing a video or audio recording for your volunteers. Instructional materials can also be found in books, magazines, ezines, blogs, YouTube, etc. Consider that volunteers have limited time, so be strategic when choosing these resources.
  • And speaking of resources, make sure your volunteers have what they need to do what is expected. Case in point: At the end of the Toddler Church lesson, our little ones look forward to their snack. Believe me, it’s not a pretty sight when the Goldfish snack container is empty! It makes for some pretty unhappy Toddler Church teachers.
  • Be accessible. John had a comfy blue chair in his office that held many of his supervisees when they came to share a frustration or recount a moment of fruitful ministry, and everything in between. John was always willing to listen, counsel, exhort, and celebrate. Yes, he was my supervisor…but he was also a trusted friend.
  • Dream with those you lead. Don’t just settle for the low-hanging fruit. Encourage them to dream bigger dreams for their ministry. Help them reach for more of the kingdom.

How are you investing in your people? What kind of return are you getting on that investment? If ministry isn’t being released–if you aren’t seeing good fruit as a result–perhaps it’s time to review your investment practices.

Questions for Conflict

I’m writing this as I sit in the airport waiting for my flight home. I’ve had the joy of speaking to the leadership team of another church today, casting vision for them to become known in their community as the church that equips people to live their true vocation in all of life. More than 25 people came out on a cold Saturday morning, giving up the better part of their day, to consider why and how they should spend their time and energy helping their church grow.

We opened the scriptures to carefully consider Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, particularly 2:10 and 4:11-16, and how it is relevant to their church today.

We examined the institutional church model with its clergy-centric, hierarchical culture, contrasting it to an equipping church model that values the priesthood of all believers. I strongly encouraged them to trade in their old church paradigm for a new one—one that is actually ancient in comparison to that institutional paradigm!

We examined their culture, asking the tough questions, “Are we who we say we are?” and “Who does the community say we are?”

Leadership was another important topic of our conversation today. What does an equipping leader do? How is that different from any other kind of leader? What makes a leader anyway? One older gentleman who had been in executive leadership prior to retiring was refreshingly honest in confessing that he liked being the “top dog” who had all the control. It was less messy that way. But he learned that he didn’t have all the right answers and, in the end, he came to value the messiness of collaboration over the control of the one-man show. He found that it yielded far more satisfactory results!

And lastly we explored doing ministry as a team. What’s the difference between functioning as a committee—long the pattern in their denomination—and serving together as team? What makes a team? We identified some of the sacrifices that developing team ministry requires, such as time and ego, and how their people might benefit from making those sacrifices.

In parting, I told them that becoming an equipping church is not easy. It’s really hard work. It will cause conflict at times, which will be painful. It takes time. Sometimes it will feel like they are taking two steps forward and one step backward…and that’s on a good day. But, in the end, they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they are choosing to be the church God is calling them to be because they are equipping others to be the ministers God designed them to be.

question markThere are lots of questions in this post. I encourage you to ask them of your church and of yourself. Even if you’ve asked and answered them before, you may find it’s a good idea to ask them again. The questions may well produce conflict, and this is a good thing. Conflict causes us to look at the choices we are making and evaluate whether they are the right ones. Conflict properly handled is a critical step to becoming an equipping church.

Leaders Beget Leaders

“Do not despise the day of small beginnings… No matter how big or small your church is, it begins by pouring yourself into leaders, and they will pour themselves into other leaders.

“If you don’t have a systematized way to develop leaders—some kind of organic pipeline—you won’t develop leaders long-term and you will always be in need of more leaders.”  -Michael Fletcher, Pastor of Manna Church, Fayetteville, NC

 

Read more here.

What kind of leadership development system have you implemented?

Is it working?

A critical investment

(Continued from my last post)

2. Invest in potential leaders

As I attempted to provide leadership for our ministry teams who are without leaders, I found it surprisingly easy to deceive myself into believing that my over-functioning behavior was an act of service. The truth, however, was that I was simply feeding my hunger for control and closure: get it done and move on to the next task. (This beast is the bane of many leaders, but that’s a topic for another day.) As an equipper, the appropriate behavior is to invest in potential leaders.

Who is a potential leader?

My view on leadership is somewhat atypical. I believe that any and every Christian is called to lead in one respect or another. When viewed through the lens of the Great Commission, we are all called to lead others to Christ. That makes every Christian a leader. The style of leadership is what differentiates one leader from another.

I’ve had the joy recently of watching my granddaughter learn to walk. Sometimes her mommy is in front of her, beckoning her to come. Sometimes Mommy is beside her, holding one hand to help with balance. And at other times Mommy is behind her, holding both hands as she guides her forward.  Likewise, some leaders are out front leading the charge, so to speak. Some leaders come alongside or lead from the middle of the team. And yet other leaders lead from behind, exhorting and encouraging as they propel.

My role as an equipping leader is to help believers identify their unique style of leadership so that they lead from their strengths rather than try to fit the cultural perception of a leader or–worse–abandon the idea of leading altogether because they don’t fit the stereotype. Since my time and energy are finite, it behooves me to identify those who are ready to explore their potential for leading, investing myself in them even as I set the example for them to invest in others.

How do I invest in potential leaders?

Mentor them. And if I intend to practice what I preach–that is, be true to my own style of leadership–it’s imperative that I understand my own strengths when it comes to mentoring. Steve Saccone identified seven mentoring styles that I find helpful:

  • The Wise Sage
  • The Opportunity Giver
  • The Informal Discipler
  • The Example Setter
  • The Coaching Mentor
  • The Spiritual Director
  • The Caring Counselor
  • The Focused Activator

You can read more about them here, and I encourage you to do so. Pray and ponder about which style/styles are yours. Keep in mind that you may feel comfortable with more than one style, which certainly broadens your ability to develop leaders. As you identify potential leaders around you, consider which mentoring style might work best with an individual. If it’s not a style you are comfortable with, perhaps that’s not the person you are to mentor. If you are part of a team of leaders who each understand their own mentoring style, you can direct that person to someone on your team whose style is a better match.

Want to be a more effective equipping leader? Help others…

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