The Un-Interview

A couple of weeks ago I led a workshop at the LifeServe National Conference which I titled “The Un-Interview.” The topic was ministry conversations–those conversations we equipping leaders have with newcomers to our congregation or with folks who decide it’s time to “get more involved”–and how to get the most out of them. I recently read Henri Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Direction,  and it was playing through my mind as I prepared my presentation.

As ministry leaders, it is easy to succumb to the temptation to treat these conversations like marketplace interviews. Certainly there are similarities. We are trying to match people/skills to roles. But there’s so much more to ministry conversations than matching and placement! We would do well to see them as prime opportunities to discover what God is doing in a person’s life.

“I’m sorry, but I just don’t have time to serve right now.”

As ministry leaders, this is the excuse we most often hear from someone who is unwilling to serve in ministry. Rather than pull our hair in frustration, what if we view this as a clue to what God wants to do in that person’s life, and embrace it as an opportunity to engage in spiritual direction… that is, creating space for this person to grow in their understanding of God? That reluctant volunteer may not trust God to meet their need for the time and energy necessary for ministry. Their excuse is our clue that God wants to replace their wrong narrative of a demanding and stingy God with a right narrative of a God who invites us into ministry with him and graciously provides all we need to accomplish his purpose!

Another reason for reticence that I often encounter is the fear that God will call someone to a ministry for which they have no desire. This is often tied up in that person’s wrong narrative about “carrying their cross.” Why would the Spirit hand out gifts–something we associate as a pleasurable experience–and then call someone to use that gift in the place that is least desirable to them? What wrong assumption does this person hold about God? My colleague Peter says, “If God is the God who wants you to go to Africa, you probably won’t want to do anything else.” In other words, if God is going to call you to something, he will give you the desire for it!

Guiding people into ministry is more than filling out questionnaires, tallying scores, matching gifts to roles, and making placements (though these things are a necessary part of the process). Ministry conversations can–and should–go far beyond discovering what gifts have been given, what experiences have occurred, what abilities have been learned, which heart-strings have been pulled. Ministry conversations can hold clues to false narratives about God that, with a little spiritual direction, can be gently revealed and corrected, creating space for spiritual awakening to a God full of grace and wonder. Serving that God becomes, then, a joyful “get to” rather than a joyless “have to.”

Printed word + Spoken word = Better Equipping

My friend Jill posted a blog today about the plethora of books available to us. Jill’s comments were prompted by time spent visiting bookstores, though I couldn’t help but think that we don’t even have to leave our comfy chairs to avail ourselves of books. Anyone who owns a computer and has internet access can dive into the ocean of words through online books and downloadable resources. The printed word–books, magazines,  newspapers (though these are smaller now than in years past), e-zines, e-books, blogs–oceans and oceans of printed words…

Jill writes…  I once spent time with a group of young mothers, and instead of asking the older mothers for advice, they wanted the titles of books that could teach them to parent, because we all know books are written by experts who know better than we do.  Or at least by lucky people who know someone in the publishing field.  What happened to face to face living, to community, to sharing with live humans in the flesh and blood world?  Why do we think books are so magical? (emphasis mine) *

I am reading book after required book as I prepare for ordination as a deacon in the Anglican Church. Most of these books were written by theologians and scholars, people who know a lot more than me. Some of this reading is dry–if not boring–but most of it is helping me better understand Scripture, the church, Anglicanism, and Christ-like leadership (that is, being a serving leader). But do you know what is most edifying? The discussion that ensues following each book. You see, I am doing this in community.

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself answering someone’s questions about equipping practices by referring them to a book. A good book–one that I have found true and useful–but words in print, nonetheless. Sometimes it’s easier and faster (for me!) than trying to explain a theory or a process. Yet I know that easier is not always better, let alone best. My justification is that they will be learning from someone wiser than me. There may be some truth in that… and then again, maybe not.

I’ve been an equipping practitioner/leader for over 15 years. Some of my experiences differ from the writers’ of the books I’ve read. Of similar experiences, sometimes I’ve drawn different conclusions than they did. My ways are not necessarily their ways, but my experiences can have equal value for the one who comes to me seeking answers to their equipping questions. It’s certainly not wrong to suggest printed resources to those who come for help. However, as an equipping leader, I am more faithful to equipping values when I offer an opportunity to process in community.

What about you? Do you have an equipping community with whom you process? If not, why not? You might be surprised at the wisdom you will find from other practitioners… and at the wisdom you have to share!

Why not join the equipping conversation at LifeServe National Conference 2011? I would love to see you there!

*Read Jill’s blog in it’s entirety at

Quick Tips from a T-Shirt

Here’s your A to Z Guide for Developing People and Growing Ministry!*

  • Assign a core team
  • Build on a biblical foundation
  • Create a volunteer-friendly culture
  • Delegate ministry responsibilities
  • Energize your team through affirmation
  • Focus on the vision
  • Give it time
  • Have fun
  • Identify the uniqueness of people
  • Join the community
  • Keep a positive attitude
  • Lead from your strengths
  • Mobilize your people
  • Notice the progress
  • Organize your connecting systems
  • Prepare people for ministry
  • eQuip
  • give Recognition
  • Stay the course
  • Talk openly
  • Utilize available resources
  • Value people
  • Worry less; pray more
  • be eXternally focused
  • take care of You
  • add some daZZle to your ministry!

    Equipping t-shirt

    Coolest T-shirt I own!

Advent is a season of preparation, of anticipation, of hope and rejoicing. In that same spirit, I’ll be “unwrapping” some of these tips throughout Advent and Christmas in hopes of sharing a useful tip or insight that will grow your ministry!


*From the creative minds of Church Volunteer Central’s Bob D’Ambrosio and Sue Brage, designed in anticipation of LifeServe 2011 (

Cruise Director or Equipper?

You will never have a need for the “new learning” if you haven’t used the “old learning.”

Those challenging words were spoken by Pastor Harvey Carey during the Friday evening session at the LifeServe Conference earlier this month. He was sharing from his experience living out Ephesians 4:11-16 as it related to planting a church in downtown Detroit, Michigan. God called him to Detroit six years ago to plant Citadel of Faith Covenant Church and, as he recounted the story of the early days of Citadel’s formation, I wondered if he was a brave soul following a victorious King or a total lunatic! By the end of his presentation, I was convinced that he’s not a lunatic.

The Lord led Pastor Carey to that Ephesians 4 passage and challenged him to actually do it. And he did. Harvey Carey successfully planted and grew a church with zero staff. Zip. Nada. Just one pastor determined to build a church according to God’s blueprint. (Just this year, Citadel added an executive pastor. Prior to that, it was Pastor Carey, a music minister, and an administrative assistant.)

“The purpose of leadership is not to do the ministry, but to equip those around us to do the ministry.”

When people ask Pastor Carey, How did you do all that ministry with just you?”, he replies that his whole job is to take those people who come every week and equip them to do the work of ministry. He went on to say, “The job of the leader is to equip, to build up, to develop, to train those in our ranks to go out and do the work of ministry. What kind of revolution would there be with your volunteers if they quit coming to meetings expecting you to provide every single detail of what they are supposed to do, but instead you equip, train, encourage and exhort them in the things they are uniquely gifted to do and release them to the world to do the ministry, then come back together and do it all over again?”

Something else he said really hit home with me. “Why do we have singles ministry, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, youth ministry…? Why have we made it ministry to those people rather than ministry by those people. We are like cruise directors who entertain and come up with new ideas to make that group happy. Who said that is the biblical model for ministry? Do you know how much money is wasted in the Body of Christ on staff who are glorified cruise directors as opposed to having individuals who are gifted to help equip those in the ministry to do the ministry? While they are doing the work of ministry, they build community, build relationships, do life together, and then they grow as they do the ministry!”

Before we ask for “new learning,” perhaps we should examine whether we are actually using the “old learning!” I encourage you to visit Citadel’s website at to see what happens when a leader actually uses the “old learning.” And then you may want to ask yourself if you have become a glorified cruise director… or are you an equipper: one who intentionally equips, encourages, exhorts and releases those God brings to you so that they are doing the ministry?


I am getting ready to head to Columbus, Ohio for a one-of-a-kind event: LifeServe 2010. And I am pumped!

“What is LifeServe,” you ask? Last year, Group Publishing’s Church Volunteer Central partnered with The Externally Focused Network to offer  the only national conference dedicated to missional-minded equipping practitioners. Last year approximately 80% of the participants traveled more than 500 miles to attend the conference in Loveland, Colorado. The decision was made to move the venue to a more central location for 2010, and the registrations for this year have almost doubled that of last year. Last I heard, they were nearing the 800 mark! Incredible!

What makes this conference so special? Everything about it is geared to help leaders equip their people for ministry that is transformational, both for the individual and for the community. There are more than 50 workshops that speak to every aspect of volunteer management, as well as leadership development, the unique needs of non-profit organizations, becoming externally-focused, and so much more! I am blessed to be included with such well-known writers/presenters as Rick Rusaw, Erik Swanson, Erik Rees, and John Stahl-Wert, just to name a few.

One highlight of the conference is the Affinity Groups that meet each afternoon, creating a space for folks to share what they are learning in the context of their particular “affinity”: children’s ministry, youth ministry, pastors, veteran equippers, beginning equippers, non-profit leaders, etc.—15 Affinity Groups in all. The leaders of these groups have developed some great strategies for helping their participants connect and develop a network of support that will outlast the conference itself.

Then there are the general sessions in the evening, always a celebration of what God is doing in our midst!  Great worship music… and Theater Off the Cuff is opening each night for the keynote speakers: Debi Nixon, Harvey Carey, and Alan Hirsch.  Believe me, everyone goes home with useful tools for their equipping toolbox!

But you know my very favorite part of the whole conference? It’s not the inspiring speakers or the informative workshops, as wonderful as they are. The part I’m really looking forward to is building relationships… with people I will meet for the first time, with folks whom I only know through e-mail or phone, with my faithful and fearless friends and partners in the TeamCVC network. For three wonderful days I will be in heaven-on-earth, sharing my passion for equipping with other like-minded practitioners who are as excited as I am that we get to invest in people, encouraging them to be the serving ministers God has created them to be!

If you are in Columbus this week (Wednesday thru Friday), stop by the Hyatt Conference Center and check out LifeServe 2010. If Columbus isn’t on your itinerary for this week, make sure you visit and get LifeServe 2011 on your calendar. (The information will be up on the website as soon as the 2010 conference is over.) Next year’s venue? Louisville, Kentucky! Don’t miss it!