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!

 

Is God fickle?

You are just toodling along doing your ministry thing and–BAM!–suddenly God is Paths-to-success-shutterstock_88995475-500x290calling you down another path. Really? What’s up with that? Did God suddenly become fickle? Did the unchangeable God change?

Does any of this sound familiar? You invest time discovering your unique design for ministry, identify a serving role that energizes you, engage in equipping through reading or training, and now you are joyfully and faithfully serving in a ministry you love. It all fits together perfectly. But then God throws a monkey wrench into the whole thing through this niggling thought that just won’t go away, “I want you to do something else.” You read scripture and you hear the whisper. You have a conversation with a friend and there’s the whisper again. And then someone actually voices what you really don’t want to hear: “Have you ever considered serving in this ministry? I think you would be perfect for it!”

Did God change his mind? Well, I can’t really answer that for you, but I can share with you my experience with change and where it has led me.

During the summer of 2013, I began to suspect that God was up to something. I had been on a path of conviction about prayer ministry for several months. God had been bringing to mind past training in prayer ministry, as well as my own experiences of both emotional and physical healing. Over coffee with a friend, he mentioned a local healing prayer ministry that he thought I might be interested in. Before I got home from the cafe, my friend had connected me via email with the director of that prayer ministry! Out of curiosity, I met with Jeff and, as he described his prayer ministry, I sensed God nudging me towards healing prayer. My response was a flat “no way.” I had spent 20 years in equipping ministry. I loved helping people discover their God-given design and identify where/how God was calling them to serve. (Still do!) I had a significant investment in this ministry, even coming alongside other church leaders to help them develop healthy equipping practices in their churches. God surely couldn’t be calling me to something else. I wasn’t tired of doing this yet!

That same afternoon, my pastor told me that he believed God was calling me to establish a healing prayer ministry in our church, and offered to release me from any other ministry that would impede me answering that call. I was completely confused. And yet, I knew in my spirit that God was calling me to something new.

In 2014 I began offering prayer ministry during Holy Communion each week. Since that time there has been only one Sunday when no one came for prayer. I am developing a team of prayer ministers and equipping them through books, seminars, and conferences. Last year we began exploring moving our church from a suburban location where we rented space from another church to a downtown location where we would rent space from a faith-based non-profit ministry seeking to meet the needs of the poor and marginalized. We had our first worship service downtown on January 3 of this year. Since then, two more people have expressed interest in serving on the prayer team, and our new host is very excited at the possibility of having a church meet there who will actually pray with people who need any and all sorts of healing! In hindsight, it’s obvious that God has been redirecting me, as well as our church.

But here’s my biggest “ah-ha”: When dealing with people who were hesitant to serve, I would become frustrated. God is showing me that often the underlying reason for that hesitation lies in a need for healing. When one experiences the deep healing power of the love of Christ, the desire to serve the One who heals will soon follow.

one pathDid God change his mind about my ministry? Not really. He has simply opened yet another avenue for equipping ministry. He has provided a way through my former frustration into a wide open space where I can better serve his people as I pray for their healing and then help them find the ministry that God is calling them into.

Is God fickle? I don’t think so. Scripture says he is not. We just need to yield to his plan as he unfolds it, trusting that he knows what he’s doing!

 

Joseph’s Bones

And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt… Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.”  -Exodus 13:18b-19

In her Advent devotional Lighted Windows, Margaret Silf suggests that the Israelites carried the bones of Joseph because “he was their dreamer, the symbol of their God-dream.” She goes on to encourage us to carry our dreams with us, too, because it gives us the energy we need to continue our journey. Ministry is hard work. Indeed, it is joyful work…but hard, nonetheless. When we get tired, it’s easy to lose our way, to forget why we began this journey in the first place. Our vision becomes cloudy and the Voice that called us seems so distant now.

Advent is a notoriously busy season for anyone in ministry.  For those serving on the staff of their church, there is a church to decorate, extra worship services to plan, Christmas celebrations to attend, and visits to the homebound and the sick. For those in ministry outside the church walls (i.e., all Christians!), there are angel trees to coordinate to provide gifts for the poor, Christmas banquets to feed the hungry, coats and blankets to collect to give some measure of warmth to the homeless. Add to all of that the decorating of our homes, the gifts we purchase and/or make, the extra baking for cookie exchanges… Suddenly we find ourselves tired and confused, wondering why we began this journey in the first place.

That’s when it’s time to take out Joseph’s bones.

Create space for some quiet reflection. Remember the times when God unmistakably touched your life, when he called you to this particular ministry path–whether it is in the church, in the home, in the community, or in the marketplace. Remember when you knew beyond a doubt that God was leading you purposefully. Margaret Silf refers to this place of remembering as “a sacred space and a still center in all our confusion,” and she encourages us to return to it regularly for replenishment.

God’s voice is still there, even in the midst of the busyness of this Advent season. We just need to remember the sound of that Voice in our ears, then wait quietly and listen patiently once again.

advent

Yes, I do have control issues!

There. I’ve said it (well, typed it) out loud. Of course, friends and family will not regard this as a startling admission. They are more likely to ask why I’m just now figuring this out! Actually, I’ve known it for a long time and I’ve been working on trying to control it (pun intended!) for years. But as is so often the case with self-awareness, I just came to another threshold of understanding.

During a conversation with a friend yesterday, I was hashing out how to schedule volunteer ministry orientation. In just six weeks our church will move to a new urban location. We will again be renting space, this time from a faith-based non-profit organization. There is much to do to figure out how to create a worshipful atmosphere each Sunday, organize all our “stuff,” and orient teams so that they can set up/take down efficiently.

And that word efficiently is what trips me up. It is like waving a flag at my control issues!

ducks

Because our parish is made up of people, there is a wide range of tolerance among us for messy. Some don’t mind it at all, just as long as we gather together for worship and fellowship on Sunday. Others find messy to be a distraction from that worship and fellowship, and prefer some semblance of order. (You an probably guess where I am on that scale!) Finding the balance is critical, and that means respecting the individuality and diversity of our little community of believers.

In defense of order, it is necessary for efficiency. And we live in a culture that places a high value on efficiency. Our demand for software that integrates all our mobile devices seamlessly, our frustration when technology doesn’t move fast enough or maintain a connection, and our outrage over stalled traffic are all evidences of our desire for efficiency. Our dependence on technology has conditioned every one of us to desire efficiency in at least some area of our life.

Back to yesterday’s conversation and my control issues… In attempting to work out a schedule for orientation, I was trying to take into consideration how many of our volunteers serve in more than one ministry area, how many families of young children have both parents serving, and the realization that we are entering into the busiest season of the year for most folks. I was making myself crazy trying to problem-solve for everyone! That’s when my friend posed two critical questions: “Do you expect others to problem-solve your calendar issues? Did you expect someone else to problem-solve your childcare issues when your kids were little?”, which led me to the aforementioned threshold!

God has ordained that the body of Christ be interdependent (1 Corinthians 12). That means we have to respect each other and learn to work together. We all have to be willing to give, to flex, to accommodate as needed, always keeping in mind that we are one body. (The body can’t work efficiently when the right foot heads south and the left foot goes north!)

While I need to be aware of all the variables when it comes to organizing an orientation for our volunteer ministers during the Christmas season, I also need to accept that I am not in control of each person’s calendar or family situation. My attempts at problem-solving for everyone won’t help us learn to work together efficiently. It will surely lead to frustration for all of us, and likely to burn-out for me.

Crossing that threshold is trusting that the volunteers who can make room on their calendar will attend the orientation. And it is accepting that our first few Sundays may be a little messy…and that’s OK. I’m not in control.

But I know who is.

 

Watch Your Step!

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.   -Acts 6:1-6 [ESV]

This passage is often cited in reference to the establishment of deacons in the church. It has long been a favorite passage of mine–appropriately so, since I am ordained a vocational deacon. But I remember years ago reading this passage and how it left a bitter taste in my mouth! Before I gained an understanding of spiritual gifts and calling, I thought the twelve were exhibiting no small amount of arrogance by insisting that it wasn’t right that they give up preaching the word of God to “wait tables.” I wanted to shout, “Watch your step there, fellas! If Jesus washed your feet, who are you to think that you are too good to wait tables?”

The more we progress in our ministry, the easier it is to step into the trap of believing that we (clergy) are above doing the seemingly menial tasks of ministry, particularly if the priesthood of all believers is not one of our fundamental values. Gifting and calling applies to every believer, not just the clergy–and all ministry has value. There are times when we need to be willing to serve by doing whatever needs doing, whether it’s below our “pay grade” or not! There is no room in the church for a spirit of entitlement–not from clergy, staff, or ministry leaders.

(Before I go any further, I want to be clear that arrogance was not what motivated the apostles–obedience was! They were being obedient to the calling that Jesus had placed on each of their lives to preach the word of God.)

As equipping leaders, we can set the example by occasionally helping out with tasks that are outside of our gifting and calling. My senior pastor and I decided to give our facility team a “summer vacation.” All summer we’ve been coming earlier on Sundays to set up and staying later to put away. I confess that I’ve grumbled a few times, but it’s given me a deeper appreciation for the ministry of this particular team! I also encourage our ministry team leaders to schedule themselves in their team’s rotation, serving alongside the team members they lead.

I once heard a bishop remark that his consecration as bishop was not a move up the ladder of success, but rather a move step_downdownward into deeper humility. What an exhortation! If it is true that an organization can rise no higher than its leadership, then let’s be leaders who side-step the spirit of entitlement and instead journey downward into deeper humility, that every member of our church will be truly humble, serving others according to their gifting and calling so that we all rise to the example set by Christ!

Clergy/Laity Distinction?

question markClergy/laity distinction… It’s a phrase that gets kicked around a lot, especially in the world of equipping leaders. But what does it really mean? Is there a clergy/laity distinction? Should there be? I think that it depends on who you ask and in what context you are asking.

I recently referenced the clergy/laity distinction in a sermon. Actually, I threw down my soapbox, climbed upon it, and proceeded to inform my parish that this distinction is a lie that divides the church and causes no small amount of confusion and misunderstanding. Apparently I was actually quite “feisty” about it, according to one listener! That’s not surprising, since for years I have been on a mini-crusade to promote equality of ministry. But another listener pointed out the irony that I would insist that there should be no distinction between clergy and laity, all the while appearing distinctly different from the rest of the parish as I stood before them in my white alb and deacon’s stole. Ouch!

I was preaching from Ephesians 4:1-16, pointing out that the role of the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, not to do all the ministry themselves. The purpose of this is to create unity out of the variety of spiritual gifts and diversity of responsibilities so that we all grow up together as one body, into Christ who is the head. I referenced the apostle Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 12, using the body as a metaphor to help his readers understand that all the “working parts” are necessary and equal in their value to the body as a whole. I spoke at length on the way we are interdependent and how this creates unity in the church as we each recognize our part–our ministry–and serve accordingly. In this context, I believe there should be no distinction between the value of the ministry of the clergy and that of the laity.

On the other hand… Both the senior pastor and I are ordained. We wear vestments for worship. Doesn’t that distinguish us from everyone else? And our denomination has an episcopal structure; we are governed by bishops. Doesn’t that represent a hierarchy of power? The answer to both questions is, of course, yes. There is definitely a clergy/laity distinction in this context, that of creating order in the church. It is a system of authority that is intended to guard the integrity of scripture and the sacraments. As an Anglican, I value the distinction between clergy and laity in this ordering of our church.

My point? As equipping leaders, we need to be careful about how we throw that “clergy/laity distinction” phrase around. We might actually contribute to the misunderstanding and confusion, missing the opportunity to restore the worth of each and every minister and the ministry they perform.

Motivation to Serve

What compels people to serve? It’s a question every ministry coordinator asks when trying to attract volunteers. Some people serve because it makes them feel good. Others serve because they believe in the “cause,” whatever it may be. Some serve out of a sense of obligation. A few serve because they don’t have anything better to do. Figuring out how to motivate people to serve is like trying to hit a moving target!

But there is one common denominator for every Christian, one thing that should motivate every one of us to serve: Gratitude. Lavish gratitude for the countless ways Jesus has served us should be what compels each and every Christian to serve. Stop and think: When has Jesus served you?

Remember the story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law? Mark says that Jesus, along with James and John, heads to the home of Andrew and (Simon) Peter following a time of teaching and casting out demons in the synagogue. There they find Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. Now, it’s helpful to know that back in Mark’s day, fever wasn’t understood to be a symptom of some disease–it was just considered a disease in and of itself. So it’s a safe bet to say that this woman was very sick with some disease that brought on a high fever. So Jesus does what Jesus does: he heals her. Immediately Peter’s mother-in-law gets up from her sickbed and fixes the evening meal for Jesus and his companions.

If you’ve ever had a high fever, you know that when it breaks, you are spent. No way do you feel like getting up and fixing a meal! Yet this is what Peter’s mother-in-law does! Jesus has not only healed her, but he has strengthened her as well. No residual lethargy, no lengthy recuperative period. She’s fit as a fiddle and good to go! I’m guessing that she was so grateful healing vesselthat she couldn’t wait to serve Jesus! Her response to the lavish love of Jesus was to allow that love to flow through her and out of her as she prepared the meal and met Jesus’ need for nourishment.

If you are a ministry coordinator looking to motivate people to serve, here are three questions to ask of them:

  1. When has Jesus served you personally? (I’m not talking about Jesus going to the cross and saving us from our sins. I’m talking about something more uniquely personal: being spared a near disaster, something needed that was miraculously provided, an instance of physical or emotional healing, etc.)
  2. How do you feel about that?
  3. What is your response?

The lavish love of Jesus compels lavish gratitude, and an appropriate response to lavish gratitude is following the example of Jesus and serving others as He has served us.