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.

Coffee, African Tea, or Fanta?

My husband teases me regularly about the number of times I meet friends for coffee. I frequent all three Panera Cafes on my side of town, rarely with any agenda other than conversation over a cup of coffee or tea. There’s usually no project in the works, no motive other than encouraging one another and building relationships.

Last summer I traveled to Rwanda to visit our sister parish and meet the pastor, a joyful man named David. As we chatted over a shared meal, he was clear that he wanted us to come again–as many as would come and as often as we could–simply to spend time with the people of his parish. No work project, no teaching agenda. Just fellowship…the only intention being to build the relationship between the people of his parsh and the people of mine. He was puzzled at my suggestion that it would be easier to get people to come if they had a project to work on.

I recently returned from another trip to Rwanda. I was blessed to spend two days with our sister parish with no agenda ???????????????????????????????other than strengthening our relationship. Just being together was encouragement that transcended the language barrier. We conversed over a cup of African tea or a bottle of Fanta, each working to understand the other. We ate together, laughed together, worshipped together. And the body of Christ between two continents was strengthened through this together-ness.

As I’ve been inviting others to visit our sister parish in Rwanda next year, I’m often met with the response, “But what would I do?”  I admit that, in the beginning, I asked this same question. But now I find myself wondering why we think we must have an agenda when we go to another culture, even though it is perfectly acceptable in our everyday life here to meet a friend for no other purpose than deepening our relationship through conversation? Why does naming a specific project or task to be accomplished validate the trip and justify a request for prayer and financial support? Is it not enough to simply be together, encouraging one another as we share in the love of Christ that binds us into one body?

I think it is. And I’m really looking forward to the next conversation with my Rwandan friends. I’ll have the African tea, please!

Vision without love is a…

pipedream

My friend Doug and his family have been searching for a church home. After visiting a particular church several times, they arranged a meeting with the pastor, thinking that they had finally found a place to belong. It didn’t take long for that thought to change, however.

As we chatted over a cup of coffee, Doug shared that his family has been searching for a while and had been excited at the prospect of settling down. The pastor’s teaching and preaching was sound and the congregation culturally diverse. It seemed like a good fit.

“What happened that changed your mind?” I asked.

“When we met with the pastor, he did all the talking. He never once asked what we thought we could contribute to the church, much less what we might need. He talked about his vision for his church. That was it. I felt like he was saying, ‘This is my vision; get on board with it.’ He simply had no interest in hearing about my desire for ministry or any needs I might have.”

What a sad end to what could have been a perfect match!

It’s so easy for a leader to get carried away sharing their vision for ministry. Most leaders are visionaries, and certainly there is a time and place for sharing vision–at a congregational meeting or a gathering of leaders. And, of course, with potential church members, who often want to know about the church’s “mission.” (Not that the church has a mission; the church is God’s mission…but that’s a topic for another conversation!)

However, no one likes to feel that they are simply a means to someone else’s end…a tool in someone else’s toolbox…an extension of another person. Each believer is uniquely gifted for ministry and, as a leader, it’s my privilege to help them discover their role in God’s kingdom, whether or not it fits in with our particular vision.

When I meet with newcomers to our church family, I make it a point to not only answer their questions about our church, but to ask about their needs and their interests. Only then am I able to serve them. Yes, I do share our vision for our church because I think it’s important that they know how we as a church participate with God in his mission. But God’s mission includes ministering to those he brings through our doors, recognizing their needs, calling forth the gifts of the Spirit that reside in each individual, guiding them into ministry either as a recipient or as a servant.

Valuing each person as a gifted individual whom God has equipped for ministry and helping each one discover their place and method of serving should be critical to every equipping leader’s vision for their church.

St. Paul–with the help of Eugene Peterson–says it much more eloquently:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.             -1 Corinthians 13:1-10 [The Message]

 

 

Seasons of Ministry

question markIt’s been over a month since I’ve blogged. There has been much going on in my corner of the world over the past several months, leading me to consider whether the Holy Spirit might be pointing me towards a new season of ministry. Let me say that it’s much easier for me to articulate that today than it was two weeks ago! I’ve prayed, journaled, met with my spiritual director. Of course, I’ve been true to my behavioral style and processed with trusted friends and my pastor! At last, I think I’ve found a few answers and a lot of peace.

“What’s your theology on seasons of ministry?”

This question posed to me by my spiritual director has been critical to my process of discernment. As an equipper, I often find myself encouraging my volunteer ministers to be aware that the Spirit is continually equipping them, sometimes even for a new ministry. So, when asked this question, the response came easily: The Holy Spirit gives gifts according to His good pleasure. There are a variety of gifts and a variety of services and, when we make ourselves available, He will use us whenever and however He chooses. Hmmm…could it be that this applies to me as well?!

In early October I was ordained to the vocational diaconate of the Anglican Church in North America. At my ordination, the bishop laid hands on me and spoke these words: “A new day, a new anointing. Don’t just do what you have always done, what you’ve been doing. Watch for the signs.”  I am grateful that I’ve developed a  habit of journaling, because the bishop’s words were almost lost in the ensuing busyness of a life enveloped in ministry! But as I found myself in a place of confusion and doubt at the dawn of 2013, I sensed the Spirit drawing me back to my ordination. I pulled out my journal to refresh my memory and pondered the bishop’s prophetic words.

There have indeed been signs that I’m being led back into a season of being equipped for new aspects of ministry. My ordination was an acknowledgment by the Church of my true vocation as a servant of the Church. And while I have the spiritual gift of shepherding and believe I am a pastor at heart, I need to improve my skill set for this new season of ministry. In addition, several of our lay leaders are transitioning out of leadership, providing an opportunity for me to invest in new leaders and further build our equipping culture. I’ve said before that implementing equipping systems in a small church is far different than doing it in a large church (the context where I gained the most experience), so I have an opportunity to hone my leadership skills as I experiment with new approaches to equipping the intentionally small congregation.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?                -Isaiah 43:19

I could easily have missed it. How about you? What’s your theology on seasons of ministry? Have you considered that the Holy Spirit may be doing a new thing in your life and ministry? Look for the signs!

 

What makes you come alive?

In a recent article for Leadership Journal, Gordon MacDonald tackled the question: What are the core qualities that offer evidence that one is truly on a pathway toward Christlikeness?

7.  [A transformed Christian] is aware of personal “call” and unique competencies. In other words, It’s not about me, but about what has been entrusted to me and what can be offered to others. The transforming Christ-follower believes he has been given a mission. Usually, if you ask, he can put that mission into words.
We are not speaking of pastors and missionaries only, but all of us. Part of spiritual transformation seems to include a growing sensitivity to a “call,” something “out there” that needs doing in the name of Jesus.
And with the sensitivity comes a capability often called a spiritual gift. It is exhilarating to watch a young Christ-follower awaken to a power given him by the fullness of the Holy Spirit. At first there may be reluctance, even fear. There can be awkwardness, even some failure.
And then, like a young rose exposed to sunlight, the transforming Christian begins to blossom. God’s Spirit anoints with unexpected power and vision, and sometimes you hear one say, “I was made for this.” *

I have taken the liberty of highlighting some of the words that particularly caught my attention, and commend them to yours:

  • What is your “call?”
  • Does your call lead you into mission?
  • Are you experiencing spiritual transformation as a result?
  • Can you identify your capabilities?
  • When have you experienced reluctance…fear…awkwardness…even failure? What have you learned from those experiences?
  • Are you serving in the power of the Holy Spirit?
  • Do you have a Spirit-given vision?
  • Can you say, “I was made for this!“?

Ponder these questions. Seriously, spend some time with them and uncover the truth, not just pat answers. And when you are done, look around and ask, “Who is the Spirit leading me to help ask and answer these questions about their own journey in spiritual transformation?” You just might find God is calling you to a new mission…

You may find yourself called to be an equipping leader!

*(read entire article here)

Break out the balloons!

I was browsing through a retreat center’s library recently, just grazing the titles. Later I remembered seeing a book entitled, Living with Eeyore: How to Positively Love the Negative People in Your Life, by Elizabeth Baker. I didn’t have time to pull the book off the shelf, but the title stuck in my memory. I happen to know a fair amount of people who live with the “glass half-empty” mentality. I bet you do, too. I like to think I’m a “glass half-full” kind of person, and that is usually true of me. But there is one area where I can miss the mark: church.

As I was preparing for our church leadership retreat last month, I began thinking about what needs to be improved–not a bad thing, certainly. However, in my experience, it often leads me down the path of looking at what’s not good enough, where we are lacking, what we don’t have. In other words, “glass half-empty” thinking. As I found myself on this well-worn path, I decided to turn back and begin again. This time I pulled out our member roster and our volunteer ministry records and did some useful research. I was shocked at what I found: nearly 75% of the folks in our church are actively serving!

I was tempted to think, “Yeah, but we are a small parish, so it’s easier to have a higher number of active volunteers,” but then remembered a conversation with a church leader following a workshop I led on helping people identify their spiritual gifts. She said that they were a very small church–around 50 people at best–but that the 80/20 rule was very real for them. Twenty percent of their members were doing 80% of the work, and not much was happening. It seemed as though the Spirit was encouraging me not to be so quick to dismiss that 75% after all!

In all reality, no church will ever experience 100% of their membership in serving opportunities. (At least, not with the prevailing paradigm of ministry being something we add on to our calendar. Go here, and here, and here to read about a different paradigm.) In fact, 75% is way above the average  of 40-50%, even in the healthiest of churches. Suddenly I found myself in that “glass half-full” mentality, excited to share this great news with the leadership team, then break out the balloons for a real volunteer celebration!

When do you catch yourself thinking more about what you don’t have than what you do have? How many/how much is enough?

  • How many people in the pews?
  • How many Bible study groups?
  • How many volunteer ministers?
  • How many Sunday school classes?
  • How many first-time visitors?
  • How much money?
  • How many who have completed gifts assessments?
  • How many hours logged in community service?
  • How many people engaged in mission?
  • How many/how much (you fill in the blank)?

The God we serve is quite adept at providing more than we could ask for or want. When we realize that we are on mission with him we can trust that he is providing everything we need in order to accomplish his purpose.

Try counting your blessings…praising God for the resources–gifts, people, money, ministry, etc.–that he has provided. Develop a “glass full to overflowing”mentality, break out the balloons and celebrate!

Lessons from the beach…a reminder for leaders

Tropical Storm Debby

I recently returned from a few days on Florida’s Gulf Coast, vacationing with my family. We arrived to a wet welcome from tropical storm Debby, which did a lot to dampen our vacation spirit (pun certainly intended!). We had dreamed for weeks of fun activities and long walks on the beach…but for the first three days, we were barely able to stand on the beach, much less walk on it. The wind howled, the surf pounded, and the rain pelted the windows. We heard that roads were closed and, since we were not familiar with the area, we were unwilling to venture out. I couldn’t help but wonder if our vacation would be ruined, and I found myself asking God what he might have to teach me in this.

As if the storm wasn’t enough of a spoiler, I also had laryngitis. Talking over the noise of the wind and surf was impossible. Since I was forced to be quiet, I found myself really listening to the conversations going on around me without thinking of what I would say as soon as I had a chance. Sitting on our balcony during a break in the rain, I listened to a bird singing the most beautiful song–even as she hung on for dear life in the top of a palm tree being whipped by the wind. It’s really amazing what I hear when I can’t talk!

Once the weather broke, we had a list of things to do and places to see. Two precious days were lost to the storm and we were anxious to make up for lost time. God had another idea. Between the posted speed limits of 25 to 35 mph and the detours imposed by high water, we had no choice but to meander along the beach roads, taking little detours here and there. We missed many of the activities on our list, but I observed some beautiful artwork on the outside walls of hotels and condos, noticed some funny  mailboxes belonging to equally unusual beach cottages, and was blessed by the local folks standing near those closed sections of road to help tourists like us find a way around. It’s amazing the interesting sights I can see and the kindnesses I can appreciate when I slow down, take my time, and just meander.

I’ve returned from a few vacations energized by sightseeing and fun activities packed into every day, only to find the energy fizzle quickly. Not this time. God used the first couple of rain-soaked days to slow me down. I intended to hit the ground running, but what I really needed was just the opposite…to slow down, unwind, relax, get calm and quiet.

There’s something about spending a week in unfamiliar surroundings that changed me. My attention was somehow sharpened and I became more receptive… more aware of what was going on around me and how I perceived it. It was refreshing! I have come home with renewed energy for life and mission.

After the storm

So, how’s your energy these days? Does life and mission feel dull and draining?When is the last time you stopped talking, stopped doing, and just relaxed? In our ridiculously fast-paced culture, time out for rest is not a luxury… it’s a necessity. Think about it: How often do you have to recharge your phone or your laptop? What happens when you think you don’t have time to plug them into the charger? Uh-huh… so take some time and recharge YOU!