Just one…

Earlier this year I attended a conference featuring Leonard Sweet, Kay Warren, and Ed Stetzer as keynote speakers. Here are three highlights from my notes:

  • People get bored with hearing how God loves us. We sing a few worship songs, give a “woohoo” or two, say “Yeah, I got it—Jesus loves me,” and move on.  (Kay Warren) This made me wonder if people get equally bored with hearing, “You are called and gifted to serve.” Knowing God loves me intellectually versus experiencing God’s love through serving… How can I offer the same message of hope in a fresh way?
  • We live in a TGIF world: Twitter, Google, iPhone, and Facebook. (Leonard Sweet) He also asked the question, “Are we on mission for the world we wish we had, or for the world we’ve got—the TGIF world we now live in.” How often do I wish for the past, the simpler world I am most comfortable with? How often do I resist using technology to communicate effectively in the world I’ve got now? This TGIF culture is based on images and stories, not the words and principles I grew up on. How does that understanding impact the way I encourage and invite people into ministry?
  • Any system that demotivates and disempowers the people of God from doing the mission of God is unhelpful and probably sinful. (Ed Stetzer) When and where am I doing for people what God has called them to do? Am I too busy servicing customers rather than training co-laborers? What am I doing to ensure that God gets his due glory because people are using their gifts?

For those of us who have been in equipping ministry for a while, I suppose none of this is particularly new. At one level or another, most of us have heard some variation on these same themes. But here’s the thing: What have I done with what I heard? As I was reading over my notes, I had the same sense of excitement as when I first heard the talks. I found myself saying, “Yeah, preach it!” all over again. And yet, I came home from the conference, jumped back into the routine, and forgot much of that good teaching. I didn’t utilize it.

What about you? What are you learning these days? What good books are you reading? What workshops, conferences, and seminars have you attended where the content was relevant to you and your ministry? What are you doing with what you are learning? If you aren’t utilizing it, you are just wasting your time and your money, not to mention cluttering up your brain!

Here’s your challenge: De-clutter that brain of yours by taking one good idea you’ve heard or read in the past month and put it to use.

Just one.

The simpler the better.

Right now.

Make a plan.

Do it…

Then share it–I would love to hear your idea, and how you utilized it!

From Vision to Reality

As I studied the New Testament church in the book of Acts many years ago, I had a vision. Not anything Scripturemystical. Not even anything different from what I was reading, I suppose. But a vision nonetheless. As clear as if I was actually living it, I saw in my mind’s eye THE CHURCH in all her glory. Occasionally the Holy Spirit shows me that vision again, often when I most need refreshing.

It was during a silent retreat last month as I was meditating on Psalm 71. Verse 5 had caught my attention…

For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.

My mind was playing its version of the Association Game, revisiting the memories of my youth when I was first introduced to Jesus Christ. I was thinking of the little church I attended, remembering different faces and connecting them to the roles they filled in our small community and–BAM!–there was the vision again.

It is a joyful church. Not that everyone is happy all the time, but everyone is joyful because they see clearly that they are part of a larger mission…the misseo Dei. Each one has something valuable to contribute for the good of the whole, for the fulfillment of God’s purpose. Those with apostolic gifting are commissioned to go out and tell the Good News of Jesus Christ; those with gifts more appropriate to the local church and community stay home and use them to “keep the home fires burning,” so to speak. When the traveling missioners come home, everyone gathers around to share their stories of what God has been doing both near and far, praising him and giving thanks. There is a sweet rhythm to this life within community.

I realize that this sounds utopian, more fairy tale than anything found in reality. But this vision is what calls to me, day in and day out. Building a church where everyone has a part to play–all the roles being of equal value for the good of the whole–and the mission of God being lived out and fulfilled right in front of us… this is my life purpose. This is what God created and called and gifted me to do.  I am as certain of this as I am of my own name.

What is your role in the misseo Dei? Are you certain of it? Are you living it? If you aren’t sure, engage in some serious solitude–however long it takes until you hear the voice of God. It’s critical to the success of your ministry that you know–without a doubt–the person God has created you to be and how he has shaped you to serve.

If you know your role and are living it, praise God! Now go help someone else to do the same. Have a conversation with someone you know who is struggling to find their place in God’s mission. Explore with them their passions, their abilities, and their experiences. Help them identify their personal preferences and their spiritual gifts. Keep after it until they connect with God’s call and are living it out in community. If we keep doing this, we might just find the vision will become the reality.

Engaging in “misseo Dei”

“As a church, you’re not supposed to hunker down and be happy,” says the Rev. Trish Nelson, Executive Director of Christ Church Anglican in Overland Park, Kansas. “You’re out to spread the gospel, to tell people about Christ, love your neighbors and love one another. Doing that well doesn’t mean you stay where you’re comfortable.”

Wave, the quarterly magazine of The Anglican Mission, profiled Christ Church Anglican in its Spring 2011 edition. The quote from Rev. Nelson echos the restlessness in my spirit following a day of inspiring testimonies.

I was blessed yesterday to spend time with seven pastors, listening to them share what their churches are doing to “tell people about Christ.”

  • Matt leads a campus ministry of roughly seven students. They just returned from a spring break mission trip deep into Appalachia, where they spent the week repairing a family’s home.
  • Chris planted a church two years ago in the metro area of a major city; the majority of his small parish are students. They are negotiating for space at the area’s largest produce market where they will sell Rwandan fair-trade coffee, providing jobs for survivors of one of the worst genocides in history.
  • Andy pastors an Appalachian church of about 25 folks. They recently gutted and refurbished a community family’s mobile home–furniture and all. Currently they are putting a roof on another home, and making cabinets for a neighbor’s kitchen. A young couple recently joined their fellowship who have a heart for the “skateboard kids” in this little town. They are beginning a ministry to these kids in an effort to keep them out of juvenile court.
  • The day concluded with the “launch” of a new house church in another small KY town. This pastor and his wife have a heart to provide a safe place of healing and restoration for those who are struggling to overcome addiction. In a region well known for its meth labs and Oxycontin drug traffic, their ministry will certainly make a difference in the community.

All of these illustrations have this in common: they are small churches with huge hearts… a few people coming together to BE the body of Christ in their community. They understand that the church does not have a mission; rather, the mission of God has a church. They are not willing to remain comfortably “inside,” but are eager to engage in misseo Dei, using the gifts, graces, and other resources God provides. Their scorecard is not based on the numbers game, but on the spiritual transformation that takes place when people serve in meaningful ministry–transformation not only in those who serve, but also in the lives of those who are served.

As you are reading this, you may be thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah–I know all this. But how do I get my church to engage in God’s mission? Everyone is just too busy already.” I don’t claim to have all the answers–hardly!–but I can help. Moreover, I want to.

The desire of my heart is to see every believer living their faith out loud in meaningful ministry and every church fully engaged in misseo Dei.

Here are three ways you can respond:

  1. If the desire of your heart resonates with the desire of mine, I’d love to hear more! I hope you will take a moment to reply to this post.
  2. If your church is actively engaged in misseo Dei, please share what you are doing by responding to this post. You will encourage others!
  3. If you are even a bit curious, I invite you to visit my website at www.andeemarks.com to learn more.

I hope to hear from you!

Simple…not easy

I confess that I’m not much on New Year’s Resolutions and tire of the endless chatter about it at this time of year! However, I’m not above spending a little time reflecting on the past 12 months, identifying the successes as well as growing edges. Part of that process includes thinking about my life mission and what I want to accomplish in the coming year… with God’s help, of course.

Did you catch it? That last sentence…

I’m not pleased to admit to that thought process. I too easily approach the “to-do” list (goal-setting, resolution-making or whatever you choose to call it) from the perspective of what I want to get done, and then asking God to bless and help me. It’s easy to look at the achievements that I think are most beneficial, attractive, or easily attained, assuming those things will look good to God, too.

If I’m honest, I know that I need to think less about what I want to accomplish and more about what God wants to accomplish through me—not to mention in me! (This is when having a personal mission statement pays off. Reflecting on that statement—and the process of writing it—brings me back to the basics of my ministry.) When I look to God’s word for some clues as to what he would have on my to-do list, one thing continually grabs my attention and captures my heart:

Equip the saints for works of service.

That’s it. Simple. Not easy perhaps, but simple.

Since you are reading this, I’m guessing that Paul’s charge in Ephesians 4 resonates with you, too.  So, let me challenge you to take a look at your resolutions and measure them against scripture. What do you see on your list  that reflects Paul’s directive?

  • Do you need to breathe new life into your gifts discovery process?
  • Do you need to re-examine your equipping systems and processes, looking for “holes” that need to be plugged?
  • How are you modeling equipping for your lay leaders and volunteers?

In the coming weeks, let’s engage in conversation around these questions, as well as any others that the Holy Spirit raises. Let’s help each other improve our understanding of equipping and hone our leadership skills. We might find that if we give our best effort as equipping leaders—through the power of the Holy Spirit, of course!—we can help others accomplish God’s purpose for their lives. Together—everyone serving according to the way God has uniquely designed them to serve—we may just check some things off God’s list… things like feeding the hungry, providing water to those who thirst, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, caring for the orphans and widows… well, you get the idea, right?

One last thing… Do you have a personal mission statement? If not, I encourage you to make that a New Year’s Resolution! If you do have one, do your resolutions align with your mission? If not, what needs to change?

No-Show Volunteer Syndrome

I had a conversation recently with a ministry leader who was frustrated with one of her volunteers.

“Sue showed up at church Sunday morning and I happened to run into her just as she was entering the sanctuary. I had just come from the toddler room where the teacher was panicking because she didn’t have a helper. Do you know who was on the schedule to serve? Sue! When I asked her why she wasn’t in the classroom serving, she replied, ‘Oh, is it my turn to serve?’ Doesn’t she look at the schedule I provide? What’s the problem with these volunteers that don’t take their commitment seriously? It’s not rocket science; in fact, anyone can do it!”

Do you contend with “no-show volunteer syndrome?” Sometimes managing volunteers can feel suspiciously like trying to herd cats! Volunteers, by definition, don’t get paid. Yet, we live in a culture where the paycheck wields power. So what leverage do we have to ensure that volunteers honor their commitment?

The root of this particular leader’s problem may be found in her attitude towards the ministry role. Her comment that “anyone can do it” devalues the service… which often leads volunteers to think that if anyone can do it, someone else will do it (even if subconsciously).

When we as ministry leaders take the time to connect the purpose of the serving role to a specific desired outcome, it shows the volunteer exactly how they fit into the bigger picture. Connecting ministry to mission increases serving value.

A workshop presenter at an equipping conference I attended several years ago gave this example:

“One of our serving opportunities includes washing windows. This ministry is very important, but not for the reason you may think. What about the person who comes into our church on Sunday who has a thing about smudged windows? Rather than hearing the message, she is distracted by the dirty window and her compulsion to clean it. Keeping those windows smudge-free is a ministry to that woman and others like her, eliminating a potential distraction from full participation in the worship service.”

Want to break the “no-show volunteer syndrome?” Make the connection between each of your serving opportunities and the desired outcome. See each service as ministry that is vital to the church’s mission, then cast that vision for your volunteers… and keep re-casting it as often as necessary until they see it, too!

Connections Strategist?

That’s me… I’m a connections strategist! I’ve been searching for a title other than “consultant”–something with a hook… a title that would ask for more. I don’t consult with churches to help them increase the number of people in the pews or the amount of cash in the offering plate. I know nothing about conducting capital campaigns to build bigger buildings (even though I’ve endured a few!). That’s the kind of assistance most church consultants offer, and it can be very helpful.

My experience, however, is in another area which is absolutely essential to the mission of the Church. (And, no, I am not biased! Well, maybe just a little…) I come alongside churches to help them connect their people with the ministry God has prepared for them. I help ministry leaders design processes to engage their people in gifts discovery and serving opportunities–two critical components to spiritual formation.

Christ-followers are called by Jesus to “make disciples.”  We can share the Good News and lead someone to pray the Prayer of Salvation, but if we stop there, we have only accomplished half the task. Let me illustrate with a story…

There was once a young man who had gone to Sunday school during his childhood, was baptized and confirmed in the tradition of his church. When he reached a certain age, he drifted away from the church. He wandered down a path that led to alcohol addiction and all the promise of that young life was being lost in a bottle of booze. Then came an event in this young man’s life that brought him to a point of desperation. God intervened in the form of an attorney who was willing to share the Good News and lead the young man back into a relationship with Jesus. The attorney handed the young man a Bible, wished him well, and went on to the next poor soul in need of salvation.

That could well have been “The End”… not only to the story, but to the young man’s “discipleship.” Thankfully, it was not. By the grace of God, there were others who came into the young man’s life and led him back to the fellowship of Christ-followers where he could study the Word of God. That, too, could be “The End” of the story and, at a glance, it looks like a fitting end.

But what happens with knowledge that is never put to use? Haven’t you ever attended a workshop or conference where you learned some really useful tools? You are so excited to get back to your regular routine so that you can try out those new tools, so full of promise. But, back in the real world, you quickly become too busy to apply what you learned and, eventually, it is lost. Sound familiar? The same holds true for Bible knowledge. In order for it to be useful in our spiritual formation, we must apply it to our everyday lives.

The Church is charged with proclaiming the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus. That is not the culmination of discipleship. Rather, it is just the beginning! The Church is also responsible for encouraging the spiritual formation of its people. But churches can also get so caught up in the busyness of doing church that they can’t quite move beyond the preaching and teaching and get to the practical application of being the Church.

That’s where a Connections Strategist–that’s me!–comes into play. I help churches develop strategic methods of connecting people with their spiritual gifting,  gifting with ministry, and ministry with the community. Get it?