Clean Windows

I sit at my desk and gaze out the window at burnished gold and flaming orange leaves heralding autumn. It occurs to me how much I love clean windows! Earlier this morning I looked out through the accumulation of dirt and smudges on the glass and those same leaves looked dull, joyless. So I gathered up my cleaning supplies and got busy. Now, observed through my clean window, the world looks freshly washed.

Clean-WindowsI do love clean windows…but I hate washing them! I procrastinate and complain about this despised chore, no matter how delighted I am with the end result. I can’t afford to pay someone to wash my windows for me, so I’m stuck with doing it myself. Our windows are old, the kind that tilt in, and it requires strong hands to compress the frame in order to release the sash. Sometimes a window frame has become stiff with age and I struggle to get the sash free. When it suddenly pops out, there’s this little “pop” of relief within me…now I can get on with the washing.  Depending on the season, the sash may be stuck, not willing to budge no matter how much I push, pull, huff and puff. Those are the days when I’m so grateful for the help of my husband’s strong hands and arms. It’s good to have help when the work is hard!

Like looking through clean windows, I love seeing the heart of God clearly. Somehow the world seems freshly washed–and me along with it–when I observe the world around me with his heart. But, just like washing windows, seeing God’s heart clearly requires time and energy…and there are days when I just don’t want to invest in Bible study and prayer, no matter how delighted I will be with the end result. In a different sense, I can’t afford to pay someone to do that work for me (paying the preacher to preach the sermon doesn’t count!) This is work I must do myself.

Inevitably, there are days when the framework of my mind has become stiff with age, resistant to the pressure of  change. There are seasons when I feel the window of my soul has swollen shut with the cares of life and world, and it just won’t budge. In those times, it takes a strong hand to break those places free…tilting the sash of my soul inward so that God can penetrate my heart and mind. In those times I am grateful for the Spirit’s gift of a listening friend who encourages me until I feel the “pop”, or the one more learned than me who has generously written down the wisdom gleaned from their own study and prayer. Again, it’s good to have help when the work is hard!

When my view of life and world is dull and joyless, I know that I’m not seeing God’s heart clearly. I’ve allowed the dirt and smudges of procrastination and complaining to accumulate on the window of my soul. I realize that it’s time to gather up my cleaning supplies–prayer, Scripture, a good friend, the wisdom of a commentary–and get busy. The end result is like looking at the brilliant fall leaves through freshly washed windows…delightful!

How’s the view through your windows?

Back to the Basics: The Word

acts_pageWhat does scripture have to say about who does ministry? Here are five passages that I think are critical to a proper understanding of equipping:

  1. Ephesians 2:10–we are created in Christ Jesus to do what?
  2. Ephesians 4:11-16–who are the trainers? who are they training? what are they training them for?
  3. 1 Peter 2–who belongs to the priesthood?
  4. 1 Corinthians 12–how does this body work?
  5. John 13:15-17–Jesus did what? commanded what? promised what?

If we are to follow Christ’s example, I think there’s no room for doubt that each and every believer is called and commanded to serve, whether it’s washing feet or preaching the gospel, or something in between. Moreover, between the gifts of the Spirit and the efforts of apostles, evangelists, prophets, and pastor/teachers, each and every believer is equipped to fulfill the ministry God has prepared for him or her.

Together these passages beg the question, What part don’t you get?

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.

Avoiding Bible-study Gluttony

I was talking with a friend today who said that she is really enjoying digging into the scriptures these days, after years of allowing volunteering and other such good works to be her excuse in avoiding a regular pattern of Bible study. I certainly understand what she is saying, but as I’ve thought more about our conversation, I think she’s more the exception than the rule. Here’s what I’m getting at…

Take a look at your church calendar. How many opportunities are there for folks to “get into the word?” How many Sunday school classes, Wednesday night classes, home Bible studies, small group Bible studies, women’s Bible studies, men’s Bible studies… well, you get the idea. Seriously, count them and see how many.

Now, how many opportunities are on that calendar for folks to live out what they are learning in those Bible studies? Perhaps more to the point, how many folks are actually taking advantage of those opportunities or creating others? How many are feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison? If you are a ministry leader, How often are you begging for volunteers?

The balance between study and service

Several years ago, our kids bought their dad one of those home gym things–you know what I mean… they look like an instrument of torture and take up half a room. Anyway, David put the thing together and read the instructions for using it. He also got a subscription to a men’s health magazine and learned about exercise and better nutrition. He could tell you which exercises worked which muscle groups and whether you needed to focus on increasing reps or adding more weight. But here’s the catch… if he had never actually climbed on the gym-thing and used it, all that knowledge would have done absolutely nothing to make him more physically fit. He would just continue to gain weight, get stiff, and have no stamina.

Likewise, a steady diet of Bible study with no practical application runs the risk of producing Bible study gluttons who are puffed up with their knowledge but have no stamina when it comes to service. Endless Bible study with no practical application is a fast track to legalism. (Remember the Pharisees of Jesus’ day?) Not to mention getting bogged down in a mire of unrealistic idealism… (Unrealistic this side of heaven, anyway!) Rightly understood, discipleship requires combining Bible study with pragmatism–feet on the ground, doing the work we are created to do and all the while reflecting on God’s word as we are living it out.

Interestingly, as we use those “calories” (truths we’ve gleaned from our Bible study) through exercising (serving in the ministry God has prepared for us to do), we find we are strengthened in our faith. We also find that we work up a healthy thirst for Living Water and hunger for the Bread of Life. Our spirits need more “fuel” so that we can continue doing the good works we were created to do.

Do the kingdom a favor… help those you lead and serve avoid Bible-study gluttony by finding balance through service!

What are we equipping them for? Is it enough?

In my last post, I questioned whether we are in danger of turning equipping into another program of the church. I suggested that we as equipping leaders might need to look at our motive for equipping. If we are truly honest, are we motivated to equip in order to fill the empty ministry slot? Perhaps we are accomplishing that more efficiently when we encourage people to engage in gifts discovery and match them to appropriate serving opportunities, but I’m concerned that our motivation is still skewed.

Perhaps we need to be motivated by something more than the ministry roles and serving opportunities of the church–no matter how important and worthwhile they are–and rather be driven by a passion for helping people see the whole of their life as a serving opportunity. Perhaps we need to be motivated by the desire to see each and every believer be the hands and feet and voice of Christ wherever they are and whatever they are doing. Period. Maybe what we need to do is help the harried working mom or the stressed-out executive dad discover how God has gifted them for ministry right where they are.

In our consumer culture, is it any wonder that they are suspicious about our attempts to “equip” them? Why wouldn’t they assume that we are trying to add one more thing to their already busy calendar… the sad thing is that, in too many cases, they are right! We may be sincere in our desire to help them find the best serving opportunity that aligns with their SHAPE* for ministry, but we are still trying to plug them into a serving role that we need to fill.

Last Sunday I listened to a sermon on 1 Peter 2:5. The preacher spoke of us as being priests to the nation and to the world, explaining that a priest (in this context) is simply a person who represents God. How are we equipping believers to represent God? How does the working mom or the middle-aged executive reflect the grace and glory of God in their day in and day out life? Can we simply equip them by helping them discover how their SHAPE for ministry fits into the warp and woof of their every day life without suggesting one more “opportunity” to live it out? Can we let that be enough… until such time as the Holy Spirit prompts them to volunteer to teach Sunday school or serve at the homeless shelter?

What do you think?

*SHAPE is an acronym for Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences. This discovery method originated at Saddleback Church and is my preferred approach for equipping.

Two wrong questions; One right answer

Where do you look for your leaders? Gotta have ’em, right? And too often we need them sooner rather than later! So we begin the search, which might look like this…

We need a strong leader for our finance committee. Who in the church is experienced in accounting or finance? Wrong question!

When I served on the staff of a large mainline denominational church, that’s the question that was most frequently asked during the nominations process. Who has marketplace experience in something directly related to the leadership role we need to fill? Who are the insurance brokers, builders, engineers who have exhibited marketplace success that we can nominate for trustees? Who among our congregation are teachers that we can nominate to lead discipleship? Who works in human resources that we can nominate to serve on this nominations committee? Wrong questions.

Or perhaps the search process might begin like this…

We need a leader for our finance committee. Who do we know that has the time to serve? Wrong question!

Smaller churches may not even be thinking about who is successful in the marketplace. They may simply be asking, “Who isn’t already serving in other areas? Who has the time to lead this committee? Who can we ask that we won’t have to strong-arm into saying “yes?” Wrong questions.

If you are honest, you know you’ve asked these same questions. When we are desperate for leadership, we can easily succumb to the temptation to ask the default questions, Who’s got experience? or Who’s got time?

Several years ago I read an article that asked, “What’s the most important quality to look for in a leader?” Now there’s a good question! The answer: Wisdom.

Scripture has quite a bit to say about wisdom. According to Proverbs, wisdom is supreme (4:7), worth far more than rubies (8:11), accompanies humility (11:2), is found in those who take advice (13:10), and brings joy (29:3). Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge above all else, and the Lord was so pleased that He granted the request–along with the wealth, riches, and honor that Solomon did not ask for! (2 Chronicles 1:8-12) What’s more, James tells us that God still honors that request (James 1:5). The first deacons were chosen because they were full of the Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3), and Paul includes wisdom in the list of spiritual gifts necessary for health and maturity in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:8). There are plenty more references to wisdom–pull out your concordance and see for yourself. A word study on wisdom might be a worthwhile expenditure of our time.

Marketplace experience is no match for godly wisdom. And having time to spare may be an indication of idleness (scripture has something to say about that, too!). Wisdom, on the other hand, is a “generalist.” A person who is wise will employ their wisdom in a leadership role on any team or committee. A wise person also knows how to manage their time, and values balance between work and rest. A person who is truly wise derives their wisdom from the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:17) and will lead accordingly. That sounds to me like the right person to fill the leadership role. What do you think?

I have some more thoughts on leadership to share in the coming days. I hope you will join in the conversation!

The Shopkeeper and the Guide

Last week I received a phone call from a ministry leader halfway across the country. He came across my contact information on a website and called me for help. He had read a book about equipping and his question was simple, “Will this really work?” This man was looking for more than words on a page.

In his book, Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson has much to say about the importance of language, and what we are missing as our culture steadily increases its dependence upon the written word over the spoken word in education (and communication in general, I might add!).

Peterson employs the story of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch on  Gaza Road (Acts 8:26-39) to illustrate the difference between one who explains Scripture and one who guides another into an experiential understanding of the Word. Philip asks the Ethiopian, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Peterson writes:

The African invites Philip into the chariot to accompany him as his guide. This is going to take some time. Philip has to make a choice: will he stand alongside the chariot, providing information and answering questions about Scripture, exegetical work that comes easily for him, or will he involve himself in a spiritual quest with this stranger? Will I? It is the difference between the shopkeeper who sells maps of the wilderness and the person who goes with you into it, risking the dangers, helping to cook the meals, and sharing the weather. Philip decides [to guide]. He climbs into the chariot and shares the journey.¹

Philip doesn’t leave the Ethiopian to simply read the Scripture, but rather guides him into an experience of Christ through conversation–questions asked and answered–regarding the text, culminating in the baptism of this African. How much more effective is this man’s witness now than before Philip climbed into the chariot? Borrowing from Peterson, the Ethiopian has “read much Scripture,” and now he has “experienced much Christ,” creating congruity between the word and the Word.

I’ve been reflecting on that phone conversation in light of Peterson’s comments about the Gaza Road experience. If I am honest, I have to admit that I sometimes find it more comfortable to explain from the sidelines. But I have to ask, Does the pastor who called me understand what he is reading? In one sense, yes he does. But how much more effective would it be if he had a guide who could lead him into an experience of developing an equipping culture, rather than just reading words on a page?

Put another way: As an equipping leader, am I content with being the “shopkeeper who sells the map,” explaining the concepts of equipping from a theological perspective, hoping those listening will somehow figure out how to create congruity between what they learn and the reality of their ministry? Or would I rather be the guide who comes alongside other practitioners, engaging in conversation–questions asked and answered relative to their specific context–leading them into an experience of an equipping culture, and culminating in a leader whose ministry can tell the story much more effectively than words on a workbook page? For me, the answer is simple. Like Philip, I choose to be the guide.

So… who do you want to be? The shopkeeper or the guide?

1. Peterson, Eugene H., Working the Angles (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), p. 128