Everyone has an agenda. What’s yours?

White Christmas is one of my all-time favorite movies. I faithfully watch it every year—have for more years than I will admit to here! I was reminded today of a particular scene… Early in the movie, Wallace and Davis encounter the Haynes sisters in a contrived meeting. When Betty confesses that her sister Judy set up the meeting under false pretenses, Wallace chuckles and comments that “everyone has an angle.” In today’s parlance, we might say “everyone has an agenda.”

The reason this scene came to mind is that I was reading about a pastor who entered a resistance-to-changenew pastorate with some pretty high expectations. When he encountered resistance to his agenda, he became angry at the people who were opposing him. He couldn’t understand how they could disagree with him on several fundamental issues of the faith. He fell into a pit of despair.

Are you familiar with that pit? I am! Want to know the quickest way to fall into it? Insist on your own agenda without listening to those who will be impacted by it.

Years ago I served on the staff of a large church that prided itself on its Wednesday evening programming which had for years been a mainstay of their discipleship offerings. It had begun during an era when most churches had Wednesday night services. Consequently, schools did not schedule extracurricular activities on Wednesdays. Offices and retail establishments closed their doors at 5:00pm. Kids had homework that could be completed in under an hour, and usually without the aid of a parent. But as all that began to change—businesses remaining open until all hours of the night, kids having homework that requires hours to complete and parents pushed to help them if anyone is going to get to bed at a decent hour, and schools scheduling extracurricular activities every night of the week–we struggled to have enough volunteers. I found that my agenda became all about feverishly recruiting volunteers to cook and serve the meals, lead Bible studies for adults and children, and keep the nursery. I became angry and frustrated with what I heard as excuses for not cooperating with my agenda and, eventually, I fell into that pit of despair because I failed to make them see serving as I saw it: a fundamental faith issue.

By God’s grace, I had a conversation with a mother of three kids whose husband traveled extensively. This woman served faithfully in a couple of ministries, but as she shared her struggle each Wednesday to get the kids home from school, start homework, make it to church in time for dinner, stay for Bible study afterwards, then return home to finish homework and get them in bed in time for a full night’s rest, my heart gave way. Expecting her to serve on Wednesdays was saddling her with an unbearable burden!

I began listening to other parents of school-age kids and heard much the same story over and again. Parents said that they came in the door and their family splintered, kids going one direction and adults the other. No wonder my agenda of recruiting more volunteers was meeting with such resistance!  We were encroaching on the precious little family time they had!  What we meant for good was in reality straining for our families. It was obvious our Wednesday night programming needed to be modified. Interestingly, when I brought this to staff meeting, suggesting that we scale back our Wednesday activities, I met with the same resistance I had been offering. No amount of explanation would sway the staff’s thinking. Their agenda was set in stone.

This reflection has been a good reminder for me, and I share it in case you need to hear it, too. Whenever we meet resistance to our agenda, it is wise to stop and listen. We should ask questions that are motivated by a sincere desire to understand, rather than a selfish desire to push our agenda. We need to listen carefully to the answers…listen for the voice of God through the voices of others who oppose our agenda. It may be that God isn’t a fan of our agenda, either!

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.

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.

Small Church Equipping Values

big-or-smallHow do equipping values differ between the large church and the small church? They don’t; there is no difference! The values are the same:

  • Prayer–Developing an equipping culture requires Holy Spirit power. The path to that power is through prayer.
  • Vision of the church as contained in Ephesians 4–The role of the leadership is to equip the people for the ministry of the Church.
  • Servant leadership–The leaders and the laity are partners in ministry. Leaders set the example by serving others.
  • Team ministry–No one does ministry alone.
  • Intentionality–Equipping doesn’t happen on its own. It requires intentional preaching, teaching, discovery, and connecting people to meaningful serving opportunities
  • Proactive towards change–Change is inevitable; resistance is futile! Learn to evaluate and respond to change as it comes.

The values may be lived out differently in the smaller church, however, because the challenges are different. For example, smaller churches are often more inclined to view the pastor as the one who performs all the ministry of the church. Their reasoning may be that the church is small so there’s not that much to do. But that completely misses the point in 1 Corinthians 12 that every member of the body has a function and a role, as well as the pesky mandate in Ephesians 4 that the pastor is to equip the people to do the ministry!

Another common scenario in the small church is the person who has served in a particular ministry for so long that she and the ministry have become synonymous. So whereas the small church may only need one adult Sunday school teacher for their one adult class, there may be others with teaching gifts to be employed as well. Creating a teaching team–even if it’s only two–says that shared ministry is valued.

In larger churches, there is usually a variety of classes and programs offered. Keeping those classes and programs running smoothly requires many volunteers. On the other hand, the smaller church doesn’t offer such a wide variety because they don’t have the multitude of people wanting or needing it. So it may be tempting to “fill the slots,” get the ministry essentials covered with a few willing volunteers, and let the rest of the people off the serving hook. It requires a different kind of intentionality in the small church to connect people with ministry because it becomes necessary to look outside the walls of the church for places and ways to connect your people to serving opportunities. And that means it is all the more necessary to preach and teach about following the example of Jesus as servant because serving outside the walls of the church can be less convenient than serving inside the walls!

The values are the same no matter the size of the church; it’s the way those values are recognized and executed that is different. The challenge for the equipping leader in the small church, then, is to adopt the equipping values which apply to all churches, but adapt the processes that are designed for a large church to something more applicable in the small church context.

Are you an equippingleader in a small church? How have you adapted “big church” methods to fit your church? I invite you to share what has worked…or what hasn’t!

 

The missing link

I am a church member.

I like the metaphor of membership. It’s not membership as in a civic organization or a country club. It’s the kind of membership given to us in 1 Corinthians 12: “Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27). Because I am a member of the body of Christ, I must be a functioning member, whether I am an “eye,” an “ear,” or a “hand.” As a functioning member, I will give. I will serve. I will minister. I will evangelize. I will study. I will seek to be a blessing to others. I will remember that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  (read the entire blog post here)

Wouldn’t it be great if every single church member shared this perspective on membership? There would be no need for stewardship campaigns; there would be plenty of resources for ministry! Ministry would no longer belong only to the “paid holy people.” Instead of bemoaning the lack of volunteer ministers, church leaders would be scrambling to accommodate all those willing servants! There would be baptisms every Sunday as new believers professed their faith in Christ. Small groups would be regularly digging into the word of God–not just storehousing knowledge, but actually living it out as they went about their days blessing others.

Yeah, wouldn’t that be great! A perfectly unified church… But how?

Here’s a hint:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV)

Quoting Eric Geiger, Thom Rainer writes:

For the sake of brevity, let’s deal only with the role of pastors/teachers. Note these truths from the text:

  • Christ (He) personally gave this role. It was important to Him, so it has to be important to us.
  • The role of pastors is not so much to do ministry, as it is to train or equip others to do ministry.
  • If pastors fulfill this role, the body of Christ is built up.
  • As the body of Christ is built up, the believers become unified in the faith.

The passage is clear. As pastors are more involved in training others to do ministry, there will be greater unity in the church. (read the entire blog post here)

Rainer goes on to say that they uncovered an interesting–and unsettling–statistic through their research:

Almost all pastors we surveyed affirmed their critical role in training others to do ministry. But almost three fourths of these pastors had no plans to do so. For most pastors, the reasons behind this gap were simple: they either didn’t know how to take the next steps, or they didn’t feel like they had the time to do so.

Are we, as pastors/teachers, the missing link? Have we developed a plan for equipping our people, raising them up to be fully devoted followers of Christ? Are executing that plan? Do you need to develop one, write down what you are going to do and how you are going to do it…step by step? I’m not sure there’s anything more deserving of our time than equipping our people for ministry.

Perhaps the first step–one we may have overlooked–is teaching our people what it means to be a church member.

An exercise in frustration

frustrationIf you are leading a small church and have designed even the most excellent equipping structure, rolling it out to a congregation that’s not big enough to support it and expecting great results is an exercise in frustration.

I have heard this time and again from pastors and ministry leaders in smaller congregations. They have preached and taught about serving, they have developed ministry descriptions for all their serving opportunities, they have a put a system in place to guide people through discovery and placement…yet they are still struggling to have enough volunteer ministers who are sure of their calling to lead ministry.

The values and principles are the same, so why doesn’t it work in a smaller church? What is missing???

Frankly, I was puzzled, too. But a recent conversation led me to a seemingly important insight. In a nutshell, it’s the institutional approach vs. organic approach.  I know those over-played words may trigger a fight or flight response in you, but resist it! Hear me out…

I spent 10 years in a large, well-established church. I learned and applied equipping principles and practices in that context. For the most part, they worked. Then I moved to a very small parish. Applying those same tried and true equipping principles and practices in this smaller context has been far less successful. On my bad days, dismal failure expressed my feelings perfectly!

For example: In the larger church, I could offer a gifts discovery class and have at least 20-25 folks sign up. I’ve offered the same class in my small parish (more than once) and had not one person express interest. See what I mean about dismal failure? Within the equipping process, gifts discovery is an integral first step. How do I move people through the process if they are unwilling to take the first step?

In a large church–say 1000 regular attenders–there may be 10-20% who have been discipled and are ready and willing to serve. Taking 100 to 200 people through the process makes it worth all the effort that went into that carefully designed equipping structure! And the odds of discovering a few folks in that crowd who are gifted and ready to lead are certainly in your favor.

In a small church of 100 regular attenders, that same 10-20% would amount to 10 to 20 volunteer ministers. Guiding only 10 people through a detailed equipping process can look like overkill! The structure overwhelms the number of participants (picture two people living alone in a mansion!). And you may not find one ready leader among those ten.

It seems to me that the institutional approach is to carefully design the equipping structure and processes first, then guide the potential volunteer ministers through them. It’s more likely to be effective for larger congregations.

However, it’s overwhelming for the small church. A more organic approach is to work with a few people at a time, discipling them personally. Discipling is more than Bible study. True discipling includes calling and gifts discovery, leadership development, and serving in a ministry. A lot is learned through your conversations that will enable you to skip some of the steps in the institutional approach (e.g., matching someone to a serving opportunity is much easier when you know them well, resulting in less trial and error). And while you are engaged in discipling, you are at the same time modeling leadership so that “leadership development” isn’t another step in the process.

Tired of the frustration? Investing in this personal discipling will help you design your equipping structure in a way that is congruent with your church. As your people grow, your processes will develop to fit the number of folks participating in them. Your structure will, in effect, be “under construction” as you are growing people into fully mature and devoted followers of Jesus Christ, willing to serve and lead as Christ served and led.

I want you to hear this!

record playerSome days (like today) I feel like a broken record–or, for those of you who aren’t familiar with vinyl, a scratched DVD. Repeating the same thing, over and over. But the interesting thing about hearing something repeated over and over is that it lodges in your brain–good or bad.

While watching a television program a couple of weeks ago, I became so frustrated that I almost turned it off. Not because of the content, but because of the annoying advertisement that kept repeating at every commercial break. By the end of the show, I could recite that advertisement in my sleep! Annoying? Very. Yet, on my next visit to the grocery store, I found myself scanning the shelves for that very product.

If you know me or you read this blog frequently, you may have picked up on the fact that I’m a Seth Godin fan. Here’s a guy whose mantra is “Go make something happen.” He says it over and over. I’m frequently encouraged by his blog and today was no exception.

The charisma of a great speech, a powerful graphic design or a well-designed tool (and yes, a well-designed tool can have charisma) comes from certainty. Not the arrogance of, “I am right and you are not,” but from the confidence/certainty of, “I need to say it or draw it or present it just this way and I want you to hear it.” (emphasis mine)

Like Mr. Godin, I have a mantra. I am certainly confident of it, which is why I repeat it, over and over, like a broken record:

“do what you are called and gifted by God to do!”

I need to say it just this way and I want you to hear it. What’s more, I want you to sound like a broken record, too. Repeat it, over and over, until everyone you lead and influence gets it and is doing what God called and gifted them to do!

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.