Yes or No?

Your word is your bond.

Walk your talk.

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Or, as Jesus put it:

Whatever you have to say let your ‘yes’ be a plain ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ a plain ‘no’—anything more than this has a taint of evil. (Matt. 5:37, J.B. Phillips translation)

I am asked regularly how to cope with volunteers who just don’t show up. I have no magic answer, but there are some trouble-shooting questions I usually ask which can shed light on gaps in the structures and processes a leader employs with their volunteers. But I think the problem runs much deeper than any organizational strategy.

It has become commonplace in our culture to say “yes” to something when we know full well that we won’t honor the commitment. “I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by saying no,” is the typical excuse. But more often than not, that’s not the real reason. If we are honest, the true motivation is that we don’t want to look bad because we don’t want to give up our resources (time, money, energy, influence). We don’t want to appear unwilling to help, or blind to the need. It’s why we walk past the beggar on the street corner without looking at him. If we look, we will see the need and then be faced with our own selfishness in not responding. It’s just easier not to make eye contact. If I don’t see you, then you can’t see my hardness of heart. Sure.

Lest you think I am being judgmental, I assure you that the first person to stand in judgment on this is me! I have said “yes” when I knew my real answer was “no.” I have lied–let’s just call a spade a spade, shall we?–to make myself look better. I have refused to make eye contact with someone I knew would ask something of me that I didn’t want to give.

But here is what I have come to see: Every time I don’t keep my word, I breed distrust in someone. That distrust may begin with me, or I may be just one more in a long line of liars (ouch! such an unpleasant descriptor, isn’t it?).  Either way, I’m contributing to the fabric of distrust that pervades our society and encourages self-protective behavior, which often leads to violence of all kinds. I add to the disease of independence that eats away at Christ’s mandate to serve each other (John 13:14-15) , to Paul’s exhortation that the body of Christ must be interdependent (1 Corinthians 12).

Each time I say “yes” when my real answer is “no,” I injure the body of Christ, or place a stumbling block in the path to faith of someone who does not yet know Christ. You may think I look good in the “yes” moment, but God sees my heart and knows my lie. Just because I don’t look at him doesn’t mean he is not seeing me.

Let’s try this the next time you are tempted to say “yes” when you know you don’t mean it. Stop for a moment. Ask for time to consider the request or, if you know your mind already, just say “no” right then. In so doing, you will honor God, the person making the request, and yourself. Yes, that’s right: you will honor your self… in a healthy manner that encourages the same in others.

 

Back to the Basics: It’s All About Love

Trust me, this not a sappy Valentine’s Day post! Actually it’s somewhat of a response to my last post. To be honest, there was something about that post that felt a little off the mark. Not because I wrote anything untrue. Not because it was direct. No, there was just something missing…something very important. Motivation.

The danger of throwing out scripture verses out of context is that they can be misunderstood. One could interpret that post in light of the scriptures I employed as me contending that we should serve others out of a sense of obligation to Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth! Obligation has little to do with it. It’s really all about love.

Know that you are loved by God.

The first step in serving others is to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves me, that I am his beloved child and that nothing can change that. I can do nothing to make him love me more or love me less. And because of God’s love for me, Christ gave up his life for me. Judging by my behavior, I wasn’t worth that. But God sees me differently, and loves me unconditionally.

Know what is an appropriate response to that love.

Because God loves me–because Christ gave up his life for me–I am motivated to respond. This is not a matter of somehow earning this love. It was already mine, long before I was aware of it! No, this is a visceral response to a love that I really can’t comprehend, but for which I am beyond grateful. I want to respond, I want to return at least a small measure of that love. Not out of obligation, but out of this deep fountain of gratitude that wells up within me. Anticipating this response, Jesus left instructions about how I might express my gratitude and my love for him.

Know how to love others.

Jesus simply said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) The way that Jesus loves me is that he gave up his life for me, and now walks with me every day. He points out the people he wants to serve through me. He provides everything I need to do what he asks me to do: the gift of the Holy Spirit, friends who have complimentary talents and abilities so that I do not serve alone, spiritual directors who are willing to share their God-given wisdom to encourage me to become more and more like Christ. All I need do is make myself available to him.proof

And that is what I do, as best as I am able. I make myself available to Jesus Christ. Not out of a sense of obligation. Not because I think I can somehow earn what has been freely given. Neither of these are adequate motivation to go the distance in the way that Jesus calls me to serve. No, what motivates me is love–God’s love for me, understanding the appropriate response, and loving others as Christ loved me.

One Body

Becoming the Mystical Body of Christ

As we gather around the Eucharistic table and make the death and resurrection of Jesus our own by sharing in the “bread of life” and the “cup of salvation,” we become together the living body of Christ.

The Eucharist is the sacrament by which we become one body.  Becoming one body is not becoming a team or a group or even a fellowship.  Becoming one body is becoming the body of Christ.  It is becoming the living Lord, visibly present in the world.  It is – as often has been said – becoming the mystical Body of Christ.   But mystical and real are the same in the realm of the Spirit.

Henri Nouwen Society’s Daily Meditations, October 13, 2013

More and more I sense the Spirit impressing upon me the importance of understanding what it means to be the living body of Christ. For years I’ve thought of Paul’s use of body language in 1 Corinthians 12 as a metaphor–an apt metaphor, to be sure. But he doesn’t say that we are like the body of Christ. No, he says we are the body of Christ.

In light of Paul’s teaching, Nouwen’s meditation lends understanding to how we become one body…the living body of Christ.

communion

Numbers or stories?

As an organization grows and industrializes, it’s tempting to simplify things for the troops. Find a goal, make it a number and measure it until it gets better. In most organizations, the thing you measure is the thing that will improve.

Colleges decided that the SAT were a useful shortcut, a way to measure future performance in college. And nervous parents and competitive kids everywhere embraced the metric, and stick with it, even after seeing (again and again) that all the SAT measures is how well you do on the SAT. It’s easier to focus on one number than it is to focus on a life.

Measurement is fabulous. Unless you’re busy measuring what’s easy to measure as opposed to what’s important.   (Read Seth Godin’s post in its entirety here.)

Several months ago I measured the ministry of my congregation by adding up how many members are serving in a church-numbersrelated ministry role. Imagine my joy (oh, all right…my pride) when I discovered that 75% are serving! I sure couldn’t wait to announce that number, given the typical 80/20 rule of most churches: 80% of the ministry being done by 20% of the congregation.

But in reality, that measurement is not as impressive as it sounds. We are a small parish. Very small. If only 20% served, we would struggle to even have a worship service each Sunday! There would be no nursery, no children’s church, probably no music. By necessity, almost everyone in my parish has to step up and serve just so that we can have what is considered the bare minimum in most churches.

The truth is that what goes on inside the walls of a church is not the true measure of life-changing ministry. It is certainly not a credible measurement of the spiritual health of individual believers. But it is a whole lot easier to measure that kind of ministry than it is to measure spiritual health. And so we do. How many people are serving in church-related activities? How many people are in Sunday school? How many kids attend VBS? How many adults are in a small group? This is what many  churches typically measure. But what do these numbers really tell us?

Numbers are not a reflection of spiritual health. Stories are. Like the one I heard a few days ago: Sarah is one of our toddler church teachers, who works closely with our two nursery workers. Both have just finished college and are moving on to the next phase of their lives, so Sarah invited them to her home for dinner to celebrate their ministry with us. Sarah saw her ministry as coming alongside these lovely young women to encourage them in their faith as they step into adulthood.

Another story I heard recently involved two young families, one in need of a microwave and the other selling a microwave. The couple selling shared that they were selling all their “extra stuff” to raise money to adopt a child. The couple purchasing decided to give them more than the asking price because they, too, would like to adopt one day. The first couple insisted on giving the second couple the microwave as a “down payment for their future adoption fund.”

I don’t really know how to measure that kind of spiritual health, but I’m certain that it can’t be measured with numbers, with how many serve or how many attend. And I’m equally certain that I prefer those two stories of loving ministry to the comparatively cold 75% statistic I came up with when I did my head count!

So, what are you measuring?

When is the last time you heard a good ministry story?

When is the last time you shared one?

story

First things first

Before the institution (read clergy-centric church) can be transformed, the individual must be transformed.

Equipping ministry is about people first, then the institution. Investing in the individual requires more of us as leaders, but it is the only way to transform the church into the missio Dei she is intended to be.

bible study

 

First things first.

 

 

 

 

 

I got it already! … Really?

My last few posts have been aimed at laying a foundation for thinking, talking, teaching, and preaching about true vocation–that is, the call of God on every believer to participate in missio Dei. I hope you are saying, “I got it already! Now what do I do about it?” Wise question. Helping people understand that they are called to ministry is only the beginning. The next step is to establish a clearly defined pathway that leads them to understand and step into their true vocation.

In Luke 10:1-24,  Jesus provides a model from which we can learn.

  • Cast the vision: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few…”
  • Give directions: “Pray earnestly…carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road…remain in the house where you find a person of peace, eating and drinking whatever they provide…heal the sick and proclaim the nearness of the kingdom”
  • Provide companionship for the journey: “…the Lord sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.”
  • Prepare for failure: “…whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you…shake the dust of that town from your feet”
  • Rejoice over success: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name! … In that same hour, He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit…”
  • Give thanks: “I thank you, Father…”

For the next couple of weeks, I will address necessary steps to provide a clearly defined path for your people to step into ministry. Whether you are serving a large congregation or a small one, it is absolutely essential that people can easily identify where the journey of discovery begins as well as the steps along the way.

Larger churches often have an established a process by which people get “plugged into ministry.” Usually the volume of people makes this a necessity. The problems that often arise, however, are due to gaps in the process where people get lost. For example, a common gap is to confuse pointing with directing. Another is to ignore the follow-up.

Smaller congregations have their own set of problems. They often make the mistake of thinking that, because they are small, it’s easy for people to see how to “plug in.” After all, there’s always a lot to do and not very many people to get it all done! The attitude can be, “Just do whatever needs doing!” This approach is haphazard and often leads to unsatisfying ministry experiences.

So, no matter the size of the church you are leading, a clearly defined path is critical.

Hold on… There’s a bigger problem with the examples I just gave than gaps in process and assuming it’s obvious. Did you catch it? If not, you’ve missed a critical first step: the paradigm shift from ministry as avocation to ministry as vocation. (If you need a refresher, read this.) This change in paradigm is absolutely critical to developing a clearly defined path to participation in missio Dei! Get that right and you are ready for the next steps!

The Impact of Yield

The rules of right of way make sense.

A manueverable motor boat yields to a sailboat because it can more easily recover from the turn.

A bicyclist going downhill yields to one struggling uphill, because he can get back up to speed more quickly.

The senior partner invests a little bit of time helping the junior one, because no one else has the skills to do so, not because reciprocation is the goal.

Asymmetrical trades are what makes a society work.

Yield has two meanings, and one leads to the other.                                                -Seth Godin, Yield

Encouraging others to yield to ministry has two benefits:

  • the yield for the individual is spiritual formation…becoming more like Christ
  • the yield for the body of Christ is that it becomes the body of Christ

What’s your yield?