Don’t forget the blueberries!

In his book The Healing Reawakening, Francis MacNutt notes that people rarely come asking for the fruit of the Spirit. Rather, they come asking for the gifts of the Spirit. He writes–

…many people ask for us to pray for them to receive the charismatic gifts, such as, “Please pray for me to receive the gift of healing.” Relatively few ask for the fruits of the Spirit, saying something like, “I have trouble loving other people. Would you pray that I receive the gift of loving and caring?”

Francis MacNutt wrote about me. I have often asked for God to give me a particular spiritual gift. I rarely have intentionally asked for the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, I have joked for years about not asking for patience because the lessons to learn it are painful!

I am all about doing. I have long prided myself on keeping busy. I certainly identify with Martha in the biblical story of Mary and Martha found in Luke 10. I’ve read countless books and heard countless talks about the importance of being over doing, only to think to myself that if it weren’t for those of us who do, nothing would ever get done. (Seriously, there’s a certain amount of truth in that, right?!)

The point is not to separate the doing from the being. The point is that the gifts without the fruit lead to pride and self-aggrandizement. Asking for the gifts of the Spirit and not for the fruit of the Spirit is rooted in selfishness, even when it is born out of misunderstanding.

When I ask for the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control–I’m asking God to form in me particular qualities of character. That means it’s who I am all the time. When I ask for Spiritual gifts, I’m asking for something I can use, something I can do when and if I choose.

I often teach that ministry is not just what we do, but it is who we are. That’s only true when we pray for the fruit of the Spirit in conjunction with the gifts of the Spirit. When I have the character of Christ, the spiritual gifts become tools which I selflessly use to bless others. The fruit of the Spirit informs me how to use the gifts of the Spirit for God’s glory rather than my own.

No doubt about it, I need more fruit.

summer-fruit-bowl-02So, God, may I please have some raspberries…and strawberries…and peaches? Maybe a banana and some kiwi? And please don’t forget the blueberries. I need them all!

Watch Your Step!

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.   -Acts 6:1-6 [ESV]

This passage is often cited in reference to the establishment of deacons in the church. It has long been a favorite passage of mine–appropriately so, since I am ordained a vocational deacon. But I remember years ago reading this passage and how it left a bitter taste in my mouth! Before I gained an understanding of spiritual gifts and calling, I thought the twelve were exhibiting no small amount of arrogance by insisting that it wasn’t right that they give up preaching the word of God to “wait tables.” I wanted to shout, “Watch your step there, fellas! If Jesus washed your feet, who are you to think that you are too good to wait tables?”

The more we progress in our ministry, the easier it is to step into the trap of believing that we (clergy) are above doing the seemingly menial tasks of ministry, particularly if the priesthood of all believers is not one of our fundamental values. Gifting and calling applies to every believer, not just the clergy–and all ministry has value. There are times when we need to be willing to serve by doing whatever needs doing, whether it’s below our “pay grade” or not! There is no room in the church for a spirit of entitlement–not from clergy, staff, or ministry leaders.

(Before I go any further, I want to be clear that arrogance was not what motivated the apostles–obedience was! They were being obedient to the calling that Jesus had placed on each of their lives to preach the word of God.)

As equipping leaders, we can set the example by occasionally helping out with tasks that are outside of our gifting and calling. My senior pastor and I decided to give our facility team a “summer vacation.” All summer we’ve been coming earlier on Sundays to set up and staying later to put away. I confess that I’ve grumbled a few times, but it’s given me a deeper appreciation for the ministry of this particular team! I also encourage our ministry team leaders to schedule themselves in their team’s rotation, serving alongside the team members they lead.

I once heard a bishop remark that his consecration as bishop was not a move up the ladder of success, but rather a move step_downdownward into deeper humility. What an exhortation! If it is true that an organization can rise no higher than its leadership, then let’s be leaders who side-step the spirit of entitlement and instead journey downward into deeper humility, that every member of our church will be truly humble, serving others according to their gifting and calling so that we all rise to the example set by Christ!

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]

 

 

Return on Investment

A couple of weeks ago I was in Georgia and saw flowering trees.  As I look out my window I see daffodils and tulips trying to emerge.  All this gives me hope that our harsh winter is about to end as spring erupts.  Just as these flowers are responding to their environment, I have found I must create an environment for my team that allows them to flourish.  I operate on the premise that a happy staff is a fruitful staff.  When I equip them to do the ministry God has called them to and provide the kind of support they need, good things are released.  From this perspective, I don’t need to push and prod, but create opportunities and an environment that releases ministry.

That was written by my dear friend and colleague, John Criswell, in his recent newsletter. John currently serves as a Regional Director at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship but, as I reflected on John’s words, I remembered that he had this same philosophy when we served together on the staff of a large church not so many years ago. What’s more, it worked! As my supervisor, John didn’t have to push or prod. Rather, he invested in me and good things were released in and through me.results

As a leader, what are you doing to create opportunities and an environment that releases ministry? Here are a few investments that will yield good results:

  • Help those you lead discover how God has uniquely designed them for ministry. I know I write this over and over, but this understanding is critical to fruitful ministry! Teach them to listen for and recognize God’s calling on their life.
  • Regularly re-visit that discovery process with those you lead through reflection exercises designed to reveal their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their current serving role. Don’t be afraid of losing your volunteer minister! Instead, set them free to pursue something more fulfilling, all the while trusting that God will bring someone who is better fitted to that role.
  • Provide opportunities for ongoing equipping. This can be in the form of conferences, workshops, seminars–if they can’t attend a live event, consider purchasing a video or audio recording for your volunteers. Instructional materials can also be found in books, magazines, ezines, blogs, YouTube, etc. Consider that volunteers have limited time, so be strategic when choosing these resources.
  • And speaking of resources, make sure your volunteers have what they need to do what is expected. Case in point: At the end of the Toddler Church lesson, our little ones look forward to their snack. Believe me, it’s not a pretty sight when the Goldfish snack container is empty! It makes for some pretty unhappy Toddler Church teachers.
  • Be accessible. John had a comfy blue chair in his office that held many of his supervisees when they came to share a frustration or recount a moment of fruitful ministry, and everything in between. John was always willing to listen, counsel, exhort, and celebrate. Yes, he was my supervisor…but he was also a trusted friend.
  • Dream with those you lead. Don’t just settle for the low-hanging fruit. Encourage them to dream bigger dreams for their ministry. Help them reach for more of the kingdom.

How are you investing in your people? What kind of return are you getting on that investment? If ministry isn’t being released–if you aren’t seeing good fruit as a result–perhaps it’s time to review your investment practices.

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.

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?

Something old may just be something new!

I haven’t blogged in well over a month. I haven’t felt like I had anything new to say. Maybe I don’t. But in the past two weeks I’ve had two conversations with ministry leaders from two churches in two states, each of whom sharing with me something that set off my equipping alarm! I have been reminded that each person learns at their own speed, implementing what they can, when they can. In other words, when someone attends a training or reads a book or blog, there may be only one or two points that grab their attention and around which they take action.

Case in point: in the first conversation, the ministry leader shared that their church had enthusiastically encouraged gifts discovery, providing curriculum and a class for those who were interested in learning. Many of their members went through the class and were excited to learn their spiritual gift. However, there was no follow through. No follow up. No process for helping those folks find a serving opportunity that would utilize their gift in fruitful ministry.

This reminds me of the first Christmas we gave our son an electronic toy. He squealed with excitement when he opened his gift, then cried with equal fervor when it wouldn’t work because we had neglected to purchase the necessary batteries. I saw the same frustrated disappointment on the face of my grandson just a few weeks ago when, after gleefully ripping the wrapping paper off a Christmas present, he was told he couldn’t open the box to play with the toy because his momma was concerned that the small parts would be lost in all the empty boxes and wrapping paper. What’s the fun of opening a gift that you can’t use?

In the second conversation, a ministry leader shared that they had at one time offered a discovery process, but it had now been years since spiritual gifts was a topic of conversation around the church. New folks who had come since that time had not been provided an opportunity to discover their unique design for ministry, and those who had participated previously had not been encouraged to re-visit the process to see what new thing the Holy Spirit might be doing in their lives to birth new ministry.

In each of these cases, a discovery process was implemented–probably in response to a new idea gleaned from a book or a training–but the process was incomplete in the first instance, and relegated to a program (with a predictable end) in the second. I’ve no doubt that the intention of each of these ministry leaders was to encourage their congregation to serve, but they had only a partial understanding and implementation of what is necessary to equip their people for fruitful and fulfilling ministry.

These conversations lead me to believe that I may not have anything new to say, but the stuff I’ve said before bears repeating. With that said, I will focus the next few posts on casting the vision for what is necessary to create and sustain an equipping culture. For those of you who have heard it all before, I hope you will share your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions to make that which is old (to you) into something new for others…and perhaps for yourself, too!

something old made new