The Ministry of Life

What would happen if Christians abandoned our cultural definition of “vocation” as our income-producing job and understood our very routine day-in-day-out life as our true vocation?

  • How would employees behave if the CEO viewed the company as a ministry rather than “secular” work?
  • What would the consumer experience if the retail salesperson understood meeting the customer’s need as her ministry rather than her marketplace job?
  • What kind of students would emerge from the public school classroom if the teacher saw the opportunity to teach as ministering to the forming minds of future Christian leaders?
  • Would the food taste better if it was served by someone who regarded that serving as ministering to the physical needs of others rather than just slinging burgers in a fast-food joint?
  • Would young adults be better prepared for a life in Christ if their mom and dad held parenting as the deepest of ministries rather than a life-stage?
  • How structurally sound would a building be if the contractor recognized drawing of the blueprint, the brick and mortar, the hammers and nails as tools God has given to accomplish His purpose?

What would your community look like if every believer you know lived their life as ministry–every waking, sleeping, eating, breathing moment? Sound too good to be true? Maybe. But it’s what we call forth every time we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Can you imagine what a difference it would make for the kingdom if there was no difference in the behavior of a Christian in the marketplace and that same Christian in their home, or church, or neighborhood? Christ’s reputation would surely be far less tarnished to the unbeliever. Would those who don’t yet believe be more attracted to Jesus if they observed real joy in those who profess Christ?

I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I woke and saw that life was service. I acted, and, behold, service was joy.                -Rabindranath Tagore

What would happen if we church leaders came to understand that our vocation is not only to lead others to salvation in Christ, but to guide them in understanding and claiming their true vocation: to serve Jesus by serving others. What would the world look like if every Christian caught the correlation between life and service and joy? Heaven on earth perhaps?

How are you helping those you shepherd see the ministry of everyday life, that they would live a life of ministry?

Full Disclosure

For the past three years, I have been working with our small congregation to develop an equipping culture. My prior experience with a large congregation involved to maintaining and growing equipping systems and processes that were already in place.  Transitioning to a smaller church setting has provided me the opportunity to practically explore the “why” behind some of those structures and processes I have taken for granted.

I recently signed up to help with an off-site ministry event. I had a busy week and didn’t give the event much thought until the night before, when I realized I had a lot more questions than I had answers! I found myself feeling somewhat frustrated because I didn’t have information that would help me feel confident as I stepped into my assignment. As a result of this experience, I learned why a defined process is a useful tool when planning ministry events.

Here’s one way you can develop such a tool. Gather a team of inquisitive, detail-oriented people and start asking questions:

  • What time do volunteers need to arrive?
  • What time will they be finished?
  • If it’s an off-site event, where should they park?
  • Is the event indoors or outdoors? If outdoors, does rain cancel the event?
  • What is appropriate attire? (e.g., work clothes, comfortable shoes, etc.)
  • Do they  need to bring special equipment or supplies?
  • Who do they report to?
  • Upon arrival, where will they find this person?
  • Who will they be working with? (Remember, no one should serve alone!)
  • What specific task(s) will the volunteer be required to do?
  • Will they be trained prior to the event or at the event?
  • How will we promote this event?
  • How will we invite people to participate?
  • Where and how can people sign up to serve?

Ask until your well of questions runs dry! No question is insignificant. Believe me, if you come up with it, someone else will also.

Feel like a tedious exercise? Perhaps. You may not mind walking into a strange place without knowing exactly who will orient you or specifically what you will do. But there are plenty of people who want to know exactly what to expect and won’t sign up to serve until they have enough information to feel comfortable and confident.

By the way… if you oversee the volunteer ministry of your church, I encourage you to sign up occasionally as a volunteer. It’s a good way to evaluate what’s going on in various ministry areas from the perspective of a volunteer. You can then help ministry leaders become high-capacity leaders of high-capacity teams, not to mention helping volunteers have positive and fulfilling ministry experiences. Just remember to seek first to understand and then to be understood. Ask questions that will help you understand specifics of the particular ministry so that you can be helpful while avoiding any hint of micro-managing.

Lastly…debrief ministry events as soon afterwards as possible. Even if you don’t anticipate repeating that particular event, you will discover tips to increase your effectiveness when planning the next event. And don’t forget to celebrate your success!

 

 

Off with your socks!

Last week I traveled across the Hoosier state, presenting workshops for ministry leaders interested in learning more about developing an equipping culture in their churches.* I was–and still am–profoundly moved by the hearts of the ministry leaders who attended. Their desire to lead their congregants into a life of fulfilling service to others simply takes my breath away. I wanted to hug each one, pat them on the back, tell them what an awesome job they are doing.

After spending weeks pondering the concept of vocation (read here, here and here), I actually lived it out last week. I can’t help but marvel at how God timed it. He taught me, then he showed me by allowing me to experience the incredible joy of ministry congruent with my calling. I wasn’t trying to step into someone else’s shoes or live up to someone else’s performance. I was simply sharing from my heart what the Lord has been teaching me for the past 15+ years, exercising my gifts of teaching, exhortation, prophecy, and faith.

While leading those workshops, I felt alive. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was made to do exactly what I was doing. It was exhilarating! Make no mistake, it was hard work. Weeks of studying and preparing the material to present, editing over and again to be sure I was bringing the best of my experience and knowledge to share, hours of driving (and getting lost!), trying to find the balance between keeping momentum and allowing time to process… I returned to the hotel each night exhausted but fulfilled.

I pray that those who attended the workshops left with tools for growth–both for themselves and for their congregations–as well as a sense of having been encouraged. I pray they went back energized to not only be true to their own vocation, but to help their folks discover how God has called them to a life of ministry. If they did, that means I did not labor in vain.

Moreover, I pray this because God knocked my socks off last week as I stepped out and lived vocationally! And because God did that for me, I know he is just waiting to knock the socks off of anyone and everyone who catches this wave of a life lived honoring vocation.

*Thank you to Indiana’s Center for Congregations for the opportunity to present these workshops. If you are a ministry leader in Indiana, know that the Center exists to serve you!

The Need to Know

I’ve spent the last two days revising the discovery tool I use when helping people figure why, how, and where they should serve. While I’m definitely ready to be done with this tedious task, I have to admit that it’s been a good review–not only of the content itself, but the reasons why I choose this particular approach to discovery.

When leading workshops and talking with ministry leaders about equipping, I’m often asked about gifts discovery. Why is gifts discovery important? How should I go about it? What tool should I use? Which tool is the best? What do I do with the information? What follows are my responses to those queries…

Why is gifts discovery important?

Ministry leaders can get pretty excited about gifts discovery; their parishioners even more so. The subject of spiritual gifts has an air of mystery around it; they are, after all, supernatural abilities. Henry and Mel Blackaby’s little book, What’s So Spiritual About Your Gift?, changed the way I look at spiritual gifts. Their point is well made: the real gift is the Holy Spirit himself. I still believe that identifying spiritual gifts is important in helping believers understand and recognize how God equips us for ministry. However, I now begin the gifts portion of discovery with a more deliberate conversation about first and foremost being satisfied with the Holy Spirit and then considering the gifts He gives.

Another important aspect of this discovery process is the experience of becoming more self-aware. I’m not a fan of navel-gazing, but I do think it’s entirely appropriate and necessary to periodically invite the Holy Spirit to lead us in times of prayerful introspection. Allowing the Spirit to reveal our unique design builds trust and confidence in God’s faithfulness to work good in and through our life circumstances. With the Spirit guiding the process, it’s OK for it to be “all about me!”

How should I go about it?

  • Some churches incorporate gifts discovery into their new member process. I would caution, however, that provision needs to be made for reaching those who are not new to the fellowship.
  • Another excellent method is to incorporate the discovery process into small groups and/or Sunday school classes. This kind of community-based exercise can be much more effective and exciting as members recognize and affirm gifts in each other.
  • A simple one-on-one conversation can yield helpful insights into a person’s gifting. It can also build a relationship of trust that might bear fruit down the road when you see a gift in that person that they don’t yet see in themselves.

The discovery process can be effectively used at any point in a believer’s journey of spiritual formation. The critical point is to use the information gleaned! There must be appropriate follow-up and follow-through. (More on that later.)

Time’s up for this post! I’ll share my thoughts on assessment tools in the next post. In the meantime, I’d love to hear why you believe gifts discovery is important… or why you don’t!

Called or Cajoled?

“I’m done.”

Those words can ruin a ministry leader’s day when they come from a committed, competent volunteer. I’ve heard them and, if you’ve been leading volunteers for awhile, I bet you’ve heard them, too.

A few years ago, one of our most dependable team leaders went to his staff leader and said those dreaded words, “I’m done.” Bob had faithfully led the newcomer team for a couple of years, during which time the staff leader had to take an extended medical leave. Bob was present at every newcomer event, gracefully coordinated all the newcomer activities, and efficiently led the newcomer ministry team in the staff leader’s absence. He was a gem–his team liked and respected him, and that dependability factor was impressive.

No amount of cajoling could change his mind. How could he quit? Why would he quit?

Interestingly, for the six months or so prior to him uttering those dreaded words, God had been doing a new thing in Bob’s life. No one knew. His staff leader was overwhelmed with trying to get back into the groove after her medical leave. Because Bob was a gifted leader, his team didn’t sense a shift in his priorities. My role as the director of volunteer ministries  was that of a generalist, so I was too far removed from the situation to be aware. But God had been birthing a new passion in Bob’s heart, and he was hearing God calling him to a new ministry.

As Bob told me about this new passion, it was perfectly obvious that God was at the heart of it. Bob had become increasingly aware of the plight of the homeless in our city, particularly the need for shelter during the cold winter months. He had researched what other cities were doing and one ministry in particular had caught his interest. God had captured his heart and there was no denying God’s new call on Bob’s life.  Bob shifted his volunteer ministry to the outreach team, where he was released to pursue the thrill of God’s new call. To make a long story short, Bob became the director of a ministry which coordinates several churches in our city who provide shelter, a hot meal, a shower, and Christian friendship to homeless men during the winter months. It’s been an amazing adventure!

Here are three take-aways from my experience with Bob:

  1. A critical function of our role as ministry leaders is to help volunteers discern their ministry niche, not fit them into ours. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are created in Christ to do the good works God has prepared for us to do. We should provide effective tools that enable volunteers to define God’s call on their life.
  2. Stay close enough to see when the call is taking a new direction. God is constantly doing new things! He gives new gifts, stirs up new interests, provides new life experiences from which one can minister. We need to have regular, intentional conversations with our volunteers to be sure that the the seeds of new ministry planted in their heart aren’t missed.
  3. Don’t fear the new thing God is doing. Never cajole a volunteer into serving when the call is shifting. God will fill the gap–or allow the old ministry to die. It is, after all,  his work!

LifeServe

I am getting ready to head to Columbus, Ohio for a one-of-a-kind event: LifeServe 2010. And I am pumped!

“What is LifeServe,” you ask? Last year, Group Publishing’s Church Volunteer Central partnered with The Externally Focused Network to offer  the only national conference dedicated to missional-minded equipping practitioners. Last year approximately 80% of the participants traveled more than 500 miles to attend the conference in Loveland, Colorado. The decision was made to move the venue to a more central location for 2010, and the registrations for this year have almost doubled that of last year. Last I heard, they were nearing the 800 mark! Incredible!

What makes this conference so special? Everything about it is geared to help leaders equip their people for ministry that is transformational, both for the individual and for the community. There are more than 50 workshops that speak to every aspect of volunteer management, as well as leadership development, the unique needs of non-profit organizations, becoming externally-focused, and so much more! I am blessed to be included with such well-known writers/presenters as Rick Rusaw, Erik Swanson, Erik Rees, and John Stahl-Wert, just to name a few.

One highlight of the conference is the Affinity Groups that meet each afternoon, creating a space for folks to share what they are learning in the context of their particular “affinity”: children’s ministry, youth ministry, pastors, veteran equippers, beginning equippers, non-profit leaders, etc.—15 Affinity Groups in all. The leaders of these groups have developed some great strategies for helping their participants connect and develop a network of support that will outlast the conference itself.

Then there are the general sessions in the evening, always a celebration of what God is doing in our midst!  Great worship music… and Theater Off the Cuff is opening each night for the keynote speakers: Debi Nixon, Harvey Carey, and Alan Hirsch.  Believe me, everyone goes home with useful tools for their equipping toolbox!

But you know my very favorite part of the whole conference? It’s not the inspiring speakers or the informative workshops, as wonderful as they are. The part I’m really looking forward to is building relationships… with people I will meet for the first time, with folks whom I only know through e-mail or phone, with my faithful and fearless friends and partners in the TeamCVC network. For three wonderful days I will be in heaven-on-earth, sharing my passion for equipping with other like-minded practitioners who are as excited as I am that we get to invest in people, encouraging them to be the serving ministers God has created them to be!

If you are in Columbus this week (Wednesday thru Friday), stop by the Hyatt Conference Center and check out LifeServe 2010. If Columbus isn’t on your itinerary for this week, make sure you visit http://lifeserve.group.com and get LifeServe 2011 on your calendar. (The information will be up on the website as soon as the 2010 conference is over.) Next year’s venue? Louisville, Kentucky! Don’t miss it!

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?