Is God fickle?

You are just toodling along doing your ministry thing and–BAM!–suddenly God is Paths-to-success-shutterstock_88995475-500x290calling you down another path. Really? What’s up with that? Did God suddenly become fickle? Did the unchangeable God change?

Does any of this sound familiar? You invest time discovering your unique design for ministry, identify a serving role that energizes you, engage in equipping through reading or training, and now you are joyfully and faithfully serving in a ministry you love. It all fits together perfectly. But then God throws a monkey wrench into the whole thing through this niggling thought that just won’t go away, “I want you to do something else.” You read scripture and you hear the whisper. You have a conversation with a friend and there’s the whisper again. And then someone actually voices what you really don’t want to hear: “Have you ever considered serving in this ministry? I think you would be perfect for it!”

Did God change his mind? Well, I can’t really answer that for you, but I can share with you my experience with change and where it has led me.

During the summer of 2013, I began to suspect that God was up to something. I had been on a path of conviction about prayer ministry for several months. God had been bringing to mind past training in prayer ministry, as well as my own experiences of both emotional and physical healing. Over coffee with a friend, he mentioned a local healing prayer ministry that he thought I might be interested in. Before I got home from the cafe, my friend had connected me via email with the director of that prayer ministry! Out of curiosity, I met with Jeff and, as he described his prayer ministry, I sensed God nudging me towards healing prayer. My response was a flat “no way.” I had spent 20 years in equipping ministry. I loved helping people discover their God-given design and identify where/how God was calling them to serve. (Still do!) I had a significant investment in this ministry, even coming alongside other church leaders to help them develop healthy equipping practices in their churches. God surely couldn’t be calling me to something else. I wasn’t tired of doing this yet!

That same afternoon, my pastor told me that he believed God was calling me to establish a healing prayer ministry in our church, and offered to release me from any other ministry that would impede me answering that call. I was completely confused. And yet, I knew in my spirit that God was calling me to something new.

In 2014 I began offering prayer ministry during Holy Communion each week. Since that time there has been only one Sunday when no one came for prayer. I am developing a team of prayer ministers and equipping them through books, seminars, and conferences. Last year we began exploring moving our church from a suburban location where we rented space from another church to a downtown location where we would rent space from a faith-based non-profit ministry seeking to meet the needs of the poor and marginalized. We had our first worship service downtown on January 3 of this year. Since then, two more people have expressed interest in serving on the prayer team, and our new host is very excited at the possibility of having a church meet there who will actually pray with people who need any and all sorts of healing! In hindsight, it’s obvious that God has been redirecting me, as well as our church.

But here’s my biggest “ah-ha”: When dealing with people who were hesitant to serve, I would become frustrated. God is showing me that often the underlying reason for that hesitation lies in a need for healing. When one experiences the deep healing power of the love of Christ, the desire to serve the One who heals will soon follow.

one pathDid God change his mind about my ministry? Not really. He has simply opened yet another avenue for equipping ministry. He has provided a way through my former frustration into a wide open space where I can better serve his people as I pray for their healing and then help them find the ministry that God is calling them into.

Is God fickle? I don’t think so. Scripture says he is not. We just need to yield to his plan as he unfolds it, trusting that he knows what he’s doing!

 

Joseph’s Bones

And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt… Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.”  -Exodus 13:18b-19

In her Advent devotional Lighted Windows, Margaret Silf suggests that the Israelites carried the bones of Joseph because “he was their dreamer, the symbol of their God-dream.” She goes on to encourage us to carry our dreams with us, too, because it gives us the energy we need to continue our journey. Ministry is hard work. Indeed, it is joyful work…but hard, nonetheless. When we get tired, it’s easy to lose our way, to forget why we began this journey in the first place. Our vision becomes cloudy and the Voice that called us seems so distant now.

Advent is a notoriously busy season for anyone in ministry.  For those serving on the staff of their church, there is a church to decorate, extra worship services to plan, Christmas celebrations to attend, and visits to the homebound and the sick. For those in ministry outside the church walls (i.e., all Christians!), there are angel trees to coordinate to provide gifts for the poor, Christmas banquets to feed the hungry, coats and blankets to collect to give some measure of warmth to the homeless. Add to all of that the decorating of our homes, the gifts we purchase and/or make, the extra baking for cookie exchanges… Suddenly we find ourselves tired and confused, wondering why we began this journey in the first place.

That’s when it’s time to take out Joseph’s bones.

Create space for some quiet reflection. Remember the times when God unmistakably touched your life, when he called you to this particular ministry path–whether it is in the church, in the home, in the community, or in the marketplace. Remember when you knew beyond a doubt that God was leading you purposefully. Margaret Silf refers to this place of remembering as “a sacred space and a still center in all our confusion,” and she encourages us to return to it regularly for replenishment.

God’s voice is still there, even in the midst of the busyness of this Advent season. We just need to remember the sound of that Voice in our ears, then wait quietly and listen patiently once again.

advent

Roles and Responsibilities

In response to my last post, my good friend commented that his baptism was his ordination. So true! Baptism is the ordination for every Christian in that we are given “holy orders” to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). This is the universal calling for all baptized Christians. How we each fulfill or carry out that directive varies, depending on how the Holy Spirit gifts and equips us for ministry.

For some, there is “further” ordination as they answer God’s call to accept formal responsibility for a body of believers within an ecclesial structure: in other words, they step into the “clergy” category. Is their ordination better–somehow more valid–than the ordination of baptism? I don’t think so! It is a different role with a different responsiblity. I know plenty of saints who do not bear the title of “Reverend” and are absolutely faithful to the ministry to which God has called and equipped them. And I have known a few “Reverends” who were more enamored of the title than the responsibility inherent in that role.

(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / Andres

(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / Andres

Is the clergy role more important than the role of lay ministers? When I watch our Welcome Team greet people as they come in the door, I’m so grateful for their ministry. It’s of vital importance that everyone–especially guests–feel welcome in the church. And I’m very grateful for the Altar Team member who carefully prepares the altar, sets out the bread and wine, and lights the candles to prepare a reverent setting for worship and communion. When our Music Team starts singing, I’m incredibly blessed by their ministry, especially since I don’t sing well at all! I could go on, but you get the point. All of these ministries are important very The people who do them are called and gifted to do what I am not–and what I cannot do by myself. Is my clergy role of deacon more important than theirs? Hardly! My responsiblities are just different.

Every ministry role in my church is valuable. (Admittedly, some are more necessary than others, at least for a season). However, some of those roles have more–and weightier–responsibilities than others. Our nursery and children’s church ministers are responsible for the safety and well-being of the children in their care. That is a weightier responsiblity than our facility ministers, who are responsible for the orderly placement of chairs in our worship space. We need and value both of these ministry roles, however, and I look for the same dedication from one as from the other.

Valuing roles equally is absolutely necessary for a healthy church. And it is one way to avoid falling into the entitlement trap, the subject of next week’s post!

I love my church!

Driving past a local church yesterday, the message on their sign seized my attention.love my church

I didn’t quite know why it hit me the way it did, this seemingly innocuous message. After all, I’ve often said that I love my church! But something just didn’t set well. As I pondered, I realized that it was the little two-letter word, the possessive adjective “my,”  that bothered me.

You see, the church doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to God. It’s not my church. It’s God’s church.

What’s the point? Why pay so much attention to such a small word? Because the more we think in terms of my church, the more we risk inviting a consumerist mentality. When something belongs to me, I can treat it however I please. I can insist that it meet certain needs, fulfill a particular function the way I see fit. I can ignore it, or I can jealously guard it. If something belongs to me, I can control it.

But the church doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to God. The church doesn’t exist to serve me. I exist to bless God as I serve in and through his church. To think of it any other way is to risk loving the church more than I love God.

The role of the church member is to listen to the Head, responding obediently to His direction. She is to do her part, which is to work properly within the body, in order that the body–the church–grows and builds itself up in love in response to the Head’s–Jesus Christ’s–direction. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

As a pastor, I am a steward of God’s church. But that does not grant me ownership of it! I am called to equip the people to do the ministry of God’s church, working alongside them, guiding us all towards unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God. (Ephesians 4:12-13) I love God first, then I love His church!

I hope the folks in that church had a wonderful time celebrating yesterday! I think it’s wonderful to be part of a church that I love, and I’m sure they do, to0. But I always want to remember to whom the church really belongs. “My” church is really not mine at all. It belongs to God!

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.

Equipping Culture, Small Church Style

 

small church

Eighty-five percent of all churches in America average less than 200 in worship attendance.

I can’t say exactly when Rick Warren obtained this statistic, but I know it’s at least a few years old. I’m not inclined to spend time tracking down that information because I can’t imagine anyone in church leadership who would dispute it! Small churches are everywhere. Not every pastor is called or gifted to lead a large church and that, I believe, is by God’s design. Likewise…

Some people love being in a really big room for really big church services. The size of the crowd inspires and encourages them. When they worship Jesus, they see that they are a part of something far bigger than themselves. The crowd helps draw them into a deeper place of faith. And that’s great.

But a lot of people worship and minister best in smaller settings. They’re drawn into a place of deeper faith through a worship experience that is more intimate and relational. The size, structure and spectacle of the bigger church is a distraction to them. It doesn’t draw them in, it puts them off.      –Karl Vaters

I served on staff in a large church with a high level of structure for ten years. I learned much about developing an equipping culture as I read voraciously and attended workshops, seminars and conferences. Most of it was really great stuff and I will always be grateful for the opportunities I had through the support and encouragement of that church. But that experience has also been a stumbling block for me.

My thoughts, habits, and practices regarding equipping people for ministry were developed in the context of the large church. However, I have been serving in a small church these past five years, and I’ve found that most of what I learned about structure and organizational practices just doesn’t fit here. By far, most of the resources available are written and presented for the moderate to large church, not for small congregations. I find this very interesting since small churches greatly outnumber big churches! Where are the equipping resources that pertain to the congregation of 100 or less?

Perhaps there are so few resources available because the answer for the small church is so simple: relationships.

If you serve a small church you don’t need all those structures and processes that are necessary in a larger church. What you need to do is come alongside folks. You need to meet with them, get to know them, invest in them. Help them discover how God has wired them for ministry, then help them find a place to live it out. (That may be in the church, but more likely it will be outside the church–more about that in a future post.) In many ways, this is much easier than the practices I employed in the larger church–less administrative detail to attend to, fewer systems to continually evaluate and tweak, fewer cracks for people to slip through.

Letting go of the large-church mentality proved to be a bigger challenge than I anticipated. However, I think it’s making me a better pastor, a better leader…a better equipper.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service… -Ephesians 4:11-12

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.