Sunday Commute

The Sunday morning commute has become one of the best prayer times of my week.

At the beginning of this year, our church moved from our suburban location–which was a two-minute drive from my home–to a soup kitchen downtown. Now it takes me 15-20 minutes to get to church, with several traffic lights between home and my destination. My husband will tell you that I will drive miles out of my way any day of the week to avoid sitting at traffic lights. But not on Sundays…not anymore. driving_praying

A few months ago I began thinking of the Sunday morning commute as a prime time for prayer.

I’m the associate pastor at my church, so you may think that it’s a given that I would be prayerful on Sunday mornings as I prepare for our worship service. Not necessarily! (If you are a pastor, perhaps you are smiling in agreement!) It’s far too easy for my mind to drift to whatever I need to do when I get to church, who I need to speak with, or anticipate where I might have to fill in for an absent volunteer minister. If I’m preaching, my tendency is to review and critique my sermon for the umpteenth time. When engaged in that line of thinking, I arrive at church wired and ready to get busy with work…not worship.

I spent ten years on staff at a church where I went to work on Sunday mornings. When I left, I was on the verge of burnout. I did not practice self-care. I allowed the demands of ministry to take precedence over my need to worship, to give God the honor and glory that is due him, and in turn to experience the satisfaction of doing what I was created to do: worship God.

Sundays are for worship, not work. Yes, I have responsibilities on Sunday mornings, but my first priority is to worship God. Praying through the drive to church makes all the difference in my ability to prioritize worship over work. Rather than focus on the to-do list, I…

  • acknowledge God’s faithfulness, thanking him for a new day, and for the privilege of living in a country where I can worship him freely
  • thank Jesus for enduring the cross so that I can live free
  • thank God for those he will bring through our church door who are searching
  • lift up all those who are preparing to come to church, asking God to remove any obstacles, and to pour out a spirit of cooperation on spouses and children
  • pray for those who are struggling with the temptation to stay home, to skip church this week, asking God to stir up a holy desire for worship and fellowship with their church family
  • ask the Holy Spirit to annoint the preaching pastor as he opens God’s word, and to stir our minds and hearts to belief and obedience
  • ask God to bless the volunteer ministers as they bless those whom they serve
  • and I pray that God will be blessed by the worship we bring.

What I’m amazed to find is that when the worship service begins, when the first note of the first song sounds, my heart and my mind sync with the Holy Spirit and worship overflows!

So, what do you do on your Sunday commute?

 

A new perspective

I am a lapsed blogger. Yes, it’s sad, but true. There was once a time when I wrote a blogpost every week. Over time, I slipped to one every other week. Now I do well to write one a month. I keep telling myself that it’s OK…I’m certainly not alone! But the renewal notice for my domain name popped into my mailbox last week. To renew or not to renew? That is the question.

To be honest, I have struggled to find a voice lately. For years I have written about equipping, aka volunteer ministry. I’m definitely for it, and have had lots of thoughts and ideas to share about it. But over the past year or so I’ve wondered if I have said all I have to say on the subject. Nothing new or particularly interesting has come to mind. I still equip volunteer ministers in my church, and I still work with church leaders to help them develop their volunteer ministry. But when it comes to writing…well, I just don’t have anything new to say. It’s easier to point to the stuff I’ve already written.

I was blessed to lead a retreat recently, speaking with women about the deeper journey of living from the Christ-self. Not my usual presentation material. But preparing for the WP_20160520_018retreat helped me understand why I feel I’ve lost my voice for equipping ministry. God has been changing my perspective.

I’m a second-half-of-life person. I’ve turned a corner, so to speak, and am finding that the old me and my old way of doing things is something less than satisfactory now. I recently prayed with a woman who is also in the second half of her life. She had been experiencing health problems that sidelined her from ministry she loves. As we talked, the Spirit showed me that she was fearful, prompting me to ask her if she was afraid that God was taking away her ministry permanently. She wept, confessing that she was indeed afraid. “I know this is the ministry I’m called to do because I am so excited about it,” she cried. “It’s what I live for. It’s who I am.”

For several years I’ve asked the question, “What excites you?” during ministry discovery conversations with people. I think it’s a valid question for people in the first half of life. But once we turn that corner into the second half, we begin to see that excitement isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

A few years ago, God decided he had something new for me to do. I didn’t like that idea, but my arms are too short to box with God. No amount of protestation would change his mind, so I reluctantly submitted. These days I have fewer opportunities for gifts discovery conversations with people, and many more opportunities for offering healing prayer. Which brings me back to the woman I was praying with.

God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.                          2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)

As we spoke, I was able to share my experience of God calling me to a different path and a new ministry. I was a bit surprised to tell her that I don’t get as “excited” about healing prayer ministry as I do about discovery conversations. And yet this new ministry is equally as fulfilling and life-giving as the former. As it turns out, excitement is not the litmus test I once thought it was. There’s a lot to be said for obedience.
I guess it’s OK that I don’t have anything new to say about equipping. God is revealing some new things, giving me a fresh perspective in this season of life. Hmmm…Maybe I should renew that domain registration after all, just in case I find a new voice!

 

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.

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.

Misfit or misplaced?

iphone-misfit-toysDid you miss the right fit? It happens to every equipping leader at some time or another. The best leaders find out early and have the opportunity to correct the problem. The key is to resist the urge to deny or ignore the problem!

My friend Mac was faced with just such a situation–a misfit volunteer. Jane was serving as a children’s Sunday school teacher. She began her ministry enthusiastically, but it wasn’t long before Mac began receiving complaints from frustrated parents whose children no longer wanted to attend Sunday school. Then the Sunday school team leader shared her concern that Jane no longer engaged with the team. She missed a few team meetings and wasn’t responding to inquiries about her absence. Mac realized that he had a problem that needed his immediate attention, so he arranged to meet with Jane.

Mac later told me how much he dreaded that conversation. He didn’t want to “fire” Jane. She was a nice woman and had seemed the perfect addition to the children’s ministry team. Her eagerness to help children come to know Jesus had been almost palpable during their initial conversation, but it was now obvious that something had gone awry.

When Jane walked into Mac’s office, her discomfort was obvious. Mac intentionally sat on the same side of his desk as Jane and began with light conversation. After a few minutes Jane began to relax, and only then did Mac ask how she was experiencing her ministry as Sunday school teacher. For a moment it seemed she was not going to answer, but then the frustration poured out along with her tears. She felt like a failure! She wanted to teach the children about Jesus, but they didn’t respond to her efforts to maintain order in the classroom. The parents were unhappy because their children cried when they were left in her class. And she felt like such a misfit when meeting with the other teachers because they enjoyed their classes as much as Jane dreaded hers. Mac listened carefully. It was apparent that Jane’s passion to share Jesus with the children was still there; it was equally apparent that being a teacher was not the best way for her to share that passion.

“Jane, if you could do anything in children’s ministry that you wanted, what would it be?” Mac asked. Jane thought for a moment, then said, “The supply closet is such a mess. I can never find what I need! The other teachers can’t either so they just go out and buy new supplies, which end up lost in the closet again. I would love to take charge of that closet and make sure the children and teachers have the resources they need for Sunday school each week.” Mac almost fell out of his chair! That closet was the bane of his existence and here was someone who wanted to take it on!

If you are an equipping leader struggling with a misfit, this may sound more like a fairy tale with its “happily ever after” ending. But I assure you it is a true story.  Here are some key takeaways:

  • Mac didn’t ignore the problem
  • Mac took the initiative to have a conversation with Jane–not a “come to Jesus meeting!”
  • Rather than making statements, Mac asked questions to gain a clear understanding
  • After listening carefully, Mac created space for Jane to create her ideal ministry serving the children she loved

Most “misfit volunteers” aren’t really misfits…they are simply misplaced. Commit yourself to doing whatever it takes to help them find their ideal serving role. Who knows? You might just find there is someone willing and eager to tackle the project you’ve been avoiding!

Want more? Click here to read an excellent article on redirecting volunteers from Church Volunteer Central.

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.