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: 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

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

The Path to Sainthood

My husband is a saint. He lives with me, an ordained deacon, who speaks, blogs, lectures, teaches, and thinks about serving…a lot. (He would say that’s an understatement!) It’s not easy to live with someone whose calling is to serve the church when you are stuck with serving the retail masses. One appears so much holier than the other. And for those who think–subconsciously or otherwise–that ordination might just be the true path to sainthood, David would be happy to debunk that myth!

But do I–the “paid holy person”–regularly affirm that his ministry is no less holy than mine?

Last week David was savoring the last few minutes of his lunch break as he sat in his car, listening to some blast from the past rock & roll tune–his way of de-stressing–when he noticed a young woman walking across the parking lot toward his car. She stopped a couple of feet from the door and asked him if he could help and her boyfriend. They were on their way to another town and had run out of gas. Not the most original story and he’s no fool, but he gave her a little money and she walked away. A few minutes later as he was entering the store to return to work, he saw her sitting on the curb by the door. He walked up and asked her what she was doing and she said she was hoping someone would come out who might give her a little more money. What David had given her was not enough, she said, to get her to the neighboring town. He knew this was true. He asked if she was telling him the truth and she pointed to her boyfriend across the parking lot standing next to the car. They walked over together and the boyfriend showed him the gas gauge sitting on empty. David believed the Spirit was prompting him, so he gave enough cash to fill the tank to help them on their way. Were these people taking advantage of him? Who knows. But it was a holy moment as David responded to the Holy Spirit.

Two days ago, David was in his department working when a woman came up to ask for help. As she explained what she was looking for, he realized that he was in for a long, drawn-out story–the kind that often signals a difficult customer. David’s initial inner reaction was irritation. But he sensed the Holy Spirit telling him that the task he was working on would wait, and so David listened patiently as the woman’s story unfolded. Before long, tears were sliding down her cheeks as she poured out her frustration about a contractor not finishing his job, leaving her house in disorder, and a blind daughter who had suffered many surgeries and who now couldn’t make her way around the house because nothing was in its proper place. My husband stood there in the paint department aisle in the middle of a busy day, serving this woman simply by listening compassionately. Would his supervisor have said David was wasting time? Probably. But it was a holy moment as David responded to the Holy Spirit.

My husband is a saint, but it’s not because he’s married to me. It’s because he fulfills his calling to serve as he goes about his everyday life, often in the most unholy places.

Ministry leaders: who needs your help in identifying the ways they live their call to serve in the everyday walking around moments of serve like Jesuslife, in the unholiest of places? Who needs to hear that the true path to sainthood is not reserved for the ordained, but rather open to all who believe in Jesus, who hear and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Encourage them to be aware of those holy moments, ready to act, ready to serve. Ready to be like Jesus.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:45 (ESV)