Congregational Life and Ministry, Leadership

Two Ways to Engage The People in The Pew

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One of the most vital challenges congregations face now are how do you involve the people in the pew and motivate them to use their gifts in service to God and His kingdom.  Pastor’s sometimes are their own worst enemy in this undertaking.  If we are honest, we prefer the notion of being the professional leading from the front.  After all, we are highly trained professionals and have the student debt as a constant reminder. It is easy if we are not careful to take on the star quarterback mentality.  While leading from the front requires less time and effort it is not the most efficient form of ministry and discipleship.  Members get left behind and left out of ministry in this approach. This concept of ministry and discipleship is not what Jesus modeled nor advocated. Jesus fostered an environment where the disciples were fully engaged in ministry.  Modern disciples are called to do ministry in both far off distant lands and in the communities God has planted His Church.  And that call to ministry is not an occasional service here and there but consistent.   We get the honor to serve God and His kingdom in our community, in our vocations, at school, on the bus, at home, and even at church.  How do we make the mental mind shift to do this?

Connect people young and old to a greater purpose.

Your members will not be engaged because you as leader say they should. Lord knows that would be great. People need more.  Give your people a definite purpose “how” they can make a difference. Then give them the clear mission.  That is the “why.” Identify their unique calling.  That is the “what.” People care about the cause. Often in our congregations, we think we have communicated our purpose, mission, and calling, but if you forced churches to articulate those three questions many struggle to explain the reason they exist. Test this in your church.  Take a straw poll of the congregation’s mission you will get answers that are all over the map. If your purpose and mission are fuzzy, clarify them.  If you have no idea where you are leading people, take the time to gain clarity.  Then communicate that higher purpose to your flock when you seek to mobilize a team to go into the mission field with you make the mission about more than filling a position for an hour on Sunday.  Answer the questions of how their service impacts the overall ministry and purpose of the church. Before people give up their free time, they need to see tangible evidence of fruitfulness and a clear line between what they do and what moves the needle.

Give members the opportunity to serve.

Advice from Ross Perot about how to treat your people: “Never ask anyone to do what you haven’t done before and wouldn’t do again. That’s a pretty fundamental rule in leadership… treat them like you treat yourself. Things you don’t like, they don’t like. You don’t like to be jerked around; they don’t either. You don’t like to be talked down to, and they don’t either. You would rather work with somebody than for somebody. So, would they. You hate people who pound on your head after you gave everything you had and failed…It’s that simple.”

Christians are seeking a more prominent role to play in the Gospel story than merely sitting in the pews.They have heard countless sermons on all the various parts of the body of Christ and the many spiritual gifts given to the people of God.  Now they are looking for a way to put their talents and passions to work as a vital part of the church’s ministry.  To engage your flock in your church’s ministry, you’ll need to create opportunities or a path to leadership.Pastor’s here is the hard part for you look to give away leadership not just volunteer positions.

Even scarier invite opinions from those who are not seminary trained. To improve the overall feel and effectiveness of your congregation welcome feedback and push down decision-making to include your flock.  By giving your people a greater involvement in leadership and ministry, you create an environment of collaboration and improved ministry buy-in.

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Discipleship, Servant Leadership

You Have Been Called Up For Active Duty

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When the topic of using our spiritual gifts comes up, this illustration comes to mind.

The great violinist, Nicolo Paganini, willed his marvelous violin to Genoa — the city of his birth — but only on condition that the instrument never is played upon. It was an unfortunate situation, for it is a peculiarity of wood that as long as it is used and handled, it shows little wear. As soon as it is discarded, it begins to decay.  The beautiful, mellow-toned violin has become worm-eaten in its beautiful case, valueless except as a relic. The moldering instrument is a reminder that a life withdrawn from all service to others loses its meaning. -Bits & Pieces, June 25, 1992.

But far too often those people resources go under-utilized and sit in our buildings rotting like an unused violin. The apostle Paul wanted the church not to be ignorant about the use and importance of spiritual gifts.  God gave the church these gifts to be used and often used for the advancement of the gospel.

The Common Good

 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

 1 Corinthians 12: 7.

The Holy Spirit gives gifts to the church to unite it around a common good of announcing to the world the reign of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  Spiritual gifts are intended never to divide the body or cause in-fighting, or jealousy.  The concept Paul introduces of “the common good”, is a powerful and inspiring phrase, one worth holding on and lifting up often in our congregations. The old Adam has a strong desire to live a selfish, self-centered existence, seeking to use his or her gifts solely for personal gain or boasting. However, the new man recreated in Christ through the washing of regeneration understands that our spiritual gifts are for the enjoyment and advancement of the whole body of Christ and the kingdom. This revelation begs the question then, “How can I use my God-given gifts in, with and among the body of believers?” And not “Do I want to exercise my spiritual gift?”

Paul accentuates the authority of the Spirit in the distribution of the gifts (v. 11).

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Next week we will look at the gifts listed in I Corinthians 12 in more detail, but understand this: the Holy Spirit does not give all Christians the same gift or gifts. Rather he gives them “…just as he determines…” (v. 11). I know when I started out in ministry I wanted certain gifts that I thought would make ministry easier and benefit the body of Christ.  Like the gift of evangelism.  But the Spirit did not grant me that wish.  So, while we may pray for particular spiritual gifts, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” 1 Corinthians 14:1.  The Holy Spirit has the authority to give gifts as he determines.  Gifts that the Holy Spirit feels will benefit the body and meet the needs of the body of Christ.  Whatever gifts you have been given, use them to the glory of God and the common good of the body of Christ.  The body needs you. The mission of God needs you.  Go and be a blessing.

Leadership

In A Time of Transition Be Strong and Courageous

Walk with comets

Every person and organization goes through a period of transition.  My current role in ministry is about to undergo a radical shift within the next year.  Our leader will complete his time of service, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the grassroots missional movement that God has started under his leadership.  However, as the old saying goes, “All good things come to an end.” Our area churches will elect a new man of God to lead them into the next story of our organization’s future.  With that transition comes uncertainty.

Usually, changes cause me high anxiety. Which is rarely grounded in reality but only the perception of what horrible things might be and I am aware of that, but it does not stop the heart from racing. When that anxiety comes, you need an outlet. Here is the problem or blessing for me, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, so my outlet is music. Music soothes the anxiety beast. However, this transition has not come with a lot of anxiety, maybe being on the other side of fifty it just takes too much emotional energy, and I need all the energy I can muster to chase around my energetic six-year-old son. Not wanting to be a victim of the anxiety monster has also allowed me to step back and look at the landscape of the path forward for my organization. Maybe the lessons I learn could be of benefit to my readers.

Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion applies well here: “Everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by forces impressed upon it.”

My church body is feeling this law in very uncomfortable ways right now. The world around the church is changing at a rapid pace, and it is pressing hard on the church. Those forces have the body of Christ on edge and trying to decide what direction to go next. When a transition is forced upon you there are two natural reactions:
1) hunker down in the bunker and wait for the threat to go away or get tired of fighting.

Or

2) adapt and come up with a big, bold new approach to address the changes that the organization needs to take.

The church needs to find a better way to do things to better connect with the society around them that has no intention of just going away. Over the next few weeks, I will share my observations about what the church can do to adapt. The message remains the same, but the approach and delivery system for that word can and does need to adjust.

Bunker Thinking
On June 4, 1783, at the market square of a French village of Annonay, not far from Paris, a smoky bonfire on a raised platform was fed by wet straw and old wool rages. Tethered above, straining its lines, was a balloon 33 feet in diameter. In the presence of “a respectable assembly and a great many other people,” and accompanied by great cheering, the aircraft was cut from its moorings and set free to rise majestically into the noon sky. Six thousand feet into the air it went — the first public ascent of a balloon, the first step in the history of human flight. It came to earth several miles away in a field, where it was promptly attacked by pitchfork-waving peasants and torn to pieces as an instrument of evil! – Today in the Word, July 15, 1993.
This story above illustrates just how hard it is for people to accept things that are new and foreign to them. I often get the sense this is where the church is today. We see the world around us changing, and we want to get sticks and attack the strange new things we see around us and label them as an “instruments of evil.” Now while there is plenty of stuff to be concerned about, everything is not evil. What makes things evil is the way they are used. Hiding in a bunker does not address the real issue.  It may make you feel safe, but the threat is still there, and the danger is real.

The church is threatened by the changes happening all around it. The church and mainline denominations are unsure how to relate to society in this strange new post-Christian world. One popular option is just to have a “this too shall pass approach to the changes. If we just wait this out, we will be ok.” If we just cut ministry down to the barebones and ration out the gifts of God, we can weather the storm. Is that really what God called us to do? Or does Jesus point us to trust in Him for the needs of tomorrow? Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on? Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Matthew 6:25ff

God did not give us a Spirit of Timidity
7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 2 Timothy 1:7-9

Transitions are scary.  They create anxiety.  These times cause us to want to run and retreat, but God calls the Church to be bold in its witness to the world. We hold the keys to the Kingdom. We don’t face the threats and uncertainty of tomorrow alone we have behind us the power of Almighty God. Now is the time for church leaders to lead our people into the mission field which is right at the doors of our churches. It is time for the church to love those who are broken right outside our walls. It is time for the church to bold in its witness,  and hopeful in regards to carrying out the mission.  And energized in its outreach in the world because never has the church been more needed.   At the same time, we are uncompromising in the purity of our confessions because that is the foundation of the life-saving message of Jesus Christ.  The world is ripe for the harvest.

 

 

Leadership, Servant Leadership

Are You A Fun-Sponge Leader?

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At a conference, I attended last fall the sectional leader passed out a rock and told us to hold on to it.  He went on to explain that far too many leaders approach leadership with the mindset that it is their responsibility to hang on tight and control everything that happens in their organization.  If you are a leader and you guard your ministry like you are holding on to that rock then you preventing your people from being what God created them to be. Some ways to examine your leadership style and see if you are a fun-sponge leader:

  1. Do You Feel Like You Are Doing All Ministry Yourself?

If you are holding ministry so tightly your hands have lost all the color in them, you are killing ministry for everyone else.

Solution: Remember Ministry is meant to be shared.

Leadership Insight: “Most people are bored in our churches, trying to figure out are they doing all that God has called them to do.  They wonder if when they get to heaven if God will rebuke them for failing.”  J. D. Greer

You are not a great steward if you are doing ministry alone, you are a ministry hoarder. Authentic, godly leadership places its focus on equipping God’s saints for service.  We don’t do this to puff up ourselves or our ministry but to more effectively carry out the will of our Father and expand His Kingdom to perform the mission Jesus entrusted to His followers.

Letting go of the ministry reigns does not come without risk and fear of ministry being done in a manner that is not acceptable to the leader.  The other side of that coin is that it is possible that ministry will not be done the way you would do it, but it could be done in a way that will bring glory to God that you could never have imagined.  Here is a great illustration of that.

An elderly widow, restricted in her activities, was eager to serve Christ. After praying about this, she realized that she could bring blessing to others by playing the piano. The next day she placed this small ad in the Oakland Tribune: “Pianist will play hymns by phone daily for those who are sick and despondent–the service is free.” The notice included the number to dial. When people called, she would ask, “What hymn would you like to hear?” Within a few months, her playing had brought cheer to several hundred people. Many of them freely poured out their hearts to her, and she was able to help and encourage them.

  1. Do You Believe All the Ideas for Ministry Should Come from the Top?

Solution: Acknowledge the fact that your people have excellent ideas too, learn to listen to them.

Leadership Insight: Christians are tired of just sitting around, being Lawnchair Larry and Louise.

Leadership is more than just having talents and imploring the proper techniques; it is humility and caring for those we’re leading. And to care for them means to recognize that they have value, insight and have been gifted by God for service in his Kingdom.  You are not the only expert in the church.  And nowadays, you are not always the best-trained person in the building.

Notice the images Paul describes of a leader in I Thessalonians 2, verses 7 and 11: ‘‘We were gentle . . . As a nursing mother . . . As a father.’’ In verse 9, Paul says he supported himself on behalf of the church. If we’re going to be leaders in God’s service, it can’t be done from a distance. We must lower our defenses and love people for Christ’s sake. That means letting go of ministry.  Letting go makes us vulnerable. That means when attacks come it hurts more, but that is the high cost of leadership. It is easier not to lead but doesn’t the mission of God, and his sheep deserve all our best? And isn’t ministry better when you do it alongside your people? May God provide you the courage and the strength for you to lead.  The church needs leaders, so lead boldly, courageously, and missionally.