Thinking Out Loud

February 14, 2020

Lost Voice 4: Dann

Filed under: Christianity, Lost Voice Project — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:14 am

The Lost Voice ProjectWednesday I re-posted the third in this series and today’s was originally number four. I will eventually get to all of them, but if you want to read the two I’ve skipped so far, the links are at the bottom of the page.

Unlike the other people in this series Dann (don’t forget the second ‘n’) isn’t really in a situation where anything about his career, marriage or circumstances makes him invisible in the local church, in fact he seems to be participating in a variety of activities when something needs doing. The reason his story is here is, when you think of it, entirely superficial. But that’s exactly what makes his situation so ridiculous.

Simply put, Dann — who is Swiss-born and about 55 years old — speaks perfect English, but with a thick German accent. Everybody knows him and he usually sticks around for a few minutes after the service ends, but some people should really come with subtitles. People often have to ask him to spell a word so they know what he’s saying.

So there are, in this small-to-medium size church, opportunities for public ministry which fall to other people that simply don’t fall to Dann.

For example, he’s never been asked to do the scripture reading. Yes, it would be a little unclear at times, but would it be any worse than trying to follow along in the NLT while someone up front is reading from the NASB? I think we’re all accustomed to that sort of thing by now.

Or open in prayer. In his church, this responsibility gets passed around but it never gets passed in his direction…

…Is Dann a Christian? It’s a silly question in many respects, but if you’ve never heard someone give a testimony or had the privilege of listening to someone in prayer, you don’t always know. Even the passion with which someone reads the scripture passage can tell a lot about their faith. After-service conversations often focus on other matters. Katie, who has been a member of the church just wants to go up to him and ask, “When did you become a Christian?” Or, “How did you become a Christian;” because it seems like he’s a bit of a mystery spiritually. It’s hard to see someone as a leader in the church if they never done anything which exposes their spiritual gifts to the congregation…

…This all shows how much the modern church prizes verbal gifts. Guys who can speak well get asked to do the announcements or chair the men’s meeting. People who can orate get asked to fill in when the pastor takes his annual two weeks in Florida. And Anne, who has a beautiful British accent, always ends up narrating the children’s Christmas musical. “And they wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; and the next morning they had scones with breakfast tea.”

Maybe Dann should asked to be baptized again. At the baptismal service, you at least get to share your testimony. In some churches, it’s your only chance to share something from the platform.

In many respects, we are a people of words; the Christian faith is all about being able to articulate it...

…Dann is one of the lost voices in the modern church. His contribution to his local church might be significant, but after years of being marginalized, it’s unlikely he’ll be asked to do much moving forward.


a continuing series about people whose contribution to local church life never happened

September 26, 2019

Local Church Initiatives: More Isn’t Better

Some background: On Tuesday I posted a brief article contrasting those churches which are programmed to death with those not offering enough avenues for engagement. You can read that article here.

That promoted this reader comment:

I’ve been involved as a leader in both “kinds” of churches…at one church, we had the philosophy that MORE ministries were better, in other words, it was like a smorgasbord of ministries that were available every week. The calendar HAD to be full. I constantly felt the pressure as a leader to fill positions, fund initiatives, provide space, and pressure people to be involved.

Then I started leading a church where the only ministries we had were the ones that “surfaced” within the Body itself…in other words, people who felt the leading of the Lord to begin a ministry, started them and “staffed” them with like-minded people they knew who shared their passion, I found so much freedom in that…and I found that the ministries took care of themselves better over the long haul.

I am now a firm believer in “less is more”…in fact, in most of the churches I’ve led since my “smorgasbord” days, the church has been healthier because we have allowed the Lord to lead us in birthing ministries instead of having a busy “template” for what church should look like. In fact, I think for most churches, they could let about 1/2 of their ministries “die” and they would be happier and healthier. The issue is giving people the freedom and encouragement to build their lives in the Lord IN the midst of their lives instead of forcing them to live the life we think they should live…one built around church activities instead of simply living for Jesus in the spheres of influence that is their daily life. That’s been my experience…

The comment came from Rev. Dr. Robin J. Dugall who describes himself as “Pastor, Professor, Musician, Teacher and follower of Jesus;” and writes at Spiritual Regurgitations. (see more below*)

Because of his insights with this, I invited him to expand on this…

More isn’t better: It’s exhausting and counter-productive

The editor of this blog started “thinking out loud” and, in the process, requested a bit more from a reply that I posted to “Volunteers Wanted.” This issue has been the story of much of my professional life in the Church. Without bringing up at all any thoughts regarding the differentiation between “volunteers” and those using their gifts in ministry as an expression of their unique Kingdom calling, I’ll wade into the invitational waters.

I never thought I would say this much less write it, but I’ve lived a good majority of my 65 years of life involved in some manner or form of “Church.” From parachurch ministries to outdoor ministries…from small congregational ministries to what used to be regarded as “large” church settings. Thanks to the Lord, I’ve never had the opportunity to live my Kingdom life within the sphere of the megachurch. There is a part of me that cringes simply imagining the intensity of financial and organizational pressure that goes along with the management of any large “company.”

As a “churchworld” (I’ll define that term below) leader, my responsibilities have ranged from that which would be regarded by some as the sphere of the Senior Pastor to the leadership of a plethora of “sub-ministries” including children’s, youth, music, small groups, leadership and theological/biblical development. So, in regard to this issue of “Volunteerism” and what it takes these days to not only “do” ministry but enable and equip Jesus following people to be responsive to the call of God upon their lives, I’ve had my share of experience.

I must say that I’ve made some drastic, strategic and, in my mind, God-honoring changes in my ministry philosophy over the past two decades. Much of those changes have occurred because of witnessing the futility and counter-productivity of the “more is better” mentality. I’ve been involved as a leader in both “kinds” of churches…at one church, we had the philosophy that MORE ministries were better, in other words, it was like a smorgasbord of ministries that were available every week. We operated under with the mindset that the “calendar HAD to be full.” Subsequently, it was. It wasn’t simply the fact that I was out of my home probably five to six out of seven nights per week, but we constantly felt the overwhelming pressure as leaders to fill positions, fund initiatives, provide space, and pressure people to be involved. The key aspect of the previous phrase is “pressure people”…and, trust me, that’s what happened.

When Christendom ruled, the belief stood that the Church should be the center of life. And, in some respects, Christendom did appropriately draw one’s faith journey into a rich life of worship, fellowship and encouragement in faithfulness. Yet what has occurred over time as many Christians have bemoaned Christendom’s demise is that a form of institutional tyranny arose in its place. The Church was no longer the center of culture, so Church people formed a hybrid (more of a mutation) of Christendom to take its place – something I call, “churchworld.” When I talk about “churchworld” I am attempting to put into approachable language some way to clarify the overwhelming, insatiable “hunger” of religious institutionalism to demand the whole of a person’s life and attention.

“Churchworld” is one-part theme park and one-part assembly line…one part “money pit” and one-part shopping mall. It is built upon the values of consumerism and utilitarianism – in other words, how can we get the most out of people in order to give back to people what we perceive they need. In my humble opinion, that’s what “churchworld” does…just as the price of a ticket to any Disney park has insanely and prohibitively increased in cost for day’s excursion, so has the “cost” in time, energy, money, and “personnel” of feeding the demands of “churchworld.”

My wife and I have adult children that are involved in “churchworld” ministries. They constantly give witness to the increasing demands for the totality of their lives to be focused on sustaining the institution’s strategy of ministry. They have shared with me the fact that many people who are their friends in the Lord have made it a habit to leave churches after a year or so simply because of the increasing burdens and demands of involvement. Once involved in feeding the “beast,” it is hard to back away graciously without risking the subsequent woes and grief given by overwhelmed staff. I would never coin myself as a predictive prophesy individual, yet it doesn’t take much forethought to see the coming fall of “churchworld.”

One of my favorite authors, John Kavanaugh compares Ancient Rome’s adherence to “bread and circus” (the book, Following Christ in a Consumer Society; John Drane says the same in his books on the McDonaldization of the Church) to that of “churchworld’s” fascination with entertainment and feeding/attracting the masses.

Contrast that experience with what happened in my life as a leader and fellow disciple when I started leading a church where the only ministries we had were the ones that “surfaced” within the Body itself…in other words, people who felt the leading of the Lord to begin a ministry, started them and “staffed” them with like-minded people they knew who shared their passion and sense of calling for that ministry. Some call this ministry strategy, “Organic.” Truthfully, that kind of language aptly describes what occurs in reality. The kingdom of God that Jesus described is viral, organic and, by nature, a movement. It grows where no apparent strategy or potential can be found…and it lives, not by human energy and ingenuity, but by spiritual mystery.

In the organic ministry realm, we are much more apt to be praising God for his leadership and fruitfulness in people’s lives than praising ourselves for the plethora of activities that we can effectively manage and multiply by sheer effort and relational intimidation. Personally, I found so much freedom living as a living “organism.” With that mindset, with a renewed embrace of the dynamic spiritual nature of the Body of Christ, I found that the ministries took care of themselves better over the long haul. For example, in my current congregational setting, we have a few teenagers who would benefit from a good youth ministry program. Now, I could for a ministry team, hire a youth worker and build an entire infrastructure to handle that ministry need…that’s the programmatic approach. Even so, we have no one in the church who is sensing the “call” of God to form another program.

In the past, I would have beaten down people in an attempt to build another program. I chose not to do that. Instead, I called a pastor friend of mine who leads another church in town. They have an amazing youth ministry program and have built a solid ministry strategy to disciple teens. I talked to the pastor; told him I was interested in “investing” the kids in our church into their youth ministry program. I felt that partnership was more important than simply duplicating what is happening right down our street (so to speak). I talked to the parents of the teens, the youth themselves and now they are loving what God is doing in their lives as they participate in that other church’s ministry.

Some might say, “well, aren’t you fearful that you will lose that family to that other church?” No, I’m not and if they did leave, I would bless them on their way. I’m not going to try to be “all things to all people” any longer. I’m not going to fear ministry partnerships…in fact, I want so desperately to affirm them.

Church, at least in what I read in the New Testament, has more to do with organic living than most people want to admit. I am now a firm believer in “less is more”…in fact, in most of the churches I’ve led since my “smorgasbord” days, the church has been healthier because we have allowed the Lord to lead us in birthing ministries instead of having a busy “template” for what church should look like. In fact, I think for most churches, they could let about half of their ministries “die” and they would be happier and healthier.

The issue is giving people the freedom and encouragement to build their lives in the Lord IN the midst of their lives instead of forcing them to live the life we think they should live…one built around church activities instead of simply living for Jesus in the spheres of influence that is their daily life. This explains why Jesus did not ask us to go and “make gatherings or churches or home groups or…” He did not ask us to go and “make house churches.” He said, “go and make disciples.” Discipling viral disciplers is the end game. This places YOU and ME squarely in the midst of reproductive life that the kingdom is intrinsically about. We become movement-starters not church-starters. We release disciples who will influence the world throughout their lifetime and beyond.

When we start “churches, communities, meetings, etc.”, our focus tends to be on the communal gathering—what to do, how to do it, what it looks like, etc. We may say to ourselves that we are learning to “be” the church but often our priority remains on developing the structure/form/institution. When following Jesus and inviting others to follow him becomes our focus (discipling viral disciples), we have to shift from the “gathering” mentality to the “lifestyle-going” mentality. This shift will propel us from being church-starters to movement starters (where churches and gatherings spring up along the way).

One more thought – consider “wiki-based ministry.” In other words, I desire to build a “Collaboration based” ministry environment. I believe that God is active in EVERY person so that our community creates meaning – our ministry partnership is a reflection of a descriptive process with no prescribed meaning; we fix us, no experts are needed; leadership teams and pastors are good but only one of the gifts of community. We believe in a distinctly relational ecclesiology. That is organic…that is a celebration of less is more.

 


*From his About page: “Currently, in addition to being an Adjunct Professor in Biblical Studies at Azusa Pacific University, he is a pastor of a faith community, Adjunct Professor at Concordia University (Portland, OR) and an instructor/mentor of the Missional Training Team for the Lutheran denomination.”

September 24, 2019

Volunteers Wanted: A Tale of Two Churches

Ted and Tom are twin brothers. In their early 40s. Living at opposite ends of a large city. Both attend churches with weekly attendance in the four-to-five hundred range.

volunteers needed 2At Tom’s church, the Sunday announcements are fairly predictable. More people are needed to serve in the nursery. And the food pantry. And the middle-school boys Sunday School class. And the tenor section of the choir. And a drummer for the contemporary worship team. And the facilities committee. And now they’re asking for people to serve as parking lot attendants.

“Why do we need parking lot attendants with only 250 parking spots?” said Tom aloud to no one in particular.

“Shhhh!” said his wife, as the couple in front turned around and scowled.

“Did I say that out loud?” Tom asked.

…Across town at Ted’s church the situation is much reversed. There are not as many ministry initiatives, and Ted who happens to be a drummer and a tenor and a fairly competent pre-teen Sunday School teacher has nothing to do on Sunday morning. He shows up. He gives money. He has meaningful conversations with people during the coffee time between services. But he always feels a little lost on Sunday mornings and to his credit, he helps out on Monday nights at The Salvation Army and on Saturday mornings he is committed to a men’s group at another church. There just aren’t any pressing needs for anything Ted has to offer.

Ted and Tom often compare notes. While there’s nothing new about churches asking for assistance in various departments, Tom wishes his church was more like Ted’s (and that there were fewer announcements.) On the other hand, Ted his envious of Tom’s situation; he’d like to feel he was needed even if it was the superfluous task of welcoming cars in the parking lot.

volunteers neededSo which is the more healthy situation? What would the church metrics people say about these churches? Is a healthy church one in which there are always needs because lots of exciting things are happening, or is a healthy church one in which people are stepping up and filling volunteer ministry positions as quickly as they become available?

And what about Ted? Should there be some avenue of service for him to continue to develop his spiritual gifts? Should Ted’s church be creating some new ministry initiatives so that people like Ted can feel more involved or plugged-in?

Where on the continuum does your church lie?

July 18, 2016

Lost Voice 4 – Dann

Filed under: Christianity, Lost Voice Project — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:21 am

The Lost Voice ProjectAs important as I think it is, I see I’m posting these Lost Voice stories only every other year. We’ll have to do something about that.

Unlike the other people in this series Dann (don’t forget the second ‘n’) isn’t really in a situation where anything about his career, marriage or circumstances makes him invisible in the local church, in fact he seems to be participating in a variety of activities when something needs doing. The reason his story is here is, when you think of it, entirely superficial. But that’s exactly what makes his situation so ridiculous.

Simply put, Dann — who is Swiss-born and about 55 years old — speaks perfect English, but with a thick German accent. Everybody knows him and he usually sticks around for a few minutes after the service ends, but some people should really come with subtitles. People often have to ask him to spell a word so they know what he’s saying.

So there are, in this small-to-medium size church, opportunities for public ministry which fall to other people that simply don’t fall to Dann.

For example, he’s never been asked to do the scripture reading. Yes, it would be a little unclear at times, but would it be any worse than trying to follow along in the NLT while someone up front is reading from the NASB? I think we’re all accustomed to that sort of thing by now.

Or open in prayer. In his church, this responsibility gets passed around but it never gets passed in his direction…

…Is Dann a Christian? It’s a silly question in many respects, but if you’ve never heard someone give a testimony or had the privilege of listening to someone in prayer, you don’t always know. Even the passion with which someone reads the scripture passage can tell a lot about their faith. After-service conversations often focus on other matters. Katie, who has been a member of the church just wants to go up to him and ask, “When did you become a Christian?” Or, “How did you become a Christian;” because it seems like he’s a bit of a mystery spiritually. It’s hard to see someone as a leader in the church if they never done anything which exposes their spiritual gifts to the congregation…

…This all shows how much the modern church prizes verbal gifts. Guys who can speak well get asked to do the announcements or chair the men’s meeting. People who can orate get asked to fill in when the pastor takes his annual two weeks in Florida. And Anne, who has a beautiful British accent, always ends up narrating the children’s Christmas musical. “And they wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; and the next morning they had scones with breakfast tea.”

Maybe Dann should asked to be baptized again. At the baptismal service, you at least get to share your testimony. In some churches, it’s your only chance to share something from the platform.

In many respects, we are a people of words; the Christian faith is all about being able to articulate it...

…Dann is one of the lost voices in the modern church. His contribution to his local church might be significant, but after years of being marginalized, it’s unlikely he’ll be asked to do much moving forward.


a continuing series about people whose contribution to local church life never happened

December 12, 2014

We Don’t Want You to Serve, We Want You to Join In

Filed under: ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:49 am

This first appeared six years ago here at Thinking Out Loud and has been edited and updated…

.

Several decades ago, I was hired by a Christian sports resort, a prestigious residential facility two hours north of Toronto, Canada offering one-week programs to the children of the well-heeled. Not coming from a ‘camping’ background, I suppose that I brought a different skill set in my toolbox, and was told that I was a helpful person to have around.

Later, I learned that this meant I was able to bring strong leadership skills, especially the ‘upfront’ abilities needed to chair a meeting or an event, or facilitate a discussion group. Basically, I could get up in front of a group of people and talk and engage their interest.  In later years, I learned that having ‘profile’ really feeds the ego — and prevents others from having a turn — and that a better place of service might be at the back of the room instead of the front, or perhaps behind the scenes altogether. I am now comfortable serving in either capacity.

However, more recently, I’ve been aware of situations where neither gift of service — profile, or behind-the-scenes — is called for. Case in point: Each year, people in our town organize to present an annual Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day. This event is put on for the sake of people who can’t afford a fancy Christmas dinner, or simply don’t want to be alone on the 25th. At this event, no one is ’serving’ anyone else. True, there is a core team of volunteers; but they sit together with everyone else; there’s no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There’s no ‘doing for,’ it’s about ‘doing with.’The plates are on the table as they would be at a family Christmas dinner, and everyone at the table is equal. It’s about being among.

Clearly, a different mentality is needed if a thing like this is going to be effective. The problem is that so many — okay, I’ll say it: so many of us – have been ‘bred’ for either upfront profile service or even behind the scenes service, that it can be difficult to fit into a new ministry paradigm.

Or is it? I think that anyone, if they take about thirty seconds to think about it, can buy into a different way of thinking. And years later, I did actually buy-in. The ministry my wife pioneered to people living in a dilapidated motel centers around a weekly dinner. For the first 2-3 weeks, I would eat at home first, and then show up to help serving. But my wife didn’t need people to ‘help serving’ and the people there didn’t need ‘help’ to scoop up a slice of roast beef and mashed potatoes. They needed people who wanted to be their friends.

The problem is, being behind the scenes or being up on a platform or stage is really, really safe. Especially if it’s a ministry to the poor. You don’t have to share serving utensils; you don’t have to breathe the air if someone has a bad cough. Sadly, it’s those safe ministry roles that people are still being trained for and still being ‘bred’ for; and those in leadership are still taught to keep a buffer zone, or safe distance, between leaders and parishioners. That ministry paradigm is just not always applicable or helpful.

 

 

Update: As time passed, it was necessary to have some servers roaming around between tables. Eventually, this group grew too large; people wanted or needed to be there, but perhaps didn’t want to admit this, so they rationalized their service as a ministry opportunity and perhaps missed an opportunity to be ministered to. Nonetheless, the event has grown to the point where this year, it is being split into two dinners in two locations.  A lot of people are lonely on Christmas Day… What can you do in your city or town or small corner of the world to make a difference?

December 12, 2013

The Christian Service Spectrum

Ted and Tom are twin brothers. In their early 40s. Living at opposite ends of a large city. Both attend churches with weekly attendance in the four-to-five hundred range.

volunteers needed 2At Tom’s church, the Sunday announcements are fairly predictable. More people are needed to serve in the nursery. And the food pantry. And the middle-school boys Sunday School class. And the tenor section of the choir. And a drummer for the contemporary worship team. And the facilities committee. And now they’re asking for people to serve as parking lot attendants.

“Why do we need parking lot attendants with only 250 parking spots?” said Tom aloud to no one in particular.

“Shhhh!” said his wife, as the couple in front turned around and scowled.

“Did I say that out loud?” Tom asked.

…Across town at Ted’s church the situation is much reversed. There are not as many ministry initiatives, and Ted who happens to be a drummer and a tenor and a fairly competent pre-teen Sunday School teacher has nothing to do on Sunday morning. He shows up. He gives money. He has meaningful conversations with people during the coffee time between services. But he always feels a little lost on Sunday mornings and to his credit, he helps out on Monday nights at The Salvation Army and on Saturday mornings he is committed to a men’s group at another church. There just aren’t any pressing needs for anything Ted has to offer.

Ted and Tom often compare notes. While there’s nothing new about churches asking for assistance in various departments, Tom wishes his church was more like Ted’s (and that there were fewer announcements.) On the other hand, Ted his envious of Tom’s situation; he’d like to feel he was needed even if it was the superfluous task of welcoming cars in the parking lot.

volunteers neededSo which is the more healthy situation?  What would the church metrics people say about these churches? Is a healthy church one in which there are always needs because lots of exciting things are happening, or is a healthy church one in which people are stepping up and filling volunteer ministry positions as quickly as they become available?

And what about Ted? Should there be some avenue of service for him to continue to develop his spiritual gifts? Should Ted’s church be creating some new ministry initiatives so that people like Ted can feel more involved or plugged-in?

Where on the continuum does your church lie?

April 10, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Community Baptist Church

I’m a success at blogging but a failure at Twitter. Please follow me… please?

Any one of this week’s links could have been its own feature article.  By the way, I’m organizing a travel opportunity that begins in a Wesleyan college in western New York and ends in Jerusalem. I call it the Israel Houghton Tour.

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