The Importance of Small
Have you ever noticed how here in the United States we’re fascinated by everything big? Stores don’t just offer sales anymore; they’re COLOSSAL sales—GIGANTIC deals with HUGE savings. Sodas are sold in BIG GULP cups. Beanbag chairs are now called BIG JOE CHAIRS. We shop at BIG LOTS. (But then, who would want to go to a Little Lots store?) Boys dream of playing in the BIG LEAGUES.
Even in the church we get carried away with the concept of BIG. Ministries are prized for the breadth of their impact. Pastors seem to be ranked by the size of their congregations. Outreaches are rated by the numbers of people who come to Christ. Church vitality is measured by the number of baptisms and new converts. But is big always better—is this what God values?
Recently I was reading in the gospels, pondering Jesus’ ministry focus. In Luke 8, I was struck by how He purposefully left a thriving outreach to large crowds and crossed the Sea of Galilee to change the life of one—a demon-possessed man. Why leave a highly impactful ministry for one crazed person? Why choose the small over the big? It makes no sense until you look at the heart of God.
Jesus demonstrates in this story how God loves and values every single person. Everyone He’s created is made in His image and deemed worthy of receiving His provision of salvation. While sizeable numbers may matter to us, each heart is what matters to God. Jesus chose to abandon the bigger ministry we read about in Luke 8 to impact the life of just one man, which tells us that He values “small.”
One of the smallest ministries in our church—caring for those with special needs—is one of the nearest and dearest to my heart. We provide one-on-one buddies, who come alongside children with special abilities. In doing so, we also give their parents a much-needed break to find spiritual refreshment.
We don’t serve a lot of children, but what we do is impactful. As we lovingly care for each child, we are also blessing their parents, siblings, and the extended family. We are also sending a message that God loves and values each person, regardless of ability.
Some of our families have been unable to attend church for years due to their child’s health demands. But this small but faithful ministry is creating a safe place for these families to minister and be ministered to.
Some day in heaven I would love to hear the stories of the lives changed by the testimony of that former demoniac. My guess is that small ministries are not so small after all.
From Harm to Harmony: Why becoming more like Jesus is key to having a healthy staff culture
As part of a young church plant, we’ve had plenty of growing pains.
“Oh…you can’t say that on stage?”
“Oh…who needed to be told about that?”
“Oh…we can’t use the church card for that?”
“Oh…who do I report to?”
“Oh…you mean that doesn’t fit our vision?”
My most recent “Oh…” moment was when I had my first review with a new appraisal tool.
After doing the reflection on “Christ-like Character” I was feeling pretty confident. I mean, kids’ ministry lends itself to having an ongoing personal walk with Jesus, being a servant leader, and being trustworthy. The “Leadership” questions were just as affirming. “I have a concrete vision and know how to communicate it well!”, I thought, “And I obviously have the best looking budget of any of the ministries…plus I’m on time!”
But then I got to the “Culture” questions, and realized some things that I didn’t care to admit.
Do I celebrate God’s grace?
Do I empower others early?
Am I part of this spiritual family?
Do I believe the best and work through conflict?
Am I honest in all things?
Do I move fast and embrace flexibility?
Do I take initiative and become the solution?
At first, I felt angry that I hadn’t known that these were our culture benchmarks (remember what I said earlier about growing pains). As a perfectionistic firstborn, I thrive when I’m given concrete expectations. I felt embarrassed that I’d failed to perform, and felt tricked into failing by not knowing what I was supposed to be growing in.
And as I gave myself one 2-out-of-5 after another, I began to blame coworkers and circumstances for my failures. “Well, I would empower others early if my request for an intern had been granted.” “Obviously I believe the best when people aren’t being shady and selfish.” “Clearly I would have been the solution if my plate hadn’t already been loaded up beyond what I can accomplish.” “Who even has time to have fellowship with other believers when all you do is ministry?!”
As I calmed down, I was relieved that this was just the self-evaluation. Then I actually began to do some self-evaluation.
“Who am I kidding…I’m the one who thinks that God can’t handle this without me…no wonder I’m totally burned out…I’m doing it all in my own strength!” “Well how can I be a part of a spiritual family when I won’t let anyone carry any of my burdens?” “I know these people…they’re all friends. I know their motives were pure, even if I disagreed with the methods. Why was I so suspicious of them?” “Why was I such a stick-in-the mud about that new idea? Was I trying to punish them because they aren’t as burned out as me?”
The ugliness of the pride that was lodged in my heart was a little shocking. I immediately thought of Hebrews 12:14-15, which says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”More recently as I read through Acts, I was taken aback by Peter’s rebuke of Simon the Sorcerer. Acts 8:21-23 says, “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
“You are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Those selfish thoughts that I’d been harboring in my heart were not just thoughts. The way I was nurturing that bitterness was a malicious sin, and not yanking that root out was going to cost the unity of our team, friendships, and the effectiveness of my ministry.
“Dying to yourself feel like dying.” It’s a phrase I’ve repeated to myself lately as I remind myself that God doesn’t call us to things that are easy, or that will give us the glory…He calls us to look more and more like His Son. And His Son’s purpose was to come and die to make a way for us to be reconciled to the Father. And the more I resemble the Son, the more glory I bring to the Father as I love His bride, the Church.
How about you? What attitudes or “rights” are you clinging to because of self-protection? Where do you need to let Jesus have control of your heart and your ministry? How might relationships between church leaders change if the goal was unity and reflecting Christ to people from the outside looking in? What do you need to do to be reconciled to members of your team?
Not On My Radar: The Orphan Crisis
In James 1:27, we are instructed to care for the orphan. Psalm 82:3 tells us to defend the cause of the fatherless. God’s Word is our clear call to come alongside the orphan. But how do we practically walk this out?
Called to Care
When we read passages that refer to the orphan, I think sometimes our minds automatically gravitate toward adoption and foster care. Yet if we don’t feel called to bring children into our home, we may tuck these verses into the recesses of our minds where they’ll sit, unentertained, without considering there may be other ways to “care.”
That was me until I read Larry Bergeron’s Journey to the Fatherless. As God broke my heart for the orphan, I told Him I would do whatever He asked to help combat this crisis, which now exceeds 140 million children, according to the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO). God graciously responded to my prayer and changed my life’s trajectory.
I titled this blog “Not on My Radar” because none of the things God has called me to do in caring for the orphan are thoughts I had ever entertained, such as
- Bringing a fatherless teen into our family home;
- Providing respite for a family with six adopted special-needs children; or
- Speaking to Christians about the orphan crisis, challenging the Church to step up and care for God’s precious children.
As you read below some of the practical ways we can serve orphans, you may sense the Holy Spirit’s prompting to respond to opportunities you aren’t quite comfortable with. I pray that your heart will be open to what God desires, even if it’s not on your radar. His will may not be crystal clear today, but don’t be surprised when He begins to reveal it. Just obey.
All About the “One”
We can’t each impact the lives of 140 million children, but we can impact the one(s) the Lord is calling us to personally touch—directly or indirectly. God has sovereignly chosen each of us to help meet His children’s needs. It doesn’t matter how small or daunting our task may seem. What does matter is that we’re willing to obey, at any cost; because each time we do, a child is given hope.
Before continuing, please take a moment to invite the Holy Spirit to open your heart to what the Lord may ask of you.
Practical Ways to Care for Orphans:
- Adoption and foster care
- With more almost 700,000 children going through the U.S. foster care system in 2018 (see The AFCARS Report), the need for adoptive and foster parents is dire.
- Support orphan ministries The Alliance serves
- Orphans in the Alliance are served through Compassion and Mercy Associates (CAMA). Peruse CAMA for current projects.
- cmalliancekids 2019-2020 missions project is Silver Linings Missions Orphanage in Myanmar, Southeast Asia.
- Alliance Women’s 2018-2019 National Project includes several orphan initiatives; contact your local chapter to see how you can get involved.
- Support organizations that advocate for or help meet orphans’ basic needs*
- Donate your time, talent, or and/treasure to organizations that provide awareness and resources, rally the Church, and help meet orphans’ humanitarian and spiritual needs.
- Sponsor a child
Practical Ways to Support Adoptive and Foster Families:
- Provide respite. Orphan care can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Giving caregivers a few hours away from the home can be a priceless gift.
- Prepare a meal or set up a meal train.
- Provide transportation or car maintenance, run errands, or help around the home or yard.
- Since orphan care can take a financial toll, bless a family with a monetary gift.
- Send a note, email, text, or call the family to let them know they’re in your thoughts and prayers.
- Prepare care packages for children, who are often placed in homes with few personal effects.
- Ask families how you can specifically pray for them.
These are just a few of the many ways we can care for orphans. Whatever need God calls us to fill is an opportunity to bless a child and/or a family.
So, the question remains: What is God personally asking of each of us? We can’t let fear-of the unknown, of not thinking we have enough time or money, or that we aren’t capable-keep us from missing the blessing the Lord wants to give us and the children or families He is calling us to serve. The sweetest fruit will result as we step out in faith and obedience and trust Him.
God is Faithful
Our greatest tool is prayer.
- Pray for God’s intervention in the orphan crisis.
- Pray that He will break your heart for fatherless children.
- Pray that the Lord will bless and provide for the orphan and adoptive and foster families.
- Pray for God to show each of us our role in helping to combat the crisis and for Him to give us courage to step into those roles.
As we each do our part, God will be faithful to do His.
Getting and Keeping Volunteers
THE PERENNIAL PROBLEM AND A SURPRISING SOLUTION
I feel like I’ve read a million articles on the topic of “getting and keeping volunteers.” If you’re like me, working in a ministry that relies on a small army of volunteers, you’re probably interested in this topic, too.
I’m an analytical, task-driven person, so I’d love to give you a formula you can follow to guarantee you a steady stream of competent, enthusiastic volunteer ministry partners.
There’s so much great advice out there on creating a good culture, leading with vision, communicating gratitude and encouragement, and providing excellent equipping opportunities.
But I’ve learned that although strategies are great—relationships are more important. (That’s a hard pill to swallow, since so much of my job involves completing a ridiculous number of tasks.)
I also wish I could say that I arrived at this discovery quickly and have adopted it perfectly!
Reality is, this is a truth I’ve come to realize slowly. And I still have so much to learn. Here is some of the evidence I’ve seen to lead me to the conclusion about relationship importance:
• A college math major gave the most successful “ask” from the church stage for our kids’ ministry volunteers. He described how he hadn’t thought kids’ ministry would be for him, before turning to a section of the sanctuary where college students were sitting and challenged them to invest in kids.
• The volunteers who offer the most hours outside of Sunday and have served the longest are the ones I regularly check in on, take to coffee, and consider my friends.
• A mother and daughter were serving together, and the mother was concerned about her daughter’s resistance to church attendance and spiritual conversations. Much to her surprise and delight, her daughter asked her grandmother to serve with her the weeks she did. Now three generations of women are serving a future generation and are strengthening their relationships with one another.
• We hired a young man to our team who has invested in some neighborhood teens; without prompting, these youth signed up to serve in kids’ ministry.
• One of our volunteers now has almost everyone in her small-group Bible study working with her in our kids’ ministry.
It may seem obvious, but the common denominator in these examples is relationships.
When people say “yes” to serving kids and families, they aren’t just saying “yes” to the ministry, but to relationships with the others serving!
High school boys aren’t necessarily signing up because they’re passionate about serving kids, but because they love and respect a young man who is modeling that for them. Grandmas, mothers, and daughters are serving together as a means of bonding, but not because each of them is equally passionate about holding babies.
When I ask a stay-at-home mom to help me once a week in the office, she is saying “yes” to relationship with me more than to cutting out craft materials.
RELATIONSHIP VS. MINISTRY, OR RELATIONSHIP = MINISTRY?
But shouldn’t every volunteer be passionate about serving kids and families? Shouldn’t they do it simply because they have spiritual gifts that need to be put to work? I believe the answers to these questions relate to our relational God, who created us to be in relationship with Himself—and with others.
Genesis 1:1–2 and John 1:1 tell us how God has been in relationship from the beginning of time. In these passages we have a picture of perfect unity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When God creates Adam, He stated “It is not good for the man to be alone,” before creating a companion for him in Eve.
In the Garden, God is in perfect relationship with Adam and Eve; their rebellion is fractured that intimate communion.
But, in Exodus we see a God who decides to provide a way for Himself to tabernacle—or dwell—with His chosen people.
Then Jesus came to dwell—to tabernacle—with us and to give up His life to reconcile us to the Father. After His ascension, God promised reconciliation through the intimate presence of the Holy Spirit.
As much as our ministries are about the relationships to the kids we’re ministering to, they are also a ministry to those with whom we’re serving!
THE STRATEGY IS PRESENCE AND PROXIMITY
When we lead with relationships rather than tasks, we reflect our God who did everything to remove barriers to our relationship with Him. The most strategic thing we can do to staff our teams is to simply create spaces for relationships to flourish and be willing to enter into them sacrificially as well.
As Jesus is recorded as saying in Matthew 22:37–40: “‘. . . Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Everything we do—including, our work in ministry—is to be done in the context of love toward God and toward each other.
So, the soundest strategy for “getting and keeping volunteers” isn’t to create a flowchart of wonderfully organized tasks (as much joy as that may bring someone like me), but to build loving relationship with every opportunity we have. I’m praying that as we minister to children, we’re filled with the presence and love of the Holy Spirit to offer it to everyone around us!
Is this a theme in your ministry or sphere of influence as well? I’d love to hear stories of how relationships have impacted your life and ministry.