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.

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.

Strengthen Your Ministry: Study, Study, Study!

If you work with kids, it will happen sooner or later. While teaching a lesson, you you ask the class if they have any questions. Sure enough, one child asks a question that has nothing to do with the lesson.

Not only that; it’s a difficult one to answer quickly. For example: “Where did God come from?”or “Does God love the devil?” Or, “How can Jesus be God and man at the same time?”

And soon, others in the class start raising their hands with additional challenging inquiries.

Fruitful Learning Times

Our initial reaction may be to dismiss these questions because they don’t pertain to the lesson. But while this may be tempting—especially if you’re not sure how to answer—these can be some of the most fruitful learning moments for you and your class.

After all, the reason kids ask hard questions is because they are already thinking about them. Why not try to address them, even if they sidetrack you from the main lesson for a while?

Spend Time Studying

If you are a children’s pastor, or if you regularly teach kids about the Bible, it’s questions like these that remind us of the importance of studying (see 2 Timothy 2:15) to grow in our understanding of God. This can include reading books about theology, doing biblical research, memorizing Scripture—seeking God so we can get to know His will and how to love Him and others, not just to have information to present.

If we adopt an attitude of study to know God and know His will, we will be in a better position to disciple others. If we only study to obtain information for our lessons, that information will not be as impactful as presenting knowledge that has actually affected our hearts. We can’t give out what we don’t have ourselves. Kids can tell when Jesus really means something to us personally versus when we’re just sharing information.

Here are a couple of benefits this type of studying mindset provides to you and your ministry:

Preparation for Hard Questions

Sometimes, we need to be OK spending time studying a subject that may not have much to do with children’s ministry at the moment. For example, I have been struggling with the question of violence in the Old Testament as well as the relationship between the Old and New Testaments (For example: How does the New Testament fulfill the Old?) These subjects don’t appear on the surface to have much to do with children’s ministry. Even so, they might have more impact on children’s ministry than we might think initially.

This is what I mean: studying challenging subjects helps me better understand God’s purposes and how to relate to Him. This also helps me as a children’s pastor, as I teach about Him.

I can envision the day when a child will raise his or her hand in class and ask, “Why did God command the Israelites to kill all those people but Jesus said to love your enemies and pray for them?” (If we’re honest, we adults ask this question too.) The easy answer would be to say, “Because God commanded it and we don’t need to question it.” Answers like that sometimes do more harm than good, because we’re not showing respect for a child’s honest inquiry.

Studying difficult subjects like this can better prepare us to have well-informed answers. And we learn about resources we can share with parents, which can help them talk about challenging topics with their kids.

Absorb God’s Word

There are many reasons studying various topics in theology and Bible interpretation can assist us in ministry. But the most important point I want to make is that it is always good for us to know the Bible intimately. I encourage you to find the best way to simply sit down and read and absorb your Bible.

Memorizing Scripture has proven to be tremendous exercise for me. I like to memorize whole chapters and books at a time. Doing so helps me see the big picture and themes throughout a certain book; it helps me to develop perspective. If this sounds interesting to you, start with small books or letters such as Philemon, Titus, or 2 or 3 John. You will be surprised at how memorizing whole letters like these can help you in your understanding of them. Do a google search on Bible memorization apps you can download for help.

For some people though, memorization is difficult. That’s OK. I heard a pastor say once, “We are not all called to memorize but we are all called to meditate upon God’s Word.”

Find whatever method works best for you to absorb God’s Word in your mind and heart. Feed on it; drink from it. God will use it in your life and in the lives of others. And when kids ask difficult questions, you will be better equipped to know where to direct them in the Bible.

Planting Seeds, Both Now and In The Future

These are just a couple of benefits you will receive from adopting a lifestyle of studying and meditating on Scripture. I encourage you to find time in your daily schedule to take on a challenging topic that has been on your mind for a while. You will be surprised at how God can use that in your ministry—now or later.

In your walk with God and in your ministry, adopt St. Anselm’s[1] motto, “Faith seeking understanding.”

 

 


[1] St. Anselm: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/anselm/

How is your heart?

I have struggled with writing this blog post for months as I’ve wrestled with the Holy Spirit. He has been working in my heart, revealing to me that, despite my best efforts, I am prideful, envious, and filled with thoughts of comparison.

I’ve now started to realize the core of my sin: I have cared too much for what others think of me—or my ministry—and not cared enough about who Jesus is calling me to be or who He says I am. My heart screamed with fear that I have not been doing enough—that I am inadequate.

But then I read 2 Corinthians 10:12–18.   

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand….For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (NIV)

Ouch, Paul!

As I read that passage, I had to reorient my perspective and repent of the comparison, judgement, and boasting in my heart—and my lack of wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:5–7, Paul says:

For in him [Christ] you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

It is not the works of my hands and the things that I do that I am to boast of. I am to boast about the work of Christ. He chooses to use me and to use you. I am to give glory, thanks, and praise in all situations. He gives me all I need, and I lack no spiritual gift.

As I’ve begun to understand that it is to be less about me and more about Him, my heart has started to heal. I’ve also found David Benner’s book The Gift of Being Yourself quite helpful in reorienting my heart back to the truth of Jesus.

“In order for our knowing of God’s love to be truly transformational,” Benner says, “it must become the basis of our identity . . . An identity grounded in God would mean that when we think of who we are, the first thing that would come to mind is our status as someone who is deeply loved by God.”

Can you imagine how much we could show the world God’s love if we were not concerned about our own accomplishments and instead felt deeply loved by Jesus? Knowing who we are in Christ can set us free. That is why it is important to know the truth of who the Bible says we are. It says we are:

And so much more. The C&MA has a wonderful resource that details all that the Bible has to say about who we are in Christ. You can find the downloadable resource here: http://cmalliance.org/about/family/leadership/books. It is a great place to start meditating on the truth of God’s word as we examine our hearts.