3 Keys to Relational Ministry

20 07 2011

One of the largest struggles I have had thus far in my ministry has been the balance between program and relationships. While I was in college, I developed the mind set that if the band, speaker, atmosphere, design, event, etc. is excellent, then the crowd will show up and lives will be changed. So as I started my ministry at Cornerstone I implemented this philosophy. I took a small Wednesday night Bible study and turned it into a full blown Sunday night worship service. We had a great band, awesome videos, crazy games, and messages that were crafted to be relevant and exciting. And the crazy thing is…it worked…for a little while.

We went from a group of 8 students to a group of more than 30 in a couple of months. I was ecstatic! I put more and more effort into the planning of our program and less focus into knowing the people coming to us. As this went on we lost our attendance numbers. I thought that it must have been the night of the week so we changed it to Wednesday…no change. Then I thought it must have been the band so we switched it around…no change. Then I swallowed some humble pie and changed the way that I preached….no change.

Finally, our senior minister called me into his office and delivered the truth. I had lost connection with our students. That message hurt but after evaluating my ministry I realized that I had replaced my love for students with my love for flashy success. So I hit the brakes and refocused myself on these three priorities in relational ministry.

Ministry is not a production

When you make your ministry a production it looses its “hook” into the lives of people. There could be the best movie of the year coming out, but if it opens on the same night as something which holds relational stock in your life, you’ll realize there’s always next week to see it. That’s how people will view your ministry if it’s just a production. The band will be there next week, the videos will be there next week, the games will be there next week. So rather that spending most of your week planning out the craziest programming ever, ministers should spend most of the week focusing on making a deep connection with people in their ministries.

Just because there’s an “I” in ministry, doesn’t mean you can do it alone

Unless you only have 3 people in your ministry, you need a team of leaders. What can happen when you try the solo-minister act is your connection in lives will end up shallow and ineffective OR you have a heart attack from stress and you die. Teams are the best way to ensure that all of the people in your ministry are being connected with. Let’s say you have 30 people in your ministry and you have a team of 6 leaders who connect with 5 different people each week. That means you can focus on connecting with certain people every week and with your leaders, but at the same time everyone in your ministry is receiving a relational connection every week.

People need love more than they need an experience

When I think back on my life there is one person who stands out as having the greatest impact, my D-Group leader Buzzy. He met with me (and the group) every week at Chic-Fil-A, without an agenda, but only to love us and share life with us. The crazy thing is, he was involved in our youth program, but my life was not changed because he played guitar with the youth band or because he taught lessons every once in a while 0r even because he ran around during crazy games. My life is what it is today because Buzzy loved me and I knew it. More than anything the people in our ministries need to feel the love of Christ from us in life and not hear or see it from stage.

…then God?

23 02 2010

There are a lot of times in life where it is easy to be spiritual, and it doesn’t even have to be in a church. You could have a conversation about God with a complete stranger, pray with a dear friend, read Scripture at your favorite coffee shop, or listen to a song of  praise on your way to the golf course. All of which I have experienced. And as easy as it can be to dive into the Lord in those nonchalant venues, there is one place (or time) where I always fail. Early morning.

I remember being in my first year of college and enrolled in an 8:00 AM hermeneutics (how to study the Bible) course. I lived in the dorms on a small campus and so my total prep time for a morning class (including travel) could be shaved down to 3.5 minutes; meaning I didn’t even have to wake up until 7:56. But those “early” mornings of diving into the Word brought heavy eyelids rather than awe inspired worship.

And still today, mornings are not my friend for devotion. I mean, I’m a lot better at getting up before 8:00 (I can even get up and around before 7:00 if need be), but never to spend time in prayer and meditation with Jesus. And I’m starting to realize that it’s a problem for me to be so lazy when it comes to an opportunity for spending time with God. But it’s ok, God understands…right?

But here’s what I’m starting to see for my life. When I refuse to get out of bed in the morning for God, it’s not a snooze issue – it’s a priority issue. Now a lot of people might think this is crazy, but here’s what I mean. Let’s say my dad called me this evening and offered to pay for me to play golf with him everyday next week, but it had to be the first tee time each day, probably around 7:20 AM. Would there be any hesitation on my part in making the decision to set my alarm and get up for golf? No, probably not. Or let’s say that our senior minister called me into his office this afternoon and told me I needed to be in the office an hour earlier each day or I would lose my job. Would I risk it by sleeping in?

So I’m willing to get myself up early in the morning for my own pleasure or sense of security, but when it comes to my chance to start my day with Jesus I remain dormant and slothful. And what that translates into in life is God not really being Lord of our lives. He is this great thing for Sunday mornings because he promises heaven, but realistically I need my sleep, so he’s going to need to adjust to that.

And if God is the Lord of our lives then it’s not just sleep that replaces him, but it is our jobs, sports, television, family, friends, responsibilities, and anything else this world says is priority.

If I am supposed to follow Jesus in this life that He has given me, then I must make him Lord of it. Or in his own words, I must, “take up my cross and follow” him.

Do I need sleep or do I need Jesus? Do I need money or do I need Jesus? Do I need…

In all actuality, I need JESUS.

Out Run a Hurricane?

17 02 2010

While I was in college I spent many hours sitting at Starbucks, studying for my classes or writing my papers. It really is a great place to sit and get your work done, especially if you are so lucky as to acquire a comfy chair. The workers there are always welcoming and great to talk to on your breaks. The place became my study cove, one I shared with thousands of college students all across America.

There is one visit that I have been thinking about recently. I was there late on a Monday night, finishing up a project due the next morning. I was sitting with a group of friends at a large table, in the front corner of the room. I had my lap top open and iTunes running with Shane and Shane to fuel my progress. The project was a psalm journal for a worship theology course, a major project that I so diligently waited to start until that night. So I was blazing through the required psalms, writing what each chapter meant to me and how it affected my relationship with the Lord. It was in my haste that I wasted those opportunistic moments with Jesus. But then I came to Psalm 139.

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

I remember coming to these words and feeling as if I had missed all of Scripture up until this point. I read it over and over, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be bright,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as day, for darkness is as light with you.” Again and again.

The weight of God’s love crushed me in that front corner of Starbucks and left me with tears of gratefulness pouring down my face. There is no where in this entire universe that I can take myself to separate my life from Him. Even if I throw myself into the pits of depravity, there is still light there, there is still His love.

That night changed my life with the Lord, deepened my view into His reality. Whenever I feel myself entering into a place of dryness or apathy in worship, I think back to that moment and read those words again. The realization of God’s love inspires worship in my life.

So I have been thinking about that night this week as I prepare for a night of worship this Saturday in our ministry. I have been challenged in trying to lead our group to a similar response. In this challenge, I put together a song list of all my favorite songs to sing that night. Towards the end of that list is the song “How He Loves” popularized recently by David Crowder.

In the first verse of this song the lyrics are, “He (God)  is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree bending beneath the weight of his love and mercy.” I love these words! I am astonished by God’s love being ever-present and so powerfully swaying. And that astonishment is what causes people to worship. When someone realizes that God actually loves them it causes worship to happen.

Think back to Paul’s writing in Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” And this is how we will lead our group into worship, by presenting to them the mercies of God, the love of God, how He loves us.

So I don’t know where you are as you read this post, but know this: God loves you. He loves you and there is no where you can go to escape it and nothing you can do to annul it. If you run to the ends of the earth, He is there. And if you cover yourself in darkness, He is still there. He loves you no matter where you are in life or what you’ve done…because you can’t out run the hurricane.

God’s “Waiting” Game

16 02 2010

One of the hardest things to do as a young person  is…wait. I remember being forced into patience as a  child and the agony that accompanied my efforts.  When you are a toddler, you are forced to wait on  being a “big kid.” As a “big kid”, you’re forced to wait  on high school. As a high schooler, you guessed it,  you are forced to wait on graduation, then you wait  on college, and then having your career, getting  married, having kids, making something of yourself. As a young person, it seems like most of life is waiting for the next thing to come around.

Right now, I find myself in the middle of God’s waiting game, and we have been playing for a while now. Four years ago, the Lord put a passion in my heart…a dream for His Kingdom and church. That vision was church planting. And so, I dove into planting head first; taking in as much of it as I could, as fast as I could, because I thought that graduation was the only thing to wait for. Then May 10, 2008 came and passed.

May 10th was the day after graduation and there was no finish line in my waiting game. Instead, there was confusion and disappointment at the fact that I was no closer to my vision, dream, passion, than I was two years earlier. So with confusion and disappointment came forcefulness and a desire to accomplish my vision on my own. I reasoned with myself that the finish line to my waiting was not there because I had not laid it out for myself. As a result, the date for our start to planting was set as November 2009.

Well today is here, February 2010, and I am still a couple of years out from being done with this game. Now though, the game is no longer wearisome, but an opportunity to learn a couple of lessons because of God’s waiting game.

First, for God, it is not a “waiting” game, rather a “working” game. The Lord did not place a passion in my heart and promise to return when it was time to plant. Over the past few years, He has shaped and developed my heart, experience, and knowledge to prepare me for the work ahead.

I think about David’s story in 1 Samuel. God chose David specifically, out of all the men in Israel, out of all in Bethlehem, and among all his brothers, to be king of Israel. So Samuel goes to Jesse’s home, anoints David to be king, but that was not the moment David started his reign. There were years of preparation and waiting where David patiently followed the Lord’s will for his life (ironically those years of preparation were spent with Saul, the king David would eventually replace).

In the midst of waiting, we should pray that the Lord would open our eyes to what He is doing in our lives to prepare us. God is not deistic. He does not leave us to our own. He is moving, speaking, working, leading, and most importantly loving us through every moment of our lives.

Second, I realized that if you spend all your time looking ahead for things to come, you would miss what is going on around you. We are all responsible for the things God has placed in our lives and that does not just include the things in the future.

One of the most embarrassing moments in life is when you think someone is waving to you, but really, the person is looking past you to someone else. Similarly, the relationships currently in our lives will suffer if we are constantly looking past today, for tomorrow.

There was one day when I was praying for God to prepare the hearts of the people we would plant with saying, “Lord, when you send us would send your Spirit ahead of us so there will be a revival when we arrive there.” In that moment the Lord convicted me by showing me that I was surrounded by people everyday who needed the Gospel, but I was too focused on the people to come.

In John 4 there is an amazing story about Jesus and a woman from Samaria. The text describes that Jesus was leaving Judea and headed towards Galilee and it includes that he had to go through Samaria. Now because of Jewish purification rites, Jesus could have moved around Samaria, but in verse 5 John records that they came to a city in Samaria called Sychar. There in Sychar, Jesus meets a woman by a well and enters into one of the most powerful conversations recorded in the Gospels.

So what’s the big deal with this text? Jesus was in Judea and his destination was Galilee. He could have traveled a different route, he could have pushed through Sychar to keep moving, or he could haveeasily ignored this Samarian woman; because his destination was Galilee. But Jesus did not let his final goal affect the way he was currently ministering.

It is a great shame that we can let our goals hinder us from current effectiveness. That our lives can render little in this moment because of our expectations for the next moment.

So here I am, today, not tomorrow. I am exactly where the Lord wants me, there is no trickery or game being played, but only a loving Father guiding his child through the path of life. I am excited to see what the Lord brings me in planting, but as for now…I am loving what he is doing.


11 07 2009

There are times in my life when I am allowed the opportunity to step back and actually see where I’m headed and how I’m living. These times are self-reflective and usually drive me to my knees in repentance and prayers for help. In all honesty, I avidly try to avoid such observations. Who in their right mind enjoys bringing themselves down? But in the past month or two I have invited the Lord to lead and guide me through a self evaluation and this is what I have found out.

I am not enough, no matter how much I work, lead, read, study, or preach.

As I looked at my life, my desires, and what I focus my time on, I discovered that I am doing too much on my own for my mind, body, and soul to handle. My sermons are being written by my own accord, but turning out rigid and abrupt. My programming is organized through my own thoughts and ideas for the most effective ways to reach out to people, but is not producing effective discipleship. My leadership is sourced from my own strength and ability, but is left loosely connected and ambiguously undirected. Even my loving the people around me is out of my own heart, but I found myself loving people out of obligation and without authenticity. I am not enough.

And the reason that I am doing so much on my own is because I am not engaging the Lord in prayer and intimacy. Over the past year or so, I have forgotten what the Lord has done in my life and I have abandoned a life devoted to prayer, and it stops here, it stops now!

I know what it is to enter in prayer, witness the Lord move and act powerfully in a matter. I witnessed the Lord heal a marriage completely after a couple hours of praying. I experienced a night of hopelessness transformed to hope because we spent the hours struggling in prayer. I know what it is to have the Spirit of God guide my soul in groaning for a need. I know and now I must walk in it!

This life is too hard for my own strength, love, wisdom, and ability. I can no longer have the right intentions for the Kingdom but then fight as a mercenary!

I love what Paul writes concerning his desire for people to know Christ, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29, ESV). That as Paul moved from town to town, engaging person after person with the Gospel, being beaten, mocked, flogged, arrested, and persecuted, he still was able to preach; not because he was enough, but because God is!

The strength, ability, wisdom, and love is available for me, it’s just not within myself. Everything I need in this life is found in the Lord and actualized through time of prayer, meditation, worship, and intimacy with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

To God be all the glory and praise as we learn to walk, work, and minster with all his strength which he will powerfully work within us!