Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Build it and they will come?

I have the best job in the world.  Actually, I have several jobs but the one I’m talking about today is my job as an evangelist.  Saying job sounds sort of weird because it’s a ministry but since I am financially compensated, it qualifies as a job.  Getting to hear the stories of people who are searching for God is the BEST.  I never listen to someone share their faith journey and think, “well, that was nothing special.”  It is always special.  I heard something at Al-Anon the other night I hadn’t heard before: we are spiritual beings having a human experience, not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are actually having an out-of-body experience every day because who we truly are is not the tangible body we inhabit.

At this time of year, schools are gearing up for a new year and churches are also getting ready for a new start.  In my own congregation and those where I consult, I hear lots of conversations around what to do and when, what we will call it, who will lead it, and the dreaded how we will get them to come to it.  I say dreaded because if we are creating ministry and have to ask the question, “how do we get them to” then we are likely creating something we want and not necessarily something that meets the needs of others. 

Many of these conversations also include a discussion of someone who created a sign-up sheet and a blurb in the weekly bulletin but no one participated.  The discussion will usually conclude with folks throwing up their hands in desperation because they just can’t figure out how to get people to do XYZ.  When this happens, I ask, “What is the need you are trying to meet?” “What are the people you serve saying they want?”  A point of clarification:  if you haven’t personally invited folks to participate, then you don’t really know what the response is because I find that absolutely nothing takes the place of personal invitation.  Mass communication plants a seed and that is all it does.

You must discern, with those you are serving, what their need is and what would meet that need.  Then you design something in response.  Through conversation with those you are serving, you will get a much better idea of 1) what ministry is needed, 2) what it should look like and 3) how it should be communicated.  Then, you are not in the business (and I say business on purpose) of getting people to do anything.  You are ministering to others. 

And that is what we are called to do.  Minister.  As Christians, we are not creating programs.  Corporations have programs.  Schools have programs.  We are not programming anyone.  We are ministering.  It hurts my heart when I hear the word program when folks are really talking about ministry.  I credit my rector, the Rev. Beth Fain, for her consistent teaching on this point.  You are not volunteering - you are serving.  It’s not a campaign - it's a mission.  For a church so focused on liturgy and language, it surprises me how often we use words that take us away from spirituality.  Anything you do to expand the kingdom and share the Good News is ministry – even updating your website or stuffing envelopes.

And what is the Good News?  Lately, I have been thinking a lot about that as I listen with holy curiosity to these messengers.  I don’t ask too many questions; I mostly listen.  I find that people aren’t so much looking for information as they are searching for affirmation that the News they are seeking isn’t crazy or weird or ridiculous.  I am finding the Good News takes many forms: forgiveness, unconditional love, healing.  It is whatever someone needs from Jesus.  Looking for Jesus is the most personal thing a person can do and however that looks is worthy.  That is why it is so important we avoid deciding for others what fruit they should bear.  In relationship, we create ministries that bring people closer to God, to meet their needs on the journey.   

If you are feeling frustrated or discouraged in your ministry, remember we are spiritual beings having a human experience.  Return to a place of discernment and ask those you serve:  What do you need?  

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