Serving People – Part #1: See the Fields

This is the final week of devotionals that deal with the purposes of Sunday School. The focus this week is serving people.

“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38)

As Jesus went about His daily activities, He observed people. Matthew records that on one occasion, a multitude (great number) of people grabbed the Savior’s attention. The people were lost, scattered, and without direction. Their condition moved Jesus to action. He compared their condition and destiny to that of a field ready for harvest, but lacking sufficient means to reap. What types of eyesight do we have when it comes to those in our fields of influence? Sometimes we have corporate eyes which ask the question, “What can they do for us?” Sometimes we have judicial eyes which ask the question, “What will they do to us?” Missionary eyes allow us to see people as Jesus did: helpless and hopeless. When we truly see them we will be moved to action on their behalf.

Reflection Questions.

Why do you think Jesus did not tell His disciples to go feed or minister to the multitude that day? Why do you believe Jesus commanded prayer first?

There are specific places you go on a regular basis. You likely see the same people. Have you taken the time to truly “see” them for who they are? Name two people that you see regularly in your fields that you will commit to lift to the Lord in prayer.

 

Is Busyness Damaging the Church’s Effectiveness?

As Southern Baptists, we understand ministry programming. We have a program for everything. It is fair to say that ours is a program-heavy, program-laden denomination. These programs are plans or structures used to reach specific ministry audiences. Ministry programs such as Brotherhood, Women’s Ministry, VBS, Missions, Sunday School, Discipleship Training, Evangelism, Church Music, and WMU are designed to help plug children, youth, adults and senior adults into the life of the church. None of them are inherently bad. Para-church ministries further add to the busyness of the church – AWANA, Upward, Samaritan’s Purse, Community Bible Study, Cru, to name a few. These ministries do not have the same purpose as the local church, but their success and effectiveness are linked to the local church and add very specific help to churches in key ministry areas. Again, none are inherently bad. When other activities such as worship and Bible study, internal fellowships, and special holiday services are added to those above, the activity level within the church can become too much for some to navigate – not to mention the challenges of financing, staffing, and publicizing all this activity.

One of the books on my summer reading list is Barry Schwartz’s, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. He advocates that whether we’re buying a pair of shoes, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting an insurance company, or deciding on which college to attend, everyday decisions—both big and small—have become increasingly difficult due to the over-abundance of choice with which we are presented. His belief is that too many choices lead to two pitfalls: decision paralysis and regret. Decision paralysis occurs because we are overwhelmed with all the options, resulting at times in no decision at all. If we manage to navigate the paralysis and decide, regret lurks in the background, calling into question whether our choice was the correct one. His work led me to consider the busyness of our churches today. Further, his work has caused me to consider my own approach to church ministry. If Schwartz is correct, the same two pitfalls (paralysis and regret) exist for churches having too many programs and activities.

Decision paralysis. In church ministry, a plethora of programs and activities make the next step unclear. In churches today, many things are presented as “opportunities for involvement” or “points of connection.” At times, it becomes hard to keep up with the barrage of announcements unloaded in a 3-4-minute window. As the number of opportunities increases, the likelihood that people will decide to do any of them decreases. How many times have you been shopping for a big-ticket item (car, furniture, television, etc.) and had to walk away due to an overwhelming number of options? Church members face the same dilemma when wading through the choices they are presented. When multiple events are scheduled on the same day or at the same time, this paralysis becomes even more intense.

Regret. An overabundance of programs, activities, and opportunities increases the busyness of a church but lowers confidence in what is offered. If everything is most important, nothing really is. Thus, when people go to A, they likely wonder if they should have gone to B. When people choose C, they often wonder if D would have been a better choice. How many times have you purchased that big-ticket item, took it home and began to wonder if “the other one” would have been better or more enjoyable. This is referred to as buyer’s remorse.

I have always advocated for a “more is better” approach to ministry. Based on recent ministry observations and conversations with different people, I am learning that more is not always better, it’s just more. I am learning that such a fast pace and aggressive approach is difficult to maintain. It’s almost impossible for churches to do everything excellently. When the church attempts to become all things to all people, offering every conceivable program, it can become wide and not deep. The downside of too many choices in the church, as I am now understanding, is that all the activity can pull people away from relationships, away from family, away from living on mission in the world around them. I am learning that activity does not equal spiritual transformation.

Before I am accused of saying something I did not say, I am not opposed to ministry programs and church activities. I do however believe that church leadership must know the body and its ministry context; then utilize the needed programming and necessary level of activity. Imagine for a moment your vehicle is in the repair shop to have the alternator replaced. The mechanic may have a large and extensive collection of tools at his disposal. That doesn’t mean that he/she will use every single tool in the box on your repair – only the necessary ones. Ministry programs are only tools. They are a means to an end – the spiritual transformation and development of the God’s people. To avoid decision paralysis and regret, and to bring about real transformation, a “less is more” approach may be in order. What do you think?

Caring for People – Part #5: Allow Love to Guide You

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

This is a portion of Paul’s discourse on love. Sandwiched between two chapters dealing with the description and employment of spiritual gift is the chapter which reminds us that the usage of our gifts in service must be guided by love. Without love, it does not matter how eloquent we speak; it is only noise. Without love, mountain-moving faith is hollow. Without love, all knowledge and revelation is self-serving. The old expression is certainly true that people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. When we love others as Christ has loved us, we want the best for them. When we love others as Christ has loved us, we want to celebrate with them and cry alongside them. Love is central to everything we are as Christians. Love leads us to hands-on service. Love leads us to worship the Lord in spirit and truth. Love leads us to share the gospel with the lost. Sometimes people may seem unlovable. That is okay, love them anyway. I am certain that at times in the past we acted unlovable before God. Yet, He loved us anyway. Love is patient, kind, seeks the best interests of the other person first, and never demands anything in return. Allow love to guide everything you do.

Reflection Questions.

When you stop and think of the many ways that God has loved/loves you, what do you   appreciate the most?

Think about your neighbors, co-workers, and friends. How are you loving them? Think of a few ways you could demonstrate your love for them.

 

Caring for People – Part #4: I’m Praying for You

“Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Ephesians 1:15-17)

Paul engaged the Ephesian Christians on many levels. He encouraged them in difficult times, preached the gospel powerfully before them, and lived a Christ-centered life among them. The fact that Paul told them he prayed for them continually speaks volumes to his care and concern for them. He told them how he prayed for them. This is important. We often say to the others, “I’m praying for you.” How much more encouraging would it be to share exactly how we are praying for them. Paul prayed they would know Christ more, thus becoming wiser and gaining more understanding of His will for them. A good habit for every Christian would be, when asked by another, “would you pray for me?” to respond, “How, exactly?”

Reflection Questions.

What do you believe is the biggest obstacle to effectively praying for others? How can you move beyond that obstacle?

Has someone recently asked you to pray for them? Reach out to that person and ask them how you can pray specifically for them.

Caring for People – Part #3: Someone is Watching

“For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:10-13)

In Paul’s day, it was customary for the meat used as worship offerings in the pagan temples to find its way into the local marketplaces. Gentile Christians who had been saved out of paganism had an issue with the Jewish Christians who would eat this meat. Their freedom had become a stumbling block to the younger, less mature Christians. Thus, Paul told the Corinthian church that it may be necessary to curb their personal freedom to not offend. Paul said that just because you “can” do something does not always mean that you “should.” His lesson: proper love and care for others will lead you to consider how your actions affect them. To demonstrate his point, Paul said that he would not eat the offensive meat if it would cause a less mature Christian to stumble. We are taught by the secular world to assert our individual rights, placing ourselves as a priority. The Bible teaches us that love for others should be the priority. We do not live our lives in a spiritual vacuum. Our actions affect our families, the church, and the surrounding community. When it comes to the matter of personal freedom, the lack of a stop sign does not always means go.

Reflection Questions.

What are the areas/actions that most often create an offense to the less mature Christian?

Would you be willing to give up something the Bible does not prohibit because it may be   damaging to a less mature Christian?

Caring for People – Part #2: Be an Encourager

“And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10)

Paul was a missionary, church planter, and powerful gospel communicator. I believe he does not get enough credit for being a strong encourager of the saints. He lets the Thessalonian church know that he has heard positive things about them through the region. The testimony of their faith was strong and he wanted them to be encouraged. This was especially important since they had received the gospel themselves, “in much affliction.” This lets us know that the Thessalonian Christians lived and ministered in a difficult setting. I believe that you cannot encourage a person enough. To let another person know how much they are appreciated, respected, and loved is critical in our care for one another. A positive word, delivered at just the right time, may mean the difference between someone giving up or moving forward. Our goal as Christians should be to see our fellow brothers and sisters move forward.

Reflection Questions.

Can you remember a time in your life where you benefited from a word of encouragement? How did that make you feel?

How many different ways can you think of to show encouragement to someone else?

Missional Monday: Vacation Bible School

vbslogo2017My favorite time of the church year is less than a week away: Vacation Bible School. Hard work is on the menu this week as we make final preparations. This week of hard work prepares us for a week of hard work of a different kind. I enjoy everything about this week. I enjoy watching the sanctuary and other rooms being transformed from their traditional look theme-related masterpieces. I enjoy the opportunity to work closely with teachers and other volunteers as they prepare for the arrival of our students. I enjoy having kids running up and down the hallways. I enjoy the noise that children generate when they’re excited and having a good time. I enjoy being there when the first student arrives and watching the last one leave. I enjoy having all age groups (Kindergarten – Adults) on campus at the same time. I enjoy interacting with our students. I enjoy talking with them, laughing with them, and hopefully praying with them.

Our theme this year – Galactic Starveyors; Discovering the God of the Universe – is, in my opinion, one of the best I’ve seen in long time. Focusing on Colossians 1:15-16, our students will look to the heavens and discover the wonder among all wonders – that the God who created everything there is – the knowable and the unknowable, visible and the invisible – desires a personal relationship with them. Their journey starts with a look at how God’s relationship with man had its beginning. They will then discover how that relationship was broken through rebellion and disobedience. Next, they will learn of the promise of restoration through Jesus Christ and how that restoration challenges and equips us to live for Him every day as we look to our future home with Him. The emphasis on a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ is desperately needed today and I am thankful Lifeway chose to highlight it during the Bible study rotation this summer.