Diminishing the Clergy-Laity Divide

“Do you plan on being ordained before your first ministry begins next month?” As an idealistic, young seminary graduate, I had given this topic a lot of thought. I was unsure. I was—and am still—all about diminishing the clergy-laity divide.

Frankly, I was leaning away from ordination for three reasons:

Entitlement

I was turned off by several ministers and professors who held themselves in high esteem because they were ordained ministers. To me, it seemed as if they used their ordinations as all-access passes that entitled them to better treatment than others.

Bitterness

I was equally repelled by a handful of ministers and professors who viewed their ordinations as martyrs’ crosses, burdens to be borne. Rather than observing gladness, willingness, and gratitude in them, I saw obligation, sourness, and hesitation.

Other Believers

I had met too many Christian women and men who viewed themselves as second-class because they weren’t ordained. These people were supremely gifted, called by God, deeply involved at the church, and engaged in Christ’s mission at home and at work seven days a week. Yet, many of them felt as if their ministries at home, at work, and in the community were less important than that of their pastors. How tragic!

If I were to be ordained, would I fall into the entitlement trap? Would I be embittered by my calling? And, most sobering to me, what would my ordination communicate to the Christian men and women I respected so much?

In the church, there’s a wide gap between clergy and laity. And, that simply shouldn’t be. An elevated clergy limits the potential influence of the church. It reinforces a consumer mentality we need so badly to eliminate. And, tragically, a diminished laity sends the message that vocational ministers are more holy and useful in the kingdom than those who don’t share the same calling.

So, how do we diminish the clergy-laity divide? Here are three tips. (And, by the way, it’s up to us, fellow ministers, to make sure this happens.)

Teach the Priesthood of All Believers

We stand on firm ground when we help believers realize and live into their priestly identities in Christ. The Bible is clear on this. It has always been God’s will to make his people into a kingdom of priests, people who perform sacred duties designed to usher people into the presence of God.

If we wish to diminish the clergy-laity divide, we simply must help Christians understand that we are all priests.

Equip God’s People for Ministry

It feels good to be needed. It gives our egos a boost when people reach out to us to do ministry stuff. And, we like to be the ones who help. However, when ministers hoard the work of ministry to themselves instead of equipping God’s people to do the work of the church, we place a governor on the ministry of the church. We can’t do it all alone. Nor should we.

Ministers, it is our responsibility to equip God’s people. Not only will this diminish the clergy-laity divide, it will engage Christians in mission and help the church to be healthy, growing, and full of love.

Embody Kingdom Leadership

As nice as it is to have people call us pastor, to enjoy being ushered to the front of the line, to appreciate the view from the head of the table, and to be the one given the final say, we must remember that Kingdom leadership—as embodied by our Savior—is not top-down. Kingdom leadership is bottom-up. So, ministers, the higher you ascend and the more responsibility you are given, the more earnestly you must serve others and the more willing you should be not to be exalted but to do the dirty work.

We’ll diminish the clergy-laity divide when we begin to embody Kingdom leadership.

So, I ended up being ordained

Doesn’t that sound contradictory? I’ll admit, on the surface, it does. However, when I thought of all the wonderful Christian men and women at my home church who had poured into my family, the people who discipled me, and the sweet saints who had prayed for and molded me over the years, I decided submitting to ordination was the perfect way to serve and honor them. I got to stand before them and pledge to serve others as they had served me. I got to thank them for investing in me and to encourage them to keep it up with the next generation.

Now, 17 years later, I still regularly glance up at the signatures on the ordination certificate that hangs in my office and I picture all the former Sunday-school teachers, youth sponsors, elders, and friends who taught me, by their ministries to me, how to be a minister. I’m so glad for their ministries to me.

If you’re a Christian, you’re a minister

No matter whether you’re sitting in a church office, a bulldozer, a corporate boardroom, a classroom, a cubicle, or a barn, God has ministry prepared for you in advance. Let’s not make much of the clergy-laity divide. Let’s link arms and do ministry together.

7 Reasons Weekly Worship is Vital

Central Indiana woke up to our first semi-substantial snowfall of 2016 this morning. And, while I don’t expect many to relate to what I’m about to say, I’m going to say it anyway.

Sunday snow stinks!

Any other day of the week, no problem. If it snows on Tuesday, we cancel school and everyone is happy. If it happens on a Saturday, everyone grabs a sled and heads to the hill at the park. But, to a minister, snow on a Sunday morning is a huge disappointment. It means that a large number of people will miss out on weekly worship. Some people shouldn’t be out in the snow; for senior adults venturing out can be quite risky. For the vast majority of people, heading to church in the snow poses no real threat. Grateful for the convenient excuse, many will simply choose to stay home.

As I was driving to the church in the snow this morning, a verse kept coming to mind:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching, ([biblegateway passage=”Hebrews 10:24-25″]).

Let’s state the obvious: some have given up the habit of meeting together. Regular church attendance, even for many mature believers, simply isn’t a priority. It’s not a new phenomenon; it’s at least as old as the letter to the Hebrews. But it’s a problem we must continue to guard against.

So, whatever the weather happens to be when you wake up each Sunday morning, consider making weekly worship a priority. Here are 7 reasons weekly worship is vital.

1. Weekly worship is a counter-cultural statement.

The world may scoff at us, cast aspersions on the Church, or look down upon us for believing old myths and wives’ tales from an antiquated book. But we know better. We demonstrate the reality—and utter goodness—of God by deliberately and faithfully participating in the Body of Christ.

2. Our spiritual formation depends upon it.

Think about all you encounter on a Sunday morning: prayer, gospel-centered teaching and preaching, encouraging interactions with fellow believers, communion, people making spiritual decisions, opportunities to serve one another by meeting needs. All of those elements happen on a typical Sunday and all of them are essential for your spiritual formation. Even though you can get bits and pieces of these things elsewhere, there’s no substitute for experiencing them at corporate worship.

3. We meet Jesus in worship.

I belong to a church tradition that sets aside time each week to observe communion, the Lord’s Supper. There’s something deep and mysterious about the experience of meeting Jesus during the quiet moments of communion, along with brothers and sisters in Christ. It is transformational and, therefore, not to be missed. (I chose the word transformational purposefully for I cannot think of a better way to describe it.)

4. Weekly worship clarifies our priorities.

We prioritize what we value. For our friends and neighbors who aren’t yet believers, Sunday is just another day. For us it is far from an ordinary day. It’s an opportunity to set aside the first hours of the brand-new week for what is most important to us. It’s a way to demonstrate that we are God’s people. He’s the one we value most. And, we show that he has first place in our lives by giving him the first few hours of our week.

5. We encourage one another in worship.

Meeting together in worship gives us a regular opportunity to go beyond the small talk that pervades most of our public interactions. We designate time during worship services for purposeful interactions and we linger before and after services to fellowship on a deeper level. Together, we celebrate joys, meet needs, carry burdens, share wisdom, pray, counsel, and care.

6. We can exercise our gifts in worship.

Attending church is about so much more than passive participation, just being there. It’s about active involvement, using the gifts of the Spirit to make the experience excellent for all who are present. Ninety-five percent of what happens at worship has nothing to do with the preacher or worship leader. Worship is such a sweet experience because of the thoughtful Bible teacher, the encouraging nursery worker, the hospitable greeter, the creative musician, the dedicated parking lot attendant, and the wise welcome center worker. As we serve one another, the whole body becomes healthy, it grows, and it is full of love.

7. We build up the church for which Jesus died.

Finally, Jesus died for the church. His death, burial, and resurrection is the cornerstone upon which she is built. He established her. He sustains her. And, one day, he will return to claim her as his bride. Certainly, we can and should do all we can do to build up the church he loves.

What about you?

Is weekly worship a value you hold dear? If so, what impact has it made? If not, what’s keeping you from becoming committed to weekly worship?

Want to Get Noticed in Ministry?

want-to-get-noticed-in-ministry

I’m an ambitious person.

Not a characteristic you typically associate with someone who is in ministry? I agree; at first, that may seem like a contradiction. We typically think about ambition in a negative sense because we’ve witnessed so many ambitious people doing whatever they can to climb the ladder, to achieve, and to protect their status. But, in and of itself, ambition is morally neutral. It can be used for evil or it can be used for good.

I’ve always been ambitious to make any contribution to the church that I can. Occasionally, that ambition has been accompanied by a strong desire to ascend in leadership, to take on greater responsibilities at a higher level. Actually, I think that’s a good thing. In men and women who God calls and equips to lead, there’s always an inner pull, an ambition, toward greater leadership.

But, what do you do when you’re not given greater responsibility? When your ambitions fall flat? When you don’t get to lead at the level at which you’re capable?

There’s one man whose ministry in obscurity encourages me greatly.

I want to be like Andrew

Andrew was one of Jesus’ first disciples but he wasn’t the greatest. He’s best known as Simon Peter’s brother. He rarely appears in the Gospels. He isn’t included in Jesus’ inner circle; James, John, and his brother occupied that space. And, other than a quick mention in the book of Acts, Andrew never appears again in the text of the New Testament. When it comes to notoriety among the disciples, he’s pretty low on the list. He wasn’t a leader. He wasn’t prominent. He didn’t hold a special position.

But, what we do know about Andrew is a huge encouragement to me:

Every time we meet Andrew in the Gospels, especially in the book of John, we find him bringing someone to Jesus.

In [biblegateway passage=”John 1:40-42″ display=”John 1″], Andrew is the one who actually introduces his brother, Peter, to Jesus. Peter was the leader of the disciples and the central figure in the first few decades of the Church.

In [biblegateway passage=”John 6:7-8″ display=”John 6″], Andrew is the person responsible for bringing the boy with the fish and loaves to Jesus. Jesus used the boy’s lunch to feed 5,000 people.

In [biblegateway passage=”John 12:20-22″ display=”John 12″], Philip is approached by some Greek men who want to see Jesus. He doesn’t know what to do so he gets Andrew. And, of course, Andrew brings them to Jesus.

I love it! Andrew isn’t the disciple whose name gets placed on the marquee. He’s not at the top of the organizational chart. But, that doesn’t faze him. He continually goes about his business of introducing people to Jesus.

So, what happens when your ambition for greater responsibility doesn’t get you noticed? You remain faithful. You keep bringing people to Jesus. You keep serving, continue loving, and continually pray for God to convert your ambition into greater depths of dedication to your role.

When ambition exists because you want to get noticed in ministry, that’s trouble. Ambition is OK as long as long as the object is bringing people to Jesus.

What about you?

What is your ambition in ministry? Is it to get noticed? Or, is it to bring people to Jesus? If you’re not a vocational minister, what’s your ambition? Do you consider it your job to bring people to Jesus?

Broken But Useful

broken-but-useful

When I was young, our television quit. My Dad and I took the TV to the appliance repair shop in the next town. We dropped it off, drove home, waited a couple of weeks, picked it up, lugged it back into the house, hooked it up, and used it for a few more years.

Aside from making me feel old, this foggy memory illustrates something:

We live in a throw-away culture. 

If my television stopped working, I’d put it in the junk pile and head over to the electronics store to buy a new one. (I’d probably get a bigger one, too; don’t tell my wife.) You and I would agree that the time and money we’d invest in fixing a broken appliance would dwarf the cost of a new one.

It’s amazing what we throw away. People used to mend the holes in their socks and patch the knees of their jeans. They tinkered with the lawn mower until it began working. They rolled down the car windows when the AC quit. Today, it’s not that we lack the resources. We reason that fixing stuff takes too much time, effort, skill, and care. And, because everything we need is at our fingertips, it’s just much more expedient—and gratifying—to shop for something new.

And, I suppose, when we’re talking about electronics, clothing, appliances, or vehicles, that’s fine. 

But, what do we do with broken people?

Do we discard them? Or, do we invest in them? Do we shop for someone new? Or, do we renew our commitment? Write them off or embrace them? Ignore them? Or, draw nearer?

There are two types of brokenness

These affect everyone we encounter:

First, we are broken because of  the sin with which we struggle. Sin affects us all. We rationalize it. We compare it with the sin we perceive in others. We hide it. Keep it at bay. It breaks our relationship with God and with those we love. It consumes our time and takes our strength. And, by God’s grace, eventually it breaks us and sends us to the only One who holds the cure.

Given godly sorrow, repentance, and accountability, people who are broken by sin ultimately get an experience of God’s forgiveness, grace, and power.

Second, we are broken because of the trials we all endure. God permits dark days. He allows tests and trials. He guides us into valleys. He stretches us. He moves us past the margins of our strength and resources. And, he meets us in our brokenness, shining the light of hope and peace into our fear and upheaval.

Given time, faith, and ample amounts of courage, this type of brokenness is the distinguishing characteristic of a true servant of God.

What do we do with people broken people?

First, we understand that we are just like them. Then, we draw near. We offer accountability. We provide comfort. We bear burdens. We beat back loneliness with our presence. We shine light into darkness. We speak God’s truth. We restore. We remain for the long haul. And we help them discover their new place in service to God’s Kingdom.

The men and women who have been broken, only to experience the healing touch of the Father, are precisely the ones who are humble and hungry enough to be the most earnest and effective workers in God’s Kingdom. People can be both broken and useful. They’re not to be thrown away. They’re to be restored and released for the glory of God.

Why? Because God is a loving Father. He is in the business of redeeming all kinds of brokenness. He doesn’t just discard us and move on to someone new. He doesn’t get frustrated and walk away. He remains. He doesn’t turn his back, ignoring us until we give up and leave. He commits. He loves, forgives, heals, restores, and calls us to greater service than what we could have asked or imagined before being broken.

What about you?

If you’re broken, take heart. If you seek him, allowing him to do his work, there are great things ahead.

If you’re tempted to discard someone who is seeking God in his brokenness, reconsider.

The Power To Do Good

the-power-to-do-good

A particular proverb has been rattling around in my brain for some time. It’s one of those bits of wisdom that has a way of sinking down and taking hold in my heart.

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act,” (Proverbs 3:27).

Nineteen words. Twitter-worthy at fewer than 140 characters. Limitless in application. Truly, I don’t believe I could ever exhaust the application of this short snippet. Here’s how this verse has been provoking me lately.

1. I have the power to do good.

I have almost unlimited potential to do good. The problem for me is when I begin to substitute “heroic” for “good.” I don’t have many opportunities to help elderly ladies across the street, pull children out of burning buildings, build hospitals, or make grand public gestures. But, I can remember to ask my friend how his grandmother’s health is. I can take the time to get to know the people around me and take a genuine interest in them. I can lend my help to carry furniture for my new neighbor. I can give a generous tip, open my house to guests, or buy a sandwich for someone who is hungry.

2. The good I might do is due to more people than I might initially imagine.

The homeless woman who sits outside of Starbucks every day. The coworker who treats me with less respect than I believe I deserve. The neighbor kid who is spreading dandelion seeds in my back yard. The single mom who is serving me at the restaurant. My boss. My family. Who deserves respect? I can tell you that there are many more who do deserve respect than there are who do not. I go wrong every time I glibly assume someone isn’t worthy of my respect. And, I miss opportunities to bless and encourage them.

3. Sometimes it isn’t in my power to act; but most of the time it is.

I easily become overwhelmed in the fact of others hardships. I routinely think, “What could I possibly do to help? Their needs are so much greater than I have the capacity to impact.” When I look around and see problems, there’s something very important I’m not seeing: people. I might not be able to reverse a social injustice, but I can be kind to a woman who is oppressed. I might not be able to reverse someone’s financial slide, but I can buy him lunch. I simply can’t continue to write off opportunities to do good for people because problems are too daunting.

As uncomfortable as it might be, I hope God continues to rattle my cage with this verse. I’ve passed up so many opportunities in my lifetime. I don’t want to let them continue to slip by without giving them a second thought.

What about you?

Do you recognize that you have the power to do good? How broad—or narrow—is your perception of whom you might impact? And, have you failed to realize when it is in your power to act?

May all of us realize that we have the power to do good!

Ten Ways to Serve Your Neighbors

saturday-serving-spotlight

The concept of serving has always been close to my heart. It’s been a part of my life since I was a little kid. I have always enjoyed the experience of doing something significant—or seemingly not so significant—simply from a place of love and a desire to encourage someone.

It’s that time again: time for this week’s installment of the Saturday Serving Spotlight.

//////////

As of this spring, we have been in our current house for seven years. In the neighborhood in which we lived before moving here, there wasn’t much interaction among neighbors. So, we didn’t expect anything different in our new neighborhood. We were prepared, though, to create the kind of environment we had wanted in our previous neighborhood. When we arrived, we found a very different environment. People were friendly. They enjoyed spending time together.

Even though the folks on our cul-de-sac were already close, my wife Kelly took the social climate of our neighborhood to a whole new level. She has served our neighbors in some very natural, thoughtful, and loving ways. The following list contains several of the acts of service I’ve observed her performing for our neighbors over the years:

1. Grow a garden and share the produce. Fresh produce is wonderful. An armful of fresh tomatoes is a great excuse to knock on a door and strike up a conversation.

2. Mow their yard. Unless they’re extremely picky about their turf, there aren’t too many people who would turn down a mowing.

3. Become the official neighborhood Popsicle provider. Head outside on a hot day with a box of frozen Popsicles for the kids (and adults). Hot chocolate produces the same effect on a cold winter day.

4. Place their newspaper on their doorstep. If you’re an early morning paper person and notice their paper sitting in their driveway, walk it up closer to their doorstep.

5. Loan your tools. Be the first to visit when do-it-yourself projects are happening around the neighborhood. Save your neighbor a trip to Lowe’s by loaning a tool or two.

6. Rake their leaves, not just the ones that fall in your yard. You don’t have to rake the whole yard. At least venture way past your property line to save your neighbors some work.

7. Give their dog a treat. Instead of complaining when Fido does his thing in your yard, keep a bucket of doggie treats in the garage to turn unwanted intrusions into opportunities for graciousness and conversation.

8. Shovel their driveway and walkways. Sure, it’s a lot of work. But, it’s worth it. For all you machinery junkies, it’s even more fun (and faster) if you have a snow blower.

9. Throw a party. Become the social coordinator. There are lots of reasons to get together for a party—sporting events, holidays, seasonal celebrations, new neighbors. If you can get your neighbors together you’ll be in for a good time and some great food.

10. Help with a house project. Volunteer your services. If there’s a room that needs to be painted, help out. If the bushes need a trim, grab your clippers and start chopping.

Serving our neighbors makes sense for a lot of reasons. It makes the neighborhood a friendlier place. It meets real needs. It breaks the ice and helps us get to know the people around us. And, perhaps most significantly, it gives us opportunities to share Christ’s love with people who need it.

Next time you’re in front of your house, look around. Who could use your help?

Embracing Our Mission

saturday-serving-spotlight

The concept of serving has always been close to my heart. It’s been a part of my life since I was a little kid. I have always enjoyed the experience of doing something significant—or seemingly not so significant—simply from a place of love and a desire to encourage someone.

It’s that time again: time for this week’s installment of the Saturday Serving Spotlight.

//////////

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago,” (Ephesians 2:10).

God has already planned all of the good things he wants to accomplish through you. Isn’t that an awesome thought! He already knows what you’re capable of accomplishing with his guidance. In fact—before time began—he knew you, had a special plan for your life, and loved you more than you are capable of understanding. What an amazing God!

Even though God has done all of the preparation, some believers still find it difficult to discover and embrace God’s will for them. Why is that?

  • Some of us are blind to opportunities.
  • Some of us are so convinced that we know what God wants us to do so we miss where he’s really leading us.
  • Some of us are too busy.
  • Sinfulness and selfishness keep many of us from experiencing his guidance.
  • Some of us never have been taught that God wants to use us in special ways.

For whatever reason, it’s tragic when a Christian—saved by God’s grace and filled with his Spirit—fails to embrace and live out God’s calling.

It’s easy to make God’s will for the good things we might do more mysterious than it really is. His will is simple; he wants us to love him and to love others (Matthew 22:37-40). The way we uncover the specifics of this mission is simply to begin moving—to begin loving and serving. In the act of embracing our mission, taking advantage of the myriad of opportunities to share love that he gives us each day, he directs us deeper and farther along into his will.