Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Those Pesky Little Questions and Details!

So, this is the time of year in my daily Bible reading, where I have reached Leviticus.  I have to be honest, I tend to skim read this section because it is full of rules and regulations.  If you sin in this certain way, you take this specific animal to the Priest.  The Priest then does this, waves that, sprinkles this, etc. etc and on and on it goes.  My eyes tend to glaze over!  Detail overload!  How can this be important for anyone today?

But I had an “ah-ha” moment as I thought about all of those pesky little details.  I realized that people understood clearly what they had done and what they needed to do in order to correct the sin.  Or, if they wanted to offer a Thanksgiving offering, they clearly understood what was required and how to go about doing it.  Everyone, at all levels of the community, understood what was expected and why it was necessary.  It was clear cut, precise and purposeful.

There is a valuable lesson that we can glean from this detailed account.  If you ask the average person in the pew, why we do what we do, in church or in the community, most individuals could not answer the question.  Maybe they would say it is because it has been done a certain way for as long as they remember.  Or, maybe they would say it is because they heard about some other church doing this and it worked for them.  Is this really the answer that we want to give?

Back in elementary school, we learned about the proper way to evaluate a story.  We had to be able to identify who, what, where, when, how and why.  Who were the main characters?  What was the story about?  Where was the story taking place?  When were these events happening?  How were they going about resolving the story?  Why were they doing what they were doing?  As I thought about this, I realized that these are the types of questions we in the church should be asking.  Then I realized, we’re not asking these questions!  We’re so busy “doing” ministry trying to make something work that we forget to take the time to lay out a plan ahead of time, clearly stating what we are trying to do, why we are doing it and what we hope the outcome will be.  We end up with a hodge-podge of things that sort of work, or don’t work at all and then wonder why we didn’t see any results.

Let’s take food ministry for example.  Who exactly are you trying to reach out to?  Who will be doing the work?  Who is in charge?  What are you planning on doing?  What is the hoped for outcome?  Where will you be doing this?  At church?  Somewhere out in the community?  When will you be doing this?  One time?  On a continual basis?  When you have enough volunteers?  When it is most convenient for the individuals you are trying to reach?  How do you intend to do this?  How will this fulfill a ministry goal?  How do you intend to let people know about this program?  Why are you doing this?  Is it because it is on a checklist?  Is it because you want to fill a need in the community?  There are so many more questions that could be asked, but my point is this-if you can answer these questions then the chances for success increase because you can demonstrate purpose, interest and passion .  There is a clear plan and people fully grasp the details.  If someone asks a question, you can give a reasonably intelligent answer!

We want our members to use their gifts and graces for work in ministry and, particularly, outreach.  Or, to use the word we least like to talk about, we want our members to be active in evangelism.  But we fail to give them the tools to understand why we are doing certain things and why this is important.  Then leadership wonders why things are not happening in our congregations?!

We bemoan the fact that too many of our congregations are “inwardly focused”.  I understand the argument and there is some validity to the statement.  There are individuals who are very comfortable with the idea that going to church is all you need, to be a good Christian.  But, I also know that there are individuals out there who would like to do more, but feel that they are ill equipped to reach out, because they don’t understand some of these things themselves!  They can not answer what Methodists believe or why they believe these things.  They can’t answer why a particular outreach ministry is an important reflection of the values of the church.  And in some cases, we ask individuals to take on tasks that they are not comfortable handling.  Asking an introvert to be a greeter at the front door would be a good example.  There are individuals who are not going to be terribly outgoing but are wonderful at handling behind the scenes details.  Their “evangelism” is going to look very different from an extrovert’s style of evangelism.  If we could focus a little more on the inward development of an individual-helping them to identify their gifts and graces, helping them understand where they could use those gifts and why using those gifts matter, I think we would see their confidence level go up.  We would see them feeling far more comfortable with talking to others and reaching out to others because they understand the details.  They can explain the purpose.  They understand why this is being done, they understand why it has value and is important and, if someone asks a question, they can answer with confidence.

Jesus didn’t just pick twelve guys out of a hat and then send them out into the world.  He worked with them.  He trained them.  He led them by example.  He answered their questions.  He equipped them with the skills that they needed to do effective ministry, then he sent them out!  We see the same pattern in Acts as well.  The Apostles didn’t send just anyone out to do ministry.  They sent out those individuals who they felt were equipped to handle the mission.

Do we want effective ministry?  If we do, then we have to invest in training our members and equipping them with the skills that they need.  And we have to look at our various forms of ministry and ask the questions that provide the details that under gird the “why”.  Until we do both, we will not see long term tangible results.  The mission or outreach will last only as long as someone stays excited about it and then it will collapse and fall by the wayside.  We will comfort ourselves with the thought that we at least tried, but it just didn’t work in this area.

We have to stop doing things just because it was suggested in a book, or someone else did it or it sounds like something interesting to try.  We need to stop with the rah rah speeches or the finger pointing “guilt you into doing it” approach.  We need to start doing ministry because we have a compelling reason to do so and we can explain the reason in great detail.  We need to know that we have the individuals in place who can handle the mission.

It’s time that we started asking those pesky questions.  It’s time to start focusing, first, on those little details.  Those pesky little questions, those little details, can make all the difference!

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