Archives For Ministry

Small Cloud RisingI recently came across Dave Gibbons’ small book, Small Cloud Rising. I know nothing about Dave Gibbons or his ministry aside from the little I gleaned in reading the book, but I’ve been blogging about a “post-consumer” version of the Church, and I want to interact with some of his ideas as a means of continuing that discussion.

Gibbons’ book is clever, thought-provoking, and engaging. The book uses clouds as a metaphor for our approach to “doing church.” Gibbons uses Babel as a symbol for a typical consumeristic church, the kind of church that he had originally set out to create. Babel builds a tower up through the clouds in order to make a name for itself, in order to build an empire. He contrasts this approach of rising through the clouds in greatness with the story of Elijah waiting for rain to end the drought in Israel. The answer to Elijah’s prayer came with a small, barely noticeable cloud on the horizon. Gibbons uses this image of a small cloud to represent God’s people joining together to flow out into the world and bring God’s blessing.

Gibbons says that he had tried to build a grand church around his dream of what a church could do in his town. But he became uneasy with this approach, realizing that it would require the mass-production of church members in a one-size-fits-all pattern.

“Instead of rallying people around the pastor’s dream, I wondered: What if we equipped our people to discover—and live—each person’s God-given destiny?

This is an important question to ask. It’s not wrong for church leaders to have a vision for their churches, but Gibbons’ question pushes us beyond what we might like to see our churches accomplish, and invites us to dream about what the unique people that God has brought around us might accomplish if we equipped them according to their gifts and callings. He continues:

“The effort to build more walls required a one-size-fits-all training manual focused on unleashing the power of the mass. Names are not really necessary for achieving the success of someone else’s dream. In a nameless culture, everyone began to:

Look the same.

Do the same.

Require the same.

Conform to the norm.

It was all the same kind of same in a place without names.”

Gibbons became very concerned about knowing people’s names, knowing their stories and abilities and passions, rather than simply calling them to fall in line with church-created programs designed to mass-produce disciples in a common mold. He confesses that the church had originally functioned this way:

“Instead of knowing their names, we asked them to sign up.”

“Nearly all of our job descriptions engaged projects and programs inside our walls. We asked an entrepreneur to lead a church Bible study and requested an artist to paint crosses in the nursery. Most of our resources went to creating spectacle and precious little into shaping lives. By failing to know and equip our people, one creation at a time, we defrocked them of their priestly roles in the real world. We began to witness mechanically and call that evangelism. Because we looked more and more the same, we branded others because unique people scared us.”

I want to be clear that I don’t know enough about Dave Gibbons or his ministries to know whether or not I would advocate the solution he came up with. But I do find his questions and many of the concepts he wrestles with in Small Cloud Rising compelling. We might find Gibbons’ probing questions threatening, as if he’s saying that all of our hard work in creating programs to minister to people is worthless or harmful or self-focused. But I don’t think we need to take it that way. Instead, I think we should take this as a challenge, and we should push ourselves to dream a little. Don’t start with the logistics, just dream about what could be:

  • What if we could get to know the individual people in our churches?
  • What if we could find those areas in each person’s life where they are unusually gifted and passionate?
  • What if we could find a way to equip each person according to their unique situation?
  • What if we could send people out of our church walls with an understanding of the mission that God has given them and how that fits with their unique talents, passions, and experiences?
  • What if we could resource our people as we sent them out, so that every time they hit a snag in furthering God’s kingdom beyond the church walls, the pastors and the rest of the church body were right there, offering support, creative solutions, and a never-ending supply of encouragement?

The truth is, we can be overly critical of our churches. Our churches are not doing everything wrong. But I love these sorts of challenges. I love calls to dream about what the church could be. I love imaginative suggestions as to how we might embody discipleship in our churches and how that might flow out into the surrounding communities. If we would all engage in this imaginative process more often, we would find it easier to move beyond the consumeristic rut that many of our churches have fallen into.

 

Death by Ministry

Preston Sprinkle —  May 17, 2013 — 1 Comment

The other day, I had lunch with an old college buddy, who was one of the most influential people in my life. This was a highlight of my year, because I haven’t seen my good friend

Bert and I after lunch at the "Bear Pit" (Not Cocos)

Bert and I after lunch at the “Bear Pit” (Not Cocos)

and mentor in nearly 12 years. His name is Bert Suluvale and I wanted to share his story.

Bert was born in Samoa but grew up in Carson, CA (south of Los Angeles). He got involved in some pretty rough gangs as an early teen, but God rescued him dramatically around the age of 20. Shortly after getting saved, Bert attended The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA, and this is where I met him. Bert and I were roommates and quickly became close friends. However, being 6 years older than me, I always saw Bert as more of a mentor than a peer, though the line was often blurred by much laughter and mutual edification.

Bert was one of the most gifted Christians I have ever known. A dynamic leader, a powerful preacher, and a talented musician with a voice that rattles the walls with praise. Bert has sung on stage at Grace Community Church (aka “John MacArthur’s church”) and has worked in the music industry off and on for several years. Bert was my mentor, my teacher, my discipler and friend. He taught me how to lead and he trained me how to preach. And Bert taught me how to love Jesus.

This is why I was crushed when I heard that Bert fell out of fellowship with my church. Back in 2001, Bert began to break off contact with all of his close friends and our church, and he ended up moving back home to Carson. I was living in Scotland at the time, so I only heard the details through second and third hand sources, but they were all saying the same thing. “The Bert you once knew is gone.”

Come to find out, Bert returned to his own ways. Sin, sin, and more sin, though he never denied the truth about Jesus (he only denied it with his life). For nine years, Bert spiraled down a dangerous path, which ended up landing him in prison, where he served for one year (2010). “This is what God needed to do to break me,” Bert told me over lunch last Wednesday. “I bowed my knees at the foot of the cross; this was my only remedy.” In prison, God rescued Bert (again) from his sin and returned him to the faith. For the last two years, Bert has been walking with the Lord in repentance and passion. The Bert I once knew is back!

I asked Bert what was the original cause of his downward spiral, and I wanted to share his answer with you all because it’s a trap we all fall into.

“What happened?” I asked. “What triggered your plunge into sin that led you away from the church?”

“Busyness,” Bert said. “I was so busy for Jesus that I forgot to love Jesus. I was doing so much ministry that I left my first love.”

Bert was leading worship, singing at churches, preaching, discipling, serving, leading evangelistic concerts, studying, teaching, training, and walking with people through the Scriptures. He was serving Jesus’ bride but he forgot to love Jesus. And nine years later, Bert was in prison.

Christians today are busy. Christians in Southern California are freakishly busy, and Christian leaders are often the most. The problem with “Christian” busyness—and the reason why church graveyardSatan wields it as a weapon against the church—is that it seduces Christians into thinking that they are serving Jesus by doing, doing, doing, doing. But if your love for ministry has taken over your love for Jesus, you may have taken that first step Bert took as he began his journey to prison.

“Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint,” says veteran pastor Rick Warren. “You have to pace yourself, otherwise you’ll kill your marriage, your relationships, your church—and yourself.” Rick speaks from experience. After two years of ministry, he burnt out and fell into depression. After recovering, he learned to pace himself. He got back on his feet and now he’s been serving Jesus and His bride in a healthy way for more than 35 years. Rick’s main observation about young pastors these days is that they are overly busy. They are sprinting, not jogging, and they’re going to hit the wall.

Let’s learn from Bert. Let’s learn from Rick. Let’s slow down, pace ourselves, so that we finish the race without having knocked over all the hurdles.

Micah Teruya

God, as the Creator, chose to make human beings creative. Creativity is no accidental side effect of being human—a thought that I believe plagues the subconscious thoughts of many Christians. No, God endowed us with creativity so that we would use that divinely engrained gift in cultivating his world for his glory.

This has many implications, but today I want to share how this gift of creativity shapes the ministries of two of my former students: Joylissa Vleck and Micah Teruya. Both see their musical abilities as gifts from God and believe that God is calling them to use those gifts to minister outside of Christian circles. Though their styles are different, they share the same heart for glorifying God through musical creativity.

I asked them a few questions about how they view their music. These two have thought through what they are doing in greater depth than most Christians think through anything they undertake. In fact, both moved from their homes in Washington and Hawaii respectively to attend Bible College so that they could be more effective as musicians. Perhaps that sounds odd, but they both see the Bible as foundational to their approach to music.

For Micah:

“Music is a gift that God has blessed me with for the time being and I want to use it to further his kingdom. If I don’t, then I’m really just wasting resources. Alongside that, music is something I take great joy in…I can think of few things more fulfilling than being able to use something I love to glorify God.”

Joylissa Vleck

Joylissa sees her music as a means of using her gifts to create beauty in the beautiful world that God made “by taking the notes and frequencies that he created and using them in one of the many ways that he created them to be used—by making music.” She adds, “To neglect music is to neglect a part of God’s creation.”

Many Christians see a place for music in ministry, but would restrict the legitimate use of music to worship music and “Christian music” (however we would define that). But neither Joylissa nor Micah see these forms of music-making as their primary calling. Joylissa explains:

“I’ve been told many a time that I should be playing ‘Christian’ music for ‘Christians.’ But if music is indeed something that God created, then why have we decided that it has to stay within church walls? If someone were to say to a hairstylist that they should only cut the hair of Christians, or that this can only be done in a church building, you’d think that was ridiculous. A huge part of blessing and restoring the world is telling people who God is. I do that through my music, though it isn’t saying ‘God’ or ‘Glory’ every few seconds. I want people to see my genuine struggles and joys and the way that God intervenes and is part of them.”

Micah, too, sees music as an important avenue for helping people see truth in a way that they’ve never seen it before:

“So many people are looking for answers everywhere except the Bible. My goal as a songwriter, like any missionary, is to help people realize how irrational the message of the world is and how rational God’s love for them is. The challenge is doing this in a way that provokes a listener to think and wrestle through that realization rather than just spoon-feeding them a gospel tract.”

This is not meant to discourage those who are not gifted musically, nor to question those who use their musical gifts for Christian audiences or within church services. We are all given unique gifts and callings from God. What I find so valuable in the music of Joylissa and Micah is the thought they’ve put into their approach to music, the sense of calling and obedience that permeates what they’re doing, and their desire to use everything at their disposal to the glory of God.

To hear their music or support these musicians, you can watch the videos below or visit their sites (Micah | Joylissa).

Silo Pathrwight LogoEternity Bible College has just rolled out one the most exciting tools we’ve ever created. I’m going to share briefly about it here and offer it to you at a discount, but first the rationale.

Every Christian has a responsibility to know God, to study his word, and to help other people grow closer to him as well. This is very clear in the Bible. As an example, consider Ephesians 4:11–12. According to this passage, who is supposed to be doing the ministry in your church?

“He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

The answer is: you are! Pastors equip and saints (i.e., Christians) do ministry. For many Christians, however, this is a scary thought. Where do I begin? How do I help someone with their problems? Which passages of Scripture should I point them to? What if someone asks me about Romans? Or Isaiah? How can I be sure that I’m representing God correctly?

It doesn’t matter what your vocation is, ministry training is important. Every church in the world believes this, which is why our pastors preach on Sunday mornings. Our pastors labor tirelessly to equip us for ministry. And organizations like Eternity Bible College exist to assist churches in this process. The more we can push ourselves to learn the Bible and apply it to life, the healthier the church will be.

Our unique calling at Eternity Bible College is to bring quality, affordable Bible education to churches everywhere, and for us this centers on biblical higher education. But we have also made efforts over the years to make this education more accessible to those who don’t have the ability or desire to study at the college level.

What we have found, however, is that it’s not easy for a normal person with a normal schedule to clear out three hours per week to sit through a fifteen week college course. That’s why we’ve created the Silo Project.

The Silo Project takes some of the key insights from our college courses and presents them in an attractive online format that allows you to learn at your own pace. We’re not talking about filming classroom lectures here, which many schools (to their credit) are beginning to make available. Each Silo course features short videos (5–7 minutes each) with a professor speaking directly to you as the learner. The content has been prepared and presented specifically for this format.

This means that no matter who you are, what your learning style is, or how much time you have on your hands, you can go deeper in your knowledge of the Bible and its application for life and ministry.

With each course, you can choose to join a self-paced “class,” where you can start and stop whenever you’d like, interact as much or as little as you’d like with people from around the world, and move at your own pace. Each of these courses is only $25. Or you can go through each course with your own group (with your church or Bible study, for example) for only $20 each. This allows you to interact with only members of your group, offering a more private experience.

We’d like to invite you to try out the Silo Project at a 20% discount. Simply choose the course you’d like to take and enter the coupon code “tryitnow” on the payment screen. This coupon expires April 1, so don’t procrastinate (even if you do, courses are still only $25).

We think you’ll love the Silo Project. To learn more or to try it out, visit thesiloproject.org.

 

I am a recovering burned out pastor. Doing fine, thank you. But I hit the wall several years back and had to resign a great ministry. The church I was pastoring was excited about the future and eager to reach out. We did some good things, and the future was bright. But I was done. I would wake up on Sunday mornings with this dark heaviness that consumed me. It was oppressive and exhausting. I would pray through it, seek God’s intervention, and make it through Sunday morning. But then I was utterly exhausted the rest of the day. Every pastor is tired on Sunday afternoon, but I was beyond tired.

During this time I found great encouragement in reading the story of Elijah. He was a great friend and mentor. 1 Kings 17-19 contain some really great truths that helped me back then, still help me, and are food for anyone feeling a bit of burnout.

Elijah was God’s mouthpiece to tell King Ahab that there was about to be a 3-year drought, which pretty much meant a serious economic downturn. I imagine Ahab could see the approval ratings of his kingship dropping like the proverbial rock. And he took it out on Elijah. Ahhh, ministry. We proclaim God’s Word, and people blame us!!

But note that God orchestrated this drought. He designed it, He ordained it, He sent it. Then he tells Elijah to get out of town and head for the wilderness. Elijah would suffer in this drought as every other Israelite would. It was hard times, through and through. I can’t help thinking about the various ‘droughts’ in my life, times when I felt empty or thirsty. And nothing seemed to help. We all have these times, and the great prophet Elijah was no exception.

brookGod’s plan was to send Elijah to a distant brook called Cherith to hide out. As far as we know, the Brook Cherith was in a pretty remote area east of the Jordan River. It has been described as a wild ravine and a good place for various outcasts to hide out. The brook would provide water, and God would command ravens to bring food for Elijah each day. So God orchestrated the drought in Elijah’s life, but then he designed the solution. Granted, it was a strange solution. Ravens are scavengers so I can only imagine the kind of food they brought to Elijah! It would appear he was eating road kill for a few years!

But the point is this: God took care of Elijah. It was hard times, for sure. But God sent Elijah off to a remote quiet place, and He personally directed his care and feeding. How long was he there? Hard to say. The drought lasted some 3 years, and Elijah lived in only 2 places during that time: Brook Cherith and Zarephath. So, many months at least. Maybe a year or more. What did he do while sitting out in the wilderness? Again, we aren’t told, but I would assume he rested, prayed, and studied the Torah (assuming he took his copy along). Basically, he spent extended time alone with God.

And I would suggest to you that this is the point: the solution to burnout or drought or emptiness is extended time alone with God. Our lives are crazy busy. There aren’t near enough hours in the day, or days in the week, or weeks in the month, to get everything done that we think we need to get done. And so we run out of fuel. Our tanks are empty. We burn out. The drought has begun. If you are there, then let me encourage you that God has a remote brook for you, full of refreshing water. He has some ravens all ready to bring you some nourishing food. But you have to slow down long enough to eat and drink from His never-ending supply. Like Elijah did.
Oh and it gets better. Elijah hasn’t even hit the serious burnout wall yet. He is so much like us. I am so thankful that God chose to reveal some of this great prophet’s secrets. I’ll explore this more in a future blog post. In the meantime, slow down. Take a breath. Spend some time with God. Some serious, extended time, alone in the presence of Almighty God. Just you and Jesus.

Coram Deo!