With this post we continue the series focusing on Habits of Highly Effective Churches. These thoughts are being presented in the context of a narrative, featuring two fictional characters. This results in posts that are a bit longer than usual. But, I’m going with this technique in hopes that it will help us to contextualize these thoughts. Let me know what you think.
As usual, Russell Perkins arrived early for his Sunday morning Bible class. Through the years, he has learned this is one of the most important aspects of preparation. Itâ€™s one thing for him to have his notes in orderâ€”still another, to have his heart readied to the task.
He had a sense that something was missing this morning, though. At first, he just felt a little uneasyâ€”then the source of his unsettledness dawned on him.
Where is Darrin? He thought to himself. Heâ€™s usually here by now, firing off one question after another.
As Russell cleaned his glasses with his necktie, he reflected on how easy it is to get attached to these college students. His face held a puzzled look as he arranged his notes on the lectern. The classroom was beginning to fill. There was, however, no sign of Darrin.
Russell cleared his throat and announced, â€œItâ€™s time for us to get started.â€
A few latecomers hurried through the door. Russell was relieved to catch sight of Darrin at the tail-end of this covey of exuberant college students. When he saw his long face, he knew something was troubling him. Out of habit, Darrin made his way to his usual chair in the front row.
Class this day focused on every Christianâ€™s call to ministry. It seemed that each point made the furrow on Darrinâ€™s brow grow more pronounced. By the end of class he didnâ€™t even seem to be paying attention. He sat almost like a statue, studying a piece of paper he had pulled from the front cover of his Bible.
When he was finished presenting his material for the day, Russell opened the floor for discussion. Darrin normally sprung into action at this point. He typically took extensive notes during his mentorâ€™s discourse. He then would string together a series of penetrating questions, which prompted everyone to enter into lively discussion.
Today, this did not happen. Darrin was so distracted by the words on the paper before him he didnâ€™t bother to ask a single question or utter one comment.
After a few minutes of subdued interaction, Russell wrapped things up with a quick summation. Instead of asking one of the students to lead a closing prayerâ€”as was his usual practiceâ€”he led a brief prayer. The class concluded.
The room cleared quickly. Everyone, except for Russellâ€™s troubled protÃ©gÃ©, promptly made their way to the worship gathering.
Russell wasted no time with small talk. He said, â€œOkay, my friend, out with itâ€”whatâ€™s going on with you this morning?â€
Darrin replied, with equal directness, â€œI got this letter from one of the deacons in my church back home.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s the problem?â€
â€œWell, he was the deacon who led the youth group all through my high school years. We were really close. Iâ€™ve always thought of him as a spiritual superstar.â€
â€œHas he committed some grave sin? I hope he hasnâ€™t had an affair or something like that.â€
â€œNo. Itâ€™s nothing like that,â€ Darrin said, as he raised the letter and gently shook it. â€œDo we have time for me to read this?â€
Before Russell could answer, Darrin began reading. Russell listened attentively to the disconcerting words from one of Darrinâ€™s spiritual heroes. Following customary greetings and a couple of tidbits of church news, Deacon Wadeâ€™s scrawling note contained the following:
….I hope this note doesnâ€™t catch you off guard. I wanted to talk to you about this all summerâ€”while you were home from collegeâ€”just didnâ€™t have the courage.
First, I want you to know how proud all of us at church are of you. You have grown so much! You seem to be on fire for the Lord, too. Whatever you are doing, keep it up! You’re a great example to us all.
Second, would you please pray for me? I used to be all about serving the Lord, but something has happened to me lately. Itâ€™s tough for someone who has been a Christian more than 20 years to admit this. Iâ€™ve been involved in so many different things through the years that Iâ€™ve lost track of them all. Iâ€™ve always enjoyed whatever I was doing! But not lately. Iâ€™ve always been on fire for the Lord, but not any more. I feel like my get-up-and-go-got-up-and-went!
Whoa! I never thought Iâ€™d write words like that. This just doesnâ€™t sound to me like anything a real Christian would say, does it? Itâ€™s the truth, though. It seems like every time Iâ€™m at the church building and see one of the elders approaching me, I cringe. I just know that heâ€™s going to ask me to do something. I know Iâ€™ll say yesâ€”just like I always haveâ€”even though I donâ€™t want do it, whatever it is! I just wish people would leave me alone. Whatâ€™s worse? I feel guilty for having these thoughts. Iâ€™m in deep trouble here, Darrin! I really need you to pray for me.
Alsoâ€”and I feel a bit embarrassed to ask thisâ€”if you have suggestions for how I can get back on track please give me a call. I know you young people are IMing all the time, but my mechanicâ€™s hands donâ€™t work a keyboard that well. So, please do give me a callâ€”if you have any ideas to help, that is. Otherwise, remember me in your prayers.
Your struggling friend,
/s/ Wade Tinsley
â€œHow do I respond?â€ Darrin asked.
â€œFirst, you honor his request to pray for him.â€
â€œIâ€™ve been praying for him, since this letter came in yesterdayâ€™s mail.â€
â€œExcellent. I know you are anxious about this, but Iâ€™m not free until tomorrow night. Can we get together then? We could discuss this over a cup of coffee at Starbucks.â€
The two agreed on a time to meet. Russell then said, â€œSince you were distracted during class this morning, you may have missed some helpful information. Would you like to have my notes to look at between now and tomorrow night?â€
Darrin nodded and took the notes Russell offered.
As they made their way out of the classroom, Russell spoke a phrase he repeated many times during the preceding study. He said, â€œNobody can do everything; but, everybody can do something. Maybe part of the answer to Deacon Tinsleyâ€™s conundrum lies somewhere in this sentiment.â€
â€œHeâ€™s such a great guy. I really do want to help him.â€
â€œWith God, all things are possible, my friend,â€ was Russellâ€™s ready reply.
They left the room together, both in proximity and in spirit.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Preparing Godâ€™s people for works service so that the body of Christ is edified and unified is one of the key habits of highly effective churches.
While we reflect on this, there are some realities to considerâ€¦
Some Christians are wonderfully blessed in ministry which thoroughly fulfills their sense of purpose and satisfies their desire to glorify God through good works. Praise the Lord!
Some Christians are overwhelmed. They feel as though their level of involvement is disproportionately higher than others and wish they could find some relief.
Some Christians feel lost in their local church. They want to be more involved, but do not know how to go about doing so.
Some Christians are frustrated. They have attempted to become more involved, but have felt â€œshut-outâ€ of ministries for which they have a heart to serve.
Some Christians are disillusioned. They see opportunities for ministryâ€”they have even suggested ministries and volunteered to serve, but alas, doors seem to shut in their faceâ€”nothing ever seems to change.
Because Christians in each of these categories are often members of the same church, many Christian leaders are confounded. They want to help those who feel lost, the frustrated, the overwhelmed, the disillusioned and not neglect the encouragement of those who have found fulfilling ministry, butâ€¦ where to start?
The most important thing is to remember that God is still at work in the world…
We need to ask where we sense God is working most powerfully? Here are a few hints:
Where Do We Go From Here?
Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to reflect on our own lives. When I do, I realize that it is through the body of Christ that I have been discipled, nurtured, trained, encouraged, rebuked, equipped, supported and spurred on to love and good deeds. Perhaps your experience has been similar. I hope so. It seems to me that…
A primary reason for which the body of Christ exists is relational. It is through vital relationships in the body that members are prepared to more effectively glorify God through productive ministry.
So, we need to cultivate a climate conducive to personal growth and development. We need to think of the local expression of the kingdom to which we are joined as much more than a place to be. It is a learning environment in and through which we become what God wants us to be!
Bob Russell, whose work in building the body of Christ is well known once stated, “Christians are never happier than when they are making a genuine contribution to the cause of Christ. Believers are never grow faster than when they are using their gifts in service to others. The church is never stronger than when each member is actively involved in some sort of ministry.”
God has given us a basic game plan for Christian formation. He has, at least, outlined the major objectives. We read about these in the following passages:
Churches that attempt to live into these very basic ideals are highly effective for the Lord. Many of us have seen this first hand. It is beautiful to behold. Where an emphasis is place on preparing God’s people for ministry:
- Members flourish
- Involvement increases
- Ministry multiplies
- Lives are blessed
- Souls are saved
- GOD IS GLORIFIED!
— — —
To wrap up this discussion we return to our two fictional characters who are helping us learn this vital lesson…
Russell was relaxed. Maybe it was the ambiance created by the smooth jazz sound of David Sandborn. Perhaps it was the sense of purpose he felt about the discussion he hoped to have with Darrin. Regardless, sitting with his coffee cup in one hand and the sports section open on the table before him, he was a portrait of contentment.
When Darrin slid into the booth across from him he was mildly startled. With characteristic abruptness, Darrin said, â€œI talked to him.â€
â€œIs that so?â€ was Russellâ€™s reply.
â€œYes. But, I didnâ€™t call him. He called me.â€
Russellâ€™s inquisitive look was question enough to prompt Darrin to continue.
â€œLast nightâ€”about ten oâ€™clockâ€”he called to tell me that he had just returned home from a lengthy meeting with the elders.â€
â€œDid he say how the meeting went?â€
â€œHe said it went wellâ€”better than he thought it would.â€
â€œSo, were they able to help him with his sense of frustration?
â€œActually, he said that putting his thoughts down in the letter he sent me helped more than anything.â€
â€œHe said he started feeling bad about sending it the day after he put it in the mail. So, he called me once he knew it had a chance to reach me.â€
Russell stroked his white beard and inquired, â€œDid he say why he felt badly about sending the letter?â€
â€œYes.â€ Darrin replied. â€œHe said that he was afraid I would think he just wanted my sympathy. Heâ€™s never been much of one for pity parties.â€
â€œWell, it sounded to me like he was really struggling and was crying out for help.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what it sounded like to me. I think his conversation with the elders helped himâ€”even if he doesnâ€™t realize it now.â€
â€œDid they have good advice for him?â€
â€œThatâ€™s the interesting part of this whole thing. They had been praying for him and planning to talk with him for several weeks. They just hadnâ€™t gotten around to setting a time to get together.â€
As soon as his final word crossed his lips, Darrin slid out of the booth and sprang to his feet, announcing that he was going to get a glass of water. He noticed that Russellâ€™s coffee cup was nearly empty. He asked him what kind of coffee he was drinking. Although Russell wasnâ€™t a coffee aficionado, he did recall that he had chosen Sumatra. While Darrin was acting as their server, Russell, who was himself one of the shepherds at College Street Church, imagined a number of possible reasons the eldership would want to meet with Deacon Tinsley.
When Darrin returned, with a directness that rivaled his, Russell asked, â€œWhy did the elders want to meet with him?â€
Darrin stated matter-of-factly, â€œThey were, according to Wade, concerned that he might be experiencing burn-out.â€
â€œThey didnâ€™t get any argument from him on that point, did they?â€
â€œNopeâ€”no argument at all. He said they wanted to make sure that he wasnâ€™t sacrificing his own spiritual well-being or neglecting his family.â€
Russell responded, â€œThatâ€™s good.â€
â€œWade said their concern for him really set a positive tone for the meeting.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what shepherds are supposed to do, you know?â€
â€œFor sure. They also talked to him about something he called his return to grammar school. They called it â€˜Learning to Share 101â€™.â€
â€œThatâ€™s interesting. What did they tell him?â€
Darrin swallowed a big gulp of his cafÃ© mocha which was beginning to cool. He continued his report, â€œThey encouraged him to try to get more people involved in the youth ministry. They said they were concerned that he had been doing it so long that he had fallen into the habit of taking the path of least resistance. You know? Itâ€™s easier to do the job yourself than it is to train others to do it.â€
â€œHow well I know that!â€ Russell nodded his head as he replied.
â€œHe said they really appreciated his hard work but were afraid that he was becoming the proprietor of the youth ministry, rather than a servant of the Lord, who was leading the youth and their parents in the steps of Jesus.â€
â€œThatâ€™s rich, Darrin. Can I share highlights of this conversation with our class?â€
â€œI certainly donâ€™t mind. Iâ€™m sure Wade wouldnâ€™t either. Iâ€™ll ask him the next time we talk.â€
His conversation with the elders included one other thingâ€”something they are talking to all of the deacons about, actually.â€
â€œWhat was it?â€
â€œThey said that they wanted him to start working himself out of a job.â€
â€œTheyâ€™re not planning to take the youth ministry from him, are they?â€
â€œNo. That was just their way of saying they wanted him to start mentoring some younger Christians so that they would be prepared to take on additional responsibilities.â€
Russell replied, â€œIâ€™m really liking what Iâ€™m hearing.â€
â€œWade also said that in the next few months the elders are going to ask everyone who has any type of leadership role to find at least one person they can mentor next year. They want Wade to mentor two or three people because they think the needs are greatest amongst the young people.â€
â€œIt sounds to me like this is a very wise eldership.â€
Darrin was becoming quite excited. He said, â€œFrom what Wade was saying, I think they studied and prayed about this a lot. They are convinced that their shortcomings in the area of leadership development is preventing them from becoming a more healthy and vibrant church.â€
Russell nodded his head as he looked down to clean his glasses on the edge of his polo shirt. While doing so, he asked Darrin if there was anything else Wade and the eldership had discussed.
â€œYes!â€ was Darrinâ€™s enthusiastic reply. â€œThey plan to start meeting for prayer every Sunday morning one hour before Bible classes get started to pray with Wade and the other ministry leaders.â€
â€œWell, it sounds like things are looking up for your favorite deacon.â€
â€œThey are! You canâ€™t believe how happy it makes me. I was praying that God would show himself powerfully in this situation.â€
â€œIt seems like He has, Darrin. I guess our meeting wasnâ€™t even need.â€
â€œNo! Not at all. I think we had to get together and talk. I would have blown a gasket if I hadnâ€™t gotten to talk with you about this.â€
â€œYes,â€ said Russell. â€œI am glad we got together.â€
At this point Darrin lifted his hands to the sky and said in a loud voice, â€œGod is so awesome?â€
Most of the people sitting nearby turned their gaze on Russell and Darrin. Several of them smiled broadly. Of course, a few scowled at them for Darrinâ€™s flagrant disruption of their concentration.
Darrin flashed a smile at a young lady who was looking at him over her Psychology textbook. He and Russell then began discussing their Fantasy Football teams. They also engaged in friendly debate over who would win this yearâ€™s Super Bowl.
They left the coffee shop a short time later discussing ways the campus ministry might help with the flood relief efforts getting underway at the College church. Russell smiled at the thought that they never got around to reviewing his class notes, thinking that God seemed to have things well in hand.
Â© Bill Williams