Category Archives: Ministry

Reflections on Genesis-Organic Ministry


I am reading through the Bible in 2010. I have done this many times over the years and greatly enjoy it. More than anything else it begins to put the whole Bible together for me-seeing its themes and storyline. So I thought I would throw in a few observations along the way.

One of the things that stood out to me in my reading was from Genesis 1:11-12. In these verses the Lord God creates vegetation and fruit trees-all with seed bearing quality-meaning the ability to reproduce is inherent in the plant or tree, according to its kind. Both of these notions become biblical themes and are picked up in the gospels of the New Testament-reproduction and fruit bearing. You see this especially in the Upper Room Discourse of John 13-17 and the Great Commission passages.

There is a lot of talk these days about “organic ministry.” The usage primarily means that ministry is done in such a way that growth and development is analogous to that of a living organism. It is not an artificual structure that is put in place-but a pattern that matches what would arise naturally rather than being manufactured. The hoped for result is that ministry is sustainable where it is planted-it exists and thrives within the community that has been inseminated by the gospel and according to its kind.

This seems to me to reflect the created order as well in Genesis 1-each plant and tree contains the very elements necessary to reproduce and bear fruit. It is natural that they would reproduce given the right environment and conditions.

In Italy right now we are thinking and talking a lot about “greenhouse” growth versus indigenous growth. Often in ministry we see the gospel take root in someone’s life and we immediately transplant that person to another location to help them grow an develop-rather than helping them grow naturally within their own environment where the gospel actually has the best opportunity to reproduce naturally. A couple of things are necessary. First, that we are actually planting the right seed-the true, biblical gospel in all of its power and fullness. Second, that we walk closely with people as they seek to live our their new faith in the field from which they came. I don’t want to minimize the fact that there could be a few weeds that need pulling for someone to thrive.

Our faith goal in Italy is to actually implant the gospel into existing relational networks-so that it might natually take root, bear fruit and reproduce in the most natural way possible. As I read Genesis this seems to match well the created order-every form of vegetation and tree had the ability to bear fruit and reproduce built in to it. And while the fall of man has made that endeavor more difficult-the natural pattern is still observable-and possibly more effective.

Fast Coffee-Slow Food



I have noticed many cultural differences between the U.S. and Italy. One notable one is how important relationships are here in Italy and how they are conducted. I call it the “fast coffee/slow food” connection. Most realize that in the U.S. we have developed a “slow coffee/fast food” culture. Over the past 50 years we Americans have moved towards a fragmented family, dietary nightmare called “fast food”. Meals are taken as quickly as possible or only for strategic purposes-thus why families rarely eat together and the invention of the “power lunch.” But over the past 10 years and the advent of Starbucks we have also begun to develop a “slow coffee” culture. The coffee shop mentality has returned in the U.S. This is often where we catch up with people-even our children at times. And followups to the power lunch have now become the “power coffee” appointments. Yet I have to admit that Starbucks can be quite loud and distracting-while I love their coffee, the very environment can threaten my ability to really connect at a deeper level.

In Italy-they do the opposite. There are caffe bars on almost every corner. They are small-often with only a counter bar. You enter, you order your espresso or cappuccino, you pay and you leave. The whole experience may take less than five minutes. Ah-but meals-that is a very different story. There is “riposo”-a pause from work for a two to three hour lunch. And the evening meal often lasts two to three hours also. Italians take their food and their meals very seriously. Meals are done in a very particular order for dietary purposes. Every region has its own specialties that are not to be missed. But more than that-life is done around the table. Relationships are nurtured around the table. The largest room in our 800 year old home is the dining room. You take acquaintances and colleagues to coffee-you have meals with your true friends and family.

We have noticed that doing ministry in Italy requires trust and time. This is a suspicious, non trusting culture-and for some historically good reasons. But we have also noticed that the walls drop and trust is built in the home around the dining room table. Conversations go much deeper and spiritual truth is better received around the table. While Italians are certainly known for loud, boisterous conversations-there is an inescapable focus that takes place. There is one conversation, even if five people are having it at the same time. We rarely conduct ministry events these days without food and a home setting.

I know a lot of ministry happens in Starbucks these days in the U.S.-but I wonder how much of it is still “hit and run” ministry. I think I like the “fast coffee/slow food” environment of Italy better. For one the food is amazing-but so are the opportunities to take time to demonstrate the love of Christ. Invest in someone over a long, slow meal!

10 Ministry Lessons I’ve Learned-from Chuck Swindoll

I saw this today on the Catalystspace web site-well worth reading for anyone in ministry and in leadership.

10 Ministry Lessons I’ve Learned
Catalyst Talk Summary: Chuck Swindoll

Chuck Swindoll of Insight for Living discussed 10 things he has learned in almost 50 years of ministry during Catalyst Conference’s 8th session. Here is what he said:

Fifty years ago, I was a first year student at Dallas Theological Seminary. I was scared, unsure of myself, and fresh out of the Marine Corp. I did not know much about seminary.

I remember sitting in chapel, and a minister told me, “When God wants to do an impossible task, he takes an impossible person and crushes him.” I am so proud of everything you are dreaming of and doing that I hope that you remember to leave room for the crushing.

10 Things Chuck Swindoll Learned in 50ish Years of Ministry:

1. It’s lonely to lead.Leadership involves tough decisions.
The tougher the decisions, the lonelier it is.
2. It’s dangerous to succeed.
It is dangerous to succeed while being young. rarely, does God give leadership that young because it takes crushing and failure first.
3. It’s hardest at home.
Nobody at home is applauding you. They say, “Dad! You’re fly is open.”
4. It is essential to be real.
If there is one realm where phoniness is personified it is leadership. What I care about is that you stay real.
5. It is painful to obey.
There are rewards, yes, but it is painful nevertheless.
6. Brokenness and failure are necessary.
7. My attitude is more important than my actions.
Some of you are getting hard to be around. And your attitude covers all those great actions you pull off.
8. Integrity eclipses image.
What you are doing is not a show. And the best things you are doing is not up front but what you do behind the scenes.
9. God’s way is better than my way.
God is going to have His way.
10. Christ-likeness begins and ends with humility.

2 Corinthians 4:5-7 tells us that we must be willing to leave the familiar message without disturbing the Biblical message. We get that backwards. This was written in the first century, and now we are in the 21st century. The message stays the same. Don’t miss the message. As you alter the methods, don’t mess with the message.

Traditionalism is the dead faith of those still living. You will defend those things that don’t need defended.

Three Important Observations:

1. With every ministry a special mercy is needed.
2. In every ministry the same things must be renounced and rejected.
That is hiding shameful things, doing deceitful things, and corrupting truthful things. Guard against deception. Guard against deception.
3. Through every ministry a unique style should be pursued.
We don’t preach or promote ourselves (it isn’t about us). We declare Christ Jesus as Lord (it’s all about Him). We see ourselves as bond-servants for Jesus Christ.

Five Statements Worth Remembering During Your Next 50 Years of Leadership:

1. Whatever you do, do more with others and less alone.
It will help you become accountable.
2. Whenever you do it, emphasize quality not quantity.
3. Wherever you go, do it the same as if you were among those who know you the best.
It will keep you from exaggerating. it will help keep your stories true. Your good friend will tell you things that others will not. They will hold you close to truth.
4. Whoever may respond to your ministry, keep a level head.
5. However long you lead, keep on dripping with gratitude and grace.
Stay thankful. Stay gracious.

(This summary created by Kent Shaffer at ChurchRelevance.com)

One Atheist’s View on Church

The following response was found on ChurchRater.com-which is an intriguing concept in and of itself-but no time for that in this post. As I looked through the web site one can pick a church and either rate it from your experience of that church or read the ratings and comments of others. The following response is by an avowed atheist on Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. This is the church that Joel Osteen pastors. My point is not what Matt thinks of Lakewood-my point in posting this is to give you some inside thinking of an atheist towards Christians. Read Matt Casper’s take on Lakewood-and on Christians. It is defintely worth pondering as we seek to advance God’s kingdom around the world.

I am an open-minded atheist. Which means that I accept that people have different beliefs than I do, and that beliefs are just that: something people believe.

They can’t be proven in any kind of empirical sense. Some people believe Zeus or another god made the world. Some people believe it was random.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no “right” belief system and no “wrong” belief system. Because right and wrong are subjective terms, which means that each person–in the final analysis–decides what’s right and what’s wrong.

Sure, there are some belief systems that can be proven to have caused pain and suffering, which may make them wrong in the eyes of the majority. (Case in point: Nazism.)

In the case of Lakewood, the belief system is Christian. So I look at this church–and all churches–with that filter: are they supporting the tenets of Christianity clearly illuminated by the words of Jesus Christ in the Bible…?

As far as I could tell during my visit, the answer is somewhere between “sorta” and “no.”

Based on my limited knowledge of the things Jesus called people to do–love one another…love your enemies…give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (talking about money), and to God what is God’s–Lakewood is not really following the teachings of Jesus, hence the rating of 1.

It’s not about the show for me. (Though the show was impressive: fog machines, camera cranes, dancing chorus of 100, lights, camera, ACTION!) It’s about whether or not these people who profess these beliefs are practicing them, or simply profiting from them.

And profit was the thing at Lakewood, as far as I could tell. The profit was everywhere: in the facility, the bookstore, the products, the glitz, the staging, the giant screens, the waterfalls.

Joel Osteen is a good public speaker, but so what…? He rarely mentions the words of Jesus and instead serves up platitudes about not being moody, and being positive. Did he train by reading the bible or in the chorus line of “Up with People?”

I never once felt as if I were in a house of God-loving people. I felt as if I were at a pep rally, but one without a point, without a call to action. Every pep rally, after all, ends with a rousing cheer: “Now let’s go beat !”

But at Lakewood, the only action we were really called to take was to tithe, which (it was made clear by Victoria) is 10% of our salaries. Other than that, it was “you’re a victor… you’re a champion…” Things that–no matter how hard I tried–I just couldn’t imagine Jesus saying or supporting.

It’s not because I believe Jesus was the son of God: I don’t. But because Jesus did say and do some things–all recorded in the bible–that were not being said or emulated at Lakewood.

Love your enemies…? At Lakewood, we heard how we were going to defeat our enemies, not love them.

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s…? At Lakewood we were asked to give to Joel what is Caesar’s.

 

More on Presence and Proclamation

I have spent more time thinking about the need for both presence and proclamation. I also happen to be studying 1 John for my devotional time. 1 John 1:1-4 stood out to me as a great biblical picture of both presence and proclamation. Read below.

1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– 2the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us– 3that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

John is saying something significant about Jesus Christ. First, he is combating heresy that had crept into the believing community–the heresy was that Jesus was never truly a man. John counters with his real life experience of Jesus. John even goes overboard on describing his personal experience of Jesus. But second, John wants to make sure that his readers understand that this Jesus “was made manifest.” In other words this eternal God took on a real presence–a human presence. Notice too that what John experienced–that which was made manifest–had to be proclaimed. There were two reasons for this proclamation–that these people might have fellowship with John and his companions–and that they might have real fellowship with the living God–Father and Son. And this proclamation brings John’s band great joy.

John links presence and proclamation. The very real life experience of Jesus results in a very joyful proclamation of Him. The result is sharing–participation–for that is the real meaning of “fellowship.” When one responds to this proclamation they get the great privilege of participating in Christ–and in the body life of other believers. That brings us back to presence. It seems in the Scriptures that there is no presence without proclamation and there is no proclamation without presence. They simply go hand in hand.

Presence and Proclamation


My family and I recently made a trip to Cinque Terra. As the name describes this is a cluster of five lands–five small villages along the western Italian coast. A seven mile hiking trail connects these five villages in a very picturesque journey. We spent four days exploring, eating, resting, shopping, and hiking. The rugged coastline is one of the prettiest I have ever seen–it is well worth the time if you ever get the opportunity to come to Italy.

On one particular day as I was off doing a little exploring on my own–something stood out to me. In every one of the five villages there is at least one–if not two or three–Catholic churhes. Usually they hold some of the most prominent locations in each setting–often at the very center of the town. Now these towns are small–I can’t imagine that any one of them has more than a few hundred full time residents–yet there is at least one church for each community.

This thought occurred–if fulfilling the Great Commission in Italy were only about “presence”–then the Catholic church has done the job. All over this country you would be hard pressed to find a city, town, or village without a church building at the center of town architecture. Sometimes even today the debate goes on that really all we need to do is be present in the lives of unbelievers to draw them to Christ. Or some would say that this is the primary thing we must do–we must stop being only attractional in our strategies–and we must be more missional by being very present in the places where unbelievers live, work and play. I was forced to go back and re-read some of the passages in Scripture that we look to in describing this missional mandate. And sure enough–it is hard to escape the need for presence. “Going” implies location. “All the world” implies location. But there is one other critical element that one cannot escape either–proclamation. Throughout the New Testament the gospel is something to not only be lived out and demonstrated–but something to be communicated–proclaimed.

I visited some of these churches while touring–it is rare to find more than a dozen people at mass. Certainly the Catholic church has made many efforts to be present in the lives of people everywhere. But presence is not all that is required. There must be a faithful proclaiming of the simple and pure gospel message of Jesus Christ to accompany any presence. While I would completely agree that attractional ministry will not take us where we want to go–neither will simple presence among the lost. There must be both presence and proclamation.

Leaders Ask the Right Questions

Leaders must be question askers. And they must ask the right questions. Some leaders love to hear themselves talk–and they believe that they always have the right answers. But as one friend of mine often says–“a good leader knows what he doesn’t know.” Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat, says that flat world leaders have two common traits–they are passionate and they are curious.

These questions must revolve around two critical aspects of leadership in any endeavor–Where are we going? What will it take to get there? Both questions are future oriented. If a leader gets too bogged down in the here and now–one of two things will happen: the competition or the mission will pass him by–or the screeching wheels of the disaffected will consume his or her total time.

Where are we going? This question is always about “where is north?” It is keeping the big picture in mind–the destination clearly in focus. What will it take to get there? This question is about resources–people, tools, funds. Do I have the right people involved? Do the people I am leading have all that they need to fulfill what I have asked them to do? Do we have adequate funding? Do those that are following me understand their contribution and how it fits in to the mission? Do they have hope?

Asking the right questions is more important than having the right answers–because by the time you have the right answers your reality has changed.