Monday, March 30, 2009

Paying Attention to the Roots

I know. It sure took me long enough to get back here and followup on my ramblings about "The Fruit of Ministry." I have been digging, praying, watching and pondering what matures Christians and attracts the lost to the gospel. (And I spend a lot more time on Twitter and Facebook.) Someday I'll have to tackle the effectiveness of blogging. I'm not even sure anyone benefits from these random blogs. Maybe a free frap at Starbucks for everyone who comments would reveal how many people this reaches.

Back to the topic of fruit. We would all agree that the fruit of ministry is new and mature Christ-followers. However, we often measure certain programs to evaluate the success of our efforts. Small groups is often one of those programs. But, I know churches where the percentage of participation in small groups is huge and yet the fruit (new converts and mature Christians) is minimal. I know other churches that are rocking the planet with new converts and excited mature Christian servants and yet have a very small percentage of their attendees engaged in organized small groups.

I am convinced that whenever we focus on anything other than true fruit (new converts and maturing Christians) as an evaluation of ministry, we begin to manipulate the plant rather than nurture it. I transplanted two dogwood trees last fall. I love dogwoods and would love to have them in my yard, but I also know that the odds of them making it through the transplant trauma are slim. I was about to declare them dead when my wife pointed out a couple green buds breaking out. I immediately drove in a fertilizer plant. I can't make my dogwoods grow but I can nurture them and trust that dogwoods know how to be dogwoods.

Do we have that same confidence in the church? Why do we get hung up trying to manipulate the plant rather than focusing on nurturing the roots?

What do we do at the root level? 1. Feed the plant (Peter, feed my sheep). Teach God's Word, biblical principles, and the unique ministry vision of your particular church. (Ours is Hospitality) Stay organic, watch out for filler and toxic additives. 2. Loosen the soil. Create an environment that encourages, equips and enables all Christians to be engaged at some level. Sometimes our organizational soil becomes so hard that it stifles root growth. 3. Provide adequate water. Encourage people regularly. Refresh them with encouraging words, special times, etc. Don't let the plant wither and become weary from lack of encouragement.

What do small groups look like in your church? How many people are engaged in volunteering and serving? HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE COME TO CHRIST SO FAR THIS YEAR? It's cool and natural to observe the plant with its leaves, branches, buds and stuff, but the real issue is whether it is producing fruit.

Remember the care we take at the root level becomes evident at the fruit level. Let the rest of the plant grow as it sees fit. Some plants are leafier, others have more branches, others are taller, but the purpose for the plant (church) is to bear fruit.

I'm thinking. What are you thinking?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Inspecting the Fruit of Ministry

I just had someone in my office discussing our small group ministry. The obvious questions were asked. How are they going? How are you training leaders? What do you mean when you say small groups may not be what you are striving for?

Yeah, I did say that. Risking a personal visit from Andy Stanley and other small group gurus, I am beginning to question the concept of organized groups with organized curriculum being the focused means of maturing Christians. There is a vast difference between doing life with other Christians and doing a small group with other Christians.

Before I go any further, let me clarify that I do believe small groups are a tool for maturing some Christians. Some people thrive in them and others see them as another night out in a contrived setting.

Back to my original statement: "Small groups may not be what we are striving for." We are looking for mature Christ followers.

It appears to me that serving with other Christians in a ministry team may have just as much influence on maturity as the traditional small group. I have also seen families and individuals "pal-up" and participate on the journey together in a way that matures them as individuals.

Sometimes we focus on parts of the plant and forget that the fruit, and all the parts, come from the root of the plant. The care we take at the root level is evident at the fruit level. The church is like a plant. Small groups, ministry teams, outreach teams, connected friendships & large group gatherings may be part of the plant (sort of like leaves, branches, buds, blooms, etc.), but the fruits of the plant are new and maturing Christ followers.

I think there are three things we do at the root level that will nurture the church and produce great, mature fruit. I'll discuss that in the next post. My questions today are: "Can we assume that a small group is where Christian maturity takes place and should we measure the fruit of the ministry by the health of our small groups?"

Maybe I am suffering from "sour grapes syndrome" because our small groups ministry is not textbook or significant when compared to the size of our church, or maybe God is showing me something.

Just Thinking. Appreciate your feedback.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Order in Organic Environments

The term "organic" has become a big part of our vocabulary in recent years. It can evoke many different images. Living, growing, natural, real and healthy are only a few of the adjectives that could describe organic.

I am all about organic because the opposite would be dead, artificial, forced or constrained. Organic stuff takes work, but not the kind of work that organized programs take. Organic must contain some sort of order, too. How do you create "organic" environments in ministry and manage the organic in such a way that it continues to have a life of its own, but still maintains direction and purpose. Wow! That sentence competes with the apostle Paul's run-on sentences.

You know what I mean. Organic growth needs a proper soil and environment. It also needs water, fertilizer (Remember you can burn something with too much of this stuff.) and care. We need a balance between form and freedom. My natural inclination to err on the form side rather than the freedom side, but my faith walk wants me to give more trust to God so He has freedom to do His stuff.

I believe the "body life" we all speak and write about may be right under our noses. Maybe we need to stop trying to organize, design and program what God wants to be a natural part of the DNA of His church. I want to pay more attention to the soil and the environment and less to trying to make the tree grow.

I haven't gotten my head totally around what the looks like, but progress is being made. I know the climate can not be harsh or polluted. The soil needs to be plowed and prepared. Consideration must be given concerning what you are planting. Some plants require more attention than others. God makes stuff grow.

I'd sooner work in God's field than labor in a church factory.

Just Thinking.