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How Can I Help?

January 28th, 2009 No comments

“Pastor, what can I do?”

People ask me that question a lot. But most of the time, they’re not asking it in a spiritual sense. They’re not asking for advice about a personal problem facing them.

Most of the time, people ask me that to find out how they can help out in the church. It’s gratifying that so many people would like to help out, but when that’s the question, my answer is usually, “I don’t know.”

I know for a fact that the church could use more money — but I don’t know if you should increase your giving. If we talked half an hour about your finances and your attitudes about money, I might form an opinion. I could share some teaching from the Bible about money. And I might ask some questions to help you decide for yourself. But I don’t know, and I certainly don’t know already.

In the same way, I don’t know where you can help out in the church. What are your skills and interests? What experiences will you draw on? Do you have any physical limitations? How much time do you have? How much time would you suddenly discover if you found something interesting to do with it?

I don’t know how you can help. But I can give you some general principles that might help you find out how and where and how much you can help.

The first is this: your pastor might not know what you should do, but the Holy Spirit does. Try spending some time in prayer. Think about the church and its ministries. It might help you focus your thoughts to spend a few minutes flipping through the annual congregational report first, or a recent issue of the Panorama. Ask God if, or rather where, you should be helping out in the church. You might not get an answer. You might not get the answer you wanted. (“Naaah. Take it easy, you’ve earned it.”) And I wouldn’t count on an angel appearing with instructions written out in flaming letters.

But you might feel a sort of nudge in one direction or another. If you do, give the person in charge of that ministry team a call. (If you don’t know that person, call me. I do know a few things.) You don’t have to tell them God sent you. Just ask about what they’re doing. Maybe you can go to one of their committee meetings. As you find out more, do some more praying.

Let me say this about committees, by the way. Nobody really likes them — that’s why we don’t charge admission and take tickets for people to join them. But committees are useful. Some things are just too difficult for one person to do alone. Even if things are easy, there just may be too many for one person.

Beyond that pragmatic reason is another reason. We believe, as a church, in something called corporate discernment. Often, we are unsure about God’s call, but God can confirm and clarify it in and through the community of believers. This is why we open and close our committee meetings with prayer: that God would use them to direct us. When I began to feel called to ministry, I didn’t just go to seminary. First, I discussed it in committee — in a lot of committees, in fact, in my local church and in our presbytery. It helped me see things more clearly than I could have by myself. When I get to heaven, I’ll ask God why committees can be so boring. But I’ll still thank God for them, because they helped me discern what God was calling me to do.

The other principle that will help you decide how you can help the church is this: Just do it.(TM) God told Abraham to go to a country he would show him later. Abraham had to begin the journey before God said where to go (see Genesis 12). Is there some reason God would treat you any different than Abraham?

So start the journey. Go up to one of our elders and say, “Is there anything I can do?” What’s the worst thing that can happen? Suppose they suggest something and you agree to try it, but it turns out you can’t stand it. Maybe the Holy Spirit wants to use you to help nudge that thing in a different direction. Go back to the elder and say, “The way we do this now is all wrong. But if we did it this other way, it would be great.”

I don’t know what you should do. These two principles might help you find out. But if you’d like to discuss it some more, give me a call. That’s why I’m here.

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Urgency

January 1st, 2009 No comments

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.—┬áJohn 3:8

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and — if you’re reading this after New Year’s Day — that you’re still keeping your resolutions.

For the past several years, my New Year’s Resolution has been to lose 20 lbs. Needless to say, I haven’t lost 60 or 80 or 100 lbs! In fact, I think this year my resolution should really be to lose 30 lbs!

As an accomplished non-keeper of resolutions, I believe that arbitrary starting dates like New Year’s Day are a way we avoid doing the thing we know we should do. Prior to the start date, we say “I’ll start doing that after New Year’s.” When the start date comes, we do whatever it is for a few days or weeks, but eventually our resolve fades and our resolution fails. But by then it’s February or mid-January, and New Year’s seems so long ago that whatever we’re trying to do will have to wait until the next arbitrary start date. (Lent, perhaps, or the swimsuit season, or after our summer vacation, or — better yet! — after New Year’s next year!)

The Psalmist knew better:

O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness

Jesus described the movement of the Spirit as unpredictable, like the wind that blows where it chooses. When the Spirit urges us to do something, the correct response is not to say, “Okay, God, I’ll make it a priority after the next arbitrary start date.” Conversely, if you sense a leading to make a change in your life starting a month or a year from now, I’d be dubious that it was God’s prompting.

Our tendency is always to put things off until tomorrow. We figure that if something is really important, it will rise to the top of our to-do list without any help from us. If only that were the case! Time-management gurus like Stephen Covey say our lives can become so cluttered with urgent but unimportant matters that we never have a moment to look at the important things.

This year, one of the challenges I hope we address is evaluating our priorities as a church. I’d like to find ways we can do less of the urgent things that don’t matter all that much, so we can spend more time working on the important things that do matter.

I’d like to invite you to do the same kind of categorization in your own lives. I want you to have more free time, because I’d like you to volunteer some of it to help us do more of the important work of the church.

I’m talking about worship, fellowship, discipleship, and especially evangelism and mission. These are the things that make the church relevant in our community and our world. This is the work that Christ commands the church to be about.

Let’s be urgent this year about doing what’s important.

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