Category: Ministry

Leave the cave; stay in the fray

Elijah “was afraid; he got up and fled for his life. . .” (1 Kings 19:3a, NRSV).

People who are trying to be faithful to God can empathize with Elijah — there can be a temptation to run away from it all. They confront evil and injustice as best they can, but still they sometimes want to slink away and hide. It is no fun being attacked and criticized even when you are right.

Faithfulness can be especially hard for those who seek to confront phony religion. Take Elijah. Take Jesus. Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day pulled it off.

The story of Elijah’s run is in 1 Kings 19:1-18.

. . . he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

This guy had just been God’s servant in doing some major religious clean-up work. Miraculous stuff. He goes from big-time faith to no faith in days.

I have known some godly people who can confront evil all day long and be ready for another day of the same — the late James Dunn comes to mind. (Though sometimes I thought he was tilting at windmills.)

Elijah and James Dunn stand out as confronters of bad religion, but a lot of people are trying to do their parts. Still, they may feel inadequate for the tasks. We need Elijah’s angel — a patient angel.

Then he [Elijah] lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep.

Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

Sometimes we want to lie down under a tree — a live oak, possibly. But then it’s like we hear: “Nope. You can’t lie down town. Take nourishment and get ready for another journey.” We hit the snooze button on such angelic encouragement and go back to sleep, but we all know that a snooze button doesn’t turn off an alarm.

Back to Elijah.

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

When we are in the pits we can overstate our situation, and that’s because we misunderstand it and ourselves and our God.

He [God] said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

That would get your attention. You would be like a kid in the old days if someone said a parade was coming to town. Gotta see it!

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind;

and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;

and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire;

and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

Wind, earthquake, fire — but not God. Attention riveted. No God around. Then, silence. And Scripture says at odd thing — Elijah “hears” the silence.

When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Summoned by silence is almost an oxymoron. Silence does not summon — or does it? Has a parent ever suddenly realized his or her children had grown silent and proceeded to investigate.

Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Why is a prophet in a cave in the wilderness? Prophets are needed in the cities, in the middle of culture, out in the open where evil can be challenged.

He [Elijah] answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

Elijah is continuing his earlier riff. God speaks.

Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return. . . .”

So many faithful believers feel like Elijah. They have been trying so hard for so long to be faithful, but no one seems to be listening. And this can happen even in the midst of praise and encouragement.

In the silence, however, we can be encouraged. We can gain a renewed sense of God’s presence. We can get new orders. “Go, return” to the fray, because God is up to something.

And we now have distinct advantages over Elijah. We have the example and teachings of Jesus, and the truth of this Man can change an individual and a world of individuals and their communities. And we have the Spirit of the Creator recreating within each of us the life spark that animated Jesus.

Ah, yes! Leave the cave!

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).

(All quotations from the New Revised Standard Version, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

 

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Holistic ministry on a napkin

I found a napkin this morning with some good words on them. I, unfortunately, do not know who spoke them so my apologies for the lack of attribution. Here are the notes:

In order to minister holistically in a fallen world…

1) You need a transcendent vision from God. … You must believe change is possible. … You have to have a vision that goes beyond captivity.

2) The vision must come in the midst of concrete historical reality. … It has to speak to your situation. … Context is the interrelated connections.

3) Prophetic integrity. … Sometimes you need to speak from the perspective of God to the structures of society.

4) Incarnational. … Ezekiel 3:13

5) Paradox in ministry (and I have no idea what this was about)

End of napkin. If anyone knows who is the source, please let me and anyone else who sees this know.

CCDA: Ministry Effectiveness

I arrived late for Amy Sherman’s workshop titled “Measure Your Ministry’s Effectiveness,” but I still picked up a few general helpful comments.

Of course, there was the obvious: Set specific goals and measure progress.

Here’s something I think a lot of us need to hear: Donors want more than anecdotes. They want to know outcomes. They want to answer the “So what?” question.

For our churches, “donors” translates to “members.”

Ask questions like, How many… how long or intense were your efforts? … What exactly did you do?

In the end, donors really want to know what difference your ministry made.

Outcomes: A target audience’s CHANGED or improved skills, attitudes or knowledge by participating in your program.

To measure the outcomes you must discover indicators, the observable evidences of those looked –for accomplishments, changes or gains.

Example: Do a pre and post test.

Some indicators are easy to measure/obtain. Others are challenging.

Schools will have reading scores, grades, attendance records.

For the harder-to-measure stuff, where do we go?… In our ministries, we usually want to see ooshee-gushee things like transformation that are difficult to measure.

Self-reported data is better than no data.

Casey Life Skills Assessment is online and free… available in English and Spanish… It’s for tweens and teens (I think)… It generates self-reported data and some third-party data…. It captures hard data and soft data… Casey will generate aggragate data results… Casey is not a Christian or spiritual group… Other tools are needed for that…. this might also work OK with younger adults, but leader should check and see if questions are appropriate to their group….

You can come up with your only template to access your progress.

Challenge: Though ministry leaders may “do the right things” (e.g., holistic, relational, ministry), they may not have the reasearch evidence at their fingertips to “back up” the value of their approach.

Here are some sources for Best Practice info:

1) Fasten’s Best Practice Checklists (fasten.org)… topically oriented summations drawn from literature reviews of evaluations/reports/studies

2) “Trade Associations” or Research Institutes in your social service field (like CCDA)… Christian Community Health Fellowship….

3) The Search Institutes’s “40 Developmental Assets” … 40 key factors that affect a youth’s ability to thrive. The more assets a youth has, the less likely she is to engage in risk behaviors and the more likely she is to exhibit positives behaviors and attitudes…. foundations are really into these paradigms….

Good things in Gulf Coast Association

Yesterday, I spent a wonderful day in the Angleton/Freeport area of Texas visiting some of the ministries funded by Texas Baptists.

I started the day with Bobby Fuller, director of the Texas Port Ministry in Freeport. In recent years they’ve expanded the ministry to target the entire Freeport Port community, including truckers, longshoremen and others who support the shipping industry. Of course, they’re still ministering to seaman from around the world who come to the port. Bobby and his crew of more than 50 volunteers are doing a great job.

Bobby is a missionary of the North American Mission Board. He worked in the port area as an inspector for years and served an area church as minister of education. Now, those past experiences are coming together in Bobby’s current work. He has a real understanding of strategic vision and great skills at organizing. Southern Baptists and Texas Baptists are blessed to be involved in this great kingdom ministry through Bobby.