I want a bigger sandbox! How to NOT get stuck in maintenance ministry

One of the easiest and saddest states to fall into in ministry is maintenance.
Your passion is dry.
Your heart is no longer in it.
Ministry has become routine.
It is more like taking your turn in the schedule, filling in your spot, than it is about fulfilling a dream.
You wonder what difference it is truly making.
You push through the motions.

This can happen whether you’re paid in ministry or a volunteer.
I’ve been through seasons of maintenance.
It’s awful.
Instead of the joy that can come from being a part of what God is doing in the world, it feels life draining.
Yet, we can get stuck in maintenance. We can even get comfortable there, because it makes everything predictable. We fulfill our duty, but we miss our purpose.

We were created for so much more.
Maintenance feels so wrong because it is wrong.
To quote Horst Schulze from the 2015 Leadership Summit “It is immoral to hire (or call) people to fill a function. Hire (call) for dreams, to be part of a purpose.”
We all desire to be a part of a purpose that is bigger than ourselves.

When you start falling into maintenance in your volunteer role or ministry role, how do you begin moving back to a sense of purpose? How do you get unstuck?

This will NOT solve everything but I want to share one question and one tool that can be a part of the conversations to get you out of maintenance.

The one question –What positive change are you passionate about bringing where you are?
This helps move us out of maintenance to consider the change God wants you to bring. You are where you are for “such a time as this”. How can you be a part of bringing change that would help the larger vision? How can you be a part of bringing the change that God wants for your organization/church/ministry/camp?

The one tool – The Sandbox. This is a tool I picked up from John McAuley at Muskoka Woods. After you’ve been in any ministry role for a while it is very normal to start wanting a bigger sandbox! It’s natural to want to be stretched a little and try some new ideas, new areas of ministry or new projects. In other words, it’s natural to not want to get stuck it maintenance. It’s natural to want to make sure you don’t fall into just fulfilling a function in the ministry and instead are allowed to keep experimenting and pushing towards a larger purpose. It’s natural to want a bigger sandbox.
I’ve seen this especially be true for Youth Pastors and Associate Pastors after a few years in a role.

The challenge is how to have a fruitful conversation with your supervisor or whoever you’re responsible to (deacons, key volunteer, staff person, boss…) that will help you understand if they are ready to let you take on something new, more or give you permission to significantly change something.

Have the sand box conversation.

The Sand Box

Explain how you are feeling ready to try something new and more.
Show them this sandbox and invite them into a conversation about these four areas to see if they are ready to trust you.
Track record – have you proven you are trustworthy in what you have been given so far? Is your track record one that shows you are a faithful and good worker?
Responsibility – have you taken responsibility for what is already in your portfolio and done it well? Have you taken responsibility for both successes and failures in your ministries?
Experience – do you have some experience in this “new” area?
Training – do you have training in this “new” area? Or are you teachable and ready to learn?

What having the sandbox conversation can do is either:
1. Help you and your supervisor see you really are ready for more. You are ready to try this new idea. This will be the case if each of the 4 areas of the sandbox are answered positively.
2. Help you and your supervisor see where you still need to prove yourself, grow and learn to be ready for more. At least now you have a focus, an area to grow! I have found even this has helped me stay out of maintenance as then I have an area to focus on for growth in my leadership and service.

You were made to be part of a purpose. You were made to be a part of God’s purposes in the world.
Don’t waste time fulfilling a function.
Don’t waste too long in maintenance mode.
Find your bigger sandbox.

I truly believe God is up to a bigger purpose in Atlantic Canada. I truly believe God is inviting us to be a part of what He is doing to change Atlantic Canada one neighbourhood at a time.
I invite you to be a part of fulfilling that purpose.

-Renée @r_embree


Why Churches Need to Pay Attention to Singles

I’m going to venture into a topic we do not often discuss in our churches. Sometimes singles are too embarrassed to bring it up or they fear being accused of having a “whoa is me” attitude. Sometimes church leaders are too afraid of saying the wrong thing to bring it up. Yet, we cannot neglect this important segment of the population. Singles, whether they are the never marrieds, widows, divorced, separated, single parents, young singles, old singles or in-between singles are an important part of our world.

So I’m being clear, my heart in this is to stir us all, whether single or married, to examine our attitudes and behaviours that may be hindering singles from experiencing full fellowship with the body of Christ.

My hope is to call us to pay attention. I feel it is like when in Acts 6 the church needed to be reminded that the Grecian Jews felt their widows were being overlooked by the Hebraic Jews in the daily distribution of food. I don’t believe anyone has intentionally overlooked another in our churches, but I have heard many a single comment how overlooked, and worse devalued, they have felt in some of our church communities. My hope is we all, but especially those in church leadership, examine our attitudes towards singleness.

I’m planning three blogs over the next few weeks on the topic of singleness.
1. This week – why churches need to pay attention to singles. I must admit, this one is the most rant like, so please also come back next week.
2. Next week – 8 things churches can do to include singles
3. In 2 weeks – What singles can do to build bridges with the church

Oh, and I should state my bias from the beginning. I’m a 30-something single, never-married, female Pastor. So, I’ve experienced some of the joys and struggles of singlehood in the church and sought to help the church notice and connect with singles. In some ways being in church leadership makes my experience different than other singles, as it is easier for people to know me and I rarely slip in and out of a church unnoticed, whereas my single friends tell me how easily they can slip in and out of church unnoticed.

Here are 4 reasons churches need to pay attention to singles:

1. Singles are a large, and increasing, portion of the population

Looking at the latest Statistic Canada numbers, from 2011, there are more people living alone in Canada then there are couples with children (let that sink in for a moment.) One person households count for 27.6% of all homes across Canada. (Statistics Canada) Note that the “living alone” statistic would not include singles living with roommates or family. The single demographic is increasing in Canada, particularly in our cities. People who do get married are waiting longer to do so, the average marrying age in Canada is somewhere around 29 years old. Is your church connecting with singles and giving them a place to belong?

As we seek to be missional churches, our church should increasingly reflect the demographics of our surrounding communities. If we are to be missional churches, we have to pay attention to this demographic. If we are to be a people that love and respect all people, we need to pay attention to this demographic.

2. We’ve got some repair work to do. Many singles have been unintentionally hurt by churches attitude towards them. A number of singles have said “I feel more valued outside the church, than inside”. In churches’ good desire to support people in their marriages and families they have sometimes subtly and not so subtly devalued singles in their midst. This is not to say we should in any way deemphasize supporting marriage and families, they need lots of support, but let us also aim to treat singleness as an equally valued option and in equal need of community and support. This can slip subtly into teaching, in who is invited to church events, or who is given attention in the social time after church.

Let me explain more about the attitude that singles have picked up from some churches. Church leaders and marriage books never argue that marriage is a good thing. That is presupposed. They accept the reality that marriage is good, but even good marriages do have problems and struggles. Therefore preachers and leaders look to help marriages get stronger and deal with their challenges within marriage. But, often singleness is treated differently. It’s treated like singleness itself is the problem to solve. Leaders instead instruct singles on how to bide one’s time until the right person comes along or how to make sure they are being the right person to “catch” someone. In other words, they imply that the solution to the problem of singleness is to get married. They treat singleness itself as the problem, instead of treating singleness as good, with certain challenges and opportunities. The underlying message singles receive is, singleness itself is a problem. An underlying assumption in many of our churches, that gets communicated in subtle and not so subtle ways, is marriage is good and singleness is bad. I know that is not that message we want to be sending.

God’s goal for all of us is our sanctification, to make us more like Jesus. God can use singleness for that and God can use marriage for that. Yes, marriage can be a refining tool, as you see yourself up close in another. BUT, singleness can also be a refining tool God uses. Let’s make sure we show marriage and singleness (whether for a season or lifetime) as both equally wonderful opportunities with blessings and challenges in the Kingdom of God.

As I talk to my single friends, it is these subtle attitudes that come out towards them that can make them feel alien in their church family. These unintentional hurtful comments and attitudes that assume there is something wrong with them, that others can meet someone so why can’t they, that marriage is somehow the goal of Christian life, that they must be lonely all the time, that couples/families don’t have time for them…

So church, let’s take a look at the direct and indirect messages we are sending single people.

3. The church, over the last decade, has often done a lousy job of including singles.

I’ve watched as singles have been excluded from small groups because of their singleness, or I’ve seen singles who have been searching for a small group for three years, while a couple has one within months. I’ve watched as singles get completely missed on Sunday morning. I know how easy this is to have happen, it’s a lot easier to notice the family with three kids in tow coming into the church. I’ve seen singles overlooked for leadership or sometimes the opposite, singles are sucked completely dry because it is assumed they have a lot more free time and can give it all to the church.

I get that at times we all need to be around those that more closely share our situations, joys and challenges in life. But, in the church, these should be the exception not the rule. And these times of “segregation” should send us back to the full family of God more able to embrace one another in the life and community of the church. These times should strengthen us for loving others better and more compassionately.

Watch your announcements, watch who shows up at your events, watch who is in your small groups, watch who struggles to know who to sit with on a Sunday morning, watch who connects after the services…are singles being included and embraced in community?
Examine your assumptions and fears around this topic – they could be keeping you from getting to know some really great people.

4. We need each other

God did say, it is not good to be alone (Genesis 2:18). It is not wrong, not sinful, to feel alone. God created that need. God created us for companionship and community. The problem is the church has often reduced the solution of “aloneness” to marriage, whereas the New Testament solution is to make believers family, brothers and sisters in Christ, across all the differences. Marriage may be part of the solution but it was never meant to be the full solution nor the only solution. In Christ we are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters to one another, all in the same family. The gospel demolishes dividing walls and makes us one family. In a family differences are either able to divide us or help us have greater compassion and empathy for each other. For example, you don’t feel like your grade two child that is getting bullied, you don’t have the same challenges and joys as them, but you sympathize with them and you seek to understand. They learn from you and you learn from them. As marrieds and singles we may sometimes walk in different shoes, but in the body of Christ, we are family – we need each other, to learn from each other, to share each other’s joys and struggles, to empathize with each other, to disciple each other…

I have needed my church community to be my family in so many ways. They have been such a blessing to me, I truly don’t know what I would do without them – they are my grandparents, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, children… I hope I have been a blessing to them as well. We are family, in it together – yes, sometimes I disappoint them and sometimes they disappoint me, but we work it out because we’re family. I realize I need them even more to be my family.

Let’s remember:
The Bible treats singleness and marriage as two equally awesome options. If anything, you could say the Bible favours singleness over marriage for the sake of the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Yet, walk into the majority of our churches and it does not feel this way. Marriage and family is clearly treated as the most awesome, and singleness is clearly the lesser option. I know this is not the message we want to be sending. Wait a second – lesser? Paul was not deprived, was not “lesser”. Jesus, fully human, fully God, was single. You do not need to be married to be fully human and to be living life to the full in the Kingdom of God.
Being single is in no way, shape or form sin.
The only sin is when the church fails to be the community, the family, it is called to be.

OK, friends, I’ve started the discussion, I’m opening this up – Am I being fair? Is it just me? What do you think of singles in the church? Where have you seen the church fail at this? Where have you seen the church do well at this? What can we learn from each other?

And come back next Thursday for practical things churches can do to include singles.
And in two weeks time for things singles can do to build bridges with the church.

-Renée @r_embree

7 Ways to Put Others First this Christmas

I’ve noticed something about myself, and I think it applies to other leaders as well.

A sense of entitlement can sneak in when I least expected it. It’s easy to miss in ourselves as ministry leaders because it’s easy to say “What are you talking about, I pour myself out for others all the time?!”

But, I’ve discovered this entitlement attitude can still sneak in and take root. It can sneak in especially after busy seasons of ministry, like right now – after a busy fall and then an even busier Christmas season. All I’ve a sudden I’m a little more tired, and a little less self-aware. I can end up saying in my head “I want…”, “I need…”, “I deserve…”

Part of this is simply the need for self-care and rest, but I/we have to be careful. There is a difference between self-care and selfishness. Sabbath is not lying on the couch for a week, that is not living giving to anyone. Self-care and Sabbath sounds like: “God gives me Sabbath as I gift. I will delight in it, but God is the Lord of the Sabbath and God has the right to interrupt it or change it.”
Right? The disciples and Jesus’ times of rest occasionally got interrupted. Jesus got accused of working on the Sabbath because He was helping and healing others. Yes, we need Sabbath rest, but that never gives us the right to ignore others or mistreat others for the sake of ourselves.

Selfishness can creep in, in different seasons for leaders. Selfishness says “I deserve to do absolutely nothing because I’ve worked so hard.” It says:
“It is my right to…”,
“I deserve…”,
“I’m entitled to…”,
“I need…”,
“I’ve been working hard I deserve to treat myself to…”,
“I don’t need to help with…”

Sometimes the higher up the leadership ladder we climb the easier it is for this sense of entitlement to creep into our hearts. Secretly or not so secretly wanting to be the one that gets the credit. Wanting to be the main act, instead of the support cast. Wanting to be the headline instead of the footnote.
And that is a slippery slope in our thinking and attitude. Furthermore, it can be a slippery slope towards temptation and sin.

Discipleship is about giving up our rights to serve a greater purpose, to serve a greater One. All the time, not just during work hours. Not just when it is our turn. Not just when we feel like it. Being a Christian is laying down our rights, our entitlements, for the sake of the Gospel. Day in and day out, giving up my rights in order to serve. After all,
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
-Philippians 2:5-8

Yup, this is counter-cultural. Our culture often tells us to fight for our rights. Christianity tells us to be willing to lay down our rights for the sake of others, for the sake of the Kingdom.

So here are 7 things I’m trying this Christmas season to protect a sense of entitlement from creeping into my heart. These are things that are different from the usual gifts and money.

7 ways to put others first this Christmas:

1. The Great Clean-out – Clean-out your closets and cupboards in order to give away anything still in good condition. Give away clothes, toys, kitchen supplies, decorations… You can choose to give the stuff you gather to an individual, family or ministry. You could also have a sale and give the proceeds to a ministry.

I tend to live quite simply, but easily came up with over two bags of stuff when I did this last weekend. A good rule of thumb is, if you have not used an item in the last 3 months and it is not an essential seasonal item, give it away. That thing you use one time a year, could it be something you either share with others or borrow from others? Bringing back the old “can I borrow a cup of sugar?” with our neighbours. In my parents rural neighbourhood they all effectively share a wood splitter.

2. Secret Service Day – designated a day, secretly, that you will be fully available to others. On this day, have no agenda of your own, simply let the others around you in your home or community set the agenda for you – do what needs to be done, play what they would like to play, have the conversations they would like to have… Do something you usually don’t do to serve others – cook a meal, vacuum, do that fix-it job you’ve been putting off, help your neighbour etc. If you’re at work leave the door open and follow the interruptions for the day. Interruptions are your boss on this day. If someone calls your office to chat, offer to take time to meet them for coffee. Offer to help someone with their work project instead of working on yours. You’ve got time for anyone that crosses your path on this day.

3. Special Invite – Take-out or invite-in someone for whom this is a difficult time of year. Maybe it is someone who experiences grief this time of year, maybe it is someone who does not have a lot of family around, maybe it is someone who has just been through a really tough season or maybe simply someone you’ve often thought “I’d like to get to know them better”. Invite them to a special meal or time together, not out of pity, but out of inclusion, valuing them and their presence in your time together. No agenda, simply get to know them better.

4. Hand written thank you note – As you reflect on this past year, who has been especially good to you? In whom have you observed the character of Christ? Write them a good old fashion letter or note. Take the time to tell them the specifics of how you saw Christ in them and how thankful you are for them in your life and in the world.

5. Pray for others – Choose one or two neighbours or co-workers who don’t know Jesus; pray for them by name every day. This time of year, pray for an opportunity to talk about how significant Christmas is to you and your faith.

6. Tip generously – I’ve been convicted what it must look like when a waiter or waitress sees us bowing our heads to say grace at the beginning of the meal only to leave a lousy tip at the end of the meal. I’m growing in tipping more generously. I’m sure those who serve me in this way could also use a little extra this time of year. I’ve got a friend that often gently asks the waiter/waitress before the start of the meal, “In a moment, we’re going to pray. Is there anything we can be praying for you?” and then makes sure to tip big at the end. I’m growing in courage in asking this, I’ve done it a small handful of times, but in this season I am dedicating to you blog readers that it is one of the things I’m going to do more.

7. No boasting – I’ve learned there are certain groups of people that I get around where I feel the need to start proving my worth, my value. I know, that’s ugly. Are there people like this for you? People you get around and you start feeling the need to state what you’ve accomplished this past year, or start name dropping people you’ve met, start sharing relationships you’ve had, experiences you’ve had… in some way, shape or form trying to prove you’re worth something. Well, I’ve determine in the certain groups of people where I can feel this temptation, to remain quiet about any of my accomplishments. I’m giving up trying to prove anything, trusting God for my worth, and putting others first. In my head I remind myself with either “Abba, Father, I belong to You” or “I am a child of the one true King.”

So there you go.
You probably have more insight into my heart than you ever wanted.
I’ll let you know how trying these 7 things goes during this season (or wait, maybe that would be boasting?!)
What helps you fight an attitude of entitlement?

-Renée @r_embree

4 Questions to Ask to get Great Feedback

4 questions to ask to get great, actually helpful, feedback.

Feedback is the breakfast of great leaders.

My phone is regularly giving me feedback – it tells me when its battery is getting low and it needs to be recharged, it tells me when programs and apps need updating, and it even tells me when a new operating system is needed. This is all so my phone keeps running at its optimum and does what it was designed to do (or tries to do, keep me connected and organized!).
Leaders, we need this ability we see in our phones, to constantly be checking in with the things we lead to see if it is time for a recharge, an update, a new system or (gasp or squeal – depending how you react to change) even a new phone.

And if we’re not intentional about getting this feedback, it will not happen. You’ll be obsolete before you even get the phone out of the box. Most of us avoid and resist feedback until it is too late. I know I’ve ignored the recharge signal, run my battery dry and been caught without my charger too many times. I know a number of people around my office these days complaining about their phones – how slow they are getting, what a poor battery life they are getting etc. I’ll resist the urge to tell you what model of phones these are. These phones are less than 3 years old, but they have not kept up or changed fast enough to satisfy the owner. People around my office are itching for the new phone to come out. I know I’ve let ministries go on too long without an update or recharge. I know I’ve let ministries keep going, when I should have really let them die and tried something new.

So, find ways to get regular, I mean very regularly, honest and helpful feedback. (In this post I’m thinking about feedback on our activities and programs – what we do and how we do it. In a future post we’ll chat about personnel feedback.)

Here are four questions I’ve picked up along the way (sorry, I can’t remember who first shared them with me to be able to give them credit). These questions can be asked after every gathering, even while you are cleaning up together. They should be asked after ever youth group, service, new event, service project, mission trip…

4 questions for getting helpful feedback on any program, service, ministry or event:
1. What should we keep doing?
2. What should we stop doing?
3. What should we start doing?
4. What should we do differently?

Ask these every time.
You’ll be amazed.
If you invite peoples’ honesty – they’ll tell you. I’ll never forget the time a youth, when we invited feedback on the youth group said “Could we please stop doing that crazy dance!?!” (the dance was the interlude, for those who are wondering). The leaders thought everyone loved the dance, until that moment.
These 4 questions can lead to minor tweaks or major overhauls, as you clarify whether reality is matching where you want to be headed.

Here are 4 more questions for deeper reflection. These questions can focus on how you are doing towards your vision as an organization. Take a longer time together as a team, as a church, as a youth group, as a children’s ministry, or as a missional community to reflect on these ones together.
As you look at your vision and how your organization/ministry is doing at seeing it come into reality:
1. What’s wrong?
2. What’s right?
3. What’s confused?
4. What’s missing?

WHY should you invite this kind of feedback?

First, every time you do it reminds you and others about your central vision and how what you just did is to be a piece of furthering that vision. It brings everyone back to the why.

Second, every time you invite this feedback as a leader it displays clearly you value others – they are equally a part of creating and cultivating this vision. They equally own the vision. You value their input as together you are faithful to the calling God has put on your community.
So involve kids, teens, all generations, outsiders, insiders, old voices and new voices in giving you and your team feedback.

Let me give you an example. We have an event called Springforth (springforth.baptist-atlantic.ca) for middle school and high school students from across Atlantic Canada. The purpose of the event is to create a catalytic environment for students to take a leap forward in their relationship with God. This past year, after the event, when we started asking people “What should we do differently?” someone suggested we should take the serving others component and put it on steroids. In other words, take the partnership with Kamp Tumaini (through CBM) and find ways for students, youth groups, and church to be a part of it all year long. So, the plans are in the works. It fits, it gives more students, more opportunities to take a leap forward in their relationship with God. Furthermore it fits with the larger vision of why we exist, to invite people to join God in changing their world neighbourhood by neighbourhood. Without asking “what should we do differently?” we might never have heard all the great ideas.

So leader, ask these 4 questions this week and listen.

Renée @r_embree