Finding Ways to Minister

How to find ways to ministerWe’ve attended large, active churches with multiple ministries happening at any given time. And we’ve attended very small churches with few official church ministries. Neither is right or wrong. Each church has its own personality.

On the plus side, participation in some aspect of church ministry is usually where I got to know people and began to feel part of the church. It’s hard to get to know others in just a few minutes before or after a service. Working side by side provides opportunities for further fellowship.

Church ministry also helps with organization, so the new mom doesn’t receive five casseroles on one day.

Church ministry is a good outlet for service. When I first started attending church, I didn’t really know what my niche was. After trying several things over the years, now I know where I feel my particular skill set fits best.

However, what God calls us to do doesn’t always fit with our skills. When Moses told God he was slow of speech, God didn’t contradict him. He just promised, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:10-12). God called Gideon to lead His army when Gideon was hiding away—not a promising beginning, humanly speaking. I’m not gifted in caregiving, but I was called to it for five years. Sometimes God calls us to do what we don’t feel naturally gifted to do to show “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Church ministry has some drawbacks. People tend to compartmentalize their service. When they participate in whatever church ministries they’re involved in, they think their ministry is done for the week.

Witnessing? Yes, I attended church visitation. Check.

At one church we visited, the only time anyone spoke to us or even looked at us was during the visitor greeting time of the service. It was like they crammed all their interaction with visitors into those few minutes instead of being alert to visitors and welcoming before and after the service.

Ministry isn’t something we turn off and on. We’re always on, in a sense. Yes, we need time to rest. But if a need comes up, we don’t say, “Sorry, I already put in my time this week” or “We only do that at the scheduled time.” Opportunities to minister don’t always come in convenient, pre-planned situations.

Then, too, we can be so busy in church ministry that we don’t have time to just slow down and interact with people. I can remember hoping someone else would greet the nearby visitor because I had to catch five different people before they left church for the day.

Some new church members’ first meeting with a pastor is almost like a job interview, as he considers where he can “plug you in.”

My son and daughter-in-law’s church has no organized ministries except for a few small Bible studies. That’s partly because they don’t have their own building yet. But it’s mostly church philosophy. They want people to be free to exercise hospitality and to minister to one another’s needs as they arise.

Our own church currently doesn’t have any organized ministries, either, partly because we don’t have our own building, partly because we’re very small. And I have found it so restful. Sometimes I look back at how busy I used to be, and I can’t believe I used to do all that. I was younger then: I’m sure that makes a big difference.

But people in both these churches do minister in other ways.

God has something for everyone to do. He has distributed to everyone spiritual gifts. But the ministry He wants you to partake in may or may not be through an organized church ministry.

Here’s what you can do if you’re searching for a way to minister:

Pray for God’s guidance and leading.

Minister from an overflow of your relationship with the Lord. There are times we do what we have to do, no matter how we feel. But God often works on our being inwardly before our doing outwardly. I love what Sue Donaldson says here:

Ministry is spillage. We have something worth spilling out to another—whether it’s our little ones, our mother-in-law, or a work colleague—when we are filled up to all the fullness of God. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:19 . . .  and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” I want to start and end my day with God and His Word, otherwise I don’t get filled up. And if I’m not filled up with Him, I can’t spill out for Him.

What’s on your heart? Some years ago, a lady in our church came to me occasionally to urge the ladies’ group to form some kind of ministry to the elderly ladies of our church. We did a couple of things, but I was too swamped to start any kind of regular ministry. I did wonder, though, if perhaps this lady needed a little nudge or encouragement to start something. If this was on her heart, probably God wanted her to do something about it.

Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. One ladies’ group leader used to say, “You can’t say no until you pray about it.” We all know we can’t say yes to every opportunity: we’d be quickly weighed down. But neither should we say no automatically. The times I’ve grown the most have been times I didn’t feel up to the job, but I didn’t feel the liberty to say no, either.

Consider timing. Our families are our first ministry. Though God has something for all of us to do at any time, that big idea on our heart may have to be put on a back burner if we have little ones or a full-time job or an elderly member in need of caregiving.

What’s in front of you? We may be thinking about ministry as something big and grand. Too often we overlook the small opportunities right in front of us to say a kind word of encouragement or to help someone in some small way. I can tell you, after visiting several new churches due to moves with our family, the warm, heartfelt, spontaneous greeting from church members means more than the loud welcome of the official church greeter.

I’ve mentioned this lady before, but I was encouraged and instructed by the example of an older woman I knew in one of our former churches. She had taught school for decades, but had to retire early. She could have been bitter and disgruntled due to the situation. Instead, she just quietly looked for other ways to serve. She greeted visitors who were sitting alone and invited them to sit with her. She invited a couple of ladies at a time over for lunch—not for any agenda, but just to fellowship. She began a couple of ladies’ Bible studies.  Another older lady I knew would stay with new moms for a couple of days if their own moms couldn’t be with them. Another sweet lady used to apologize for not being able to participate in our ladies’ group very much. But she took care of her adult special needs son, helped her widowed mother, was the on-call babysitter for her extended family. Her whole life was a ministry, even though she couldn’t participate in “official” church ministries as much as she would have liked.

One of our former pastors preached a message from 1 Timothy 5 about the kinds of things women were to be honored for. The context is determining how the church should minister to widows who had no one else to help them. After telling Pastor Timothy to “Honor widows who are truly widows” (verse 3), Paul lists everyday, ordinary characteristics: This woman has taken care of her family, is not self-indulgent, prayed, “shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work” (verses 5, 10). No mention there of a worldwide TV ministry or writing a best-selling book or leading a conference of thousands of women. There’s nothing wrong with those things, if God has called someone to them. But most of our ministry will be in small efforts.

I’ve benefited from official church ministry and from someone’s behind-the-scenes thoughtfulness.

God has something for everyone to do. If you can find a ministry outlet within your church, that’s great. If not, seek Him about ways you can minister, and then be alert for ways you can help people. Maybe you can assist someone in their ministry. Maybe God will use you to start a ministry. Maybe not. Maybe, like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, all those small acts that you don’t think much about will make big differences in others’ lives.

Minister with the ability God givesSee also:

Myths and Maxims of Ministry

The Ministry of the Mundane

Faithful in Obscurity

Rethinking Spiritual Gifts

Manufactured Spirituality

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Hearth and Home,
Senior Salon, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement,
Recharge Wednesday, Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee,
Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network)

 

Giving of ourselves in ministry to others

So often when we want to minister to someone, we think we need to start a program or do some thing. And often we do. James warns against wishing someone well without taking the steps to meet their physical needs. Programs can be a good way to organize ministry efforts efficiently.

But programs without heart, without a personal touch, can be just a going through the motions. God is the One who touches and changes hearts. He doesn’t “need” us, but He often chooses to minister to others through His people. Paul said, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Corinthians 12:15, ESV). He speaks of being “poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith (Philippians 2:17). He didn’t just run through a program. He gave of himself.

I visited my mother-in-law almost every weekday during her five-plus years in various care facilities. I often felt more “useful” if I could do something – straighten her room a bit, bring her some mail, change her hearing aid battery, etc. – rather than get caught in the same conversational loops repeatedly. What she needed most, and what was hardest to give, was just one-on-one time and attention.

Some years ago our ladies’ group wanted to do something for the elderly ladies in our congregation. We decided to make little gift bags and then divide them up among us to deliver to the older ladies’ homes. Though they enjoyed the gifts, what they loved most were the visits. Some dear folks in one church would make little gifts or cards for my mother-in-law when she lived in our home, but they would send them home with us or someone who lived near us because we lived a distance from the church. Though we appreciated that they thought of her, a ten-minute personal visit would have been so much more effective. Even if she didn’t know the person, even if she forgot within the next hour that anyone had been there, for those few minutes she would have known that someone was interested enough in her to come and see her.

I’ve read blog posts directed to pastors about what to do when visiting members of their church who are ill. Some of the instructions urge having an agenda of talking, sharing Scripture, and praying. Those are all fine. It does help to have some idea of what to share so your mind doesn’t go blank. But from the times I have been seriously ill, I can tell you that working through an order of service or script was not what most ministered to my heart. What did minister to me was the personal looking in the eyes, empathizing, listening.

Even in our families, we often have wonderful talks while driving, cooking, etc. But sometimes we need to put everything aside and just look each other in the eye and listen.

Jesus often ministered to crowds. But then He would take a moment for a personal encounter with one person. Once He was stopped by one lady while on his way to minister to a father’s dying girl. But He had time for all of them, even though it might not have seemed that way to the father, Jairus, at first. Once He stopped a whole crowd in response to a blind beggar.

The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. ~ A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything we need to do and with all the needs we need to meet. We can easily feel depleted. But we seek His filling, His strength and grace, not our own. And we minister to the person given to us in each moment, without worrying about everyone and everything else. We trust Him for His guidance and provision as we share Him with others. When we’re filled with Him, we bring a sense of Him to others.

Programs, gifts, etc., are all fine in their place. I’ve been ministered to via each of those means. But we mustn’t forget to give of ourselves.

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His pow’r has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!

Annie Johnson Flint

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

The Ministry of the Mundane

One morning I chafed over having to go to the grocery store – again. I had just gone the day before, but that store didn’t have everything I needed, plus we were getting ready for company and needed a few extras. I groused inwardly about spending way too much of my life in stores and how I had other things I’d much rather be doing.

All of a sudden the thought came to mind, “She bringeth her food from afar.”

You might recognize that as part of the Proverbs 31 woman‘s description. In fact, a lot of what she did was everyday, seemingly mundane stuff: planting, cooking, sewing, weaving, buying, selling. In those days, with no Amazon, super Wal-Marts, or even grocery or clothing stores, most of what she made for herself, her family, and her home was done by hand, from scratch.

Thankfully I don’t have to weave my own cloth. I don’t even have to go too much “afar” to gather my food. We have four grocery stores within a ten-minute drive, and all but one of them lets customers order online and pick up their groceries curbside. So I really don’t have anything to complain about.

It helps me to realize, or remember, that gathering and preparing food is part of what I am supposed to do. Somebody has to do it. My husband doesn’t mind going to the store for me sometimes, but I don’t like to ask him since he already works more than 40 hours a week and then has yard work and house maintenance on top of that.

But realizing it’s part of my job helps me not to chafe: this is just as important as anything else that seems more valuable. It’s part of my ministry to my family.

I’ve wondered why so much of life is made of the mundane. A friend who was a missionary said that when she first went to the field, she had no idea she would be spending so much time in the kitchen. I remember Elisabeth Elliot writing about dealing with a recalcitrant stove or heater and wondering at how much time, especially in a third world country, is made up of such activities. I remember hearing a missionary lady once say that in her country, they still had milkmen pick up their empty milk bottles, and part of her testimony and reputation involved having clean milk bottles out on her porch at the appointed time.

As I have been pondering these things the last few days, I came up with a few possible reasons so many mundane tasks.

The rubber meets the road in those everyday duties. It’s easy to think about loving and serving our fellow man or woman while at home in a quiet, pleasant room with our Bibles. It’s another thing when our fleshly nature bumps up against each other in the real world.

A good work ethic is a testimony to others. Luther was purported to have said, “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.” This article disputes that. I understand the article’s view that it’s not something Luther would have said, but I don’t totally agree with their logic. Perhaps you’ve known someone who thought they served God better by witnessing to people than by doing their job. But we’re admonished to do our work “heartily, as unto the Lord.” We’ve all experienced the pangs of faulty workmanship, employees or even ministry partners who do a slipshod job, creating problems and frustration for fellow-workers, bosses, customers. Sure, we have Mary and Martha‘s example, and we know it’s possible to have wrong priorities, and we need to set aside the earthly for the heavenly sometimes. But when it’s time to work, it’s time to do it well and efficiently.

These tasks teach patience, endurance, perseverance, fortitude, service, thoughtfulness of others.

I can’t do even these things in the right way and spirit without God’s help and grace. I just stumbled across this quote in my files from Oswald Chambers (source unknown): “The things Jesus did were the most menial of tasks, and this is an indication that it takes all of God’s power in me to accomplish even the most common tasks in His way. Can I use a towel as He did?” God filled the workmen of the tabernacle with “the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship.” He goes on to say, “I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6, ESV).

Ministry to others can be shown through the mundane. Someone said of Francis and Edith Shaeffer, “As many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer’s cinnamon buns as through Dr. Schaeffer’s sermons!” Practical help is just as needful as spiritual help.

When Amy Carmichael’s ministry began to change from evangelism to caring for children, she questioned whether God had really called her to be a “nursemaid” when there were so many other needs and ways she could be used. “It was then that she read the words from John 13, how the Lord of glory ‘took a towel and girded Himself.’…never again did she question whether her gifts were being wasted. She knew that the Master never wastes the servant’s time.” (Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton)

Mr. Houghton also writes that, “Occasionally someone suggested that character-training of boys and girls…or, still more, the erection of buildings to house them, was not evangelistic work, and therefore not worthy of support.” Amy wrote, “Well, one cannot save and then pitchfork souls into heaven…and as for buildings, souls (in India, at least) are more or less securely fastened into bodies. Bodies cannot be left to lie about in the open, and as you cannot get the souls out and deal with them separately, you have to take them both together.”

We don’t always necessarily have to be doing anything “spiritual” to show forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite blogger friends writes about what’s going on in her home and family, but even in her homemaking tasks she reflects the spirit of a woman who walks closely with God. She’s not trying to show that: it just shines through her. In everything she shows “a sense of Him.”

Perhaps, too, the weight of physical, everyday tasks is a reminder that we live in a physical world with limitations and constant needs. That reminder increases our anticipation and longing for the day we’ll be released from these bodies and this world.

At any rate, my perspective changed that day. I had no thought of Labor Day when I first started compiling these thoughts, but perhaps it’s appropriate on this particular day to remind ourselves that “In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23, NASB).

I still need to remind myself frequently that my physical tasks are as needful and important as any type of ministry task. I can do them as unto the Lord. Sure, there are ways I can improve: e.g, planning better can help reduce the number of trips to the store. And I still have plenty of time for things like reading and writing – much more time than the Proverbs 31 woman had. But I can serve, as she did, with strength, dignity, industriousness, kindness, and reverence. Even at the grocery store.

(Sharing with Inspire Me MondayLiterary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Caregiver Resentment

Even though my mother-in-law is sweet and easy to get along with, I sometimes battle resentment over the circumstances of caregiving: feeling tied down, having strangers coming in my home at irregular times, etc. I’m guest posting today at The Perennial Gen about ways God is helping me deal with caregiver resentment.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday)

No Pat Answers

If you’ve ever read one of those “Things not to say when someone’s loved one has died” articles, one of the phrases we’re advised not to use is, “They’re in a better place.” Though in the long run that is a comfort, at first it just rubs salt in the wound of their not being here. Another that bothers me is, “They’ll always be with you.” There is a sense in which that is true, and I know what the person is trying to communicate, but inwardly I want to scream, “No, they’re not with me – that’s why I miss them so much!

When someone expresses loneliness, especially a single person, he or she is likely to be admonished that our relationship with God is sufficient, that we should treasure Him to the point where we are content in Him alone and don’t really need anyone else. But we forget that God Himself said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” and designed us for interaction with others. Yes, sometimes He brings us to a place of loneliness to teach us something or develop something in us, and sometimes the purpose is to draw us closer to Himself. But just as we would acknowledge Joni Eareckson Tada’s 50 years in a wheelchair as a hard thing, even though God has brought immense good out of it, so we should acknowledge the hard places God sometimes brings our loved ones to without being flippant about it.

And, of course, social media abounds with pat answers and knee-jerk reactions, often reflecting a lack of understanding of the bigger scope of the issue.

When someone says they are having a particular problem, our minds tend to race through the applicable spiritual principles or Bible verses we know so we can whip one out and slap it on like a spiritual band-aid. There. Fixed! All better now.

Besides making the person feel worse instead of better, we make them feel like they haven’t been truly heard and like it’s not safe to share what’s really on their hearts.

But aren’t we supposed to help our friends spiritually and turn their focus back to the Lord? Sure. But first we’re to listen. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). And we’re to empathize. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). I’ve heard it said that Job’s three friends did more for him when they sat with him in silence for a week than when they misadvised and misapplied spiritual truth to him for the next several chapters.

Sometimes it’s best in the moment just to say, “That’s hard. I don’t understand it. But I am praying for you.” Or just squeeze the person’s hand or give them a hug. Then, relying on the Holy Spirit’s leading and discerning whether the person would be open to it, we can try to minister to them in other ways. And, true, sometimes we do need to share truth even when the other person isn’t quite ready to hear it, in the hopes that God will use that truth to speak to them. But we need to give careful, prayerful, thoughtful responses and not pat answers.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2.

A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it! Proverbs 15:23.

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. Ephesians 4:29.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Soul Survival, Tell His Story)

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It’s not for nothing

Joni Eareckson Tada recently passed the 50 year mark in her wheelchair as a result of a diving accident in her teens. I so appreciate her sharing God’s grace in her life. I read a number of articles about this milestone, especially her testimony here, but this one had me thinking for a long while afterward, not just about Joni, but about her helpers.

The article mentions a wake-up crew who helps Joni get out of bed and ready for the day every morning. I can empathize with how hard that would be, even with joyful and willing helpers. We so easily take for granted the ability to use the bathroom on our own or brush our own teeth and hair.

But I thought of these helpers from this angle: many of us aren’t comfortable or don’t feel qualified to be the out-front people. We prefer to be behind the scenes, enabling someone else in their ministry. We can’t have the unique ministry Joni does, but we’d be overjoyed to have a minuscule part in helping her.

But what about those who need that kind of care and don’t have any kind of public ministry? Who don’t speak and seem less and less present every day? Like the thousands of contracted, shriveled, seemingly vacant forms in nursing homes. Like my own mother-in-law.

I’ve written before that I am not a “natural” caregiver like many people I know. I don’t think I could ever have been a nurse. But every angle we have looked at it over the years comes back to the conviction that this is the best place for her at this time. And, like Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah, and others who didn’t feel qualified to do what God was calling them to do, we trust Him for His grace to do it. And He provides, not in one fell swoop of “feeling” qualified, but in the day-by-day ministrations from Him through us.

Sometimes it seems like it’s all for nothing, this trying to encourage food into someone, cleaning up the results of eating, changing position, showering, keeping comfortable, watching out for skin breakage, etc., when there is less and less response or even recognition from the person who sleeps maybe 20-22 hours day for years now, only to do it all again the next day and the next. My aunt called it “the long good-bye.” My husband describes it as watching someone die one brain cell at a time. Sometimes we can’t help but wonder why God still has her here and when He’ll release her from this crumpled, silent body to her new glorious one in heaven.

I’ve shared before what one friend who cared for a mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s said, that sometimes God leaves them here not so much for what He is doing in their lives, but what He is doing through them in ours, showing us our innate selfishness, teaching us to love unconditionally. And I have found that to be true in my own life as well.

As I remind myself of the truths I know, I thought I’d share them with others who are caregivers now or will be someday, who labor behind the scenes, doing the same thing day after day during a long decline. The care you provide is not for nothing, because:

God has made everyone in His image and that imbues them with value.

Jesus said when we minister to others, we minister to Him.

We should treat others as we want to be treated.

God wants us to honor our parents and care for them. They cared for us and deserve our care in return.

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27

“God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Hebrews 6:10

Godly love is about giving and isn’t dependent on what the other can do for us.

“To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Hebrews. 13:16

“With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” Ephesians 6:7

When our children were little, my husband and I often lamented that they wouldn’t remember the youngest stage of their lives and the fun things we did with them, but those years were the foundation of and a major part of the overall relationship. A baby can’t articulate what he needs or thank you for responding to him (at least until he can smile). But how you care for him matters. He can tell a difference between loving touch and care or harsh treatment. I believe the same is true of the elderly. They may not be able to understand, acknowledge, or define it, but loving care contributes to their overall well-being.

There may be little to no response from the person in our care: some of my friends have even experienced a negative response. There may not be any obvious results from your ministry. But it’s not for nothing. Your loved one or patient would probably tell you how much he or she appreciates your care if they could think right about it and express it. And God knows right where He has you for now and sees your loving care.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Mondays @ Soul Survival, Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Faith on Fire)

 

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Thoughts about women’s ministries

img_0065Every now and then I come across a blog post or article saying something like, “I’m tired of fluffy pink crafty ladies’ meetings. I want to be authentic and go deep.”

I often think, “OK…what exactly does that look like in a ladies’ meeting setting?” Many times the writers say that want Bible studies or opportunities to share that really speak to the core of their Christian walk, where they can share what they’re really struggling with and receive advice and help without being judged. They say they can get craft instruction anywhere; they don’t need it at church. They don’t need scrapbooking or cupcake-making get-togethers. They remind us that every woman is not married or a mother, not every woman is called to be a wife and mother, and we need to minister to the whole spectrum of women represented in our churches, not just wives and mother. They want to discuss and participate in activities to change the world.

And those are all good points.

I’d like to make a few observations.

1. Most women ministry leaders would love to hear suggestions about what ladies would like to do (or they should be. We need to be open to new ideas and not just do the same things we always have). I was a ladies’ ministry coordinator for 9 or so years, and sometimes we’d send out questionnaires to the ladies of the church (to be answered anonymously) asking what they liked, didn’t like, would like us to do. We got very little response from those. A handful of ladies came faithfully; a great many didn’t, and I didn’t know if it was because they didn’t have time, didn’t like what we did, didn’t like us, or what. Plus, sometimes I scrambled for ideas that were new and fresh and that might appeal to a number of ladies. So that kind of feedback would be highly valuable.

2. Make suggestions graciously. Some of these posts have been quite harsh, feeling like a slap across the face or as if the writer is saying, “You’re shallow and I hate everything you do.”

3. Remember different people like different things. If you have two or more people at a church or a meeting, you’re going to have differences of opinion on what and how things should be done. Some women like the fellowship and the crafty things. That doesn’t mean they don’t like Bible study or are shallow. Sure, you can take classes at Michael’s or watch a YouTube video or peruse Pinterest. But often we don’t get to see our friends at church except at church or at these other functions, and it’s fun to get together in that way.

4. Sometimes the crafty things can be a ministry. At one church, we had different ladies share things within their expertise, so it was a way for them to minister when they might not be comfortable leading a Bible study or teaching a lesson. Plus the gathering was not only a basis for forming or growing friendships, it was also a non-threatening venue to invite lost or unchurched friends to. And often at meetings like that, or inbetween meetings like that, we had a woman in the church share her testimony. I remember one in particular in which a woman shared much about her early walk with God and navigating through her young adult years, dating relationships, etc., and was so sad that more of our single young women weren’t there to hear that.

5. It doesn’t have to be either/or. A church or ladies’ group can have informal, fun meetings as well as more serious Bible studies and service projects.

6. Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 do cover more areas than Bible study, though that’s the most important activity. In an era when women might not receive instruction and examples in homemaking as they did years ago, a ladies’ group can help support and instruct along these lines. Most women have a home, whether they have husbands or children, so some of these skills and principles can be helpful to all and can be used to minister to others and glorify God (see Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking.)

7. On the other hand, there is much in those passages applicable to women in any setting regarding character and reaching out to the poor, and much in Proverbs 31 that could be brought out regarding single and working women (business savvy, interacting with merchants, making good quality products, industriousness, dealing with employees, etc.). We do need to make sure every meeting isn’t centered on marriage and motherhood, and, Moms, don’t just call ladies without children only when you need a babysitter.

8. At a time when marriage and motherhood are devalued and under attack, wives and moms need the support, affirmation, and encouragement of the church, and especially other ladies. But we need to remember that single and childless women are under attack in different ways and support, affirm,and encourage them, too. We tend to gravitate towards those in like circumstances and seasons of life, but we can learn from and support each other even when our lives are vastly different. (see When the Message Isn’t For Me.)

9. Deepness can’t be manufactured. Some people, introverts in particular, do like to “go deep,” but would be uncomfortable with a “turn to your neighbor and bare your heart on command” approach. You can have a good Bible study and make every effort for people to feel free to share, but you can’t force it. For some, that inclination will take time to grow; for others, that will only happen with maybe one or two close friends, not in a group setting.

10. Maybe you should go to your church’s ladies’ meetings anyway, even if they’re not exactly what you’d prefer. One of the purposes for almost any ladies’ function is fellowship among the attendees. Maybe a conversation started there will blossom into a warm friendship or an informal mentoring relationship. There’s nothing wrong with formal mentoring, but in my own life, it’s happened informally alongside hospitality and ministry situations. One conversation with an older lady that shaped my thinking about my kids’ teen years took place while we put up a bulletin board in a church hallway. Just being with older women gives you an opportunity to observe, soak up some of their wisdom, and sometimes ask questions.

Something that should have been said first is to pray about it. God knows what kinds of ministries are needed in a given place and the best way to go about them. And consider that if something is on your heat, maybe He is directing you to minister in that way. If you see a need reaching out to the poor, the elderly, single women, etc., perhaps God has brought that to your attention for a reason, either as a function of the ladies’ group or a separate ministry. Though I prefer ladies’ functions when the ladies of the church are all together, there are occasions for a smaller group with a specific focus.

I am at a stage in life when I can’t attend as many of the ladies’ functions as I’d like. With my husband’s mother in our home, I already leave him to take care of her alone most Sunday nights, and I just don’t feel right doing that much more than I already do, plus his work often keeps him from coming home in time for me to go anywhere. I do interact with her caregiver, the hospice nurse, etc., and try to remember to be an encouragement even there. And I admit, it’s cozy staying home on a cold dark night rather than driving a ways and spending an evening elsewhere. But I do strongly believe in women’s ministries and hope to participate in them more in the future. I encourage women to look past their differences and find ways to learn from each other and love each other and encourage each other in the Lord.

See also:

Mentoring Women
Church Ladies’ Groups
Why Older Women Don’t Serve
How Older Women Can Serve
I’m An Older Woman…So Now What?
How Not to Become an Old Biddy
The Quiet Person in the Small Group

(Sharing with Inspire Me Mondays, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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Manufactured Spirituality

I’ve had this draft sitting here since last July, and had jotted some notes and spent a lot of thought on it even before that. I’ve (obviously) had a hard time bringing my thoughts into a cohesive and coherent unit. I thought about calling it form vs. function, or the mechanics of ministry, or using artificial means to accomplish spiritual ends. Finally what seemed most apt was manufactured spirituality.

I see this on three different levels:

1. To try to be more self-disciplined, we establish habits to aid in godliness, like regular times of reading the Bible or prayer, church attendance, etc.  And that’s a good thing. But we all know what it is to have days when we’re just going through the motions, when our eyes are dragging across the page and we check “Have devotions” off your list of things to do for the day but haven’t really engaged with the text or been affected spiritually. Or we “feel spiritual” if we’ve crossed that duty off or don’t “feel spiritual” if we haven’t.

2. To try to minister more effectively as a church, we set up various programs or committees. But sometimes our routines and programs not only don’t accomplish the ministry for which they are intended, they can even hinder them. For instance, we’d all agree it’s a good thing for church members to greet visitors. But once when we were visiting a new church, no one spoke to us or even looked at us the whole time we were there – except at the hand-shaking time built into the service.They had squeezed all their greeting into that few moments, leaving visitors feeling awkward and not really greeted at all.

We can fall into the trap of thinking that when we show up for church visitation, then we’ve gotten our witnessing obligation in for the week, or because we have official greeters at church, none of the rest of us needs to greet new people, or because there is a committee to take care of x, y, or z, we don’t have to be involved.

3. We try to force results. For instance, we can feel that small groups would be good for the congregation to get to know one another better, and they work best if everyone participates. So we “make” the quiet person participate by putting undue pressure on them to say something, calling them out and putting them on the spot. Then we feel self-satisfied that the group went quite well today because everyone spoke, when we left the quiet person miserable and determined not to come back. Or, as happened to us once in a new church, whatever the pastor was talking about (I’ve forgotten now), at the end he asked everyone to break into family groups and discuss and pray right then and there about how to implement what he preached on. That seemed to my husband and me like forcing the issue or “making” people respond instead of letting God use His Word to convict and change. Another example: we want people to “go deep” in their conversations and relationships, so we have “turn to your neighbor and bare your heart on command” sessions instead of letting those opportunities arise in a more natural way. We’ve known people who made a profession of faith after a zealous Christian buttonholed them and would not back off until the person responded, yet there was no life change, no interest in the Lord afterward. By contrast, Jesus let people walk away sometimes.

Setting up good habits and routines and even programs can greatly aid us in our walk with God. But we have to keep in mind what they are for and not get lost in them for their own sake.

A book I read recently about getting more from our reading of God’s Word emphasized applying what we learn. That’s a good thing: we’re told to be doers of the Word, not just hearers. But his illustration went something like this: we need to apply God’s Word in measurable ways, not vague ones. So if, say, we come to a passage about prayer, instead of saying to ourselves, “We really should pray more,” according to this book, we should instead make plans to pray six minutes every day. As if God cared how many minutes we pray. The better approach, in my opinion, would be to stop and think about what I could and should be praying for. That in itself would generate a longer prayer list than I could probably keep up with (some people divide their prayer lists into categories over several days). Then the next step would be to study the prayers in the Bible, particularly in the epistles. Paul’s prayers in Philippians 1, Ephesians 1 and 3, and Colossians 1 are wonderful examples. Granted, that author probably intended that, if a person planned to pray six minutes and ran out of things to pray in three, that would lead him to these other ways of expanding his prayer life. But the emphasis on “measurable results” can lead to outward exercises without always the accompanying inward change. Similarly, if I read a passage and am convicted about needing to be more loving and less selfish, it might help to think of specific ways in which I need to do those things. But it would be wrong to check those off my list at the end of the day and think, “There! Done! Good work!” Sometimes instead I need to carry those thoughts with me all throughout the day and apply them in ways I couldn’t know I would need to when I first read them.

Years ago we were visiting my in-laws, and a couple of ladies from the church came by to visit my husband’s mother. I think it may have been her birthday, or maybe they were just visiting her as an “older” church member, but they brought a small plant, and, I believe, a card. She tended to be profuse in her thanks, and perhaps to counteract that a bit after she thanked them several times, one of them responded, “Well, you were on our list.” Wow, what a way to deflate any good feelings about someone coming to visit. She never said anything about it after they left, but it would have been understandable if she had thought, “They don’t really care: they just came because I was on ‘a list’ to visit.”

Our ministry isn’t boxed into a particular time, place, or group of people. Our programs don’t take care of all of our obligations. There is a sense in which we should always be “on,” always at the ready to serve. Even if there are official greeters at church, we can greet people when we see them or help a confused visitor find the right place. Even if there is someone designated to send cards to sick Sunday School class members, we can send one, too. If God has placed on our hearts that we need to help someone else in the church, we need to pray about how to do that rather than just dismissing it because our church has a benevolence committee to take care of those things.  If there is trash on the floor, we can pick it up instead of thinking, “There is a custodian for that.”

On the other hand, I’ve known women who felt terrible for not “serving” in church when their whole lives were ministering in “unofficial” ways. One lady would often apologize for not being more involved in our ladies’ group, but she lived next to and helped her elderly mother, cared for a disabled son, was the go-to baby-sitter for the rest of the family. She sang in the choir and took an interest in people, yet felt she wasn’t really being used of the Lord because she couldn’t plug into some of the ministries. Another had to step down from a position for which she was uniquely qualified, and I watched and was blessed as she found various other ways to minister: greeting newcomers, inviting ladies over for lunch, and other ways that didn’t fit in with any particular official ministry in the church, but ministered very well to the people involved.

Habits, routines, programs help greatly in organizing a ministry, and we need to use whatever systems are set up (reporting a plumbing problem to whoever is in charge, signing up for taking a meal to someone so she doesn’t receive two or three in one night or receive something she’s allergic to, etc.). And sometimes we do need those systems and routines because we don’t always “feel like” doing what we need to. A former pastor once said that the best time of prayer he ever has was when he didn’t feel like praying and had to confess that to the Lord right off the bat. Sometimes just doing what we should whether we feel like it or not is the first step to feeling like it.

But we should seek God’s grace to serve not just out of duty, and not to check off all the designated boxes, but with a right heart. The mechanics of ministry and spiritual disciplines are tools, but not the main focus, not the end-all of our efforts. Routines, habits, programs are an avenue of ministry, not an end in themselves, and ministry doesn’t take place only within those parameters. On the other hand, sometimes we can perfectly follow all of our routines, and our programs can seem to be going swimmingly, but we’re unaware that we’re missing something vital.

The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all. If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now, as always, God discovers Himself to “babes” and hides Himself in thick darkness. ~ A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

God created whole systems of programs and routines for Israel in the Old Testament. But there were times He told them He hated their sacrifices and feasts – the very sacrifices and feasts He had commanded them (here, here, and here, for a few). Why? Sometimes because they harbored sin in their hearts even while performing their religious duties outwardly. Sometimes because they missed the main point, like those who kept the systematic observations but failed to minister on a personal level, or like Pharisees whose religious zeal was wrapped up in keeping not just God’s law, but their additions to it. God said to them through Hosea, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (6:6). We’re no longer under those systems, but in the same way I think He would want us to implement whatever habits, routines, systems, or programs are helpful, yet not get lost or fixated on them for their own sake, and to keep in mind that the main point is to know Him and make Him known and minister to others in their need in His Name and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3

Not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Ephesians 6:6

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 (Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday)

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The Introvert in Assisted Living

img_1894One of the things that stood out to me in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain was just how much society is set up for the extrovert, from schools to businesses. I don’t know if she mentioned assisted living facilities or nursing homes, but I found that they, too, were developed primarily with extroverts in mind.

Most activities at the facilities my mother-in-law has been in involved  trying to get everyone together in the common room for some event or performer. We’d get a calendar of events every month, filled with exercise classes, bingo, craft times, magicians, movie nights, and various groups coming to sing. I’m sure many of the residents loved a lot of those opportunities.

My mother-in-law was always content with a small circle of friends. She never drove. Her husband got groceries and ran most errands. She enjoyed going to church and helping with Awanas there until she couldn’t hear well enough to continue. A big portion of her dislike of getting together in large groups had to do with her hearing. She has worn hearing aids in all the nearly 40 years I have known her, and she told me once that in crowds, the aids magnified everything, so it was not only hard to pick out the voice of the person you were talking to, but it was unnerving that everything was so loud (they may have improved on that aspect now – I’m not sure). But even besides the hearing issues, she preferred home to just about anywhere else. They loved to go visit family or a handful of close friends, or go and get wood in the hills for their wood stove. She didn’t have many hobbies besides reading, her favorite activity when her work was done. She and her husband loved to watch the Atlanta Braves baseball games together and tinker in their garden or around the house.

One of our reasons (not the main one) for having her in assisted living rather than in our home was so that her world wouldn’t be reduced to just us. But when any of the aides asked if she’d like to come for whatever was going on down in the common room, she’d politely say no, she’d like to just stay in her room and read her book. Occasionally they could get her to if they didn’t ask, “Would you like to…” but rather just said, “It’s time for…” If they started helping her out the door for something that she seemed to be expected to do, she wouldn’t protest, though she didn’t like it (you do have to be careful of that kind of thing, though, so that you’re not running roughshod over their wishes). But once when I walked in and she was out with the others listening to a church group, she couldn’t understand what they said when they were talking, but she could get enough of the melody of old familiar hymns that she could sing along.

Once when I was trying to encourage her to participate more and telling her it would be good to get out of her room sometimes, she said, ” I DO get out of my room three times a day for meals!” Residents had to go to the common room for meals and sit at a table with two or three others (unless they were sick, and then a tray was taken to their room). And I thought, that’s true, and that’s quite a lot of social interaction compared to her life before assisted living. So I didn’t urge her that way any more.

She enjoyed coming with us to my son’s basketball games and to our home and church. We would take her out to eat with us sometimes, and I could tell she was tense and not entirely comfortable, but as long as we ordered for her (so she wouldn’t have to) and stayed close, she was fine.

Now, of course, with her decline over the years, her lack of mobility and speaking, about the only place she goes is outside occasionally in her wheelchair.

I know it was more cost effective and needed fewer workers to do things as a group rather than have one-on-one activities. There were just a few individual activities they did that worked well. A couple of the places would bring in therapy dogs and take them to individual rooms for residents to pet and interact with for a short time. She always had pets until assisted living, so I think she enjoyed that. One activity director would come to her room and paint her fingernails. I don’t think she ever painted her fingernails in her life before that, so I never knew quite what she thought about that one. But at least it was one-on-one.

My husband and I often thought that someone could make a business out of being a personal trainer in those kinds of facilities. My mother-in-law was under a physical therapist’s care at different times, but eventually their time with a patient comes to an end, and they leave them with a list of exercises. My mother-in-law never did the exercises on her own and didn’t want to go down to the group exercise classes, but she would work with the physical therapist (as she declined, she needed my husband to be there for the first few sessions so they could learn to communicate with each other. He was from Croatia, and she couldn’t understand him, so he thought she was just being uncooperative, and she didn’t really care if he came back or not. :-/ But after just a few visits with my husband there to interpret for her and urge her on, and showing the therapist how to communicate with her, they got along quite well.) We didn’t want our own visits with her to be all about exercising, so it would have been nice if there was someone on staff, or even someone who worked with different facilities, to come in and help people with their exercises.

One lady who used to visit my mother-in-law used to read and discuss with her parts of the Reader’s Digest, her favorite magazine. Nowadays, visitors often read a part of the Bible to her, valuable since she can’t read for herself any more (it’s important to remember if you are reading to someone with hearing problems that you stand or sit where they can see you clearly and speak loudly). Other one-on-one activities that we’ve done and others could do are taking her outside (one facility had a lovely screened in porch) for a change of venue, looking through pictures or photo albums with her (people love to talk about their families), or show her things on the computer. Sometimes when we had her over for a meal, my husband would show her some of the family members’ Facebook pages, or use Google Earth to see some of the places where they used to live. We talked some about her life before I knew her (I discovered she had been the editor of her high school newspaper!), but I wish I had done that more and then written it down. I also wish I had come up with some bit of interesting news or information to share with her. Often our conversations would start out with, “Well, what’s new?” And I’d reply, “Well, not much.” When you visit someone almost every day there is really not much new every visit. I did share family and church news and sometimes current events, but I wish on those days when I didn’t have anything new to share that I had taken the time to look up or come up with something she’d find interesting. I also wish I had put some of her old photos in a scrapbook with her, not just for the activity, but to hear more about the people in them.

Although my mother-in-law would not have had the dexterity or interest in these, some might enjoy games or puzzles (although she did enjoy Scrabble sometimes at our home. We had to take it very slowly and she’d argue with us about words like “qi” and “xi.” 🙂 ). Some might even enjoy some of the group activities if they have a companion they know to go with them, at least the first few times.

The biggest help, though, both in any facility or in our home now, is just visiting with her personally. At different times over the years different individuals from our church would take it upon themselves to just go see her. Sometimes different groups within the church or community would make something for residents and bring it to their rooms, and that was nice, but really, the main help was just a short time of personal conversation and interaction.

When I was in college, one of the ministry groups I participated in for a couple of years was a “foster grandparent” program. There were other groups from college who would do Sunday morning and week night services at a nursing home, but our group would ask for names of residents who didn’t get as many visitors, and we would each choose two and then spend Friday nights visiting those two, just to talk and get to know them. I still have fond memories of “my ladies.”

Of course, staff members do not have time to do all of these things, and some are best done by family. But for those like the activities director who only painted fingernails, ministry groups, and individual visitors, these are a few ideas of things to do with one older person rather than a group activity.

Social interaction is important to every person, but introverts prize it on a smaller and more infrequent scale, with one or two people and quieter activities. That may be a little more time- and labor-intensive than group activities, but it can be highly valuable for both sides.

For more in the Adventure in Eldercare series, click the graphic below.

Eldercare

(Sharing with Inspire Me Mondays)

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But That’s Not My Spiritual Gift!

IMG_1761Some years ago it was all the rage to do spiritual gift tests. Spiritual gifts are those particular abilities that the Holy Spirit gives people when they are saved by which He wants to work through them to edify the body of Christ. You can find lists of them in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 4:9-11. They have been taught about in almost every church we have been a part of, and in two churches we actually did the test during a church service, with one of them having a subsequent series about them.

The idea was to help people identify their spiritual gifts so they’d know how they best fit into the ministry of the church and not waste their time frustrated and ineffective in an area where they’re not gifted. And that can be helpful. When I first started going to church regularly as a teenager and then was recruited for various ministries, it seemed like a young woman was just naturally gifted for working with children, right? I was usually asked to assist and then later to teach in the nursery, Sunday School, children’s church, Awanas, etc. I could do it, I learned from it, I hope God used me in it, but it wasn’t until I was asked to take on a more administrative role that I felt I had found my niche and just sank into it with a delight and joy I hadn’t previously found in ministry. As other opportunities have opened up over the years I’ve had a similar response in a few different areas.

I think that might actually be the better way to discern one’s spiritual giftings: trying different ministries to see which one “fits.” The tests can help to a degree, but sometimes they’re more like personality tests; sometimes their definitions can differ from one another and/or from my understanding of what a particular gift entails. Sometimes the particular ministry I am in hasn’t really fit in any category I’ve seen on a test.

Another fault with the tests and perhaps too much of a focus on what *my* gifts are is the “That’s not my job” syndrome. I don’t have the gift of evangelism, so I don’t have to do that, right? No, we’re all supposed to be a witness for Christ in some way within our sphere of influence, though there are some who are especially gifted in that way. It’s the same with giving, showing mercy, extending hospitality, helping others, and many of the other spiritual gifts.

And then sometimes God drops us into a situation that we don’t feel gifted for at all: in fact, we feel totally inadequate. Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah, Jonah, and others didn’t greet God’s call on their lives the the attitude, “Sounds great! That’s just the kind of opportunity I was looking for!”

That’s where I am with caregiving. Someone I knew said of their daughter, who was training to be a nurse, that she was a “natural caregiver.” Another friend who is a nurse spoke of loving to use the talents God had given her to minister to people in that way – another natural caregiver. That’s not me. I want people to be cared for, particularly my mother-in-law. But I have never been good with or felt inclined to the hands-on type of caregiving she is in need of now, except with my own children.

Yet here we are. Do I tell God, “There must be some mistake here. Not only am I not gifted for this, but it’s keeping me from what I feel I am gifted for.” Probably not a good idea.

I was convicted by this sentence as well as other truths in the True Woman blog post “Serving in Church: When Your Spiritual Gift Isn’t Changing Diapers“: “This doesn’t mean my gifts aren’t important. What it means is that “sometimes the need for a servant is greater than my need to use a specific gift.” And from another article on the same web site, What About Your Desire to Do Something Great For God?: “When the desire to do for God supersedes the desire to obey God, it reveals that God is no longer the source of joy. A heart delighted in God desires to obey Him. A heart delighted in self desires to see what self can accomplish. A person delighted in God doesn’t care so much how God uses her, but rather that she is useful to God, the object of her delight. A person delighted in self cares deeply about how God uses her, because seeing the self she loves underused causes grief.”

Though we need to rely on God’s help, grace, and strength even for those areas where we feel He has gifted us, there’s nothing like being totally out of our element to make us lean on Him and plea for His enabling like never before. And though the main point of caregiving isn’t about me, but rather about showing love and ministering to my mother-in-law, perhaps one reason He has allowed this opportunity is to teach me lessons about my own selfishness as well as serving and loving others in the way they most need it, not in the way I am “comfortable” showing it.

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word Filled Wednesday, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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