Category: Insight into Friendship & Ministry

Learning When To Be Quiet

It was a profound pastoral moment. The uncertainty and difficulty of Jen’s medical situation had reached its peak in my heart. I was so overwhelmed, so confused, and so afraid. And I was sharing it all with Jeff over a cup of coffee.  After listening for a long time, he leaned back in his chair and shook his head helplessly. Then he looked me in the eye, his voice cracking with empathy, and he just said, “Wow, Dave.”

He didn’t have any answers. But I didn’t need answers. I needed Christ. I needed to encounter Christ. And Christ met me, through the presence of a friend who knows Him and who loves me. And God ministered to me greatly.  When people are hurting, sometimes the best thing we can do is to just be quiet and be present.

Job’s friends started out well. When they heard about his suffering, they came to him. They grieved with him. And without words, they loved him by just being with him for seven days.  The problems began when they opened their mouths and started talking. Because their words didn’t alleviate Job’s suffering. They actually added to it. A suffering man needed the comfort of godly friends. Instead, they engaged him in thirty-four chapters of unhelpful theological dialogue.

Job said, “A man in despair needs steadfast love from his friends. You are sorry comforters, because there is no limit to your windy words. I wish you would just shut up! Now that would be real wisdom” (Job 6:14, 13:5, 16:2-3).  We need to hear that. Because we love to fix things. We love to find cures. We love to come up with solutions. We love to have answers.  But when we think about ministry, we need to remember that people are not projects to be undertaken, diseases to be healed, issues to resolve, or codes to be deciphered.  They are hearts that need to encounter the Person of Jesus Christ. And if we’re going to effectively lead people to Him in the midst of this broken world, then we don’t need better answers…we need to become better friends.

We all desperately need to hear the truth. But when people are hurting, sometimes the best thing we can do is to be quiet and be present, intentionally and compassionately, so that through us people can find true comfort and hope in the presence of Christ.

  • Dave Carroll

Worries About Lesser Things

I am not a fan of television. I enjoy some broadcast sports, a couple of dramas but by-in-large I do little watching of the major networks. However, when I watch I am amazed by our culture’s fascination with the broad spectrum of what to eat, what to drink and what to wear. Although many media themes can be found on television: sports, travel or real estate, as examples, the preoccupation with eating, drinking and wearing arises for those depicted at the sport venue, traveling to the destination spot or enjoying the grand surroundings of new home, beach house, or special hideaway. In most cases, the marketing notion portrayed is a status of wealth and success highlighted through exquisite food, hip drinks and stylish clothes.

These concerns are not new in our times. Jesus addresses them to His generation from the Sermon of the Mount, Matthew 6:25-32. In Jesus’ day many who heard His message were genuinely concerned about having enough to eat, drink and the necessary clothing to keep them warm. Many go to bed tonight in North East Ohio without adequate nutrition or proper clothing; however by First Century standards, we all possess the wealth of nobility.

Yet for those with adequate supply, there remains the fascination with eating, drinking and wearing, for which Jesus says, “For the Gentiles seek after all these things” Matthew 6:32a. Jesus calls us to set aside our fears for what the future holds and embrace a single minded passion for the Kingdom of God. He told them to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things – the necessities of food, drink and dress – will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33.

When we seek His kingdom, our search is not as the last person to enter before the gates are shut. To the contrary, we should endeavor, as priority, to reflect the glory of Christ as He reigns over all things. Did I really say that? Wow, certainly that is not what the Madison Avenue marketers were thinking when producing their segment “as seen on TV.”

As we minister, let us not be caught up in what our culture say is important. Do not worry about the lesser things when the greater stakes call us to Service of Him. May we be marked as people of gratitude for God’s gracious rescue and endeavor to bring Glory to Him, who alone deserve the adoration of our hearts. Along the way, let us be prepared to share the Gospel with those who are preoccupied only with eating, drinking and wearing, while our God permits.

– Selby Brannon

Thoughtfulness for the Wounded

How many times have you heard: “the church would be great, if it weren’t for the people!” Before you throw a half grin at the cliché and walk away, take a minute to be thoughtful.

We all have our stories of some of the hard life in the church, right? If you’ve been around the bride at all, you know she isn’t all that pretty at times. So when your meeting in the parking lot after the meeting, or concerned about someone who is “taking a break” from church, be thoughtful.

Fortunately and unfortunately, we know and identify with their pain. And we react! We avoid because we know the messiness that is coming. We get angry because somehow that’s easier. We weep because we’re helpless. Friends, if we’re not careful, instead of helping a wounded soldier we could cause one more injury.

The beauty of the Bride is we get to think differently. We get to be thoughtful. Here are a few questions in caring for the wounded:

  1. Who do you love most? In all of your turmoil, have you forgotten the one who loves you most?   And in this season where your every waking moment is focused on your hurt, have you forgotten Jesus who loves you most? Hurting people need Jesus more than they need you.
  2. What’s the whole story? Be willing to slow down. What people are feeling about their circumstance is real, but it is not everything. There is much of the story they probably don’t know. Encourage a few more questions. What have you missed here? What parts of the story are you emphasizing? What parts are you leaving out?
  3. Are you isolated? Insolating ourselves from past hurts leads to isolation. Isolation leads to many dangers for Christians. Sometimes it can be hard to envision what moving forward looks like. Help people take little steps of faithfulness toward relationship when their instinct is to run.
  4. Do you see the process? People need grace and truth over time. Don’t forget the element of time in the process. Quickly counseling to forgive and forget is not helpful. Nor is it helpful to beat people up with truth assuming it’s an “information problem.” God changes people by His grace over time. Be willing to listen long enough for wisdom about God’s process of transforming the heart.

– Jeff Pierce

Friendship and Ministry

Do you ever wonder where problem areas of friendship and ministry might intersect? What might the possible consequences be?

Friendship is defined as “intimate interaction with someone I choose to entrust my heart and life to, for significant mutual influence”. Thus I view vital ingredients of friendship as:  mutual communication of truth (no flattery/deception), love and support (faithfully) through all of life’s experiences (Prov 17:17 “a friend loves at all times”), and a willingness to assist for the good of one another, etc. When one of these is abrogated, feelings of isolation, unfair advantage, betrayal or waning influence is felt.

Ministry is defined as “that which one is authorized or commissioned to do in behalf of another”. I often call upon friends to act for me in my absence, or carry messages of my well being or intention. Vital ingredients of ministry are:  communication of truth (with accuracy), faithfulness, and careful diligent obedience to the instruction given. As we can see, there is a similarity of ingredients between friendship and ministry. When one of these is lax or lacking, the ministry/mission fails, or is at least compromised.

In Scripture, our mission is to make disciples. As I evaluate my faithfulness in this area, I must admit—compromise. How about you? May the Lord help us to grow to please Him in this area.

Take heart. I’m thankful that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  I am thankful too, for the grace of God extended to Mary Magdalene, who though possibly formerly a woman of ill repute, was commissioned by the Risen Jesus to carry the Gospel message of His resurrection to the disciples, which she faithfully did. They in turn carried it to the world (John 20:11-18). Thus, we are recipients of Mary’s faithful communication of truth to the disciples in strict obedience to the instruction of our Savior to her.   Praise God. May this example and His Word stir us to faithful obedience in making disciples.

– Don Schoenwald

One of the Sad Consequences of Ministering Grace and Truth

One of the greatest heartbreaks of ministering to others is seeing those you pour your heart out to turn their back on the help offered.  It hurts personally, but once you get past that you hurt for them because you see a path taken and where it leads that they can’t clearly see.  And one of the sad consequences of ministering grace and truth is that they often turn from the grace being offered to them for a leaning on their own understanding.  I think this is what Paul captured as he wrote to the Galatian churches he loved …

At first they received Paul eagerly – “you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as angel of God, as Christ Jesus”. Paul spoke words of freedom, grace, and Gospel truth in the midst of their legalism and man-centered pursuits.  They would have done anything for him, even gouged out their own eyes and given them to Paul who appears to have struggled with some physical eye issues.  But now other teachers had come to the Galatians, “making much of you, but for no good purpose” and they turned their hearts not only against the grace and truth of the Spirit of God, but against Paul who had ministered that truth to them.  To the point where Paul writes to them asking, “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:12-20).  Paul aches both for their turning from the truth and their turning from him.

We so often picture Paul as this Bible-thumping prophet who only cares about people getting their theology right, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  His heart breaks for people to walk in the freedom and grace of Christ as he too experienced.  He knew that such freedom only comes through a firm grasp on the Gospel work of Jesus Christ.  But he was never content to just speak truth.  “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).  He knew the perils of loving others and knew that as you speak truth and seek to live with an open heart to those your serve, it could either produce deeper relationship with God and God’s people OR the sad consequence of a turned back and a closed heart.  We all get it … we’ve all been there.  Let’s not be the one turning away from those who love us and minister the truth to us.

– Mark Spansel

That Continuous Loop

One thing leads to another. It’s my turn to submit a blog again. Which leads to pondering again how this blank page should be filled. The events of the day unfold. They serve to bring to mind a theme that seems to be on a continuous loop. Playing over and over again. Is that a good thing?

Began the day at breakfast with friends and then a chance meeting with another friend on the way out of the restaurant. Friends who love Christ and love me. Willing to listen, ask questions, being comfortable with that awkward silence. Just willing to wait for that continuous loop thing referenced above. It’s a mini sermon. It’s what Pastor Mark calls “preaching the Gospel to yourself”.

The awkward silence is that decisive, critical instant where the Spirit of God brings forward my overwhelming need and then graciously allows it to be recognized for what it is. Then what is even more gracious and loving He turns my heart to trust not in my competence, not my wit, not my authority, not my ability to control, not my dismissive cynicism, or even a self-righteous defense but to put a proper confidence in the Gospel. In what He has said about us as a fallen race and to what He has already done to set it straight for me, for my friends, for His glory. In that moment the questions fly. Why is this so important to you? Why do you need to justify yourself? Why? Why? Why?. Really?

In that moment of interpersonal conflict where will I turn? Where will I point my friends who suffer with me? Will I seek relief from this wearisome reality of existing in a fallen world with my own usual personal plan of salvation? My old worn-out favorite idols of control, escape, and distraction? Or by grace will one thing lead to another and I’ll find a Gospel confidence as the Psalmist did and say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

– David Ortiz

Committing To Ministry

I had been attending Leroy Chapel for several years before I began to think seriously about committing to the local church community and ‘being known’ within the body. In 2007 I became a member of LCC and finally committed myself to the church and its ministry. This commitment, of course, changed my walk in all kinds of positive ways, making it MUCH more vibrant and alive. It brought me closer to the congregation (which I expected), but also to Christ (which I did not expect). However, as I became more involved with the ministry of LCC I had to confront two challenges, both having to do with my pride.

The first challenge was to keep from trying to apply workplace lessons to church. For the past 30 years, I’ve been honing my problem solving skills and gotten pretty good at it. Not surprisingly, as I became more involved at church I did my best to bring these skills to bear on church issues in the interest of efficiency and accomplishment. Sometimes, this was helpful, but often it wasn’t, resulting in my frustrating and irritating the people I was involved with in ministry. At one point Jeff Pierce very gently confronted me on my bulldozing behavior. “You know Paul, efficiency’s not the point; ministry’s the point.” He could have also added, “God’s glory (not Paul’s) is the point.” It was an important message for me to hear. And while I’ve gotten better, I still struggle with this desire to push and control. So, if you catch me shifting into “get ‘er done” mode, feel free to tap me on the shoulder and whisper, “bulldozer.” I’ll know what you mean.

The second challenge I encountered after committing to LCC was learning to say ‘no’. You see, once I dropped my defenses and started saying ‘yes’, it became very easy to say ‘yes’ to everything – there’s a lot of good stuff going on at LCC. But something anyone serving in ministry needs to remember is that not only is it not about us, it’s not up to us either. Yes, we’re often God’s tools of choice, but God will get it done with us or without us; we’re not the essential ingredient.

So, it’s OK to miss an occasional meeting. It’s OK to let someone else handle it this time. It’s OK if it gets done differently than how you’d do it. It’s OK to rest.

Ministry’s a marathon, not a sprint. Relax and trust God.

– Paul Burkholder