My Ministry Mantras (Part 3)

I’m using this word, “mantras” not in the eastern meditation sense like chants, but more as “mottos” that describe the way I feel called to serve God and people. If I were to boil down the things I think I’m supposed to do in this season of my life, the following things convey my heart’s deepest aspirations.

The ones I talked about in Part 1 and Part 2 are:

  • I’m just trying to make friends with God.
  • I’m trying to simply follow and follow simply.
  • I am trying to be more of a pacesetter than a superstar.
  • I’m trying to impact people without having to impress them, and reach people without having to possess them.

I’m trying to remember that Sunday is practice for the rest of the week.

I’m ashamed to say that dizzying myself and most everyone else in the church on the Monday-to-Sunday cycle was all too common when I was pastoring. Along with all the Sunday teams (the Sunday worship team, the Sunday set up and tear down team, the Sunday School team, the Sunday greeters, ushers, pray-ers, and coffee makers) we worked all week to create an engaging service for whoever was left that wasn’t on one of the teams! And then on Monday the cycle began all over again to as we would prepare for the next Sunday performance. A little overstated you say? Maybe, but what is it we’re trying to do here – make strong disciples or have good services? 

A football team practices all week for the big game on the weekend. They practice during the week and then they play the game on Sunday. The fans don’t care about the practices; they just want to see their team beat up on the other team – on the field, that is. The game is the big event. Comparing this to our Sunday worship experience versus the rest of the week – which one is the game and which is the practice? Do we practice all week for the main event on Sunday? Is the worship service the big game or is it the practice for the game?  If it’s the game, then the other six days are the warm up, the tune up for Sunday. But if Sunday is the practice, then the rest of the week is what we’re practicing for.

If we make the Sunday service the game, then it’s my observation that people will eventually come to the conclusion that showing up on Sundays is all that God requires of them. They will assume that by the end of the service that they’re done with their service for the week! The game has been played, and they can rest from spiritual responsibility until they come back next Sunday! They learned about God with a snappy sermon and worshipped him with groovy music ­– “see you next week for the next performance of the Jesus Show!”

OK, I lapsed into sarcasm, but at least consider the possibility that one of the reasons for our relatively weak form of Christianity in the western world is that we’ve confused the practice with the game. If Sunday (or whatever day you gather with people for fellowship) is the practice, then I humbly propose that it should probably look more like one. We should be studying the playbook (you know what that is, right?), running wind sprints for conditioning, practice tackling, blocking, passing, and kicking. I don’t know what are the direct spiritual equivalents for those; but for sure, we should be interacting, praying, and strategizing with each other more in our spiritual Sunday practices. There’s no way that the coach (pastor) should be doing all the talking and having all the fun in our practices! We’ve all got to get in on the action on Sundays so we’re ready to face the other team during the week!

Speaking of the other team, even if we do scrimmage, the score doesn’t count, because during practice we’re all on the same team. We don’t see the other team until game time, when practice is over and we have to run the plays and perform the skills we’ve honed. It’s easy to look good at practice with nothing but teammates surrounding you. It’s when we leave the service that the service really begins. We’ve gathered to get ready for the big game so that when we scatter we can play the big game – and win!

I could go on and on about this, but let’s move to my next mantra…

I’m trying to have aspirations for people rather than expectations of them.

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. 2 Corinthians 1:24

You have to get the prepositions and personal pronouns in the right place in this verse. It’s not, “we work for you,” but  “with you.” And it isn’t for my joy,” but “for your joy.” [For more on this see “Learning Leadership Lessons from 2 Corinthians.”]

I think of arrows going in opposite directions when I muse about the difference between “aspirations” and “expectations.” When I have expectations of someone, the arrows point to me – they go from the other person toward me. I expect something from them. On the other hand, when I have aspirations for someone, the arrows are pointing in the other direction, toward them. They go from me to them. I’m trying to give something to them (scriptural information or a spiritual contribution of some sort). To be entirely accurate, the arrows go both directions, because they’re contributing as much to me as I am to them. But my point is that “aspirations” are dreams and desires that I have in my heart which benefit them, as opposed to “expectations” which tend to be more about whatever benefits me. Does that make sense? I’ve found that the best way to develop the best aspirations for my friends is to try to align my thinking with the aspirations of our Father. This leads me to my next mantra – “I’m trying to lead by leading.”

Next time…

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