Use the health you have

You can hardly tell from looking at the picture of these three violets that two of them are very old.  They came to me from an estate, neglected, dry, and twisted.   They had been in the same small four inch pots on small saucers for so many years that their bare stems had grown down to the table.  Of course, as a hobbyist who starts violets regularly, I immediately took leaves from each and started new ones.    My first thought had been to throw the old ones away as soon as the new ones were growing well.   What beauty I almost missed.  

Thank God I had a brainstorm instead.   Why not create a setting that used their aged gnarled shape in a way that could not be done with young violets.   Take advantage of the unique beauty that they had.   So I used a high wheeled wagon type metal planter and transplanted the two old violets into the ends so that their stems gently curled over the lip of the planter, down past the wheels toward the table.   Then I planted a young violet in the center.   After more faithful watering and a few drops of liquid fertilizer, look what we have.    If you peer closely on the right, you can see just a glimpse of one long stem.  The stem on the left is equally long but is completely covered.

What a parable this is for the way our society should treat aging and other such situations.   When people are no longer youthful, when they begin to show  age, they are pushed aside in favor of a younger version.   Instead of looking for a way to use the health they have, to capitalize on the strengths of age, our society often looks for a way to shelve seniors outside the mainstream.  What a loss.   What potential beauty wasted; both for society which loses their skill, wisdom, and perspective; and for the seniors who still need a place to bloom, to be useful, helpful and fulfilled.   Sure, they may need to be teamed with younger bodies and even younger minds, but the resulting team may be capable of some things that a young team alone would not be.    Just try making a planter full like this with all young violets!    This has reminded me to creatively use the health each team member has, no matter the age.   The result will be more beautiful for all of us.

Give away responsibilities and grow others

It’s the middle of Easter Sunday morning celebration program; I’m waiting in the side room for the next vocal number as I am singing in the ensemble.   My assistant is leading the service.  An usher hurries over to tell me that a regular attendee has just come in crying because her mother has been taken by her father to the hospital that morning because of illness.    What should I do; should I desert the choir group to go pray in the balcony where she is sitting and hope I get back in time?   Should I stop things so I can pray aloud?   No!  It is a perfect opportunity to give away ministry.   I quickly instruct the usher to ask our assistant pastor’s wife to go and pray with the distraught person, which she did, taking a prayer partner with her.   I thanked her after service.

When we planned the service,  I was wondering if I should try to start the final song even though I was to play  brass for it.   I’m sorry to say, I have done that kind of one-man-show thing before.   No!  It is another opportunity for someone else to lead.  I asked our assistant worship leader to step up and lead it so I could focus on playing.

In addition, rather than try to juggle too many hats, as I have often done, I turned over Scripture readings, offerings, announcements, and morning prayer to my very capable and trained assistant.   Things went more smoothly; transition time was saved; and he was up front more to be visible to younger families attending.   I was able to do a better job of using my musical gifts.   Win! Win!

Often leaders hinder the development of leaders under them and rob the next generation of ministry because they insist on hogging the limelight and doing every part that comes to them.   How much better if they would empower others to minister and show leaders under them that their leader believes in them.   As John C. Maxwell put it in a little book called  The Right to Lead, “Give your power away.   One of the ironies of leadership is that you become a better leader by sharing whatever power you have, not by saving it all for yourself.”  It is a higher success to involve others than to do the same things all yourself.   And by developing others, the kingdom’s capacity for ministry is greatly expanded.

An increasingly key component of preparation

I guess I never really thought about it enough.  Why do doctor’s offices all call you ahead of appointments to confirm?   Yes, I have forgotten a few, but very few.   I run a pretty good calendar and don’t mess up very often.  I guess I just think since I’m a responsible adult, why check up on me?    But it must be that it pays them to do so in increased appointment-keeping by patients.

This last week was our monthly High PEAKS leadership training night.   Attendance has been very low the last couple months.   So JoAnne encouraged me to take two additional steps besides the traditional bulletin reminder to promote attendance; send out the reminder email further ahead with a response request this time, and make some last minute follow-up calls to those I had not heard from.  I took her advice.  Surprise!   I estimate that the combination of added preparation for attendance doubled the number at High PEAKS last Thursday evening, despite the fact that several regulars were away.   I’ve always thought; all my leaders know this is a monthly event, why remind them?    But apparently it pays big dividends to do so.

This made me think about all of our habits of preparation as church leaders.    I know, for example, that for Sunday morning, I spend nearly all my preparation time either preparing my content, preparing my delivery, or preparing my heart, but I don’t think about specifically helping to draw in the congregation.   I just assume; they know it’s Sunday; they will want to come to worship.   I think Bible study leaders and children’s Sunday school teachers do the same.   But now I’m seriously wondering if we are not missing something that is much needed today.   What would happen if every week, I explicitly spend a portion of my preparation time working to directly encourage attendance?   Now that I think of it, I recall having done that for some special events in the past and seen results.   How could I do some of that each week?   

I believe the need for this is increasing because of the ever increasing level of busyness and distraction that we all live with.   We have so many choices that we need that personal touch to be influenced to focus even on one that we know is so important.   This is a twenty-first century way that we can “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24 NIV).

Leadership sub-category created

I’ve some key adjustments to my blog that I hope are helpful to my readers.  

1.  Now that I’m a little more familiar with this environment and on the advice of folks at our annual board retreat, I’m opening up new posts and pages for comments.  I have received some feedback by email and I am looking forward to more interaction. 

2. I am adding a new nested category, called church leadership under church notes for posts that are especially relevant to that topic.  

Leadership is an area that I have studied and read after extensively in the last decade.  As a young pastor I did not understand its importance.   Bible college and seminary education was then and is still woefully inadequate in this area. 

But now as a seasoned pastor,  I realize that leadership is central to how a pastor encourages others in ministry (Eph. 4:11,12) and accomplishes more than he or she can accomplish alone.    Through this new category on my blog I hope to help younger pastors and lay leadership avoid my earlier error and find helpful insights.   I will also seek to review some of the best books I have read in my book review pages as well.

“Use the health you have” and churches

At High PEAKS this past Thursday, we interacted with a Leadership Summit DVD.  One point the speaker, former football star Mike Singletary, was making was that one of the dangers to maintaining and protecting high impact teams was comparing ourselves with others.   Most often when we do that, he warned us, it leads to complaining and grumbling about what we don’t have.   That is not a productive stance.  As our group discussed this issue, we remembered that the Bible warns us against this pitfall (2 Cor. 10:12; Lu. 18:11). 

Our LBA vice-chairman also invited us to integrate this warning with the inspirational story I had blogged about recently containing that key phrase, “Use the health you have.”    He suggested to us that this piece of advice from a young Mom struggling with health issues would also serve as a tremendous key thought to help us as a church counteract the tendency to compare and complain.    When our internal conversation is something like, “Don’t be thinking about what you don’t have; rather, use well what God has already given you,” we will be far better off.   We will have a more positive focus and we will find work that we can do within our reach.   It will help us use our own gifts rather than envying the gifts of others.  It was an inspired connection.

Sometimes too, we get so focused on trying to fix the problems –there are always problems–that they distract us from using our strengths.  But if our mind maintains emphasis on taking the best advantage of what is working, we will often make more progress.  

What great church leadership advice!   “Use the health you have!”