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ENGAGING WITH YOUR COMMUNITY, Part 1 – Why Bacon & Monorails May Not Be Working

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Before any church can truly begin to engage with their surrounding community, it’s important to take time to listen and get to know who they are! While this may sound like a no-brainer, I think if we’re honest we can all tell a story from our own personal lives of a time when we didn’t take the time to truly listen and understand the other person. This likely led to mistakes being made and perhaps even a broken relationship. Our human nature tends to lead us to jump to quick conclusions and put people ‘in a box’ so to speak.

In the month of March, we spent the entire month looking at the art of listening. In our blog post entitled “The Art of Listening –Part 1”, we unpacked what real listening is (and isn’t!).  Part of this post was a funny, but truthful, video of a woman complaining about a constant pain in her head. Check it out again (or for the 1st time!) here:

While we can laugh at this situation, it would be wise for us to stop and ponder this for a minute. How many times have we, as deacons or as regular folk, met with someone inside or outside our church and within 5 minutes (or less!) we have already figured out what their problem is and how it can easily be solved, IF they would only listen to us. Yet, perhaps if we had taken the time to properly listen and understand, we would have discovered there was so much more going on and, even better, that other person would have left feeling valued and important and a relationship would likely have begun.

So what if, as deacons, we actually took the time to sit down and listen to the people we are trying to serve to hear their stories, hear about their experiences and really listen to understand. This could potentially change the entire way churches engage with their communities!

Bacon & Monorails

One church shared recently that for the past couple of years they held a yearly festival in their church parking lot for the surrounding neighbourhood. While we can’t remember all the details of the day/event, we do remember that the theme was….bacon! (How do you forget THAT?!) There was bacon-everything and they aimed to make it a fun, family-friendly, non-threatening event to get to know their neighbours and invite them to get to know their church. Yet, since the event’s inception, the church members have been quite disappointed with the turnout. They have sat and scratched their heads, unable to answer why no one in their neighbourhood has been attending. Who doesn’t like bacon? What could be more appealing and non-threatening and enticing than bacon-wrapped everything?! In a meeting with other local deacons, one person in the group commented that perhaps many in their surrounding neighbourhood were Muslims. Big pause. Blank stare. Huh? What does that have to with bacon? Oh, wait… What this person was trying to point out was that if many people in that church’s “backyard” were Muslims, they would NEVER partake in a “bacon festival” as they don’t eat pork or any pork byproducts. Huh!

Now while this was likely not the reason the festival fell flat, it certainly made those in the room stop for a minute to think. IF WE DON’T KNOW WHO THE PEOPLE ARE THAT MAKE-UP OUR SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES, then how do we know what they like, what they need, and what they care about? If, in fact, many in that neighbourhood were practicing Muslims, nothing about this event would bring them to this church’s doorstep, even if it did include a 3 Ring Circus and free face painting. Reversely, it could even be considered a bit offensive, or worse – ignorant! It would only serve to highlight how disconnected that church was from their immediate neighbourhood; the people they perhaps should know the best!

It’s a very tricky business when a church (or anyone for that matter) comes into town and starts telling people what they need and why they need it. It reminded me a bit of that old Simpsons episode where the town calls a meeting to decide what to do with a budget surplus. Some great ideas are shared about real and urgent needs in their town until in walks Mr. Lyle Lanley, who, with a flashy song and dance, convinces the town they need (and want! and must-have!) a Monorail.

It’s no surprise that if you watched the entire episode, you find out the Monorail did NOT work out – at all! – for a number of reasons. While these examples of Bacon and Monorails may not be ringing any bells for you, can you and your diaconate think of a time when your church has been ‘guilty’ of this kind of behaviour? Has your church or diaconate ever thought you knew what your community needed or wanted or that you had all the answers for them? Well, okay, of course we can all agree that ultimately yes, we do have the one and only answer – aka Jesus Christ, who died for the entire world because He loved each one of us so much. And yes, we should want to share that good news with everyone we meet. So if that is our ‘end goal’, perhaps we can all agree that there are good ways, and not so good ways, to go about doing that.

If sharing the Good News of Jesus is our ‘end goal’, there are good ways, and not so good ways, to go about doing that.

Leading With Your Need

A few years back a speaker shared his story of engaging with his community and he stressed the importance of churches “leading with their need”. Unfortunately, we can’t remember who said it (so maybe we’ll take credit for it!), but it reminded us of the story of the Woman at the Well from John 4. Even before this woman and Jesus met in the middle of the day at the city’s well, we know that Jesus knew her entire story – because he was Jesus! But when we read this story, we see that He did not immediately address her situation, or come down on her with condemnation, or give her answers to her problems (which were many). He started by asking her to draw water for Him; He asked something of her. Again, Jesus didn’t need her help and she was the last person He should have even been talking to, but He did it anyway. Why? He wanted to create level ground between the two of them and talk to her human-to-human. This story clearly, and beautifully, depicts Jesus’ humanness. His somewhat simple request broke down barriers immediately and opened up the conversation between the two of them. And perhaps this is why she felt free to speak to Him the way she did. What a wonderful example for us to study and learn from – and then follow.

While sharing the Good News of the gospel is, and always should be, our ‘end goal’, perhaps we can all agree that there are good ways, and not so good ways, to go about doing that. Building good, healthy, and sustainable relationships with the people in our communities helps us ‘earn the right’ to be able to share that good news. Just as Jesus shows us.

Building good, healthy, and sustainable relationships with the people in our communities helps us ‘earn the right’ to be able to share that good news.

If we’re honest, we can likely agree that churches (and church people) can have the tendency to come in and try to ‘rescue’ people and tell them what they need to start doing (and stop doing!) but this ‘rescuing’ can actually create distance and resentment and often prohibits long-term change because ZERO relationship has been established. It can give people the impression that Christians are pretty self-righteous and that they believe they have all the answers. It tells others that if they just do what we say, their life will turn around and be better than they could ever imagine. BUT! When churches and believers first lead with their need, they instead approach their communities (and the individuals in it) by finding ways to say, ‘What can YOU contribute?’ and ‘How can we work together for a better future in this community and all who live in it.’  WOW! What a change in posture! What a role reversal! When Jesus encountered the woman at the well, He first showed her that she mattered and that she had something to offer. Then, and only then, was He able to find out more about her so He could explain to her that there was a ‘better way of doing life’. And what happens next is absolutely astounding and amazing! She ran and told all of the townspeople (the very people who despised her, gossiped about her, and likely excluded her) the good news of who Jesus was. And this here is ultimately how a community finds lasting transformation as we agreed upon earlier.

This month we’ll continue learning about how we can discover who our communities are and how we can reach them effectively with the love of Christ.

What About You?

Has your church made any blunders when it comes to engaging with your community/neighbourhood? What have you been learning? Does your church have a big “win” they’d like to share about how you have found ways to connect with their surrounding community? Share your stories with us!

Learning to Live Out Reconciliation – A DOE Story

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(Pictured above: Mike Hogeterp (left) and Jonathan Maracle exchanging gifts and greetings in the indigenous tradition)

Anita Hogeveen was one of the participants of “The Dance of Reconciliation” workshop led by Mike Hogeterp (Director of the Centre for Public Dialogue) and Jonathan Maracle at the Day of Encouragement (DOE) held on April 7, 2018, in Brockville, ON. We are pleased to share Anita’s story…

I had the privilege of attending “The Dance of Reconciliation” workshop led by Mike Hogeterp (Director of the Centre for Public Dialogue) and Jonathan Maracle at the recent DOE in Brockville. For some, the Indigenous issue in Canada has become one of fatigue – some are tired of hearing about the suffering of Canada’s native peoples. This workshop interwove some despair, some hope, some reality and some explanation into the issue. In the first section, Jonathan spoke to his experience as an indigenous person, about hardships faced and pockets of hope. He spoke about taking his message of reconciliation around the world via his group ‘Broken Walls’. This section ended with Jonathan singing the song “Broken Walls” which he wrote – a passionate song aspiring to break down the walls between all people, particularly indigenous peoples and others.

The second piece of the workshop featured a poignant gift exchange between Jonathan and Mike. Jonathan explained that the modeled gift exchange protocol was not based on the old expression “Indian Giver” (giving a gift and later wanting it back or expecting a gift of equal value). Both parties gave and received gifts that were significant to them. Tears were shed. Gift exchanges provide space for stories and shared truths. Gift exchanges under gird reconciliation and allow attitude shifts to begin. During the exchange, Mike and Jonathan reminded us to remember the sacred in every day events. Reconciliation was explained to us as being real, spiritual and political (political = polis = a body of people). Reconciliation is not a one-off apology but rather a daily occurrence practiced every day in our every action. Reconciliation requires us to offer ourselves freely to each other daily. Reconciliation is a journey of turning away from what is broken (relationships) and moving to new and healthier patterns, making way for relationship development.

Reconciliation is not a one-off apology but rather a daily occurrence practiced every day in our every action.

In the third part of the workshop, we watched excerpts from a movie, “Reserve 107”. This movie portrays a true story of indigenous and townspeople learning to trust each other and beginning a journey of reconciliation. During the film, Jonathan asked the film be stopped so that he could explain one of the actions displayed by an indigenous person. During a conversation, the silence of an indigenous person does not mean he/she is stupid or uneducated. Their pause is a sign of respect to whomever they are in conversation with. They honour the person they are speaking to by providing a well thought-out answer.

I do not have indigenous fatigue, hungry people fatigue, refugee fatigue or addicted people fatigue. My fatigue stems from my frustration with myself for being unable to make deeper inroads into the path of reconciliation. Mike and Jonathan reminded me reconciliation happens one gift exchange at a time. For me, gift exchange is mercy. Mercy lies within the word merchant. A merchant buys and sells; aka exchanges. I think about the beatitudes. Mercy. My gift exchange is one of mercy, choosing every day to develop healthier patterns with others. The worship music, keynote speaker, panel participants and workshop leaders at the DOE, all reminded me that mercy/exchange lies at the core of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the righting of wrongs. Reconciliation is hope for the future.

Mike and Jonathan reminded me reconciliation happens one gift exchange at a time.

-Anita Hogeveen

Do You Have a DOE Story to Share?

We’d love to hear it! Sharing our stories offers encouragement and inspiration to others in ministry and they can help us learn and understand and see another’s perspective! Email Erin today if you have something to share about a recent DOE.

Equipping Leaders through Encouragement and Learning

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(Pictured above: A panel discussing the day’s theme, left to right: Aaron Helleman, on the future in technology; Jonathan Maracle, on reconciliation between indigenous people and the church; Sid Ypma, on the future of the church.)

A Day of Encouragement (DOE) is an event held in many regions across Canada. Participants worship together, share ministry stories and best practices, and learn from one another. These can be anywhere from a half-day or evening gathering to a full weekend. The aim of a DOE is to help your church’s leaders experience…

  • Refreshment and encouragement as they serve and work;
  • Inspiration and motivation to persevere in ministry;
  • A deeper sense of community with others who serve in Christ’s name; and
  • A venue where all leave affirmed and encouraged

DOE’s can also offer a safe and inclusive environment for difficult topics and conversations to be discussed.

Lunchtime – people flocking to the dessert table! 🙂

On April 7th, a DOE was held in Brockville, ON for the western half of Classis Eastern Canada. This year’s theme was “What Will the Future Hold?” Those in attendance expressed their appreciation for the day and of several of the workshops held. Two highlights were the “Dance of Reconciliation” dialogue on reconciliation between indigenous people and the church, led by Mike Hogeterp and Jonathan Maracle, and “The Mirror of Popular Music”, a workshop led by Micah van Dijk which discussed the use of popular songs in order to engage in critical conversations about cultural issues.

A DOE has been held in this region every other year since 2007. When organizing this year’s event, the Planning Team felt it was time to step out in faith and, as a result, they tried out some new things:

First, the location of this year’s DOE was changed to Brockville, ON, instead of holding it in the Ottawa area. This required a LOT of trust since historically about 50% of the attendance has come from the Ottawa area and the team knew this could affect the turn-out. Since the location of the event was moved further west, those from Classis Quinte were invited to join this year’s event as geographically it was a bit closer to them. Twelve (12) people arrived from Kingston and Frankford which was encouraging to the Planning Team. As well, many from the Ottawa area were still able to make the trip and while overall attendance did dip a bit, the total number of those who attended was 72 which the team was very grateful for!

Secondly, the team organized a Panel Discussion around the theme of the day in order to examine it from different perspectives. Each of the panel members gave interesting and eloquent insights and the Planning Team is exploring how this can be done a bit more efficiently and effectively next time around.

Lastly, an online registration program was used for this year’s event (via Cognito Form). On the whole that appeared to go well: it was simple to set up and easy to use. This will likely be used again in the future.

Overall, the Planning Team and those in attendance agreed the day was an overwhelming success!

Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance (Prov 1:5)

Is it time for your church (and Classis) to hold a Day of Encouragement?

Are you and your diaconate looking to meet with other people who are passionate for God’s Kingdom and their community? Does hearing other’s stories inspire you? Is your team ready to learn from experts in a workshop setting? Are your volunteers longing to enhance their current skills and develop new ones?

Or perhaps your need to give your annual DOE a re-boot? Either way, our website offers some helpful resources that you can use, including a Day of Encouragement ‘Best Practices’ handout, a Sample Budget, and a DOE Sample Brochure.

And as always, please contact us if you need further assistance.

Listening to Our Communities

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As mentioned in our previous blog post, New Month… Same Theme!, we’ll continue looking at listening this month, and in particular, listening to our COMMUNITIES. But perhaps we need to first name what we envision when we hear those words. What does listening to our community LOOK like? Sitting in the mall food court and eavesdropping to the table next to you? Listening to the local radio station while you cook dinner at home? Following your mayor’s or local MPP’s Twitter feed? Spying on your neighbours?

While these may be good suggestions and may prove helpful (well, all except the last one!!!), this likely isn’t going to help you get to know your city or the neighbourhoods within it. In our last blog post, we posed a few questions we hope you’ve had some time to ponder:

  • What are ways your diaconate actively listens to your community?
  • How does your church engage with the people in your neighbourhoods in order to get to know them better?
  • How do you, as deacons, take time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ?

Hmmm, what was that last one? How do you, as deacons, take time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ? There is a lot in there so let’s pick that one apart for a minute.

TAKE TIME – This means intentionally setting time aside to listen and learn.

DISCOVER – This means acknowledging you likely don’t know the whole story! Remember how we said listening can lead to understanding? Why not re-read our post on why listening is so important and our Top 10 Things to Know in Order to Listen Well for a minute before you move on 😉

WHERE GOD IS AT WORK – Perhaps you thought this was all about YOU! Well, it ain’t. All of what you do as deacons is about seeing where God is at work and joining HIM! Perhaps you’ve never heard that before. Perhaps you find that a bit freeing! Takes the pressure off a bit, eh?

Yes folks, God is, and always has been, moving and working in your community. The beautiful part is that we get to JOIN HIM! So now if that’s true, how do we know what He’s up to?

Discovering Where God is at Already at Work

Let’s touch on some of the best ways to discern and discover where God is moving and working:

  1. Prayer-Walking: In his book “Why Pray”, Dr. John DeVries reminds believers that prayer is an exciting and powerful privilege! He shows us that prayer is simply talking with God and it can lead to a deepened relationship of greater love and trust with our Heavenly Father. In his explanation of prayer, he compares it to a young boy riding on his grandfather’s lap as they ride the tractor around his grandparent’s farm. He says, “Prayer is the dependent relationship in which I sit on the lap of my heavenly Father and put my hand on His as He steers the tractor. After all, He not only owns and drives the tractor, but He also owns the farm!” Prayer Walking can be an important part of joining God on His mission. As one author put it, it’s taking the church to people, not taking people to the church. Prayer walking is a way we put feet to our prayers, or as some will say, praying on-site with insight. It can help us pray with open eyes, literally! In order to equip you and your churches, check out this valuable resource for your diaconates on what Prayer-Walking is – and isn’t! As Dr. DeVries continues, he reminds us: The fields that are ripe for harvest are God’s. He owns the tractor, and He knows where to plow. Only when we, like little children, climb into God’s lap in prayer, feel His arms of love around us, and experience the security of having our hands on His while He guides the steering wheel—only then will missions move!” [emphasis mine] Prayer-Walking is a beautiful and powerful way we can pray with hope for our cities!
  2. Attend or Host a Community Prayer Meeting: Gathering a group of people from inside and outside your church who all want to build up and bless their city has tremendous power! (Proverbs 11:11) What a wonderful way to celebrate unity among believers and non-believers, especially in these times when divisions seem to creep in so easily and quickly. Not only is it a chance to learn more about your community but you will also experience growth, both spiritually and personally. “While you are investing in God’s work, you are enlisting others to advance God’s work on earth” (Corinne Gatti). Imagine that! God will bless those efforts to do even more than we can imagine!
  3. Get Involved and Stay Informed: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13–16) “Sociologist James Hunter…writes: ‘Faithful presence in the world means that Christians are fully present and committed in their spheres of influence, whatever they may be: their families, neighborhoods, voluntary activities, and places of work.’ As followers of Jesus, we are called to a mission of engagement in, not withdrawal from, the broader world. To faithfully engage the world means we must be fully present within it” (Tom Nelson, article: “To Engage the World Means Being Present in It”). So start reading your local newspaper in order to follow municipal and regional affairs. Or why not volunteer/get involved in a local non-profit. It won’t take long before you discover where God is opening up doors for you and your church.
  4. Conduct a Community Opportunity Scan! For churches that are ready to see their relationship with their neighbours in a new way, DMC has developed a Community Opportunity Scan (COS). A COS is a comprehensive process of discovery which can lead to exciting possibilities! Churches can get to know the people, organizations, resources and needs of their community first-hand and more importantly, they can see where God is already at work!

So let’s get back to our original questions… What are ways your diaconate is actively listening to your community? How is your church intentionally engaging with the people in your neighbourhoods in order to get to know them? How are you, as deacons, taking time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ??

Churches and diaconates across Canada are in different stages of this “listening” journey. We at DMC are excited to hear their stories and we’ll be sharing a few in the weeks to come. Some are beginning to practice Prayer-Walking in various neighbourhoods in their city; some are clearly listening and paying close attention to where God is at work and what is happening in and around their church and then DOING SOMETHING about it through advocacy; some are beginning the COS process; and others are now moving on to see if an Operation Manna partnership will help them either start or grow a ministry in order to reach out into their community with the love of Christ!

No matter where your church/diaconate is in their journey, if you have any questions or need further guidance, we encourage you to get in touch with one of our Regional Ministry Developers and they’d love to speak with you! You can also check out our resources and tools online.


But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:57-58


 

New Month… Same Theme!

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For the month of April, we will be continuing our theme of LISTENING! Last month we looked at some of the benefits of listening, the how-to’s of listening and how deacons can listen better to each other and to their congregants. As leaders in the church, most of what you do is listening and many of the tasks you perform are done more effectively and efficiently when you’ve listened well to those around you!

Unfortunately, most people do not spend time honing the skill of listening. We work on our time management skills, our leadership skills, our public speaking skills, etc., but who spends time practicing the art of listening? On top of that, we live in a crazy culture of uber busyness where we’d all like a couple more hours in the day to get everything done, which has not helped any of us become better listeners! Richard Carlson talked about this in his book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, which came out over ten years ago(!):

“We often treat communication as if it were a race. It’s almost like our goal is to have no time gaps between the conclusion of the sentence of the person we are speaking with and the beginning of our own. If you think about it, you’ll notice that it takes an enormous amount of energy and is very stressful to be sitting at the edge of your seat trying to guess what the person in front of you (or on the telephone) is going to say so that you can fire back your response.”

One of the greatest benefits to listening well to others is that we can take a break from constantly multi-tasking and focus on just one thing – and one person. When is the last time you focused on just ONE THING? How counter-cultural is that? How counter-human is that?! Carlson goes on to say, “…As you wait for the people you are communicating with to finish, as you simply listen more intently to what is being said, you’ll notice that the pressure you feel is off.” Think about that for a minute. To really stop and listen. No talking; just listening. What could be the potential of that? When someone feels heard and understood, and when you are actually listening to what they are saying, when the pressure to respond is off – you are able to build relationship with that person!

So! What are ways your diaconate actively listens to your community? How does your church take time to engage with the people in your neighbourhoods in order to get to know them? How do you, as deacons, take time to discover where God is at work in your city so that you can transform communities for Christ?

Let’s look at all of these questions over the next couple of weeks!

Got Something to Say?

We wanna hear it! Email Erin today and share your stories of listening. Does your diaconate spend time learning about or practicing the art of listening? If so, how? How has listening to those in your church or community changed the way you do ministry? Where have you seen God at work in your church or city because you spent time listening to Him?

The Art of Listening – Part 1

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My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19 | NIV

This month we’ve spent some time on looking at LISTENING. As deacons, I think you’ll agree that most of what you are required to do is LISTEN! You listen to God as He leads and directs your life and ministry; to your church members when you make visits; to each other as deacons when you gather together and do your work; to your church council and pastor as you aim to lead your church effectively and wholistically; and also to your surrounding community when you seek to love and serve your neighbours.

Experts will tell us that listening is the key to all effective communication. Listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. Without this ability, messages are easily misunderstood and communication will often break down between the sender and the receiver. Effective listening is a skill that fortifies all positive human relationships. Perhaps you have experienced this, for better OR worse, in your own life, in a relationship with someone. When one does not feel “heard”, they will easily become frustrated or irritated. Take a moment to watch this interaction between a man and a woman, entitled It’s Not About the Nail, before you read on.

While we can get a good chuckle from this, it does drive the point home, doesn’t it? So often when we are ‘listening’ to someone, we immediately want to help them solve their problem or help them make a situation right again. We are listening in order to RESPOND. But is that the end goal of listening? To have a response ready? To dole out some good advice? As deacons, this makes some sense, doesn’t it? We listen so we can respond, in love. What’s wrong with that?

Let’s first of all look together at what Listening actually is (and isn’t) before we move on.

The Art of Listening

After gathering various resources on listening, we have put together our own Top 10 Things to Know in Order to Listen Well. Take a look and see what you think. Perhaps there are others you’d like to add to this list!

  1. Listening Requires Patience and Concentration; We are easily distracted and our minds can tend to wander if we don’t put in the effort while we communicate. Finding or creating a suitable environment is necessary and will show the other person you are truly ready and willing to listen.
  2. Listening Requires Interest and Empathy; If you don’t care what people are saying, it’ll likely show. Taking an interest and going a step further by being empathetic (thinking about how it feels to be in the other person’s shoes) will lead to better understanding.
  3. Listen to Understand, not to Reply; As we become more empathetic, we will keep our judgments at bay and we’ll resist the temptation to simply give advice or help the person solve their problem. (Remember the nail?!) Asking good, clarifying questions will also help us understand better where the other person is coming from. Remember: The primary goal is to understand the other person, not to agree with them or solve their problem.
  4. Listening Requires Your Whole Body!;
    1. Your brain, for thinking and processing what you are hearing;
    2. Your eyes, to keep good eye contact and stay engaged;
    3. Your ears, of course!;
    4. Your mouth, for sharing when it’s your turn – to ask good questions or share an idea or insight;
    5. Your hands being kept still, so you aren’t fidgeting and making the other person nervous!;

Overall, your entire posture matters. Whether sitting or standing, try not to look like this guy! (see right)

  1. Listen to What People Don’t Say as Much as What They Do Say; It’s important that as we use OUR whole body to listen, we also take note of what the other person is communicating through body language. Do they look uncomfortable? Do they look timid? Overall: does their body/face match what they are saying?
  2. Listen as an Act of Encouragement; “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…” (1 Thess. 5:11). When someone feels heard, they are being built up and sometimes that’s all they needed in the first place! Let this be one of your motivations in listening.
  3. Listen as an Act of Kindness; While there are many ways to show someone how much you love them, one of the most precious ways is through the simple act of listening. Kindness breaks down barriers and allows people to begin to trust more and therefore, open up more.
  4. Listening Can Bring Healing; “People start to heal the moment they feel heard.” (Cheryl Robinson). For someone who has been hurt, simply being allowed to share their story in safe place and be heard and understood can begin healing. It doesn’t change or erase the past, but it can bring hope and comfort moving forward. To find out what we mean, read this article: http://ccsonline.ca/2017/10/listening-brings-healing/.
  5. Listening Takes Practice! Mastering the art of listening requires practice and must be a lifelong pursuit. Each person must surrender their own selfish nature and ego in order to become a better listener. While some will find it easier than others, this is no excuse to give up. In your daily practicing, you may also find it helpful to observe other people’s interactions to discover some do’s and don’ts of listening.
  6. Becoming a Better Listener will help you in EVERY SINGLE AREA of your life; Listening well will help you become a better friend, sibling, employee, spouse, parent, neighbour and most importantly, it will help you as deacons truly live as examples of Jesus Christ [taken from the Charge to Deacons, 2016]. “An understanding mind gets much learning, and the ear of the wise listens for much learning.” Proverbs 18:15 (NLV)

Listening Well to Each Other

Think for a moment how different your diaconal meetings would be if your entire team adhered to this Top 10 and devoted time to become better listeners? Imagine what would happen to your diaconate if everyone in the room felt safe, accepted, encouraged, loved, and felt that what they had to say was important? Picture how that would impact a new deacon coming on board?!

Listening is the most fundamental part of interpersonal communication skills. “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words (Rachel Naomi Remen).

Listening Well to Your Church Members

The same goes for your congregation. No matter your church structure, most deacons are tasked with making visits amongst your church members. While the reasons may vary, most of the time you are there when things aren’t going well. So, like most of us, these visits can be a little SCARY! What will I say? What if I don’t have any solutions to their problems? What if they can see how nervous I am? What if they want me to PRAY with them?! What if they need something our church can’t help them with!? [Or insert your own fears here.] Too often we tell ourselves we must provide some form of advice or even a solution when called upon to make a visit. You may even see yourself fall into this type of situation.

Bart Plugboer, one of our amazing and long-time Diaconal Ministry Developer’s shared this story with us recently:

I was a deacon in my church here in Houston, BC. We, the deacons, have our own meetings but we also have a combined meeting with the elders. This story happened when I did my first deacon term. Church council was looking for a member to go and talk to a couple in our church that was having marriage problems. Nobody said anything and since I knew them I said I would go to them and talk to that couple. The Chair of Council said okay; I was to go there in the next couple of days. After the meeting, when I was doing my 20-minute drive home, I remember thinking to myself ‘WHAT HAVE I DONE?!! What am I going to say?!! How am I going to do this?!!’ I was really scared of messing up, so the next day when I went to see them, as I was driving there, I said to God, “Lord if you want me to do this you better come along because I don’t know what to say or do!” And the Lord heard my prayer and answered me! I went there and asked if I could talk to them and they did all the talking; all I did was listen! So on the way home I really thanked God for all his help!!

Bart has used this story many times when meeting with and training new deacons. He learned a valuable lesson that day: just be there and listen; do not talk – just listen. Most of the time this is all you need to do and God will help you and guide you.

According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there are many times when “listening can be a greater service than speaking.” Many times all we need to simply do is sit face-to-face with someone, uncross our arms, lean forward, make eye contact, and listen to their story. Whether working alongside fellow deacons or amongst the larger church body, or even beyond, remember this and never stop practicing the art of listening!

Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord. Proverbs 16:20

Some Points to Ponder:

  • How can listening build a better team environment? a healthier church environment?
  • How could listening break down walls and create a culture of openness and transparency in your diaconate? in your church?

Need Some Help?

As we referenced above, our DMD’s are armed and ready to help your diaconate master the art of listening, both inside and outside your church walls. Contact your area DMD today or email us if you don’t know who that is!

Walking with the God Who Talks

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Photo by Biegun Wschodni on Unsplash

 

In our last blog post, we introduced you to the 3 areas deacons must practice the art of listening as they minister to God’s church and beyond: God, Each Other and Your Communities.

This week we want to look first and foremost at listening to GOD. For all believers, especially leaders, spending time LISTENING to God and letting Him lead us is a crucial part of our Christian walk. Initially this may sound pretty obvious, but how much time do each of us, individually and corporately, practice this?

We don’t consciously and deliberately disobey God— we simply don’t listen to Him. God has given His commands to us, but we pay no attention to them— not because of willful disobedience, but because we do not truly love and respect Him. “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Once we realize we have constantly been showing disrespect to God, we will be filled with shame and humiliation for ignoring Him. (“Listening to God, My Utmost for His Highest, O. Chambers)

Whoa. Let that sink in for a minute. But if we continue our reading, later on in John 15, Jesus reminds his disciples (which includes us!): “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We accept this truth, don’t we?

One objection heard among some church-going circles is that God doesn’t speak today. The God of the Bible spoke directly through an audible voice/conversation, through visions and dreams and also through angels. Some say that God no longer speaks to us this directly. Others say He does speak, but it is only through His Son, Jesus (see Hebrews 1-2:4 and this article). Clearly this isn’t a cut and dry issue and not something all believers are in agreement on. As I write, I wonder where each of you stands on this matter.

A resource developed by Andy Groen and Josiah Bokma, and taught within our denomination, walks us through some of the core principles, guidelines and practices for listening to God and discerning His voice and guidance in our lives. Let’s look at this together and see when, where and how God may be speaking to us still today.

What the Bible Says About This

  1. God is the same yesterday, today and will be the same in the future (Heb. 13:8). This means the God who spoke throughout history is still speaking today and will keep on speaking;
  2. Jesus stated in John 10 that His sheep would hear and recognize His voice. His grace is sufficient for you and His Spirit is with you and within you;
  3. God communicates in dynamic and creative ways. He speaks through Scriptures, songs, pictures, senses, visions, words/phrases, nature, people, events, and however else He pleases;
  4. As God’s beloved children, we speak AND listen to God for the sake of intimacy and friendship. It is more about relationship and lifestyle than skill or ability. Discerning God’s voice not only leads to dynamic intimacy, but also to dynamic mission (John 15:9-17).

Do you agree with these? Would you add to this list or take anything away? So now, if we do believe God still speaks today, how can we discern we are hearing His voice? Here are some tips they give:

Guidelines for Discerning God’s Voice and Words

  1. Does it line up with Scripture? A word from God will never contradict what the Bible says (1 Tim. 3:16);
  2. Does it point to Jesus? What we hear must lead us to love Jesus more, praise Him and focus on Him and His teachings (Rev. 19:10). It must never be self-serving;
  3. Does it give us peace? What we hear must be an inner resonance of God’s love and peace, even if it’s a rebuke. Feelings of fear, confusion and condemnation are not from God;
  4. Does it encourage, strengthen and comfort? (1 Cor. 14:3);
  5. Is it the voice of love, compassion, wisdom, grace, joy, peace? Is it the voice of a Heavenly Father and Bridegroom?

So… if this is all true, what now? How can we now begin to take the time to listen to God in order that we can follow His leading?

Practices of Walking with God; Letting Him Talk to Us and Lead Us

  1. Pay attention to what God has already spoken and the ways He already speaks with you;
  2. Ask for and embrace a hunger for God’s leadership and voice. Get tired of your own ‘wisdom’ and limited perspectives. Isaiah 55:8-9: “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”;
  3. Create time and space for God to lead and speak (personally and corporately):
    1. Spend time in silence so you can be attentive to God’s person and voice;
    2. Use the practice of reading Scripture prayerfully (lectio divina), seeking to encounter God in His Word. “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul” (Psalm 143:8);
    3. In your prayer time; ask His Spirit to lead you: asking who to pray for and how you should pray for them;
    4. Try journaling while you study God’s Word and pray – writing down questions, concerns, areas where you need wisdom, etc. and writing down the answers you receive;
    5. Ask God for His eyes, perspective and wisdom in how to see and love your neighbours/those around you.

In all of this, we see a theme of intentionality. We must choose to come before God and spend time communicating with Him, which will lead to a life of blessing. We see this when we read Isaiah 30:

18 So the Lord must wait for you to come to him
so he can show you his love and compassion.
For the Lord is a faithful God.
Blessed are those who wait for his help.
19 O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem,
you will weep no more.
He will be gracious if you ask for help.
He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.
20 Though the Lord gave you adversity for food
and suffering for drink,
he will still be with you to teach you.
You will see your teacher with your own eyes.
21 Your own ears will hear him.
Right behind you a voice will say,
“This is the way you should go,”
whether to the right or to the left.

What a beautiful picture of walking in step with God, our loving and faithful Heavenly Father. What would happen in our diaconates if all of our decisions were Spirit-led? How would that affect your churches? Your communities?

Our prayer for you as Deacons is that you will continue (or begin!!) to spend time listening to God, both personally and corporately. Hearing God’s voice is not a mystical experience for the “super-spiritual.” It’s a natural part of being in any relationship. And in our relationship with God, He never stops communicating with us and He wants us to know and follow His voice. Spend some time in the next month asking God what you need to do to become a better listener.

Keep the Conversation Going!

What do YOU think? Have you experienced a time when you know God spoke to you? Have you ever felt the Spirit prompting you to say or do something? Do you think our churches spend enough time learning and practicing this discipline? Would you recommend any further bible or book studies on this? We’d love to hear from you!

Hey Deacons… LISTEN UP!

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Deacons serve by leading and equipping the church to minister to its members and the world in a rich diversity of ministries, awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, and collaborating with God’s Spirit for the transformation of persons and communities. In imitation of Christ’s mercy, deacons teach us to love God, our neighbors, and the creation with acts of generous sharing, joyful hospitality, thoughtful care, and wise stewardship of all of God’s gifts. Deacons offer holistic responses that respect the dignity of all people, working to change exploitative structures and systems, equipping the church for ministries of reconciliation and peacemaking, and seeking opportunities for advocacy. To help them accomplish these tasks, deacons are to identify and develop gifts in both the church and community. By adding to all this words of encouragement and hope, deacons demonstrate in word and deed the care of the Lord himself. 

If you’ve read the Form of Ordination for Elders & Deacons (2016), these words will be familiar. In a nutshell, this is what being a deacon is all about. So if we had to sum all of this up in one sentence, over here at DMC we would say:

DEACONS SERVE BY LISTENING.

Huh? ‘What?’ you say? That word doesn’t even appear in this paragraph, or anywhere in the Form of Ordination for that matter! Well, here’s what we mean by that. If we’re honest, many of us go through our day HEARING those around us, but not really LISTENING to them. Yes, there is a difference. Simply put:

Hearing is an involuntary act of perceiving sound by the ear which, unless you are hearing-impaired, happens effortlessly;

Listening is something you consciously choose to do and it requires concentration. Listening normally leads to understanding.

So… we’ll say it again. Many of us go through our day HEARING those around us, but not really LISTENING to them. And hey, it’s hard! Our world is full of even more distraction and noise than ever before, making listening is a TON of work. It requires a lot of patience and concentration, among other things!

So what does this have to do with being a Deacon and why is it so important? Don’t the Elders do the listening and the Deacons do the DOING?

Here is why we believe LISTENING is vitally important in the work Deacons do (and for all of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus for that matter!):

1. Listening Builds Trust: It shows the other person they are appreciated and valued and that they matter. Let’s be honest; people LOVE to talk about themselves! And the more they talk, the more they’ll open up – about the things they love, the things they worry about, the things they fear. The longer they talk and you listen, the more they’ll share. The deeper they’ll go. Once this happens, a bond is formed. And for many, this is where healing can begin. “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.” (Rachel Naomi Remen)
2. Listening Brings About Mutual Respect and Understanding: When we listen properly and actively, it helps us see the world through another’s eyes. “One of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming that other people think the way we think.” (Author unknown) We must practice listening to understand, not to reply. Listen to learn and discover the story behind the message. Listening and taking time to ask follow-up questions can bring clarity and avoid quick judgments or harsh reactions. It’s been said that people need your kindness more than your opinion.
3. Listening Brings New Insights: If you allow it, any encounter can be a teaching moment. Every single person you meet can teach you something you didn’t already know before. And in a team atmosphere, gaining a better understanding of a problem or challenge can help you find better solutions! When listening, picking up on the non-verbal is just as important. The best leaders listen and observe what people AREN’T saying in order to really hear them.

One trap deacons (and other ministry leaders likely) can fall into is “We’re too BUSY to listen!” You’ve got things to do and little time to do it. Not many of us cannot afford the luxury of spending the time and energy to simply listen to those around us. We interrupt to wrap up a conversation or to cut a long story short when we’re in a rush or we think we have more important things to do. Trust me; I’ve done this with my chatty neighbour, Jim, more than once! I get it! BUT! What if instead of just DOING, DOING, DOING all the time, we aggressively seek out new and better ways to listen?? How would that change how we do ministry? How do we life!?

Learning to listen well won’t happen overnight. It requires discipline, effort, and intentionality. And while part of this may be creating margin to allow for deep listening, this doesn’t mean it’s another ‘activity’ to add to our already-full calendar: it’s simply the attitude and posture we take on when we communicate with those around us. As stated above, it’s a choice we can make as we go about our daily interactions. In order for deacons to do ministry effectively, inside AND outside the church walls, they must become better listeners. If deacons are all about “demonstrating in word and deed the care of the Lord himself,” (aka loving others), isn’t the first duty of love to listen? (Paul Tillick) “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) LISTEN MORE; TALK LESS. Pretty simple, right? Yet, too often our human nature takes over and we are slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. If we fail to listen, we fail to build trust, gain mutual respect and seek understanding, and our ministry will fall completely flat.

So this begs the question: Who, as Deacons, should you be listening to?

1. God
2. Each Other
3. Your Community

We’re sure this topic has already conjured up some questions. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll unpack each of these areas a bit more so we can learn together what it truly means to be better listeners as you go about your work of “awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, and collaborating with God’s Spirit for the transformation of persons and communities!” As we move through this month (and the months that follow!), let us never miss an opportunity to listen deeply and actively!

OM Partner Highlight – West Yellowhead Pregnancy Care Centre

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This story was adapted from Pastor Ken Douma’s presentation at the Day of Encouragement in Edmonton, AB on Saturday, November 4, 2017. Pastor Ken is the lead pastor at Edson Peers CRC*, in Edson, AB.

A couple of years ago, Pastor Ken got a phone call from Natalie Walker, Director of the West Yellowhead Pregnancy Care Centre (WYPCC). Natalie shared that the Centre was in serious financial trouble as a grant that they counted on for a good portion of their budget had fallen through due to a change in eligibility requirements. On top of that, the local economy had crashed and their donations were way down. They had just had an emergency Board Meeting and let go one of their full-time staff and reduced their Hinton office to be open by appointment only. They had $100.00 in the bank. The future of the Centre was very much up in the air. Ken’s church, Edson-Peers CRC, had always financially supported the Centre, but they needed something more than the usual support. This is when they turned to Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC). Ken and Natalie spoke to Rachel Vroege, the Regional Ministry Developer for Western Canada, and asked if DMC’s Operation Manna (OM) Program would be able to help them out. Rachel encouraged them to submit an application to the OM Program and WYPCC was approved as an OM Partner in 2017.

The purpose of the OM Application was not just to get the Centre back on its feet financially. There was a desire to expand the ministry of the Centre to include not just ministering to those who found themselves with an unplanned pregnancy, but to go deeper. Unplanned pregnancies are typically a symptom of a much deeper problem that has often been ignored or put aside. Unfortunately, almost all of the clients at the Centre have a history of sexual abuse of some kind. So part of the OM Application was to receive help and funding to start up a “Steps to Sexual Healing” (SSH) program, a program created by Dr. Doug Weiss. Natalie believed that by being able to offer this program to their past, current, and future clients, the Centre would be able to not only assist in a client’s crisis pregnancy, but also help them find healing and wholeness. The SSH program is in its early stages but is already being used by some clients. The WYPCC hopes it will be something that can be used in the greater community, including the church communities, as well.

The Centre was also seeking guidance to strengthen their relationship with the Edson-Peers Church in order to increase ownership of this ministry. The church had always been very supportive, but primarily in a “hand’s off” way. More than just doling out grant money, the OM Program offers coaching and consultation to our partners. Through this partnership with OM, one tangible way their relationship has been reinforced is that one of the church’s Deacons has now joined the Board at WYPCC.

In order to help the Centre reach the broader community, the church hosted an evening for area churches called “The Talk” to help parents know how to talk to their kids about sexuality and the various issues surrounding it. During this evening, Natalie gave a shortened version of what she presents to local High Schools and area pastors had a panel discussion in which questions by those in attendance were answered. The feedback was good and there is hopes that they can do this again soon and go more into depth on some of the issues of sexual healing. Another area the church is exploring is offering pre-natal classes. Most clients do not take the classes offered in the community because of a lack of support and for fear of being judged. The church is hoping that a couple of their own members who are nurses will be able to connect with Natalie and offer some assistance in this area as well.

While there is much to celebrate, the reality is that there are many challenges facing the Centre and the Edson-Peers Church as they seek to bring healing and wholeness in the area of sexuality and unplanned pregnancy. There is often shame surrounding issues of sexuality and it can be incredibly difficult to break the silence and empower people to be vulnerable. This can be especially true within church communities: statistics tell us that the problems facing our culture are just as real inside the church, so having the SSH Program within the church setting as well would benefit many.

Pastor Ken was also able to share something wonderful that had recently developed. Typically, faith-based organizations like WYPCC get a lukewarm reception from government agencies and social workers at best. However, God has used Natalie to break down many of those barriers and some local social workers have actually started sending clients to her at the Centre. These social workers are even requiring some of their clients to meet with Natalie and her volunteers and go through the programs the Centre offers in order for them to be allowed to keep their children(!!). While this has increased Natalie and her team’s workload, it has been such a blessing to those clients. Praise God!

Here are 2 more stories that Natalie sent to Pastor Ken about people she has been able to help. These stories clearly communicate how the OM Program has impacted this ministry:

One of my clients had a late term abortion. She was approaching her third trimester of pregnancy and decided that she couldn’t do it – she simply could not bring a child into such a horrible world. She decided to terminate the pregnancy at the end of the sixth month of gestation as a gift to her child. When I asked why she saw this as a gift she said that the world was cruel. She had a mother who was a heroin addict (always had been) and who would prostitute my client to men since she was four years old in order to pay for the drugs. She said she wasn’t angry at her mom, that she understood, being an addict herself, what heroin can make you do. My client didn’t want to choose the same thing for her baby and couldn’t be certain that she wouldn’t when she was using. By the time this client came to see us she was pregnant for the second time. Now my client had been clean from drug-use for several months and was ready to carry this baby to term. I strongly suggested she get professional help as this was deep-rooted trauma. I told her all that we could do was listen and that our prenatal program didn’t address all of the hurt that she had experienced. I had really wished then that we had at least something to offer her since she refused to see a professional. She loved our office, there was always a hot drink and warm environment waiting for her. We didn’t judge her; we just talked about pregnancy and she loved it. I’m hoping to get this client back into our office for the Steps to Sexual Health program. It’s exactly what we needed at the time and I’m so thankful we have it now – not just for extreme cases but for everyone who comes to us. Not all of our clients have been sex-trafficked but nearly all of them have been abused. It’s devastating, and if Jesus came to heal the sick and wounded, we the church need to be leading the charge in delivering His hope and light into this unspeakable darkness.

Another one of my clients came from the Philippines for work. She would clean hotel rooms every day at one of the busiest hotels in town. One night she was sexually assaulted at the hotel; apparently a regular occurrence among the Filipino workers. She came to our Centre completely devastated from the rape and also pregnant. Through many meetings at our office she decided that she would carry her baby to term and to parent. I had the privilege of being called to meet her at the hospital shortly after the baby was born and spend the morning with her. She named her daughter Irish, which in Filipino means “Gift from God.” I still see my client and her daughter around town. Every time she stops me and tells her daughter the same thing: “This is Miss Natalie; she is a very special friend of ours” and her daughter always wraps her arms around my neck and squeezes tightly. God is so good! The West Yellowhead Pregnancy Care Centre is a faith-based ministry: a faith-based ministry where the unchurched love to come. What an opportunity to shine a little bit of God’s light into the darkest places of the earth.

According to Pastor Ken, “the Centre is in a much better place than it was the day that Natalie called me, in part because of the support received through Operation Manna. They have recently been able to hire a new staff person ½ time to once again open up the Hinton office for drop-in clients which is a huge part of their ministry. We are excited about how God will use the Centre and how He will use us as a church to be involved.” Pastor Ken shared how grateful he was for the OM Program as it is enabling his church to come alongside this very worthwhile ministry. The OM Program has helped the Edson Peers Church community and the WYPCC form a partnership that will be a blessing to all as they continue to work together!

Praise God that the OM Program has been blessed by so many supporting churches across Canada so that it can be a blessing to those who need it most. Ministries like the WYPCC would simply not exist without the support of many who want to know Christ and make Him known; in their own communities and beyond!

*Edson-Peers CRC is a growing church made up of people of all ages. We value the community of believers God has called us to be part of and also the broader community He as placed us in and we are seeking to find ways to reach out and be a blessing to it in the name of Christ.

Leading with… LOVE

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If we’re being honest, sometimes leadership means… doing things you don’t want to do. What do I mean, you ask? Well, think about it this way. As a parent, probably 50% of what I do are things I don’t necessarily WANT to do, but HAVE to do. When we are raising children, they are looking up to us and in a lot of ways, following our lead! (Or at a minimum, taking notes!!) So we always need to bring our “A” game if we expect the same of them, right? Remember your manners, put your dirty clothes in the hamper so they’re not strewn across your bedroom floor, have patience for other people, use kind words, love God and study His word, show love to others in real, tangible ways, etc. We are constantly being challenged to not just ‘talk the talk’ but ‘walk the walk’ by our little ones.

This is no different in leadership. If you are going to lead a team at work or at church or out in the community, your words HAVE to match your actions. And let’s be honest, this is hard sometimes. Sometimes I don’t feel well and don’t have the physical or mental energy to carry out my tasks with the same passion and vigor as usual. Or sometimes we come across obstacles that just seem too great and it’d be so easy to throw in the towel. Or sometimes we don’t agree with the leadership over us and their direction and we just want to push back and dig our heels in deeper until we get our way!

But we can’t! People are watching! People are looking to YOU to see how YOU will handle these times of fatigue or strife or challenge. What you do MATTERS, as those around you will almost always follow your lead, for better or worse!

So if the people we lead are constantly watching us and how we act and react, this got me thinking about HOW we lead. I also remembered that as we learn about Leadership this month, many are focusing on something else – Valentine’s Day! A day of showing and sharing our affection and appreciation by handing out chocolates and cards and sending flowers. So wait: could these two things be more tied together than I originally thought?

What does leadership have to do with love? 

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” WOW! What a statement. Read that again: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”! If this isn’t a great summary of leadership, then we here at DMC don’t know what is. [Some of you may be thinking, so whose line is this anyway??? Not that that totally matters, but as one pastor/author put it, “My… professor got it from John Maxwell who got it from Howard Hendricks who got it from Theodore Roosevelt who got it from Jesus when He washed his disciples’ feet.”]

While this quote can be used in many different contexts and is a good one to ponder and digest and hopefully live out, for the sake of this post, the point of the quote is simple: leaders can’t just talk at people and/or tell them what to do; leaders have to show them they care first! Care about what, you ask? Care about them as a person and what they care about, care about the organization, care about the mission and what they’ve been called to do. Once people know you care, which is primarily displayed by your ACTIONS, then and only then will they care about what you SAY and what you know. Only then will you have earned their respect and their loyalty.

So this is where the ‘LOVE’ comes in! Hmmmm… this could actually change the entire way we lead, no? Let’s think about this. If we start with caring for our teams and who they are as individuals and as a whole AND if we care about the people we are serving, then everything else comes second: the mission or purpose of your organization or group; the task(s) you are called to do, etc. This doesn’t mean the mission or tasks don’t matter anymore or as much, but in a crazy, backwards way, what you are trying to accomplish will actually get done in a better way than you thought possible!

Why? Well, think about what motivates you. As a spouse, as an employee, as a volunteer, etc. For myself – as a mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, employee, co-worker AND as a follower of Christ – when I consider how much God loves me – that He sent His one and only Son to die for me and that not a hair can fall from my head without Him knowing about it and caring about it – wowzers! That’s a game-changer!!! How can that NOT change/affect me and how I live? How can that not change how I turn around and love my husband, my kids, my family, my friends, my neighbours! How can that not spill over into how I lead those around me?

And the bonus (and/or the gravy on top): what I do will almost always be RECEIVED more openly by the ones I am serving! Because it comes from a place of love; not of obligation or duty or drudgery. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

So as a refresher, let’s look at the definition of love. We’re gonna turn to the most famous passage in the bible on this topic. Yep, 1 Corinthians 13. We’ve probably heard it a thousand times. BUT!!!! Let’s try something new! What if we inserted the word leadership for the word love? Can these words be interchangeable? Are they that closely related that we can even do that?! Here goes:

4 Leadership is patient, leadership is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Leadership does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Leadership never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 

What would this kind of leadership look like in our homes, churches, schools, workplaces and communities? We don’t have to look far to see this kind of leadership modelled for us by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Gospels record story after story of Jesus and how He led in this kind of way. When Jesus began His ministry, He didn’t start with just preaching and teaching. He began with miracles, showing He cared about the people around Him. He cared about their stories and about their situations. And later on, when Jesus was HOURS away from being arrested, beaten, crucified and completely abandoned by his so-called ‘friends’, He washed their feet. He humbled Himself, got down on His hands and feet, and washed each of his disciple’s stinky, dirty feet. Let that one sink in for a minute. Talk about servant leadership. Talk about doing what you don’t necessarily want to do or feel like doing, in the midst of such turmoil and angst. Jesus knew what He was about to endure: horrific suffering and death upon a cross. Jesus had every right to blast his disciples for their lack of loyalty and their ongoing doubt and annoying questions! And yet. And yet! He remained their leader At. All. Times. He remained patient and kind and humble and he did NOT throw their mistakes (their past, present and future mistakes) in their faces. His leadership always protected and always trusted and always hoped and always persevered, EVEN to death upon a cross. WOW!

So there it is. Leadership: it ain’t always easy and it will certainly mean having to do things we don’t always WANT to do. But let us be spurred on by the love we receive from our heavenly Father. A Father who loved us so much, He sent his Son to die. (John 3:16) God showed every single one of us that He cared FIRST; and then He asks us to respond.

Next Steps 

So as deacons, are we able to take up this challenge? Are we able to lead like Jesus in our churches and communities? What are ways we can show how much we care before we show how much we know and/or carry out our tasks?

One step for you as Deacons in your church is to show this kind of love and trust and perseverance in your own diaconates. Start there. Put your love for each other and your church first, BEFORE the zillions tasks you need to accomplish. We have a resource that’s been around for awhile but it’s still a good one; and we keep updating it to make it even better. Check out our Growing as a Community of Deacons handout and start there. And we know that it will spill over into your church and out into your community in no time. Don’t see the people around you as ‘projects’ or things to get done. See them as God sees them; as worthy of our time and energy and of course, our love.

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Let’s Keep the Conversation Going! 

What have you learned about leadership in your journey as a deacon, or perhaps a boss or manager or parent or volunteer? Fill in this blank for yourself:  Sometimes leadership means ____________________________.