Ministerial SHAPE, FIND, and FIT

I was talking with my son around 1:30 in the morning (we do tend to be night owls at times).  We were talking about ministry. He mentioned that when we first came to the Philippines he wasn’t sure whether we were really helping here or not (a very fair and understandable assessment) but that he now sees his mom and I as having an important positive role here.


I said something like this:

“When we first got here, we were students… trainees. We weren’t really doing anything that others did not do or could not do. We did, however, at least act as catalysts. We helped form a couple of mission teams. One was DPDM (a medical mission group). We helped inspire people to get this in motion, but others had talked about it before we got here, and people in the group were doing medical missions before we arrived.

We also cofounded a pastoral care group, but a couple of groups had been set up before we set one up. The others may have faded away, but we did not do anything that new or amazing.

The thing is that over the 11 years that we were here, we did some good stuff… but in the first 7 or 8 years, if we weren’t here, there is a pretty good chance that someone else would have done it. In the last 3 or 4 years, however, it seems like we have found the place where we fit into ministry… God’s work. A place where if we weren’t doing it, perhaps it would not happen. Over time we eventually found our ‘fit’ in ministry.”

My son thought that was a bit profound.  A lot of people focus on Passion as far as ministry. But maybe one should look more for Fit… where one Fits into God’s work.

That got me thinking. Consider the idea of SHAPE. SHAPE is often used to find what God as created a person to do ministerially. It stands for:

  • Spiritual Gifts
  • Heart
  • Abilities
  • Personality
  • Experience

I like to add a sixth, “Sphere of Influence.” That makes SHAPES. But I will go along with the singular form. I think there is much to be said for the idea of SHAPE in getting some idea of what God has made you to be and do ministerially…. at least initially.

However, as time goes on, our SHAPE changes. As we minister our Heart, Abilities, Experiences, and Sphere of Influence changes. Our Personality also changes, although many think of personality as invariant. And, yes, I believe our Spiritual gifts change… (I believe the idea that spiritual gifts are given at salvation and never change is a modern Christian myth.)

As one matures in ministry, I believe our place is less about our SHAPE. Rather the changes mold us to FIT into God’s work.

Certain ministries we discover are Fulfilling.  We find satisfaction in our place in God’s work. It is not always about Heart or Passion. Rather, one feels that one is where one is meant to be. Does this always happen? I don’t know. But it can happen and does happen. It feels, in many ways that it has happened with us (or at least is in the process of happening).

Who we are an ministry becomes more Interactive. Ministry affects our SHAPE, and SHAPE affects our ministry. We grow into roles and grow out of roles.

These changes are tied to Need. Over time, one discovers where one is truly needed. We are often told not to focus on where we are needed but discover how our gifting (SHAPE) informs us as to our role. However over time, hopefully, our SHAPE and a clear Need begin to come together. The need clarifies and our SHAPES becomes attuned to that need. When I say need, I am not talking about a warm body to fill a billet. Rather it is an understanding that there is a need that we specifically are effective at filling.  Additionally, we start to see what we are effective at. People sometimes like to say, “Don’t pray that God bless what you are doing, but pray to do what God is blessing.” I think there is truth to that, but perhaps it could be said, “Pray that you do what God will bless when you do it.”

These changes are also Dialogic. That is, they are part of broader “conversation” between each of us and God, as well as with others inside of and outside of ministry.

The result is that Our Ministry is always in flux as is our SHAPE. The goal is to help them FIND each other so that we know where we FIT into God’s Work.

Great to Good Christians

A few years ago I read an article in Christianity Today called “’Great to Good’ Churches” (by Eric Swanson, 2003). I suppose it was a reaction to or at least a reflection on Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great.” It noted a “mid-life” reflection that many churches go through– a transition from seeking success to significance, from being great to being good.

Within this context, being great means:

Baguio Grand Mosque
  •      Great preaching
  •      Great facilities
  •      Great statistics
  •      Great music
  •      Great programs
  •      Great finances

These define, in many ways, success. Yet, just as many people discover in their mid-life one can be successful and yet live a life that is generally insignificant, many churches question the value of greatness.

Some begin to wonder if it is better to be “good” than it is to be “great.” But what might be some of the characteristics of a “Good” church?

  •      Manifests the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.)
  •      Seeks to be a good and transforming neighbor in its community
  •      Focuses more on giving than accumulating
  •      Expresses tangible kindness to those who struggle both in and outside the church
  •      Demonstrates corporate humility and hope
  •      Sides with the weak, downtrodden, and innocent— promoting social justice by example

In short, a good church exudes a Christlikeness that evidences itself in… well… goodness.

But I have also been thinking about this on a more individual basis. Should missionaries… should churchmembers… should Christians seek greatness or goodness? This issue kind of hit me from two stories from over 20 years ago– one from where I now live, and one far away that I visited.

Story #1. I was given a report of some missionaries from a large mission organization. I don’t know these missionaries since they have moved on, but served in my present home of Baguio City, Philippines. One of the highlights they listed in their work in Baguio was to join with local church leaders in successfully preventing a big mosque from being built in the city. Thousands of Muslim Filipinos have been moving up from Southern Philippines to escape from the violence, poverty, and political corruption in that region. They come to Baguio, an open city, in hopes of a better life for themselves and their children.

While the missionary report from the 1980s listed that as a success story (keeping out a mosque), it was clearly short-lived. I presently live close to two medium-sized mosques, and there are a couple dozen tiny mosques in the city as well. But it got me thinking. As a Christian missionary, I do not believe in the divine origin of the Quran (or the Hadith for that matter). I, likewise, don’t personally value having a mosque in my neighborhood. As such, I suppose I could see why some missionaries might fight to keep a mosque out and “pat themselves on the back” for having (briefly) achieved that end.

But then, I remembered another story…

Story 2. Back when I was in the US Navy, I had the great privilege to visit Egypt. Particularly, I got to visit a few times a small but growing city in there. In that city was one Coptic Christian church. Speaking with an Egyptian Christian, I learned that this church had grown greatly, and was bursting at the seams. The building was too small for its congregation. They had requested the right to have bigger facilities to meet the needs of their congregation, but they regularly were refused.

I never really had the opportunity to investigate the issues there. I was told that since the end of British occupation, it has been difficult to get permits to construct or expand church buildings. Regardless, it occurred to me at that time how ridiculous it is for community leaders to oppose members of their own community to worship in accordance with the convictions of their own hearts and faith.

In my way of think, people who do that sort of thing are clearly not being good. Good people don’t seek to legislatively crush a people’s hopes for a suitable place to worship according to their own faith. But that brings me back to Story 1. I was forced to realize the move to prevent mosque construction in Baguio was similar. <I do realize that sometimes building can be fought due to the specific location. One might argue that building a mosque at Ground Zero in NYC, or next door to the Church of the Nativity, or on the Jewish Temple Mount would be or was… disrespectful. I am talking about those who sought to prevent the building of a mosque anywhere in Baguio.>  Good Christians don’t do that.

Now don’t get me wrong, I REALLY am not attacking these missionaries from the 1980s. For one thing, I don’t know them enough to judge them. Second, I would hope to receive grace rather than judgment from others in what I do as a missionary.

But the main thing is that I believe these missionaries were seeking to be Great Missionaries, rather than Good Missionaries.

So what makes Missionaries Great?

     -Spiritual Warriors
     -Kingdom Builders
     -Contenders for the Faith
     -Highly Pious
     -Proudly Exercising their Gifts of the Spirit.

All of these are fine… but I do wonder if we need a few less “great” missionaries, and a few more “good” missionaries. Likewise, maybe we need a few less “great” Christians, and a few more “good” Christians.

What are the characteristics of good Christians? The same as good Churches:

  •      -Manifest the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.)
  •      Seek to be a good and transforming neighbors in their community
  •      Focus more on giving than accumulating
  •      Express tangible kindness to those who struggle both in and outside the church
  •      Demonstrate humility and hope
  •      Side with the weak, downtrodden, and innocent— promoting social justice by example

In short, good Christians exude a Christlikenss that comes from… well… goodness.

Some Updates

Medieval illustration of a Christian scribe wr...
Busy Writing Image via Wikipedia


I added a couple of documents.

A.  I added a new story to the Parables page. That is “Valleyview and River City”. It is based on a story used by CHE (Community Health Evangelism/Education).

B.  I put a “book in the rough” on the Articles page. It is called “Thoughts on Wholistic Ministry in Biblical Context.” It is a series of chapters or articles on wholistic ministry within the context of different passages in the Bible. It should not be viewed as being done or fully edited. I have found that I do better work when it is “in view”. The most popular chapter is “Wholistic Ministry and Nehemiah” which is Chapter 3. But I think some of the others hold merit as well.

Who is Called for Missions?

john_eyres_4_15_2013_why_is_cold_calling_so_hardWe hear the term “Calling” a lot in Evangelical churches.

> God’s call to the ministry
> God’s call to “full-time professional Christian service”
> God’s call to “bi-vocational wholistic mission service”

I think it has had a very negative effect on Christian ministry. Here are some problems:

A. It is a great excuse NOT to minister. “I would love to serve God in ministry… BUT… I haven’t been called.” It’s an excuse that cannot be analyzed or challenged.

B. It is highly subjective. The Bible talks about calling in very concrete terms at times (eg. Moses and the burning bush). But today, despite words like “God spoke to me and said…”, people generally say they are “called” if they feel a strong emotional pull to do something.

C. It is used to justify bad decisions. Someone is completely unsuited for a task but keeps trudging along because he believes to change profession is to reject God’s calling.

D. Calling tends to be confused with profession. Now we don’t just get called to serve. We are called to a “bivocational youth pastorate in a cross-cultural context”, or a “professional minister of music in New York”, or a “Barefooting, tent-making, ESL Missionary in Peru”.

E. Worst of all, it is used to divide and deny. Many seminaries will not train people who will not describe some mediocre set of experiences that they describe as their “calling”. Mission boards and pastoral search committees will reject people who can’t describe something akin to a “call”.

It is an unconscionable thing that a concept that is supposed to enhance one’s ministry has become a tool to keep people unused and ignorant.

Many people look to the calling of Paul as a guide for how we are to look at God’s calling. It was real… it could happen again, but it is no sense normative. Paul’s conversion and calling was so dramatic because he would have listened to God no other way. We should not seek to live in such opposition to God’s will that we could only respond by such drama. The vast majority of passages in the New Testament on “calling” refers to the call to salvation, open to all. The few verses that do indeed refer to a call to ministry, have had a lot of strange theological baggage tied to them. So…

-I don’t see calling as (necessarily being) miraculous.
-I don’t see calling as a unique aspect of the clergy.
-I don’t see calling as a test of service.

I see calling as a path, and a relationship. When Jesus spoke to Peter, Andrew, and others on the Sea of Galilee, he did not say, “I am calling you to a job as a professional apostle.” Rather, he said “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” It is like Jesus was saying,

“Be with me. If I go here, you go here. If I go there, you go there. Wherever you are will be home because that is where I am. Do what I am doing, where I am doing it, and it is enough.”

Another Kind of “Power Encounter”

Missionary Tom comes in and wants to start up a new ministry. Where does he go to get manned with the most competent, driven people? To other local ministries, of course. Tom has more money and so can lure the best people away from other local ministries. Maybe Tom’s group is effective, maybe it isn’t. It doesn’t matter. Even if he succeeds, he has done so at the expense of other groups.

A mission strategy used in some parts of the world (useful in some places, a waste of time in others) is power encounter. A missionary goes into an area and shows that God is more powerful than whatever local gods or spirits the people have. (More often, it is really “Volition Encounter”… but that is for a different post.) Sadly, some missionaries go in and employ their own form, a new kind of power encounter with local Christian ministries. They use money, local connections, and international connections to draw away people (or even resources) from local ministries for their own work. Missionaries develop a parasitic relationship to local churches and ministries.

All missionaries can be tempted by this… and I think it would be fair to say I have fallen into this trap at times. It understandable. Capable, trained, and motivated Christian workers are rare in the Philippines and most of these are very busy. Training new people is a gamble. But I have seen some extreme cases here. I have seen some missionaries who are VERY aggressive in trying to draw competent people away from other ministries… or try to slap their own name on the ministry or church that is succeeding. Some missionaries even come back and try to hurt the local ministry or give discouraging words to local Christians who turned down the lure of the missionary’s work.

Missionaries should build up good local ministries. They should encourage their growth and be willing to take on a helping (rather than governing) role in their development. Working with local ministries can build them up. Discipling believers and training them to serve can increase the missionaries own work without drawing down on other’s resources. Missionaries are supposed to fill a need, not try to justify their existence. Hurting other ministries to ensure your personal success is completely without justification.