Friday, May 22, 2009
The Puzzle of Ministry
When the kids were younger, I used to keep a jigsaw puzzle out on the dining room table. Whenever one of us had time, someone would sit down and put a few pieces in place. It took time, but eventually we would have a fully complete puzzle with some beautiful or funny picture to admire. Jigsaw puzzles are hard work and time consuming. However, each piece has its own unique and correct place and once all are in place you have such a wonderful feeling of accomplishment! That’s why I love jigsaw, crossword, and Sudoku puzzles! I love the feeling of accomplishment and closure. I love that moment of thinking, “Wow, I’ve (or we’ve) done it!”
Yesterday, I was talking to a pastor of a new church start and he shared about the importance of getting the right people in the right spots so the new church could take off. At 19, New Life is still listed as a new church start, but it is fast approaching adulthood. However, I am still struggling with getting the right people in the right spots. We are currently in our first year of Natural Church Development (NCD) and the congregation indicated that our minimum factor was gift-based ministry—in other words we’ve done a poor job of getting the right people in the right spots. After much input from the congregation thought and prayer by our health team and guidance from our NCD coach, we decided that we needed to help our congregation identify their spiritual gifts. We plan to do this a number of ways. One way is using the Serving from the Heart curriculum from Church of the Resurrection. We have already had about 20 adults take the course as well as an equal number of youth, so we are on our way. They also suggested I preach a series of sermons on Spiritual gifts, which I began earlier this month and will conclude this Sunday.
The results of this effort were not exactly what I expected!!! Our worship leader discerned a call to work with our youth—which is great—but that means she has to give up working with the praise band—leaving an empty spot to fill. Our children’s director informed me she intended to resign at the end of July. I hate to lose her in that position and wanted to try and talk her out of it then she said something to the effect, “I’d been thinking about this a long time . . . and then your sermons on calling and spiritual gifts confirmed this for me.” I wanted to cry!!! I had hoped for more right pieces to fall into place—not more gaps!
Then I realized something very important, ministry is much more like one of those sliding tile puzzles than a jigsaw puzzle. Remember sliding tile puzzles? I used to have one of the Alamo, purchased on San Jacinto day at the dime store across the street from the Alamo. I HATE sliding tile puzzles! First, even when they are complete, they have are missing a tile! Second, in order to complete the puzzle, you have to mess it up entirely. The entire process involves moving tiles from one place to the next. And while the moves must be logical, you have a complete mess for most of the process. The tiles are constantly moving toward the end result and you don’t ever get that feeling of “aha! That’s it.” In fact, when you get that feeling it usually means you have completed one part in such a way that you can’t fix the others! And this reflects my experience of ministry! You no longer get one thing fixed and working then something else falls apart. You no sooner get one person in the right place then someone else moves or God calls them to a new ministry or their family situation demands they step back and you have to start the process all.
It is enough to make you want to tear your hair out!
Nonetheless (and I HATE to say this), this metaphor makes perfect sense. Ministry, unlike a jigsaw puzzle, is fluid—it’s organic. Our ministries should always be changing and growing and that means change. Sometimes we are called to change what we are doing. Sometimes we are called to change the skill and gift sets of the person doing the job. In addition, Christians are called to grow. God called Abram to leave his home and go to the promised Land, but he called him to move by stages. So too, God often calls us to particular jobs for a season to prepare us for what is to come. The tiles of our lives and ministry slide from place to place and sometimes it appears random and confused, but, if we are following God’s will as best we know, the tiles are being moved toward the goal God has in mind—God’s teleos.
As for that pesky empty hole in the puzzle, I think it remains there to remind us that the puzzle will never be completed by our efforts. No one pastor or church leader can ever complete the puzzle of ministry. There is always room for more! Most importantly, the only piece that will ever complete the puzzle is God.
So back—with God’s help and guidance—to sliding the tiles . . .