Over the next few weeks, I’ve asked several members of our team at The Austin Stone to write on different aspects of missional community in different contexts and ministries.
Today, Brendan Thompson is going to share some learning points from practicing missional community in conjunction with service teams, specifically in our Children’s Ministry. Brendan serves as our Children’s Director at the West Campus, and originally posted this blog here.
Mobilizing Your Community to Sunday Service Teams
At The Austin Stone, there is an abundance of ways to get plugged in and involved. And it seems that as our church grows, our people find themselves being continually stretched between seemingly competing church events and ministries.
You may be one of those people. I know I am. You walk in on a Sunday morning, hear the announcements, “Join this Ministry!” with the followup being “Join our Service Teams”. Later that week, you receive an email imploring you to help with some men’s event or women’s event. And all along, you already feel stretched as you lead your own small group (or missional community as we affectionately call them).
Honestly, as a pastor, I wrestle with this very issue almost daily. How can I do all that God has called me to do vocationally as a pastor and and personally as a disciple? How can I faithfully serve in the areas of my church that need it while still being obedient as a disciple of Christ at home?
I think the answer is in overlapping your ministry with your community.
Think about it; the resource you find yourself needing in this hard place is time. If only you had time to raise your children, be devoted to a small group of Christians who live faithfully and obediently on mission for God, and be leading and serving on a Sunday at your local church. If only. Time just so happens to be the only commodity you can’t “get more of”.
We are all given 24 hour days and for the average person, 9 hours of that will be at work and about 5-8 of them sleeping. That leaves you with a good 10 hours or so to do this.
This post will detail the benefits of overlapping your community into your Sunday service and I will end with a story of how my own community has done this and what it has meant for us.
Obedience to Christ
Often, people feel as though their attendance and participation in a community IS their service to the church. I would contend that Christ has more for you than just one or the other. Firstly, Christ came and gave himself up for his bride, the church, and calls us to the same radical sacrifice. If we are to model God’s love for his bride, naturally, this means that we will want to serve her and love her with abandon in any way that we can. Even more, in 1 Timothy 3, Paul outlines the qualifications of the office of overseer or deacon, and explicitly states that deacons will “care for God’s church”.
Now I know that not everyone reading this is a deacon, but the aim of this passage is that Christian’s aspire to this kind of leadership, that we long for this kind of character. This isn’t an “if you’re not a deacon you’re off the hook” kind of passage, it is a calling to every christ-follower to take up their cross and follow Him, and lay down their lives for the bride of Christ. To die to ourselves because Christ gave himself for us that He would remove all our blemishes. Let’s follow after Christ and love his bride.
More time with Community
Another great benefit to this is the time spent with your community together. In my own community, I feel closer to these people than I ever had, because I am not only seeing them midweek for a bible study, meeting with men for accountability, sharing the gospel at our 3rd Place or attending Sunday service, but I am in the trenches leading a ministry team with them. Our labor together for the gospel produces closeness in our community. We have taken the opportunity to grow closer in the areas we already know we will intersect.
Opportunities for Giftings to Show
Another side benefit that I recognized when my community came alongside me was that I began to see the gifts of many of our members. Previous to this, I would have never known that Sarah was great with the teaching preschoolers, or that Stefan could lead so well in our grade school kids worship time or that Tim could do such a great Scottish accent! (for our kid skits of course!) This is one of those opportunities where people get the chance to serve and grow, and use their gifts for the “building up of the body” as Ephesians 4 says.
A Model for Encouragement
One of the greatest benefits has been to see how my communities service on Sunday together has both provided a model and a resource for other people in our body serving. My volunteers have an opportunity to be encouraged by the maturity of relationships that some of our couples who serve together have, and can ask questions about how our community is able to love each other so well. Ultimately, I am convinced that any success that we have seen in our ministry team on Sunday has been only because I have had some faithful men and women come alongside me and say, “we are with you, we care about God’s church, and we will serve wherever is needed to see the body grow properly”. This has fundamentally changed the attitude and direction of our kids programming.
And we have seen amazing things happen in our ministry. I often tell my volunteers I feel like I am turning around a large ship with our children’s ministry, and I can say with confidence that my missional community’s investment in me and the ministry have made this directional change not only a joy, but an opportunity to show others what biblical community looks like
How do you do this?
Often, our most gifted leaders are both serving and leading communities, but rarely are these two spheres overlapping. So, as a community member or leader how do you get there? How do you lead your missional community to this?
- First off, change is not easy. You will encounter resistance, even from friends in your community! But the benefits so far outweigh the hardships that it is worth enduring any amount of resistance, even from your group.
- Cast Vision to your group. The first step is to clearly and compelling lay out your vision for your group to serve. Our change required that my entire community of 20 people move to a different campus of our church. That was a large ask. But again, the benefits (not to mention the needs) were so great, that asking them to serve was a delight. I told them exactly what was happening; ”I am going to another campus to lead the children’s ministry”, and I wanted them to come serve with me. It would be a great experience to grow together, to serve together, to grow closer towards one another as we make disciples.
- Remind them of who you are as a community. It was good for our people to remember that we loved each other and fought for each other. I asked them also to examine their hearts before the Lord and work through prayerfully why they would or wouldn’t want to come. I reminded them that I love each of them, and if they felt called a different direction that was ok.
- Meet with them personally. Take the time to have conversations personally with people. Some of your folks will jump on the opportunity and others will need some processing time. Give them the space, but give them the courtesy of asking. I had one individual actually even press back on the whole transition. I was truly thankful for the conversation because he forced me to think and articulate the benefits themselves, and forced me to grow in my grace as a leader.
- Continue to invest in them. It is really easy for me to stop investing my time and energy into folks who I spend so much time with and as your community joins you, it will be a temptation to lessen the amount of energy you put into that relationship. Fight against this. They are not just “co-laborers” with you in the gospel, but you are also brothers and sisters in Christ. Make time for each other outside the ministry.
Did this transition go perfectly for me? No, not by any means. But this was a great place to start for our community, and I can say now that my entire community is now serving our church in some way with one another. I praise God for this opportunity and may He use it for his glory!