Posts Tagged Encouragement

When Our Volunteers’ Faith Becomes Sight

Volunteers

Anonymity can be the fierce enemy of Christian service.  Being made visual creatures, people often struggle to find motivation to activate unless they are able to see the impact of their volunteerism.  It can be such a blessing for those who give of their time on our teams to see the end result their work produces.  Real people with real challenges, can be transformed by the love of Jesus administered in simple, practical ways by someone who cares enough to give.

This past weekend, one of our teams had that opportunity.  Our organization ships our signature “TLC baskets” all over the country to parents of children with special needs.  These baskets go to mothers and fathers who are in need of some tangible encouragement in their lives.  It could be a job loss, a child who is hospitalized, difficulties with the school or other situation where a caregiver is facing discouragement or extra stress.  We package these TLC baskets in bulk quantities through the help of faithful volunteers.  Some are repeat packers.  Some are serving with our ministry for the first time.

When I arrived this past Saturday to unload the supplies, one of the early arrivals helping me began to ask more about what our ministry does.  As we chatted, she came to share her story with me.  Abandoned by his birthmother, this woman’s stepson had suffered trauma in birth, causing severe CP.  Now age 9, he was cognitively at the age of an 18 month old child.  With great affection, this volunteer shared how she would soon adopt this stepson she was raising with her husband.  This precious family had just return to our area after a brief 114 mile move away that ended up being a difficult one for them.

After the 8 other volunteers showed up to help us, the packing began in earnest.  These men and women rolled up their sleeves, took charge and lovingly filled each basket with attention to detail.  First we assembled all of the baskets we could for special needs fathers, and then we did the same for mothers.  Cases were broken down and hauled out to the dumpster once emptied, and totes were filled with the finished product.  The team made light work of an otherwise involved job.

While they served with joy, I thought I would allow them a privilege that volunteers on this particular team never get to see — the people they bless.  So I told these people who so generously donated their time the story of a little 9 year old boy with CP who just went through a rough time with his family, moving away and having to move back to our area because of their inhospitable new home.  I told them that this sweet boy’s stepmom, who was just about to adopt him, had come to help with our project that morning expecting nothing and knowing little about what we do.  And in front of them all, I handed this dear woman a “mom basket” and “dad basket” that we had packed that morning with the signature tag on it, “Loving you in the name of Jesus…  Just a little TLC from us to you!”.

Tears flowed as she accepted these simple gifts.  Those tears were powerful because the volunteers gathered around her, comforting her and learning more about her precious family.  We were all impacted by seeing the simple work of that morning come full circle.

Friends, I know that we can all get so waste deep in the planning and executing of our loving care for those with special needs.  Yet, we need to remember that we not only transform the lives of our participants, but also our volunteers when we allow them to more deeply encounter those they serve.  This means different things for the different areas of work we do.  It might mean having a social event where Sunday School or respite volunteers get to spend more time just chatting with the parents of the kids they shepherd.  It might mean a note or a year-end report with photos, personal stories, and details of how their work created meaningful impact at a time where it was needed.  Whatever that positive feedback is, let’s not forget to pour it out on those who volunteer, because that is how we create a ripple effect in the world, sending loving inclusiveness far beyond the doors of our churches.

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Casting-off the Critics

It is not the critic who counts

Last week during the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit, one of the leaders speaking pointed out that if a pastor wasn’t being criticized, they weren’t doing their job right.  It can be hard to remember that the complaints of those we serve are actually a sign that we are doing something right as leaders.  So to encourage you today, I share with you a Teddy Roosevelt quote that edified me when Brene Brown shared it at the Summit.  Remember, those who are least willing to step out in risk-taking service to others will almost always be your greatest critics.

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Rating Your Social Media Etiquette

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So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11, NLT ~

We encourage one another when we cross-promote one another’s work.  When another colleague has good insights or information, we all benefit by sharing that information with our circles of influence. So, how are you doing with that?  Take this brief quiz to assess your “Social Media Etiquette”:

1.  I read materials written or shared by my ministry colleagues

A.  Daily

B.  Weekly

C.  When I get an opportunity

D.  Rarely

2.  I share my colleagues’ blog posts, articles, events or announcements on Facebook

A.  Daily

B.  Weekly

C.  When I get an opportunity

D.  Rarely

3.  On Twitter, I RT (retweet) my ministry colleagues’ blog, article or announcement tweets

A.  Daily

B.  Weekly

C.  When I get an opportunity

D.  Rarely

4.  On Pinterest, I pin, repin or like my ministry colleagues’ blog, article or announcement pins

A.  Daily

B.  Weekly

C.  When I get an opportunity

D.  Rarely

5.  On Google+, I add other colleagues to my circles, especially those who have added me

A.  Always

B.  Sometimes

C.  Only if I like the other person/organization

D.  Never

6.  On Twitter, I make sure to extend the courtesy of thanking people for RT’s and tweeting #FF (Follow Friday), especially for those who have done the same for me

A.  Always

B.  Sometimes

C.  Only if I like the other person/organization

D.  Never

7.  I take personal interest in my ministry colleagues and their family life, personal and ministry challenges, and joyful successes

A.  Always

B.  Sometimes

C.  Only if I like the other person/organization

D.  Never

8.  I collaborate with other ministry colleagues

A.  Daily

B.  Annually

C.  On rare occasion

D.  Never

9.  I learn from ministry colleagues

A.  Daily

B.  Weekly

C.  When I get an opportunity

D.  Rarely

10.  I pray for ministry colleagues

A.  Daily

B.  Weekly

C.  When I remember

D.  Rarely

Give each letter A a value of 4; B a value of 3; C a value of 2; D a value of 1.  Your results:  35-40 ALL STAR.  We could all learn a great deal from you and your generous building-up of others! 30-35 OUTSTANDING.  You are dedicated to encouraging and supporting your colleagues.  Good job!  25-30 NEEDS HELP.  You are busy to the exclusion of others.  While you may be well-intended, you need help stepping up your game with supporting and encouraging ministry colleagues.  10-25 GET GOING!  Maybe you were unaware of the need to engage in this sort of cross-supporting etiquette prior to this article.  Whatever the reason, you had better get going stepping up your game because our faith demands it and because this is considered “best practices” for your area of service.

Another simplified way to examine how you stack up to your peers in any given category is to join Klout to assess your score.  Klout analyzes all of your networks including Facebook, Twitter, Four Square, YouTube, WordPress, Google+, Bing and more.  The score also breaks down what percentage of your total influence is affected by each network.  The average Klout score is 40, and tremendously famous individuals or organizations score 90 or higher.  One thing to note, this score seems to be more highly influenced by how faithfully you check in and vote for others by comparison to more neutral analyses.

What are your thoughts on sharing, cross-promoting, collaborating and encouraging?  We would love to hear!

Image courtesy of: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Spurring One Another On

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We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things.

~Hebrews 10:24, CEV~

As we find ourselves busy about the work of serving those in the special needs community, it can become easy to forget that our colleagues, volunteers, team members and co-laborers are part of our mission field as well.  This area of ministry is demanding and sometimes discouraging with the large size of the mission field, the lack of understanding that remains in the larger church, and the deep needs of those who are served.  Those leading in special needs ministry need an equal proportion of encouragement.  And frequently, many of our coworkers walk that same disability journey while also serving the community, requiring an extra ounce of edification.

What might this look like?  The other day, I was pushing on through a long stretch of alternating trials with 2 of my 3 children.  Out of the blue, I received a phone call from a colleague in another state.  “I’m just giving you a quick call to encourage you today,” she announced.  Almost instantly, my demeanor changed.  Who doesn’t like to know somebody is thinking of them for no particular reason at all?  With our work deluging us with demands, it is uplifting to hear from a person who wants nothing from us at all.  Our conversation was brief, but it put a spring in my step, giving me added stamina to push forward with an important project.

I can cite many other occasions I have been privy to, where the recipient was spurred on at just the right time.  Through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, a volunteer may have received a hand written note stating how invaluable they were to their organization, or a leader was delightfully surprised with flowers, or a blog was simply complimented when the writer felt that no one was reading their words.  In each of these situations, it made the difference between throwing in the towel and having passion for the work rekindled.  Additionally, exchanging, debating and applauding ideas can further energize those we work alongside.

Friends, let me encourage you to develop a lateral awareness.  Notice those working in your midst.  Find a simple, kind word or gesture for them.  And in doing so, multiply the inspiration your ministry builds.

Image courtesy of: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Imposter Syndrome

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Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” ~ 2 Chronicles 1:10, NIV

Not all of us who lead in the area of special needs ministry have a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or doctorate in this field in which we serve.  We may serve by having this type of ministry thrust upon us because there is a need in the church and the pastor has picked us to spearhead the mission.  We may have suddenly found ourselves living with a disability and noticed a void in the church.  We may have begun by volunteering in an organization, found it gratifying, and worked our way into a leadership position.

Regardless of how God called us into His service to those with special needs, there are times in our service where we may feel inadequate.  In a relative sense, “disability ministry” is still a newer area of service.  When problem-solving in unchartered territory, it can be easy to feel as if we are completely unqualified to lead.  Having our ideas diminished or opposed by colleagues can make us question our competency.  “What makes me think I am worthy of serving in this ministry?  Why should my opinions matter to people infinitely more qualified or experienced in this arena?”  Thoughts like that can nag at us.

Imposter Syndrome is the name commonly given when we have a certain level of skill or expertise, yet fail to realize we possess such acumen.  There can be an underlying uncertainty as to whether we are accepted by our colleagues and a fear that “the mask may come off,” or we will be exposed as a less-than-credible resource.  All of this is wrestled with internally while still attempting to advance in the areas of need revealed to us.

Combating this malady requires a heavenly remedy.  How can we be certain that we are not leading astray the vulnerable population we are called to serve?  Start by following a biblical example like Solomon’s.  It is thought that Solomon assumed the throne at age 18.  How vulnerable he must have felt with a tumultuous family situation coupled together with his youth.  Yet, he made a brilliant maneuver in seeking God first for wisdom and knowledge.  He leaned into the One he knew to be the true source of his leadership abilities.

You see, we are not made capable because of any degree or experience we have.  Yes, those things are valuable tools that the Father uses us to prepare us for His ultimate purposes.  But what truly makes us qualified is HIM.  You must have heard many times by now, “Where God calls, He equips.”  However, in practice, we still can feel like imposters.  We may not feel like an authority on the topic, but we are ambassadors of THE Authority.  Knowing that should give us confidence to know that He is faithful to connect us to any resources where we are lacking, and that He pours His authority through us using several different tools.

To encourage you, let me share that when we began our ministry a decade ago, I was the one who wanted to be served, not to serve.  I still joke to this day about being a dumb, obedient servant.  I happen to like that because then, hopefully, I don’t get in God’s way.  Yet, the Lord began this amazing ministry to parents of children with special needs through a woman with a 2 year old child with hemophilia, who knew barely a thing about special needs.  A decade later, I even surprise myself with how much I know and how many connections I have!

On the opposite side of that, let me admonish those of you who have advanced degrees or unwittingly project an attitude of superiority.  Sometimes, people can be intimidated by you.  Be gentle with them.  We need fresh blood and fresh ideas in this area of service.  Don’t diminish that.  Our strong abilities as leaders can often come across too strong to colleagues, so be mindful of that.  Remember, there is only One expert who holds all the answers.

I pray this was a thought-provoking post for you.  We’d love to hear your thoughts…

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Fellowship in Leadership

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. ~ Hebrew 3:13, NIV

Suffering in this life is inevitable.  Others will always let us down.  Unexpected tragedies will befall us.  And if you’re a Christian, Jesus told you that you will have trouble.  (see John 16:33)  So I have to wonder why I am sometimes leveled by the ugly, wounding heartbreaks of leading a ministry.  Perhaps it is because I am a human who has prayed, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours,” and God answers that prayer in the affirmative.

Whatever the reason, over the past decade of ministry, I have enjoyed “walking” with incredible sojourners whose fellowship has blessed me.  There are those who have gone before me in disability and ministry who have shared their wisdom in how to serve this population and love them to Christ.  There are colleagues who have professional experience with mental health and how it affects our interactions with both those we serve and those on our teams.  I have sat with others and worked through the frustrations of developing spiritual metrics in order to show some measurable results to would-be supporters.  I have gleaned wisdom from those who have gone before me in developing a business plan and building a solid Board of Directors.  And I have commiserated with other leaders on the predictable people-problems that occur when we serve.

No matter what the situation, our fellowship of suffering for the cause of Christ has always been the sweetest when we encourage one another in prayer.  Having suffered a stinging blow just this week, I am glad that the first thing I found myself doing was running to Jesus in prayer along with other leaders.  I didn’t just run to anyone.  It’s not ultimately helpful if I’m just running to another servant who will tickle my ears with pleasantries that I want to hear.  Instead, over the years, I have found dear individuals who will solidly speak God’s truth to me with compassion and gentility.  These are fellow servants of Christ who say the tough things I need to hear without beating me up in the process.  They also encourage me through their own personal stories of suffering in leadership, reminding me that I’m not the only one who has ever had to endure the trials that I am facing.  We pray fervently together, and they admonish me to lead with faith instead of feelings.  These fellow leaders hold me accountable to address my challenges in a godly manner rather than responding in the fleshly way I may want to unleash.

Because I have others who encourage me, I become a better leader.  And I am also built up so that I can be poured out for another when they are facing their time of trial.  In fact, I have been in many situations where I am comforting and encouraging another servant at the same time as they are doing those very things for me.  That mutuality is an enormous thing in God’s economy.  We were never made to walk this journey alone.

How is your fellowship in leadership going?  If you are trying to go it alone, you are making a grave, foolish mistake.  I encourage you to build a network of leaders to lift one another up during the certain trials of this journey.

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Mutual Edification

“You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.  So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.  For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.   Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-12, NIV, emphasis mine)

This past weekend I had the great privilege of  attending the McLean Bible Church 2012 Accessibility Summit in Tyson’s Corner, VA.  Our organization makes every effort to attend conferences like this, mainly to share the SNAPPIN’ MINISTRIES story with participants.  We often share that story by having a booth at conference expos and occasionally speaking at them.  Additionally, we like to network with other organizations, learning from them, sharing information and opening the opportunity to refer or collaborate.

This weekend’s Accessibility Summit ended up being so much more.  Having a delightful occasion to connect with several colleagues I know personally, some of whom I have only spoken to by phone or engaged with on the internet, made this conference extra special.  Not only did we participate in our roles as professionals, but we also had personal time together.  We shared stories that brought us to tears for one another.  We laughed incessantly.  We ate ridiculously good food together.  And we just enjoyed one another’s company to the fullest extent.

There was tremendous benefit in just hanging out together.  Being with another person who speaks the same “language” as you, the language of leadership, the language of service, creates instant edification.  We were there as peers, not superior to one another, but mutually affirming one another unintentionally.  In addition, when ministry work issues did come up, we had the great blessings of knowing that there were others in our midst who understood our situation.  Whether it be the unruly participant, the demanding parent or the church as a whole, we “got” each other.  What a splendid gift that was!

I returned from this weekend filled up, excited to do that to which I was called.  I was energized both in my personal and professional lives.  I could go back to colleagues at home who were flagging, either because of professional obstacles or personal trials, and fill them up with the energy I had received from being at the conference.  Words of encouragement or wacky humor came easily to me.  And compassion for wicked challenges readily poured out of me.  I was even strengthened to make a long emergency room visit with my own child, and spring back more quickly the next day.

The point in sharing this story with you is not to brag about my weekend jaunt.  Instead, I want to encourage all of us in ministry to engage in some form of mutual edification.  It doesn’t even have to be an intense, directed sit-down.  It can be going to play mini-golf or have an ice cream together.  One group of my colleagues does a fly-in at Chicago O’Hare for one day each fall, gathering for lunch and sharing the latest update on their own particular ministries.  Others I know meet for coffee each month.  Whatever the choice, if you are not doing this in some form, I want to help you move towards such a goal.

We who are serving in ministry leadership live a poured-out life.  Those of us who serve in some form of disability ministry are poured-out that much more because of the deep needs of the population we serve.  This role demands that we be deliberate about our self-care.  This years Accessibility Summit even offered a post-conference workshop entitled “Staying Balanced and Passionate about Disability Ministry”.  The panel discussion offered much wisdom along these lines.  I urge you to check out the blog post by Jackie Mills-Fernald that I have linked to the workshop title, so that you will gain a better picture of what you might do to care for yourself as a leader.

I leave you with this question today:  Are you doing something intentional as a leader in the area of mutual edification?  If so, why don’t you share it with us here!

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