February 01, 2016

To finish up this 4-part series, we explore the last four words on our list of the “Ten Words for a Fruitful Lay Ministry.”  As you recall, the ten are:  Jesus, Mission, Pastor, Field, Connect, Read, Simple, Discipline, Fruit, and Spirit.  Previous articles discussed the first six.  I hope this series is helpful to you in continuing to grow and strengthen basic practices in your ministry leadership.
Simple brings to mind Basics. Essentials. Core practices. Our need to make sense out of complexity and gain direction for action. 

“Simple” is one of the most difficult, yet powerful, concepts to use in lay ministry.  Our world is so complicated, our church too, that people are easily distracted.  How can we as leaders tune out the distractions, the complexities, the “stuff” we’re used to and focus on what really matters?  How can we get simple?

One of my favorite church leadership books is “Simple Church” by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger.  A “simple church” is defined as “a congregation designed around a straight-forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.”  Process. Move people. Spiritual growth. That looks simple. But implementing it is tough – and essential. 

If we are to renew our church, leading congregations toward greater fruitfulness in the mission, we’ve got to get simple. We’ve got to focus upon developing, implementing, and refining an intentional process to help people grow spiritually in their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And to quit doing some good things that don’t fit. An effective, fruitful lay leader embraces “simple”. 

Discipline reminds me of training for a marathon. As a runner, in order to accomplish my goal for a big event, I’ve got to prepare. For several weeks I’ve got to discipline myself to get up early and train, putting in time for the necessary long runs and speed work. Eating and sleeping must improve too.  Really, all of life becomes more focused.  

“Discipline” for all of us means an ordered life with positive habits. The Bible calls us to develop those habits, with many examples and instructions.

Early Methodists were extremely disciplined in all aspects of their lives. The habits of many early leaders, particularly John Wesley and Francis Asbury, show models of discipline that many of us today find very difficult to emulate. When I read about Wesley’s habits of getting up at 4:00 a.m. every morning for a couple of hours of prayer and study, the rigorous travel, regular fasting, journaling, exercise and eating habits, I’m in awe. 

Spiritual disciplines are practices that help us develop qualities and habits in our lives that are more Christ-like, closer to God. They include worship, prayer, study of scripture, and the Lord’s Supper (Communion). How well do we as leaders practice these to become more spiritually disciplined in our personal lives, closer to God?

One key to maintaining discipline is having a group of like-minded Christians who can help remind us of our goals and encourage us. The early Methodists called these groups “Classes” or “Bands”, and today the terms “Covenant Groups” or simply “Small Groups” are used. Whatever we call them, the people in these groups meet regularly for prayer, fellowship, sharing their lives, and encouraging each other.  Hebrews 10:24-25 provides good instruction to “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another ...”

How can “Discipline” help you to be more effective as a leader this year?  
Fruit brings to mind the image of a tree or vine loaded with fresh, colorful fruit. It excites our senses, symbolizing productivity and abundance, even blessing. “Fruit” is a great metaphor for the results we should see in our personal lives and in leadership of our church.

First, how do our personal lives bear Fruit? Each of us is different so the “Fruit” of our lives will look different. But there are some common qualities for those who follow Christ.  

Paul points out that the inward “fruit of the Spirit” (results, evidence of God’s Spirit in our lives) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Wesley adds that the outward fruits are the doing good to all, doing no evil to any, and the walking in the light of God (see Sermon 10, 1746). And of course, Bishop Schnase provides great practical guidance with Five Practices of Fruitful Living – it’s worth reading again if we want our ministry to bear fruit.

Second, how does our leadership bear Fruit in the church? Shouldn’t the result of our work be DISCIPLES of Jesus Christ? Yes -- MORE disciples, NEW (and maybe different) disciples, RENEWED and better disciples! And what does a disciple look like?  Maybe, eventually, a lot like Jesus – abiding in him and bearing personal Fruit themselves. 

If our leadership is helping the church to reach more people, bring in new and different people, and make people more like Jesus in their daily lives, then we’re bearing much Fruit. If it’s not, we’d better take a hard look at what we’re doing. That’s why we pay attention to metrics, measures of fruitfulness such as worship attendance, baptisms, professions of faith, and people involved in discipleship groups and outreaching service activities. 

“Fruit” is important. Fruit is growth, vitality, life, and hope. Fruit is people. God cares about Fruit, Jesus spoke of Fruit, and our leadership must focus upon producing Fruit.

Spirit is Jesus present with us, even now. 

The book of Acts describes how Spiritual power came upon the first disciples, enabling them to carry out the mission Jesus gave them. The early church grew dramatically as the Spirit empowered leaders to be the hands, feet, voice, even the presence of Jesus Christ in their communities and their world. 

That same Spirit caused John Wesley to feel his heart “strangely warmed” at Aldersgate and empowered his ministry. And the Spirit can empower us now as the church seeks to bring the grace, peace, and healing of Jesus to our communities and our world. To bear fruit in our ministry.

As we conclude this series of “Ten Words," we move forward in the Spirit. I’ll admit there’s a lot I don’t understand about how the Spirit works. Images come to mind such as wind, flame, still voice, warming.  But I do know that God’s Spirit is alive and at work. Today, even in our church. Even in your congregation.

Are you drawing upon the Spirit in your lay ministry? When we recognize that we can’t do this work ourselves, that we must allow God to touch lives and change hearts, we actually become free.  We work hard, but seek God’s spiritual energy and power, that divine guidance, in all our work. We keep going, knowing that the Spirit worked in leaders before us, enables our own ministry, and will continue in others after we’re gone.
In this year of 2016, let’s all consider how we can focus upon becoming more Simple, practicing Disciplines to bear Fruit, as led and empowered by the Spirit. Then we can become even more fruitful in our lay ministry, carrying out the mission God has for us and the Methodist movement. May God bless and inspire you in the weeks ahead!