Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ideas on Inspiring Service and why It Is Important for the Congregation...and YOU!!!

Our busy season of fundraising in the Salvation Army has come to an end for another year.  Many outside The Salvation Army would recognize a bigger presence outside local department stores, groceries, and pharmacies in their local town during the last few months.  Perhaps a few more articles in the newspaper or personal interest stories on the TV are also noticed.   But that season is so much more than that.  Our corps (church) activities continue, feasts of celebration for Thanksgiving and Christmas still go on, and a special season of Advent each Sunday.  Many of our corps also coordinate gift giving to local nursing homes, special meals for the community and shelters, and the list goes on and on.  Along with our ministry with The Salvation Army, many of us have families either at home or far away.   The kids have special school programs and projects, our long distance families long for plans to be made for visits, and sickness can also pop up along the way.  I don't really think I have to list it all for you to get the drift...many of you live the same as I do and recognize, there is no way we can do it all on our own.

During the month of January, it has been my custom to take a look back and reflect upon what worked and what didn't over the last few months.  I dropped the ball on a few things this season and that is a reminder that I need to enlist the help of my staff, volunteers, and corps members.  I have always struggled with taking on everything.  My reasons vary, (I do have some controll issues), but I also hate asking people to do something!  I don't want to be an inconvienience to someone.  But I have realized lately in both experiencing this Christmas in another new appointment and in Bible Study that it is a believer's duty to serve others.  I am essentially taking that opportunity away from the congregation, when I do things on my own.

As this New Year begins, I am working on new goals for myself and for the corps.  One of the big ones is giving our corps members the opportunity to use what God has given them to the serve the church and community.  This is a win-win for our corps.  It allows them to grow spiritually in the spiritual discipline of serving and it takes a little weight off our shoulders.  Honestly, it may take a while for this to take effect.  Time issues, insecurities about abilities, and a myriad of other things will distract us from our goal, but I truly feel God is leading us in that direction.  So here are the steps we are taking to lead the congregation in this direction.

1.  Identify the Strengths of the Corps Members.  
There are many evaluation tools available to do this.  Probably the most prevelant is the Spiritual Gifts Test or Assesment.  An internet search will provide many free assesments as well as more in depth tests that can be purchased.  This allows the congregation to answer honestly.  In previous appointments we have done this on a Mid-Week Service or during a weekend seminar.  Once the test is scored by the individual, the test can give them their bigger strengths.

2.  Identify the Needs of the Corps and Community.
List all of the needs of the corps (and possibly the community).  Include tasks big and small.  You may have individuals physically unable to do some tasks, so having those will help them feel utilized.  You may also categorize these to make it easier.  Include local officer positions as well.

3.  Match Gifts with Needs.
Most decent spiritual gifts assesments will come with the gifts categorized as well.  Match your corps and community needs into those categories.  Once the self-evaluations are completed allow the individuals to choose their service opportunities with their gifts.

"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace:  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies -- in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.  1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV

4.  Commitment Service
During a worship service or special commitment service, have a special prayer time where your congregation can write down the service opportunities they would like to participate in.  They can do this privately on a small piece of paper or you can place the giant post-it notes sheets all over the wall with the areas of service and allow them to sign their name below the gift.  

5.  Follow-up and Accountability
Very soon after the prayer service, contact each individual and talk to them about their gifts and if possible place them into their service opportunity or position.  If more training is needed, also set that up.  Regularly check up on their service areas, making sure you equip them for their task.  Between six months to a year, check up on them to see how they feel, how they have grown.  

"Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;"  1 Peter 5:2 ESV

"to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ," Ephesians 4:12 ESV

6.  Celebrate
At the end of the year, thank them for their service and commitment.  Gifts don't have to be elaborate.  Even a card or certificate may do.  Lots of ideas on pinterest for candy bar grams.

"So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone and especially to those who are of the household of faith."  Galatians 6:10 ESV

The important thing for you to do, is LET THEM DO IT!!!  

"Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of The Lord."  James 5:14 ESV

I also would caution you to not always pick up the slack on things that maybe the corps members didn't sign up to do.  (We may hear gasps from above!!)  I preface this by saying, by no means does this give us an excuse to not do anything!  But I am saying if you and your congregation have decided what is important to them, then you may want to evaluate the other ministries to see how important they are.  Some are still very vital, but some may not be needed.  If you have a shortage of volunteers check to see if the ministry can be included in an already existing program.    A lot of our ministries go hand in hand and can be consolidated if needed.

I believe that Community Cares is one of those programs.  Many of our other ministries such as Home League (Women's Ministries) and our character building programs have service project components to their programming.  If you don't have many (or any) volunteers to help with your nursing home visitations, utilize the service components of these other ministries and help with those visitations.

What happens if something does fall through the cracks?
So confession time!!!  Its not always so pretty on the other side of the tunic is it?  With everything going on this Christmas season, my corps ministry fell short.  Christ should have been the focus, and I got caught up in the worries of Angel Tree and Kettles, and didn't always put my full attention on the worship aspect of Advent.  I also did not schedule Community Cares Visitation.  (Gasp!!!)  I know, that after the stats are evaluated, I will get that dreaded email.  I am sure some of you may even be thinking, "how could you?"  I am planning a Valentine's Day event to help fill the gap (just so you know)...but I should have asked for help from our corps members and groups but didn't.  

Sometimes things fall through.  I am not making light of the situation nor am I advocating for all of us to drop things for the heck of it!  But when things like this happen, try not to let it get you down.  I try to teach my children daily how to take full responsibility for their actions.  Good or bad, they must accept the consequences for the actions with integrity and humility.  I too will have to face the "music" (may it be the "Imperial March" or something more dreadful), and then...I move on.  I don't have time to dwell on it, I have to move forward, because tomorrow the guests in our shelter, the congregation, the thrift store, and the community may need me.  And I have to be there.  I can't be there if I am burned out.  I can't be there if I am dwelling on mistakes.  And now, I know I can't be there alone.  So utilize your corps and community and try not to do it by yourself.  Take it from someone who experienced it recently.