Ron Edmondson has some wisdom concerning the difference between being accessible and being available.
Search Results for: choke
I enjoy reading Michael Hyatt’s blog. Recently, he posted on the subject of saying “No” and I thought it fit very well with what I have been writing about chokepoints.
Particularly, check this out:
Every time I say “no” to something that is not important, I am saying “yes” to something that is.
I might rephrase that in my own context and say:
Every time I say “no”, I am giving an opportunity to someone who is better gifted to say “yes”.
Sure, the person I say “no” to is not going to be happy about it, but that’s the reality of life. If you try to please everyone, you will ease no one – including God.
Because I have been trying to be more aware of chokepoints in our congregation’s ministry, it has become even more obvious to me that I have become a chokepoint for far too many people.
Just this week, I noticed that people look to me for direction in areas as diverse as what parts of the property should be mowed, which paper to load in the copier (and how to clear a jam), contact information for someone else in the congregation, where we keep the A/V equipment, passwords for the WI-FI, printing paperwork for specific events, the phrasing of safety procedures, the order of worship for next Sunday, seating charts in the fellowship hall, and directions to a particular facility I visited once.
This is all in my capacity as pastor, mind you.
This list is not in any way a knock on the people who asked me these questions. It is however a matter of concern for me because I knew the answers because I am heavily involved in all of these areas. This is an unconscious involvement that comes from my desire to do everything with excellence.
Without being boastful, I think I’m pretty good at a lot of the things I do. Music, design, documentation, computers – these are things I do well. I see things very well. Unfortunately, that means I also mistakenly believe that since I see it, I also have to be personally responsible for it. I take on far too much because I mistakenly believe I am the only one who can do it.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is that my tendency to be involved in everything stems from a lack of confidence in others. I don’t think others can do things – anything – as well as I can do them.
This is wrong.
This is a bad idea.
This will stifle the congregation.
This is sin.
In the past year, our congregation has nearly doubled in size – in theory. I say “in theory” because while the number of people who consider Bedford Road as “their” congregation has doubled, the average attendance of a worship gathering has only increased by about 20%.
How is that possible?
It is simple. The leadership was not prepared. I was not prepared.
We asked God to do something incredible in our midst. We prayed for it, and we sought to see His vision for this congregation. We saw it and we pursued it. We continue to see it and continue to pursue it.
But we did not plan to expand with it. The elders watched God bring people to His church, and without realizing it we were very quickly overwhelmed with the task in front of us. We continued operating at the scale we had started with and the size of the congregation quickly outscaled our thinking.
There is an unfortunate principle of human thinking that kicks in when there is no plan – passive participation.
Several things happen in passive participation:
- Communication among leaders breaks down. Leaders at certain levels continue to talk and communicate, but the vertical connections (elders to ministry leaders and vice versa, volunteers to leaders and on) break down. Expectations aren’t measured or met because no one is watching.
- Volunteers revert to ‘the way we used to’. This happens in lots of scenarios, but when volunteers are not constantly kept in sync with the leaders and vision, they fall back on the last stable way of doing things. It does not matter if that last way was last week or ten years ago.
- Important tasks get lost in the shuffle. Things that should be done get put off, and before too long get forgotten.
- Everyone gets frustrated. Leaders get frustrated with volunteers. Recruiters cannot find anyone willing to help build ministry. Congregants, who are acting only passively, wonder who is “supposed to” be doing whatever it is they notice is not being done.
- Leadership becomes chokepoints for ministry. There is a narrowing of ‘responsibility’ to a handful of leaders who are overwhelmed by all the responsibilities thrust upon them.
- Other leaders feel ineffective and unnecessary. The chokepoint leaders unconsciously squeeze other leaders out of their responsibilities.
This last two points is something I have started to notice – in my inbox, my text messages and in conversations. Although our congregation has a plurality of elders and a very egalitarian approach to leadership, we have developed serious chokepoints.
Once, when I was a teenager, my father made the mistake of taking the Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River. Right before the Tappan Zee, three major highways merge. About 10 lanes of traffic become three. We sat in traffic for several hours, inching along when we were moving at all. It was painful. Some of us had to go to the bathroom for the better part of the delay.
We learned our lesson. To this day, we go about 15 miles out of our way to cross the Hudson at the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge a few miles northwest. There is never traffic on that bridge, and we wave as we pass the flow of traffic headed to Tappan Zee.
A chokepoint in ministry is any person who has too many flows of information and/or responsibility meeting in his or her person. When one person is the only one with all the information, talents or authority to act in a particular ministry, that ministry will be restricted to that person’s capacity.
Chokepoints can be pastors, but they can also be volunteers who consciously or unconsciously have locked a facet of ministry down to their personality or position.
The only answer to chokepoints is to open up other lanes of action. This is difficult work because chokepoints usually happen in vital places. Sometimes it even requires shutting things down for awhile until we have the proper people in place for proper flow.
In order to engage our growing congregation in the vision Jesus has given to us, we need to break up the chokepoints. This is a challenging task.
We need to get back to ministering at capacity, spread across the board rather than single chokepoint people overloading in trying to manage everything coming at them (and that includes me).
So, how does a pastor stop being a chokepoint on Jesus’ ministry in the church? Well, here are a few things I am planning on doing.
- I am putting together a list of things I do on a regular basis that do not pertain to the ministry of God’s Word.
- I am putting together a list of people with known abilities.
- I am matching people with tasks and planning to meet with these people.
- I am setting up a schedule for meeting with existing ministry teams – children’s ministry, women’s ministry, financial team, etc.
- I am making a new policy of not making decisions on Sundays (that’s when people come to me asking for me to make decisions).
The plan, for me at least, is to take all these chokepoint areas in my own role(s) in the congregation and give them to people. This is tough because that means I have to communicate an aspect of vision – something that is sitting in my head. It also means I have to ask people to make sacrifices. It means I have to focus on overseeing rather than implementing the ministry of our congregation.
A few weeks ago, I told a friend of mine that I wasn’t sure if I could evolve to meet the challenges of our congregation. Over the past couple of weeks, I have had to spend a lot of time asking God what he wants changed. This has taken quite a bit of repentance on my part – for my lack of faith that he would make his vision a reality among us.
What about you? Are you ready to be a part of breaking up the chokepoints? Ready to break out of the passive participation and become an active participant?
Recently, I spoke on Luke 8:4-18 – what is known as “The Parable of the Sower.” The passage deals with the complex issue of why some people are “saved” and others are not, and as I expected there were a lot of questions about the nature of salvation.
Particularly, someone asked about the meaning of “hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart” in verse 15. The actual question was:
What will be the results of those who have never heard The Word or care to abide by it but are “decent” people. Will they be “saved”? And we all know that no one, outside of the Trinity, is perfect and can put The Word into “perfect practice”. I know I need to work a lot harder to be a better listener and see-er. I really have no idea if some people will never be saved.
This is a great question, and it is also a very common one that believers struggle with. If I might rephrase the question, it is something like this:
Is there any hope of salvation for those who do not receive “the Word”?
To answer the question, we need to make sure that we carefully define the term The Word. According to the Gospel writer John, The Word is Jesus himself, revealed as a part of the divine godhead – the Creator and Redeemer of all things (John 1). The Scriptures themselves reveal to us the Living Word, and I would go as far as to say that if Jesus is not the Living Word then the Written Word is empty and meaningless. As Paul points out:
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)
The Scriptures, Christianity – they have no meaning without Christ, and therein lies the answer to the question. At its core, the Christian faith is grounded in the idea that Jesus is the living Word. He is the written Word’s fulfillment (Matthew 5:17) and the satisfaction of all earthly requirements of salvation (Galatians 2:22-29. He is, as the author of Hebrews put it, “the author and finisher of our faith.” Without him, there is no salvation. (Acts 4:12)
The Christian faith is inherently exclusive. This offends some people, but there is no way around it. Christianity not only excludes those who have no exposure to the Scriptures but also those who look to the Scriptures but deny Christ.
Jesus’ parable of the sower was addressed directly to those who claimed to the know the Scriptures but denied Him as the Word of God. It is a universal statement, pertaining to those who appeared to be His disciples as much as to those who would never be exposed to His Word. While one of the soils he mentions in the parable never receives the Word, two of them do receive it but then let it die within them – burnt up and dry because of the rock or choked out by the weeds.
Now, having made such exclusive statements, let me offer some hope. Throughout his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul makes it plain that those who would receive Jesus as the Word will be given opportunity. Revelation will reach them, and those who will follow Him will be given the opportunity. This is why the Church has a mandate to “make disciples of all nations”. We are called to work to share Jesus Christ with as many as will hear, knowing that not all will receive.
The more we allow God to expand our vision, the greater the opportunity the Church has to be a part of the harvest he has prepared. (John 4:34-38, Acts 10:34-43) One of the great sins of the Church is that we narrow God’s vision and restrict the scope of what He can do through us. We dismiss classes of people because they do not fit our idea of “good soil.”
To bring these thoughts full circle to the original question, are there some people who will “never be saved”? I believe that from our human perspective, we do not have the right to say “never.” God’s vision transcends our ability to perceive, and those we might dismiss as “unreachable” may turn out to be “good soil”.
Jesus’ parable of the sower was not absolute. In other words, it was not predeterminative. Jesus was not saying that all people are always in one of the four categories, but rather that every time we are exposed to the Word (and remember, he meant himself) we can be one of the four. Just as Simon Peter and James could not be able to grasp that all nations could receive the gospel and needed Paul to preach the gospel to them afresh (Galatians 1), we sometimes lose sight of Jesus and our growth dries up or is choked out.
People are not in irreversible spiritual state until death. As long as their is breath in their lungs (a breath that comes from God, by the way – Genesis 2), there is hope. As long as they can be exposed to the Word, there is potential for them to be “good soil.” We must never give up the hope that God can do the miraculous thing.
וּבֹעַז עָלָה הַשַּׁעַר וַיֵּשֶׁב שָׁם וְהִנֵּה הַגֹּאֵל עֹבֵר אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר־בֹּעַז וַיֹּאמֶר סוּרָה שְׁבָה־פֹּה פְּלֹנִי אַלְמֹנִי וַיָּסַר וַיֵּשֵׁב׃
וַיִּקַּח עֲשָׂרָה אֲנָשִׁים מִזִּקְנֵי הָעִיר וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁבוּ־פֹה וַיֵּשֵׁבוּ׃
וַיֹּאמֶר לַגֹּאֵל חֶלְקַת הַשָּׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר לְאָחִינוּ לֶאֱלִימֶלֶךְ מָכְרָה נָעֳמִי הַשָּׁבָה מִשְּׂדֵה מוֹאָב׃
וַאֲנִי אָמַרְתִּי אֶגְלֶה אָזְנְךָ לֵאמֹר קְנֵה נֶגֶד הַיֹּשְׁבִים וְנֶגֶד זִקְנֵי עַמִּי אִם־תִּגְאַל גְּאָל וְאִם־לֹא יִגְאַל הַגִּידָה לִּי וְאֵדְעָה כִּי אֵין זוּלָתְךָ לִגְאוֹל וְאָנֹכִי אַחֲרֶיךָ וַיֹּאמֶר אָנֹכִי אֶגְאָל׃
וַיֹּאמֶר בֹּעַז בְּיוֹם־קְנוֹתְךָ הַשָּׂדֶה מִיַּד נָעֳמִי וּמֵאֵת רוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה אֵשֶׁת־הַמֵּת קָנִיתָה לְהָקִים שֵׁם־הַמֵּת עַל־נַחֲלָתוֹ׃
וַיֹּאמֶר הַגֹּאֵל לֹא אוּכַל לִגְאָל־לִי פֶּן־אַשְׁחִית אֶת־נַחֲלָתִי גְּאַל־לְךָ אַתָּה אֶת־גְּאֻלָּתִי כִּי לֹא־אוּכַל לִגְאֹל׃
וְזֹאת לְפָנִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל עַל־הַגְּאוּלָּה וְעַל־הַתְּמוּרָה לְקַיֵּם כָּל־דָּבָר שָׁלַף אִישׁ נַעֲלוֹ וְנָתַן לְרֵעֵהוּ וְזֹאת הַתְּעוּדָה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל׃
וַיֹּאמֶר הַגֹּאֵל לְבֹעַז קְנֵה־לָךְ וַיִּשְׁלֹף נַעֲלוֹ׃
Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down.
Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.”
Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”
Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. (4:1-8, ESV)
Up to the gate. The gates of a town or city where the main meeting place for most business in ancient Judea. This was true whether the town was only lightly fortified or a built up city. The gates where something of a choke point. Everyone had to enter by them, and certain business was done at each. This is why the gates of Jerusalem had names like Sheep Gate and Water Gate. If you were a farmer, you would most likely be using a particular gate so other farmers who wanted to meet you would naturally head to that gate.
In a town the size of Bethlehem, it was likely that there were only one or two gates. The gates were breaks in a small wall, although no remains have yet been uncovered. The walls of Jericho, which is to the south, would have stood about 14′ high and were 5′ feet thick. They were made mostly of mud brick with a stone tower for defense. Jericho was a major city at a ford in the Jordan River. Bethlehem was essentially a farming town, so it is reasonable to assume that the fortifications – whatever they would be – were less imposing than Jericho’s; but they must still have provided some protection.
Bethlehem’s hilltop situation in a mostly pastural setting meant that most of the warfare of the region would pass it by. There were other very genuine and very real concerns. The walls probably served as protection against wild animals. Of particular interest were Syrian bears (Ursus arctos syriacus) and Asian lions (Panthera leo persica). Today these top level predators are found only in zoos and reserves, but in the Bronze Age, they were very real concerns. The Syrian bear is actually a subspecies of the same family as the kodiak (Ursus arctos middendorffi) and the grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis) bears. The lions, although smaller than their African cousins, were still ferocious. Since both troubled the flocks and the populace, it is not surprising that settlements were walled.
Gates (שַׁעַר, ša’ar) could be made of anything, but most likely they were wooden doors of some kind, set into the wall and hinged. Since they were locked at night, the people who lived or were working outside of them would gather right outside in the morning. This was a time to do some quick business before the day began, and this is probably when Boaz went to the gates.
Naomi is selling her property. Boaz waits for the other family member (who is never named) and then assembles a council of elders to hear the situation. Then he phrases the matter carefully. He mentions only the property and that Naomi is attempting to sell it. It is only after the kinsman says he would like to purchase the land that Boaz mentions the woman Ruth.
This moment again highlights an important concept built into the redeemer. He not only restores what is dead, but he becomes the owner of it. He becomes responsible for it. While the nearer kinsman is more than happy to redeem the lands, he is not ready for the responsibility of a new wife.
More than likely, this nearer kinsman was already married and had selected an heir. Were he to marry Ruth and have a son with her, he would have to re-evaluate and reallocate his legacy.
Now, there is something else at work as well. People must have known of Boaz’s interest in Ruth. Would you marry a woman who another man clearly has designs upon? The potential for trouble is obvious. While I am sure the other kinsman was sincere in not wanting to have to rethink his legacy, there was probably also a bit of common sense built into turning down the property.
The past three months have been quite a blur for my family. We have been dealing with some medical issues with my wife that have consumed a lot of our free time. It has not exactly been the summer we expected.
During this time, we have been journeying with the Apostle Paul through his letter to the Philippian churches. The journey has taken the form of twelve messages (so far) and is coming to a close this week.
It has certainly been an appropriate teaching series considering what we have been facing personally.
It has also been interesting from a congregational perspective. Our congregation has been experiencing a period of unprecedented growth – growth that we cannot account for in any logical way.
Jesus has been calling people to his Church in this location, and we have been running out of breath just to keep up with what his Spirit is doing.
That’s a lot of pressure to be under. I have to be honest. I have been blogging about how I have had to recognize the fact that I can become a chokepoint for the Holy Spirit”s work in the congregation.
Last night, we actually took the first major step in getting out of the way of the Spirit. I handed over the reins of the band to Matt – a guy who God has really equipped with musical knowledge and ability. While I’ll still be involved (and hopefully not falling into old habits), Matt will be taking over the day to day operations for the music team.
I am also putting our financial house in order for our treasurer and financial secretary by walking them through a transition of payroll companies and setting up online banking to make their lives easier.
One of our other elders, Greg, has been working to redefine our process of inviting people on our journey – from the greeters to personal accountability.
And as God moves others to work in these various parts of our journey, I am faced with the challenges of setting aside the busyness of the merger process. The challenges of leading Bedford Road are very different from those we faced in bringing together Heritage and Grace. It truly is a new congregation with a totally different life as a community.
All of this has to be balanced with the personal journey our family will be going through over the next couple of months as Nichole gets ready for yet another thyroid surgery and recovery. As always, God will take us through and bring us out the other side.
Pressure is never fun for those under it, but it refines us and transforms us. We become more and more like the one we have our focus on. For those focused on themselves, they become more and more self-centered. For those focused on Christ, we are transformed into his image.