How to Create a Passionate and Purposeful Marriage

Marriage on MissionWhen I ask couples why they are getting married or why they chose their partner, they typically reply with phrases such as “because I love her,” “he’s my best friend,” “she’ll make a great wife and mother,” and “he has a great sense of humor.”  These personal attributes and feelings are all wonderful ingredients for a happy marriage.  When I ask the next question, “What is the purpose of your marriage?” the answer comes in a quizzical look.  Many couples have not answered this second question for themselves, having been captivated by their “in love” feelings for each other.  Helmenstine (2017) claims that oxytocin and endorphins fuel feelings of love for 18 months to 4 years.  When the love chemicals dissipate, what will excite and sustain your marriage?

Keeping the marriage alive!

Those who enter marriage blindly typically do not fare as well as couples who seek premarital coaching.  Parrott and Parrott (2016) share that ~ 40% of divorced couples claim that lack of pre-marriage preparation contributed to their divorce.  The unfortunate statistics are that 20% of first marriages end in divorce within 5 years and 32% by 10 years (Avvo, 2010).  The statistics are even higher for couples who marry more than once.  For the average couple the love chemicals are replaced with feelings of attachment and comfort.  Couples who thrive typically do so by adopting behaviors that love their spouse and reflect their marriage purpose.  Chapman (2015) asserts that love is not a feeling but a verb in which spouses should intentionally love their partners in ways that speak to them.  I propose that intentional love can be taken to a higher level by co-creating a marriage mission statement.

What is a marriage mission statement?

God has designed you for a purpose, and He has also called our marriages into a purpose?  If you are married, are you living out your mission?  Companies, ministries, and even individuals have mission statements, so why should your marriage be any different? The purpose of a marriage mission statement is to get clarity on what is important to you, help set a direction for your marriage, and provide grounding and guiding boundaries by which to live.

Now if you are saying, “It’s too late for us, because we’ve been married over 20 years,” I would respond that it is never too late to invest in your marriage.  Why?  Because a marriage mission is not about the past or present but entirely on a future vision.  What do you want your marriage to become?  Creating a marriage mission statement together is fun!  Plan for a series of dates where the two of you spend quality time asking each other questions and sharing your deepest desires.

How do we write a marriage mission statement?

Your mission statement is as uniquely created as you are with the freedom to design its content, length, and style.  The only criteria are it should excite you, align you as a couple, and give you sufficient clarity to know that you are living it.  A recommended approach to build the content is to answer and discuss a series of questions intended to help you define a vision and explore values.  If your marriage mission does not reflect your core values, the statement will likely be empty words on a piece of paper.  Common elements in a mission statement may include a vision, values, dreams, goals, and actions that support its purpose.  When you discuss your marriage vision and values, your mission and goals will tend to fill in the gaps to bring your statement to life.

Below is a sampling of questions to stimulate your thinking and conversation.  Do not let this list inhibit you from exploring other questions.  Your answers should reflect your passions and feelings involving God, family, community, and others.

Vision

  • Describe your ideal marriage. What elements, conditions, activities, and behaviors would describe it?
  • What do you dream of accomplishing? How would a marriage union help achieve that?
  • How has God spoken into the future for your life and marriage?
  • If your children were asked to describe your marriage, how would you want them to be able to answer?

Values

  • What causes are you willing to fight for?
  • What are some of your core values?
  • What are your non-negotiable behaviors?
  • Where do you invest the best of your time, energy, and money?

Mission

  • What Scriptures speak to your heart? How does God fit into your marriage mission?
  • What are you excited and passionate to share alongside your spouse?
  • What activities and accomplishments would describe your ideal marriage?
  • What do you want to teach your children through your marriage relationship?

Living out your marriage mission!

Once you have a mission statement that reflects and excites you as a couple, think of short- and long-term goals that reflect that mission.  What actionable steps can you take to move into your mission?  Take time to pray to God to ask Him what he would like you to do.  Ideally, you may want to select a Scripture that speaks to your marriage!

How will you share your marriage mission?

Dillon Marriage MissionI pray that you have fun creating a marriage mission statement, but I would suggest you do not stop there.  Your statement is a living and breathing manifestation of your future dreams.  Could you use an accountability partner?  I suggest you share your mission statement with other couples.  Find those who are equally passionate about their marriage to join you, or perhaps be a mentor to a couple who wants to take the same journey.  Get together twice a year, review your mission statements, and share how you are or are not realizing your goals.  Make it a double or triple date, share your successes and challenges, and be sure to ask for support.

When should we refresh our marriage mission statement?

Life and marriage are a journey of unexplored roads.  Your marriage mission statement may need to be tweaked when you reach major life milestones such as having a child, changes in career paths, and empty-nesting.  With many couples spending more on their wedding ceremony than they do investing in their marriage, I pray you will take the time to plan for the glorious purpose of your marriage.  What do you want to accomplish with your soulmate?  What do you want your marriage to reflect back into the world?  Your choices will decide!

References

Avvo. (2010). Marriage and divorce statistics. Retrieved from https://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/marriage-divorce-statistics

Chapman, G. (2015). The five love languages: The secret to love that lasts. Chicago, IL; Northfield Publishing.

Helmenstine, A. (2017). The chemicals of love: Love chemicals and chemistry of love. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-chemistry-of-love-609354

Parrott, L. & Parrott, L. (2016). Saving your marriage before it starts assessment: Facilitator training manual.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach and mentor with an extensive background in leadership and ministry, which provides her with the experience and relational skills to move individuals and couples to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, premarital/marriage, and finances.

Giving To A Vision

vision signIn the non-profit world, many people struggle with how to secure resources, namely raise money, to support their cause. Despite a ministry’s worthiness, many struggle or never reach their full stride due to inability to secure volunteer time or funding.   Why does raising money seem so daunting?  Although God is the ultimate resource provider, why do some non-profit leaders receive an outpouring of funds while others not?  Although most situations cannot be attributable to only one reason, I would propose a significant contributor is the lack of a leader’s clear, compelling, and well-communicated vision for the ministry.  I believe people are inherently generous and predisposed to give of their time and resources, if the right opportunity is presented the right way at the right time. When done right, I expect people to respond with joyful hearts and generous giving.

One of the key responsibilities of the leader is to ensure the ministry or non-profit has a powerful vision, strategy, and plan that can be effectively communicated to potential donors.  From a Biblical perspective, Christians are called by God to steward their resources and use them to invest in Kingdom opportunities.  Therefore, a responsible donor would logically expect to understand the vision, the strategy/execution plan, and how the ministry will be held accountable.  If a leader cannot article the vision and supporting details, a donor is likely to assume the resources will not be well stewarded.

When I interviewed for a full-time fundraising position at MedSend, the CEO enlightened me that those who have significant wealth feel an overwhelming burden of responsibility to give back and are actively looking for causes where their donations can make a big impact.  They want to make a significant contribution to the world and want to invest their money in a vision that is greater than paying someone’s bills.  Think about it.  What criteria do you use for giving?  Aside from tithing, people give to people not organizations, specifically to people who have visions.

If you are fundraising for a cause for which you are passionate, take the time to paint a clear and engaging picture of your vision, so you can help your donors understand how their efforts will release joy and power.  Make it big!  Stretch your dreaming! If you can create a vision that you could accomplish on your own, it is likely not from God.  God does not dream that small.

A Tale of Three Trees: It’s Not What You Think!

Have you ever bawled like a baby when reading a children’s fable?  I have!  Several years ago, as I was browsing the small bookstore at The Homestead Heritage in Waco, Texas, I picked up The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale.  I guarantee you that this was no ordinary children’s story.   The tale tells of the dreams of three trees in the forest, who all long to grow into something that the world would value.  One wanted to be the most beautiful, the other the strongest, and the third the tallest.   After many years the woodcutters came to harvest these trees on the mountain.

Christ with CrossWhat these three trees wished themselves to be instead became how they were used to serve.   The purpose of each tree brought me to tears.  Can you guess how the tallest tree was used?  The third tree wanted to be the tallest tree in the land, and by some accounts this tree got what it wished for as it stood tall at Calvary with Jesus nailed to it.   This tree had one idea of its future, but God had another purpose and plan.  Despite the ugliness it endured as it co-labored with Jesus, the third tree had the opportunity to help bring Salvation to the world.  Now that’s worth both living and dying for!

We all have dreams, and the question we should ask ourselves is whether we are dreaming the right dream.  Are you pursuing your own dream or seeking to know God’s dream for your life?  Sometimes God’s dream for your life will take you through ugliness, harshness, and cruelty such as what Jesus experienced on the cross?  Much of the time you will never be made aware of the impact you are making and must maintain faith that God is using each faithful word and action for Kingdom impact.  On those seemingly rare occasions when I do get feedback, I find those are the fuel that keep me seeking the Lord’s will for my life.

God’s Promises

Bible to HeavenThere are days when we need the simple reminders of God’s promises to His children.


He has a purpose and great plan for your life

In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28


With Him, your future is bright and the best is yet to be

“For I know that plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “…plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11


You have everything you need to do all He’s created you to do

I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13


God created you with strengths and gifts to offer this world

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Psalm 139:14


He loves you and will be with you wherever you go

Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.

Hebrews 13:5


With God by your side and Jesus in your heart, go change the world!

Why Easter Is My Favorite Holiday!

“What’s your favorite holiday?”  Most of my friends and family respond with Christmas.  Why? Answers include the recollection of fond childhood memories opening presents around the tree, the beautiful decorations, lots of great food, or the ability to spend time with a larger circle of family.  Many claim Thanksgiving as their favorite holiday, because they can spend time with family without the stress of Christmas shopping and exhaustion that comes from too many activities crammed into one month—December. The common theme between Christmas and Thanksgiving is these holidays are spent in relationships.  What is my favorite holiday?  It would have to be Easter? I realize that most people think of chocolate bunnies, egg hunts, white baskets, and fluffy bunnies, but Easter represents the ultimate gift given to me by my best friend!  Easter celebrates my personal relationship with Jesus!

jeremiah 29-11-2When I think of the love that I have my daughter, Alex, I am awed that God would sacrifice His own son for me, so I could live.  Would I be able to sacrifice my dear Alex, so others can live?  Could I have done what Abraham planned to do in Genesis 22—sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac?  I like to think I would obey God, but I do not think anyone can be confident in his answer until placed directly in that situation!  How grateful I am not to have to choose.  How grateful I am that Jesus died on the cross to take my sins, so I can be with the Father long after my body turns to ashes!  With my gift of eternal life, I cannot choose any other path other than to follow Him and use my life to glory God.  Am I perfect?  No, I sin daily, although I can honestly say I try to live my life honorably, sharing of my time and treasures.

I pray that if you know Jesus, you will continue to listen for God’s calling for your life and act in faith.  I pray that everyone has a life vision and a life Scripture that speaks and resonates in their hearts.  My Scripture has always been Jeremiah 29:11.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  I know God has big plans for me to accomplish during the years I live on earth.  Every day I look forward to a new adventure as I am humbled by God’s gift!

For those who have not welcomed Jesus into their hearts, please reach out!  I would love to further the conversation about Jesus and what He can do for you!  You can reach me at shinecrossings@gmail.com.

Happy Easter!

What can you can learn about church in a parking lot?


Excerpt from Sandra Dillon’s 2017 El Salvador Mission Journal


March 6, 2017

How many of you have hung out with the homeless?  Serving and eating a meal with them?  Fellowshipping and praising God with them?  Well, Kate and Nate Stal gave Darin and me the opportunity to walk into their ministry by helping set up Motel Church this Sunday in the parking lot of an old strip mall on FM 1960.  Many homeless live next to the “Motel” or the old Century 21 building nearby.  Because Motel Church has had to flex where they set up on the first Sunday of the month, they have kiddingly dubbed this church the Parking Lot Church.

So how does Motel Church have any connection with our upcoming mission trip to El Salvador?  God is always creative in how he speaks into my life.  As I wrote in the last journal entry, God wrote the first book that culminated with the design and launch of World Changers on Mission (WCoM).  I wrestled with whether God would start a second book in the series, and if so, I questioned how a repeat mission trip to El Salvador with LWI would begin the first chapter.  I believe I have an inkling on what God might be scripting based on what He showed me during our two hours in church.  Before I unpack His message, I want to share with you my experience as contextual background.

Motel Church entered my personal world when Matt and Holly Smith invited Kate and Nate Stal to a World Changers on Mission meeting.  Darin and I specifically wanted to hear more about the call that God had put on Kate’s heart—bringing church to the homeless.  After hearing her stories over dinner, we decided to step into Kate’s world.  Kate’s passion was contagious, and we wanted to provide support to someone who was making personal sacrifices to follow God’s call.  Rain or shine, Motel Church was holding service.

Motel Church 1We met in the parking lot of a dilapidated but functioning strip mall which sat next to the motel where some of the homeless were staying.  You might call this motel a flophouse.  Other homeless church members had been living at an abandoned Century 21 building, but recently a fence had been installed around the property to prevent squatters.  When we arrived at the strip mall, the parking lot was sporadically full with parked cars owned by those who were attending either one of two small churches located inside.  The only sufficient parking area to set up tables was near the dumpster, which adjoined another building open for business.  Kate was nervous to set up the church so close to the business in the event the owners decided to call the cops. What an awful feeling to think we could not hold church because of the fear of prosecution.

After the business owner gave us his blessing, we waited for Nate to arrive with supplies and food, so we could set up church.  Kate knew many of the homeless members, so we engaged in conversation.  Darin and I offered them drinks from our cooler, and we arranged tables, chairs, and placed Biblical resources on the tables.  What I loved was how some of the homeless men helped.  Kate did not know how many members would come to church because of the looming threat of rain and the fact that some had dispersed when the fence went up around the Century 21 building.   Previously, they had as many as 30 attend this small Parking Lot Church.  From my perspective, the numbers did not matter!  God would bring the perfect number!  As several more church members arrived, the volunteers started to serve plates of home-cooked food.

Motel Church 2As we broke bread together, I was intrigued by the stories shared by James and Amy, a husband and wife, who lived in the woods behind the motel in a 3-bedroom tent.  They had previously owned a much larger tent but had to downsize to a smaller one for some undisclosed reason.  Before they could share more, dark clouds opened their flood gates, so we picked up the tables, chairs, and food and moved them under the shallow protective overhang that provided a sheltered walkway for the storefronts.  We traded in our chairs and tables to sit on concrete planter boxes with plates on our laps.  A few more folks arrived.  Darin and I happened to strike up a conversation with Miss Karen, a woman in her 60’s, who had on a McDonald’s employee uniform.  She lived in Greenspoint and took a bus to the stop in front of the strip mall, so she could then walk across the street to the McDonald’s where she worked.  When she got off the bus, Miss Karen saw our church, was intrigued, and eventually came over to find out more.  I asked her if she lived in Houston all her life, and after saying she was originally from Louisiana, she started to pull out old photos from a Ziploc bag.  Some photos were over 50 years old and showed herself and her twin sister when they were young.  She and her twin were separated at 9 years, when they went into the foster care system.  She never saw her sister until she decided to search for her as an adult.  This search brought her to Houston many years before.  Miss Karen’s story was painful to hear, yet she spoke of it as if she expected nothing less of life.  What was amazing is how she carried her most prized positions with her—these photo memories.

Jason started our church service with the third chapter in the book of James.  What I loved was how everyone participated.  Chris, one of the homeless church members who would not partake of any of the food, read some of the verses.  Although Jason led the sermon, many people participated in the Scriptural discussion, vulnerably sharing their own testimonies.  A youth worship team, who cancelled a few days before, left us without a praise and worship agenda.  However, that did not stop one of the homeless men, who was enthralled with the message of James 3, to put his plate aside, rise, take the mic, and sing A Cappella about how God’s not dead.  These few stories provide just a flavoring of what it was like to worship with Motel Church.  God kept nudging me with thoughts of Motel Church and El Salvador.  What do you want me to see, God?

God whispered that this is how he meant us to church.  I like to refer to it as a virtual church.  Matthew 18:20 describes church in its simplest version “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (ESV).  Motel Church was beautiful, because it reflected church in its simplest design.  A church is not a building but the gathering of those who are united in belief.  Recently, God has been tugging on my heart to re-read the Book of Acts, which describes the formation of the early church after Jesus ascended into heaven to be with the Father.  As described in Acts 2:46-47, “…breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people…” (NASB).

I have walked in severe material poverty in third world countries, but surprisingly not spent the same amount of time in similar poverty situations in my own country. On a relative scale, you might consider the American homeless as one of our more extreme poverty populations.  I found it strange how two active churches in the same strip mall were holding services, yet the homeless were not or did not feel welcome.  Walls can create boundaries that separate and protect those who are behind closed doors.  Are our church walls creating boundaries that separate the body of Christ?  On the other hand, does the concept of a virtual church help prevent the slow and insidious behaviors of putting up walls of exclusion?  What resonated with me was how active and participatory church could be in the virtual.  Everyone was free to contribute and participate.  In comparison, a church with four walls tends toward passive participation where the congregation sits and is fed from a pastor.

On our last trip to El Salvador, God told me that every one of us is equipped in some way where we stand, regardless of the newness of our faith.  Jason was equipped to lead the sermon, and many of the homeless felt equipped to read from the Bible and contribute their testimonies and views.  WCoM speaks to how church, business, and mission are integrated with connectivity, dignity, and the knowledge and faith that one is equipped.  I have a feeling that God wants to show me a vision of church and has tied an element of this message with our mission trip to El Salvador.  Perhaps the next book will speak to what the church should look like, how it should operate, and what it was intended to achieve.  I am reminded of the Book of Revelation, where a unique message was delivered to each of the seven early churches.  Each letter defined for the church how it was viewed through God’s eyes, a challenge or reproach, and a promise.  In today’s climate of conflict and judgment, providing an environment where people from all walks of life can come together to share in the common bond of the love of Christ is one of the best strategies that I know of to grow the church.  Only seven short months before mission departure!  A lot can happen in seven months!

Church-as-Business: Visioning, Missioning, and Equipping

Many pastors, missionaries, and laymen understand the Kingdom power held in the relationships of church-on-mission or business-as-mission.  However, many fail to acknowledge the power that can be unleashed when churches embrace the concept of church-as-business.  In fact, the concept that a church would be run like a business may feel unnatural, uncomfortable, and even sacrilegious to some pastoral heads and laymen.

wcom-emblem-2016-11-03People love church-on-mission, because the idea gives them a warm, fuzzy and satisfying feeling of doing good, being charitable, and aligning with the mission of the Gospel.   Most Christians think of mission as helping people in need, servicing the poor, making disciples, showing Jesus’s love, and preaching the Bible.  The concept of mission conjures up serving locally or through short-term mission trips across the globe.   Churches readily partner with missionaries, providing regular financial and prayer support to people who are called into full-time mission.  Churches extend their congregations’ reach by investing in those who are called to be the hands and feet on the ground.

In more recent times, the concept of business-as-mission has grown in awareness and popularity, as churches realize the Kingdom impact of helping third-world families and leaders develop sustainable businesses that bring economic health to impoverished communities.  The goal is to give someone a hand-up versus a hand-out—give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will feed himself for life.  Therefore, churches are sending teams into third-world countries to teach business skills and sometimes providing micro-loans with the hope of helping men and women start or improve their business acumen, build sound business plans, and grow their enterprises.

Church-as-business provides a third, yet important side of the triangle—a side that has been overlooked and missing from many churches.  Inclusion of church-as-business can propel church growth.  Why the general taboo in thinking of churches operating as businesses?  I have only theories.  One theory reasons that with most pastors and church administration educated in theology—not business, marketing, operations, and finance—they lack knowledge or exposure to understand the value of business principles at play within the church.  Another theory, is the cultural taboo associated with church and business—people should not talk about religion in the workplace, so perhaps the backlash is they do not talk or associate business with church.   A third theory is the preconceived ideology that church and business are compartmentalized enterprises with nothing in common.   Faith followers operate in businesses Monday through Friday, sometimes on Saturday, and Sunday is reserved for church service and other religious and social activities.  Our culture supports the separation of church and business based on old Biblical standards such as honoring the Sabbath, Blue laws and practices of not talking about religion at the workplace.

I contend that churches and businesses have more similarities in how they work and what they want to achieve than people may initially want to admit.  If my argument rings of any truth, churches can flourish by embracing many of the best practices identified, deployed, and further refined by businesses.  Although the product manufactured by a church may be different than a business, the strategy and processes are fundamentally the same.  With churches commissioned to grow disciples and businesses chartered to increase revenue/profit, churches can learn best practices in new business development from successful businesses.

For those who are not yet convinced that churches can learn from the business world, the table below defines the structural and operating elements which are unarguably similar between them with the only significant difference their output.

Focus Area Church Business
Enterprise Purpose Grow disciples Grow revenue/profit
Human Capital Members/Pastors Employees/Management
Compensation Salary/Bonus/Reward Paycheck/Bonus/Incentive
On-boarding Process Membership Classes Employee Orientation/Training
Human Capital Deployment Service/Discipling Job Responsibilities
Finances Tithing/Expenses Sales/Expenses
Infrastructure Church Facilities Offices/Plants/Warehouses
Consumers Community Members Customers
Marketing Sermon Series/Missions New Products and Offerings

Do you see the similarities in the building blocks and processes between a church and business?  Many churches, just like businesses, grow and then lose traction, slow down, and in some cases, go bankrupt.  Autopsy of a Deceased Church (Rainer, 2014) estimated that healthy churches account for only 10% of the church population, 10% are dying, and 80% are sick or very sick.   Rainer (2014) studied churches to uncover what makes certain ones thrive and what are some signs that a church is sick or dying.   Key signs of sickness include a congregation’s attitude that the best days are past, decline in worship attendance and tithing, programs and ministries which focus on members rather than outside the church, and no true sense of disciple-making.  Busyness and activity replaces meaningful purpose.  With these sobering statistics, I would expect a church to have an on-going self-evaluation process and focus on implementing best practices.

Don’t these key signs of sickness sound familiar to when a business struggles? Employees adopt a bad attitude, unmotivated employees frequently call in sick, management becomes increasingly focused on retaining employees with programs and rewards to the detriment of its customers. Employees lose focus on the business purpose and in cultivating customers. Businesses grow through innovation and a customer focus through knowledgeable, aligned, and motivated employees who understand and believe in the business vision and purpose.  They know their role in the organization and how they contribute to the goals.  Churches attract members when they focus on serving others, making disciples, and living out the mission of the church.

On the other hand, businesses suffer as customers leave and take their purchasing-power elsewhere; churches suffer when members take their tithe money and time to another church or at worst use it for personal consumption.  In the business world, studies run the gambit in identifying and quantifying the impact of best practices.  What can churches learn about best practices from these business studies? Although an internet search would likely provide handfuls of articles on best practices, I have my own list cultivated from my more than 30 years working and developing new product lines and businesses.

Leadership cannot lead unless they can define and clearly articulate for its employees and members the purpose and direction they plan to take the company or church.   First, leadership must develop a vision and mission statement as well as define the operating values that support the purpose of the church.   The vision must be detailed enough that it differentiates itself from other churches and provides a clear sense of direction for its members.  On the other hand, the vision must not be too specific that the boundaries constrain how God wants to empower and use its members.  Just as God designed individuals with specific spiritual gifts, so too has God breathed life and gifts into various churches to accomplish a purpose.  In my opinion, the weakest mission statements are those which are “motherhood and apple pie,” which deliver a feel-good message that no one can argue with and which appeals to everyone who passes through its doors.  An example would be “Making disciplines who are making disciples.” No one would disagree that should be a job assignment of every Christ-follower.  However, I expect with this vision many members would not feel equipped or understand how they will achieve that mission.  They do not even understand how they will know if the church is achieving its mission.  With so many questions, people feel left to their own devices and at worst never become truly engaged in the church’s vision, just taking from the church what satisfies their curiosity and spiritual need.

The vision and mission are critically important so people can make an informed decision to join the church, because that vision/mission resonates with them.  The church should set an expectation that all are welcome where they stand and will grow spiritually by supporting the defined vision and mission.  All churches cannot be all things to all people.   Better for a church, which is functionally its members, to define how God has called them to serve in this fallen world.  Churches are most effective when they can define what fits and what does not.  The vision/mission becomes the referee on how they will direct their resources when bombarded with endless opportunities and demands. What would be a solid and compelling vision and mission statement for a church?  If I had to describe what I would be most attracted to as a Christ-follower, below is what I would be called to join.

Vision

Build a transforming Christian army to love the world as Christ loves all

Mission

Coach leaders to crush their limiting beliefs, love who they are, and discover their identity in Christ.  This mission will be accomplished through the following:

  • Self-exploring to identify lies that are holding back personal identity and service and replace with the truth
  • Driving on world service in ways that show Jesus’s love to others and honors personal spiritual gifts and talents
  • Meeting people whether they are in their personal spiritual journey and providing information and encouragement to purse Christ as their personal savior
  • Developing and encouraging future world changes to organize and move out in service

 

The above vision/mission is detailed, yet flexible enough to move in many directions.  Visitors would have a clear understanding of what the church stands for, how it operates, what they could expect from the church in terms of support, and what would be required of them.   Hopefully, it would inspire versus confuse them!

The second most important church practice is to assimilate its members who are the human capital that fuels the outreach in the community and grows the church.   Many churches have a bunch of social and crisis-intervention programs for the congregation that attracts membership.  Caution!  All these services can be beneficial to support the rough spots in the lives of its members as well as attract others to Christ in the process, but leadership must be canvasing the landscape to ensure a healthy balance of services with their mission.   An imbalance can be a sign of a sick church.

Many churches host membership classes for those who are interested in learning more about the church or becoming members.  These classes typically provide a history of the church, explain what it is doing in its community, ask one to be part of the church, and then want to sign one up to a life or small group.  I believe a more sustainable method of attracting members is to provide the full landscape and plan, explain what the church expects of its members, and then explain how the church will partner with them to contribute.  Share the story that they are part of the story to create change and make an impact!  However, the message cannot be held at a high level.  Sell the story with enough granularity that they can see themselves as part of the team or solution.  Once they see themselves part of something bigger than themselves, the church can equip them or convince them they are equipped for action.  When people feel part of a mission bigger than themselves and buy in emotionally, their resources of time and money will follow.  Their excitement builds.

Many churches may successfully develop their vision, mission, and values, but fail to equip the congregation.  As in business, many strategies have been dead-on best in class, but the execution fell apart, and management blamed the strategy for failure.  Churches are not immune from the same malady.  Visioning and missioning is tough but relatively much easier than execution.  Visioning takes a finite amount of time and culminates in a final statement—it has an end; whereas, execution is an on-going fight for growth.  The process is fundamentally endless, and leadership may tire in trying to keep the execution ball moving forward towards the pins without it going into the side-gutters.

Many pastors preach from the pulpit on what is required by the congregation to meet its vision and mission.  First, there are requests, then more forceful pleas.  No one in the congregation disagrees, but they fail to act.  Using the former mission statement example of Disciples making disciples, everyone would agree that is an important vision for any Christian church, yet despite the pastor’s encouragement, the majority sitting in the pews feel ill-equipped to have conversation with non-Christians about their faith and Jesus. This post-modern world does not provide an environment conducive to Christians sharing the Good News with non-believers.  Most Christians are uncomfortable discussing their faith even if it means the church body does not grow (Rainer, 2014). Carter (2012) found that despite 80% of Christians feeling sufficiently knowledgeable to communicate their faith and believing they have a personal responsibility to share the Gospel, more than 60% have not shared the Gospel even once with a non-believer in the previous six months. Some have never shared their faith. These studies make the case that churches need to empower their members (employees) and provide tools, ideas, and perspectives that allow them to be more comfortable in talking about their faith and overcoming the barriers of inaction. Soul Whisperer (Comer, 2013) is a must-read for the current age.  Comer’s (2013) message breaks the long-held paradigms of evangelism and introduces more relevant coaching for Christians to share the Good News. Build a relationship, start where they are and not where you are, read what they need, and show them how God is helping you now, are all powerful ways to share the Gospel.

In addition to discipleship, members can grow in their spiritual walk by serving others. When someone asks me, “How can I find myself,” I have one and only one answer.  “Go serve.  You will find yourself in serving.”  Therefore, churches should have a variety of outlets for service.  By service, I do not necessarily mean greeter, parking guide, worship and service child provider.  Although these are important functions and membership needs to help with these services, the church should have service opportunities outside of the church that are aligned with the vision and mission.  These options should focus at a minimum within the local community, because this is the source of your new membership.  However, if the church’s mission supports a cause such as sex-trafficking or orphan care, the outreach opportunities should have no boundaries.

Does the church offer members a spiritual gift inventory?   Are there opportunities for members to apply them?  As the church grows, leadership should empower individuals and teams to carry the torch on various initiatives—similar in how businesses launch project teams with internal sponsorship oversight.  Success stories should be shared from the pulpit as a means of stimulating the quest for service.   Members are the lifeblood of the church, they are the church, and empowering them in a way to bring in new members by serving in their communities and sharing the Gospel is what the church should focus on.  Do we need another sermon from the pulpit to add to our knowledge or just encouragement to learn Jesus through serving?  Too many times I have heard, “Just one more Bible study and I’ll be ready to serve.”    We are all equipped to serve in one way or another exactly where we stand.   Our stories of service are our most powerful tools and what we use to harvest and feed ourselves.  Instead of being a spectator in the pew, be a world changer in the field.

Next, I will discuss my business thoughts in building a personal church brand and marketing.

References

Carter, J. (2012). Study: Most churchgoers never share the gospel. The Gospel Connection. Retrieved from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/study-most-churchgoers-never-share-the-gospel

Comer, G. (2013). Soul whisperer: Why the church must change the way it views evangelism. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications. ISBN: 978-1-62032-183-6.

Rainer, T. S. (2014). Autopsy of a deceased church: Twelve ways to keep yours alive. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing.  ISBN: 978-1-4336-8392-3.

Fearless or Fear Less


An excerpt from Sandra Dillon’s El Salvador Mission Journal (October 10, 2016)


I feel remiss in not having issued a mission journal entry since early August, but frankly I think I was so busy with life, serving, and school that I wasn’t paying much attention to anything God might have been whispering in my ear.   Yes, I have been short-changing God and paying the price.  However, I believe God is stirring something powerful in my heart prior to taking a team of 11 to drill a well, repair wells, teach hygiene, and play with the village children in El Salvador with Living Water International.

fearless-photo

My reminder to move into my fear

In September while I was visiting Alex and Wes in Colorado Springs, I stopped at the Focus on the Family Bookstore—one of my favorites and one I never miss when in town.  As the cashier was ringing up my book purchases, I looked down on the counter at several bracelets with one-word descriptions such as faith, hope, believe, etc.  For those who know me, I am not a jewelry person, yet this one word, “fearless” caught my attention.  I looked away to finalize my purchase, but my eyes were drawn back to this one bracelet.  Given how strange it was that my attention was drawn towards this item, I took the time to resonate on what I was feeling and thinking.  Fearless, fear less, less fear, strength, etc.  I decided to add the bracelet to my total, so that I would not hold up the checkout line.  I would figure out what God was telling me later when I had more time.  Fast forward to when I returned to Houston—I put on the bracelet, thinking this would inspire my thoughts and any messages.

Fearless—was it simply an adjective, or was it fear less, more of a call to action, to identify my fears, face fear, turn my fear over to God by doing exactly what I feared.  Although I have never counted the number of times that any one word is written in the Bible, a simple unverified internet search says that “love” appears more than 500 times and “fear” as expressed as “do not be afraid” or “do not fear” appears about 120 times.  This was less than I would have estimated, but enough to send a clear message that we as humans suffer and struggle with fear in our lives, as there are many Scriptural references to “fear not.”

What fear does God want to bring to my attention and how might this be related to this mission trip?  Darin and I have talked at length that we are not afraid of physical harm or death.  Many people are fearful to go on a mission trip into a third world country.  I remember well the pleas not to go to Nairobi, Kenya in October 2013 from well-meaning friends and family, because we were traveling just weeks after the Westgate Mall Christian massacre where hundreds of Christians were either killed or injured.  We were scheduled for outreach in the slums of Ongata Rongai which was a mere 5 miles from this mall.

I know that fear is a powerful, self-inflicted weapon used to hold us back from everything we are called to be and when we are called to act.  I am fully aware of my fears, when I feel fearful, and I have been working on confronting and moving into my fears.  Fighting fear is a journey I take with God by my side, and so far, I wish I were farther along, but I am proud of my progress.  I clearly see how my fears are the obstacles that block me from fully moving in the purpose God has for my life.  Clarity of purpose helps me visualize the wall of fear that stands before me and how I need to walk through my wall of fear, climb over it, or go around it with these last two options taking a longer yet still successful path.

Acts 18:9 (NLT) speaks to my heart: “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, ‘Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent!’”  Although there are a few interpretations for this Scripture, the message that resonates with me is to not be afraid of the things God is calling me to do that are outside my comfort zone.  Speak of those fears so they cannot hold power over me or build walls that block my path towards my divine purpose.  What am I afraid of?  Right now, I hold only two fears that I am aware of—public speaking and the yet to be answered, “Will I be successful when I launch my life and marriage coaching business next year?”  Why is God having me focus on my fears in a specific way just before we are to go on mission to El Salvador?  Or is the timing just coincidence?  I am not sure, but Darin and I are always surprised by every mission trip.  We think we know the purpose of the trip, and then God shows up and delivers the message of our true trip purpose.  Somehow I think “fearless” will be tied into whatever message God wants to share with us.  I look forward to living out this journey with my 10 teammates and finding out what connection this trip has with “fearless.”

As I shared my personal fears, did you think of any fears that are holding you back from your life purpose?

Mission, It’s Not What You Think…

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I travel the world and in my community carrying my self-identity in missional living.  Back in February 2016 my husband and I returned from Nairobi, Kenya from a business-as-mission themed short-term trip developed between my home church, Northisde Christian (NCC),  the local church, Redeemed Gospel Church (RGC), and a non-profit Transformational Ventures (TV).   Below is my final journal entry where I shared what God revealed to me in my walk with him during my time in the slums of Nairobi.    My Chapter 3 as mentioned below has been written in the documentary Poverty, Inc.*  The message hit me upside the head as hard as a two-by-four.  After being stunned and finally picking myself up off the floor, I am processing the message in how it continues to break my paradigms about missional living and my role in developmental mission.  Stay tuned for my next blog where I unfold my Chapter 3 and response.  This entry provides perspective…

* Poverty, Inc. available for viewing on Netflix

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Over the past 10 days I have rejoined my normal world.  The re-entry process for every mission journey is unique, because it is a time of reflection and consideration of next steps based on experiences that challenge my thinking.  Although I am fairly experienced at international mission journeys, I desire to understand what God wants to show me on any journey.  God has a purpose, and I seek to understand his message and what I am to learn and do.

So spending time in my journal and reviewing all the photos and videos we took of our journey together, some of the themes that keep coming to mind are:

  • Power of partnership, especially with dignity
  • Relationships, not necessarily business
  • Transforming lives

As I dig deeper in thought what rises to the surface is the “Power of Partnership to Transform Lives” through dignity and not charity.  The words power, partnership, transform, dignity and charity will all have slightly different meanings to the reader depending on the filter by which each word is read.  All 6 words by themselves are positioned for misinterpretation, so string them all together into one phrase, and I fear the concept may get messy!    What does she mean by the “Power of Partnership to Transform Lives?”

I believe Redeemed Gospel Church (RGC) and Northside Christian Church (NCC) can be partners to transform lives both spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.  When two organizations come together for a common goal, many people refer to the union as a partnership.  When I refer to a union, I am careful to delineate the difference between a partnership and a relationship.  A partnership brings two entities together that have a long-term vision, are joined through thick and thin, pool resources, hold each other accountable and are each valued by the other in what they can bring to the partnership. Upon closer examination many churches or non-profit partnerships have some of the above elements but not all.  When one organization believes it provides more value than the other joining organization, the unspoken word is charity.  For lack of a better descriptor, the dominant partner perceives it is giving away some of its value (charity) to combine into one entity. There may be a reasonable driver for this type of union, but I would not call it a partnership under those circumstances.  In typical business merger and acquisition, a fair price or equity position is negotiated for the value each company may bring to a joint venture or merger.

Well placed charity is a blessing!  Northside financially blesses many initiatives or mission outreaches that align with their vision, mission, and goals.  Northside and RGC have a long standing relationship where Northside has brought money and people to help drill a water well on the property, put a new roof on the church, etc.   Transformational Ventures has invested time and resources in helping the RGC leadership personally and organizationally.  I am sure Northside will continue financial support, because they believe in what the church is trying to accomplish.   All this is a blessing for the giver and receiver!  As RGC, Northside and Transformational Ventures continue to make progress in its aligned goals, the word partnership seems to be mouthed more frequently.  I challenge those who are speaking “partnership” to define and describe what that truly means in action.  What does that look, taste and feel like tangibly?

I truly believe that RGC and Northside can be true partners in the way that I have suggested partnership, but first, both churches have to get real with what they each can and will bring to the table in the partnership.  No one way contribution—charity, but two way contribution—dignity.  I know this is a paradigm shift in thinking.  What will RGC contribute?  I’m not suggesting material resources that they don’t have?  I would suggest they can help our church learn how to culturally embrace what it means to love God (worship), to love others (service and tithing), and to make disciplines of disciplines (how to spread the Gospel).  Not sure we do as good a job on these endeavors as RGC.  Maybe they can mentor us in a partnership?  Share their best practices?

Pastor Brown and Pastor Dave are the men who will eventually decide whether RGC and Northside will truly partner by pooling their talents and resources.  God has no boundaries and neither should we.  If together NCC and RGC can save a 1,000 souls this year, does it matter whether they are in Africa or America or any combination of the two?

In summary, God has a reason for every mission journey, a message for every individual who chooses to venture into the field and for every person who meets the missionary.  As Mohamed so purposefully said, “It wasn’t an accident; God brought us together.” I also believe when you live missionally and live out your purpose, God will reveal a bigger story over your lifetime.  One mission journey may only be a chapter in a 1,000-page novel, but it may feel like you just devoured the whole book.

I believe this second trip to Kenya was another chapter in a book God wants me to read.  These first chapters of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel are setting my foundation, teaching me, challenging my thoughts, and shaping my views.  My first chapter, which was my first trip to Kenya with Woodlands Church, was about understanding and experiencing good developmental mission.  I continue to practice developmental mission in my daily life through the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) to keep me sharpened in this area.

God had me read the second chapter of my novel when he took me to Kenya on this trip.  He defined for me what true partnership has to embody for long-term sustainability—dignity!  Dignity not just in actions but in heart/mind belief!  People can act with dignity, but if the heart/mind is not aligned on dignity the partnership is reduced to a relationship. There is power in partnership to transform lives.

As I finish chapter 2, I am anticipating chapter 3, yet I don’t know where chapter 3 is yet.  Where can I get a copy?  I don’t know.  Is chapter 3 another foundational learning or am I going to get to practice and take action?   I have so many unanswered questions for the future.  Guess you could call this a cliffhanger.  As soon as I find that third chapter I’ll let you know!

To Judge or Not to Judge?

cropped-shinecrossings_mainlogo.pngWho likes to judge or be the judge?  How often do you find yourself judging?  To whatever frequency you just admitted, I bet if you thoughtfully played back those daily rituals in your mind, you would surprise yourself in how much more judging you do than first thought.  You probably judge the taste of your cup of java (“ah, so good” or “ugh, that’s bitter”), your reflection back in the morning mirror (“yikes, look at those bags and dark circles under my eyes”), and those other drivers on the road (“pay attention, what an idiot”).  What are some of your thoughts when you arrive at work?  How about the casual assessment of your colleague’s work (“that sucks, he should have been fired a long time ago”), the choice of your coworker’s attire (“what was she thinking”), and how about the leadership of your boss (“I could do better with half a brain”).   Some of these judgments may be extreme, but you have to admit not uncommon.  As humans we are so quick to judge without much thought, as if our judgment is fed from our five senses fueling our emotions which override our thinking brain, and in some cases, just barely stops at the tip of our tongues.  How did it hear, look, taste, smell and feel?  Did our ability to make quick judgment stem from our humanistic need for survival—the ability to make a quick threat assessment and spring into action to protect ourselves and ensure our safety.  God made humans with this beautiful part of the brain called the “pre-frontal cortex” which gives us some incredible abilities that surpass all other living creatures on earth.  Our pre-frontal cortex gifts us with the ability not to act on impulse or innate reflexes but to use reason and logic in assessing our living situations.  So why don’t we seem use it more?  Why is it so easy for us to pass judgment with hardly giving it a second thought?  Could it be that we have not been burned badly enough by our quick conclusions to exert more cortex capacity?  Humans can be conditioned!

So what does it feel like to be judged?  When I ask this question, I am sure you can immediately conjure up a few examples that bring a twinge of pain even today after many years.  Are you having a bit of an emotional rise?  Unpleasant at best, maybe a bit angry at worst.   As you dwell on some of these painful memories, some thoughts you may have are “but I just didn’t have a choice,” “I was young, stupid and didn’t get any slack,” and “if only they could walk in my shoes they would understand why I did what I did.”  You may be right.  If I walked in your shoes at that moment, I may have done exactly what you did and have more compassion for you today.   You were judged, convicted and sentenced!  Welcome to prison!  You may not be incarcerated, but you are still a prisoner in your own mind.  You cannot erase that memory or pain of how you were judged.  Perhaps you feel you served your sentence by making amends, but why does it feel like the punishment is still life imprisonment?   Being on the receiving end of judgment can be painful and leave scars for a lifetime.  So if we can agree that being judged is unpleasant at best, why do we continue to give out what we hate to receive?

Let me clarify one point that typically comes into the discussion on judgment.  Many people use discernment and judgment interchangeably, especially in the Christian world.  Aren’t those the same?  Not exactly.  Discernment assesses value and typically leads to action whereas judgment just labels.  Discernment is wisdom and understanding whereas judgment is an assessment of right or wrong, good versus bad.  You can have discernment that a situation is unsafe, then take appropriate action to ensure your safety.  Judgment would describe a situation as unsafe but not necessarily imply action.  As humans we need discernment, but judgment does not serve ourselves or others as well.  Remember that old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  Not true!  Hurtful, judgmental words cut deeper than any knife could, and many of those internal wounds may never heal.  How many kids on the playground may have shouted those words in return to judgmental statements such as “You can’t hit the ball.  I don’t want you on my team,” or  “You’re wearing flood pants, did you borrow them from your baby brother?” Yes, I was a victim then.  I now know that those cruel words left the mouth of babes because their immature pre-frontal cortex, yet you know, as  a teacher supervising that playground, you might have thought those same words.  Of course, you kept your mouth shut. If everyone understood the eternal, faithful love that God has for us, no one would be able to hurt us with words or actions, because we would understand that our identity and self-worth only reside in our loving God.  Unfortunately, we do not live in this perfect world; therefore, work, possessions and human relationships have a heavy influence on people’s sense of self-worth and ability to feel loved and valued.

I will stipulate that judgment and subsequent consequences are completely appropriate and necessary in our law system.  However, I will be honest that my heart breaks for those who have made mistakes, served their prison sentence, but have walls to climb in order to integrate back into community despite their deep desire to contribute to society.  In the best of circumstances, think about those adults who have been convicted of a minor “F”elony, never harmed another individual, and only served probation.  I have one of those friends who was convicted of drug possession, sentenced to probation for his first offense, but has to wear the “F” on his shirt like a scarlet letter.  With his felony status he cannot live in any apartment complex, has few job opportunities, and is constantly judged unworthy.  He is trying to do better but the system and community are both intentionally and unintentionally working against him.  Sometimes the difference between a felony is only one person getting caught and the other not.   We are all human, have weakness and possible addictions.  Maybe he had too much dependence on marijuana which got him into trouble. Addiction is addiction and can manifest itself differently with each individual.  Hoarding, alcohol, food, spending money, exercise and pornography can all become addictions if the behavior is taken to extreme, yet we typically judge people who have these additions differently.  Why?  Because those addictions happen to be legal, whereas in most states marijuana is still illegal.

Can we not have more compassion for those who are trying to help themselves in the moment?  Can we stop labeling people as good or bad and start labeling people as hurt and in need or healthy and blessed?  My heart hurts for those who are suffering under the heavy weight of judgment.  I cannot change the world, but I can call it out with the hope that people will have greater pause and hopefully more awareness of their judgment.  Instead of judging, why not lend a helping hand, or extend a kind word or gesture.  Lift a human brother or sister up with words of affirmation versus tearing them down.  But you may say, “I don’t say anything.  I keep my thoughts to myself.  My thoughts can’t hurt anyone.”  I would disagree; those negative thoughts are carried in your body language and manifest themselves in choices of behavior towards others whether you are conscious of it or not.

And for those of you who made it to this point and thought, “Isn’t she judging?”  My reply is, “Yes I am! I admit it. I’m judging with a purpose.”   Am I suggesting that as humans we will suspend all judgment?  Of course not, we all fall short of perfection.  As sinners we can only challenge ourselves to do better!  We should take the plank out of our own eye, before trying to remove the speck out of our brother’s, as our own sin blinds us to the truth of the situation.  My hope is you will be more thoughtful every time you catch yourself judging.   Might this be one of those times where you make a different assessment or choice and change a life with words of encouragement or actions of a loving hand up?  I pray that you do!  I leave you with this final thought:  Your judgment may say more about you than it does about the person you judge!