The Impact of a Simple Thank You Letter

Sandra Dillon: July 22, 2017


pen and paper 1In December 2011, I started an annual tradition to select at least three people who had the most influence on my life that year and to write them a hand-written thank-you letter explaining why they had such an impact.  That year, one of my chosen few was Anthony Spagnoletti, who is the owner of an auto body repair shop in The Woodlands, Texas, who brought me to Christ.  On a Friday afternoon, in June 2011, Anthony changed my life by shooing away his employees and handing off his customers to spend two hours talking to be about God and providing answers to my questions about unexplainable events that were happening in my life.  When I left his office that day, all Anthony knew for sure was that he had sacrificed several hours of his valuable time to have serious conversation about God with a woman whom he had just met hours before.

I never had any contact with Anthony after I left his body shop until he received my letter in December.  Actually, I assumed he received it and hoped that I would hear from him again, even if it was just a thank you for the thank you.  No word!  In April 2012 while driving back home from a weekend in Austin, an email appeared on my iPhone which began with “This letter is long overdue…”  Anthony wanted to let me know that my thank-you letter had made an incredible impact on him and come just at the right time.  He was questioning God and his purpose, and my letter affirmed everything he knew God to be and why he was put on this earth.  I changed Anthony’s life that day with my simple thank-you note.

Wow!  I assumed Anthony would enjoy hearing that his two hours spent with me was worth the investment.  That long-ago Friday night, I thought about everything that we had talked about.  I then slept on it, and the next morning while lying in bed, I prayed “The Prayer” and asked Jesus to be my personal savior.  The Holy Spirit came in a way I cannot explain, and my life was changed forever.  I wanted to thank Anthony for giving me that gift.  What I could not have imagined was that I gave him an almost equal gift in return through the simple gesture of writing a hand-written thank-you note.

I wanted to share this story and encourage you to think about those people in your life who have made a difference.  Next, take the time to write and express your gratitude.  If they left an edible mark on your life, do they not deserve that little bit of your time to put your thanks on paper?  You never know what impact you might make on them in return!

There is a post-script to this story which shows how the impact can live on!  In July 2017, my husband, Darin, returned to Anthony’s body shop to get his rear bumper replaced. Over the course of some chit-chat, Anthony told Darin that my letter sits safely tucked in the Bible he reads every day.  He shared that this letter is the best gift he ever received. My note of thanks is not a one-hit wonder but a lasting legacy for one Godly man. Knowing that my letter continues to have a daily impact inspires me to continue writing those annual thank-you letters and encourage others to do the same.


 

Give the Gift of Freedom: Give Clean Drinking Water

 LWI El Salvador Photo CollageToday, July 4th, Americans celebrate their country’s independence and the freedoms they enjoy as citizens of the United States of America.  Although every country wrestles with its injustices and socioeconomic differences among its population, by world standards most Americans are extremely blessed with basic living necessities and luxuries. Clean, safe drinking water is available to nearly all Americans.  Even the homeless can walk into a gas station bathroom, turn on the faucet, and drink water from a spout that quenches their thirst and is free of bacteria and disease. Most citizens in third-world or developing countries do not enjoy this gift, because their water supply comes from local streams and ponds that are used for drinking, bathing, cooking/washing, and sanitation.

Living Water International (LWI) takes teams for short-term (1 week) mission trips to Central American countries to bring life-saving water to villages, schools, or communities.  This September, I am taking another team to El Salvador to drill a well, do pump repairs, and teach hygiene in a community that is in need of clean water.  As you celebrate your freedom today, I ask whether you feel called to join our team, working side-by-side with the local people, to free them from contaminated water.  Although I can’t give you your money back, I can guarantee that the experience will change your life.  Call me at 281.793.3741 to learn more about this give-back opportunity.

 

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.

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.

World Changers on Mission


Excerpt from LWI El Salvador 2016 Mission Journal (November 2, 2016)


I typically write my closing journal entry several days after returning from mission, so that I have time not only to unpack my bags but also the messages God shares with me during the week.   Although I know God uses my hands and feet on the ground to serve, I am also to receive.  God did not disappoint.   I believe he put all the pieces together for me starting from my journey to Kenya in 2013, Haiti in 2014, Honduras in 2015, and then Kenya and El Salvador in 2016.  Besides these short-term mission trips, God placed on my heart Shine Crossings and World Changers on Mission (WCoM).  At the end of 2015, God closed the door to my employment at TPC Group and opened another door for me to attend Liberty University full-time to purse my second Masters which is in Human Services Counseling, Life Coaching.  God made this all possible by bringing Darin into my life as a soulmate, supporter, and now financial leader of our home, so I could walk through the threshold and into the calling God has for my life.  God has a plan, and I am living it!

Two years prior, God told me to watch for the Cross laid over the Star of David.  Well, the corners of that star started to take shape about 6 months ago.  God gave me the vision of the first triangle with corners of church (people), mission (developmental service), and business (enterprises).   After my trip towcom-emblem-2016-11-03 Kenya in early 2016 another inverted triangle started to take form with dignity (in service).  This trip completed the other two points of this triangle which are equipped (where we stand) and connectivity (God has no borders).  So, when you put the two triangles together you have the Star of David.  When I stepped into the Tabernacle Church in El Salvador and saw their emblem, the message was that Christ covers it all.  The puzzle is complete.  I believe when God told me to look for the Cross over the Star of David, he was telling me that he had given me everything.  It is done! Now go!

I will be honest.  I’m a bit scared.  Not scared of failure, but just scared, because it is just so overwhelmingly big.  Therefore, I remind myself again of TD Jakes’ message at the Global Leadership Summit (GLS).  If you can accomplish your dream on your own, you are not dreaming big enough.   I am also reminded of the bracelet that God encouraged me to buy just weeks before mission—FEARLESS.   Dream big!  Fearless! And fear less!  I better embrace it all, and as I like to coach others and must take my own advice—just MOVE!  GO!  Have no fear, God is with you always.

What Happens When Middle School Students Are Asked To Self-Reflect?

November 8, 2016

For those who have been following my public classroom observations and stories, this former business executive continues to be amazed by what the public education system is not developing or inspiring in our student body.  These students are ourschool-blackboard-jolly future leaders, and quite frankly, I am worried about who will be making decisions about our country and its policies when I retire in 12 years.  Why am I worried?  Well, I accepted a substitute assignment as a 6th grade ELAR (English, Language Arts, Reading) teacher at the same middle school where I had previously served as a LIFE Skills teacher.  Although I enjoyed learning about the world of special needs, the experience naturally did not give me an accurate perspective of the average student population.  Hence, I stepped into a normal middle school classroom for a deep dive.  Wow, the students’ reactions to the various curriculum activities revealed how the system is cultivating academic robots who are trained and rewarded to learn and regurgitate information in excess so that natural self-reflective thinking paralyzes them.  The classroom focus seems to be more about controlling behavior than it is about learning.  You may think I over-exaggerate, but alas I do not.  And the story goes…

I arrived for my full day assignment 25 minutes before the first bell.  When I entered Mrs. Whitmore’s* classroom, it was extremely neat and organized, and I appreciated that she had left a 3-ring binder with detailed instructions, seating charts, and handouts.   As I read the day’s agenda, she helpfully listed the behavior-challenged students in each of the classes and gave strict instructions to send them to the Assistant Principal’s (AP’s) office if their behavior was not appropriate.  She had zero tolerance for bad behavior and wanted a list of those who acted up, because she had warned them of an automatic d-hall for bad behavior with the substitute.   Mrs. Whitmore had an all-day in school planning meeting, so I would see her at the beginning and end of day.  I had ELAR blocks (2 periods) of on-level, above-level, and then on-level students through the day.  As I scanned the rosters and seating charts, I noticed that each class had about 20 students who sat in table clusters of 3-5.  Very manageable I thought to myself!

Even in middle school, the teachers have a reward/punishment system.  Mrs. Whitmore let me know that I had the authority to dispense rewards in the form of school blue bucks which give special privileges.  In addition, she had developed her own in-class reward system with blue raffle tickets.  These reward methods incentivized good individual behavior.  She also employed a third reward system for good team behavior.  On the blackboard for each class, she had five hollow squares that made room for printing the word J-O-L-L-Y.  As the class demonstrated good behavior another letter was added.  With bad behavior, Mrs. Whitmore would erase a letter.  When a class spelled JOLLY, they were all rewarded with an extra break and a Jolly Rancher candy.  Are we in elementary school?  Does bribery with candy still work?

When the first bell rang, the kids started to file in and grabbed the worksheet that was stationed on the shelf.  The kids were very friendly, greeting me and asking questions.   After introducing myself as Mrs. Dillon and taking the roster, I explained their teacher had left detailed instructions for multiple assignments that I would take the class through over the next two hours.  The first assignment was easy and appeared to be routine, because when I said they would have 10 minutes of silent reading, they immediately pulled out their books.  The room was so quiet!  Off to a good start.  Next, the students were to fill in two blanks of a sentence pertaining to a question about their book.  Except for Frank*, who would not do any work and just rested his head down on his desk, everyone was focused on the assignments at hand.  I learned later that Frank was either not taking his medications at home or needed a higher dose as it was affecting his ability to wake-up and engage his mind.  Mrs. Whitmore had called his parents to inform them of his class behavior.  During the second half, Frank’s medication kicked in, his brain woke up, and so did his disruptive behavior.

Then they had the worksheet to complete on similes and metaphors for the remainder of the first block.   As opposed to the other classes to come, this first on-level class was not to work with partners, and the teacher gave strict instructions for them to work alone.  I had to address the students many times with, “No talking.  This is not a group activity,” or “If you’re done you can read independently.  No talking so your classmates can concentrate and finish.”   About two-thirds of the students completed the worksheet, and the other third could have finished but instead chose to goof around despite my continual warnings of how much time was left before I collected the papers.  These kids did not seem to care whether they completed the assignment for a grade.  Despite academic performance, these kids were relatively well-behaved.

The bell rang, signaling end of first period, and the kids rushed out of the room for their 5-minute break to use the bathroom or socialize with friends before starting the second half of the block.  The next assignment was 10 minutes of vocabulary.  Only a few minutes i-am-poem-templateinto this assignment, Mrs. Martinez* walked into the classroom.  I greeted her at the door and asked how I could help her?  She explained that for this on-level class a para-teacher floats among the classrooms to provide supi-am-poem-instructionsport.  With only 20 kids, I did not understand why the school needed the additional expense.  She was here to stay for the remainder of the period.  As she walked around the room interacting with the kids, I noticed the class dynamics changed.  Everyone started talking, and I eventually lost control of the students. Why did Mrs. Martinez approach kids who were diligently working on their assignment and start a conversation?  I repeatedly had to announce, “Focus on your work, please.  This does not require discussion.”  They did not listen.  What is going on with the group dynamics?  Are the students falling into regular behavior patterns with her presence?  I continually paced the room, occasionally parking myself near the table of students who were most disruptive.  I had to use the evil eye a few times to get compliance.

The last assignment was the “I am” poem.  I explained I would be handing out two sheets of paper.  One sheet was the partial poem and the other the instructions on how to complete it.  This poem was based on introspection and self-reflection.  After handing out both pieces of paper and instructing them to glue both sheets into their Writer’s Notebook, I watched as most of the class became parallelized. Only a handful of students were thinking and writing, thinking and writing.  The first line of the poem required them to choose and write two adjectives that described themselves to complete the sentence of I am….   Apparently, this was a stumper question.  The noise level increased as they murmured their frustration.  I said to the class, “This should be easy; this poem is about you, and you know yourself best.”  More blank stares.  Students responded with “I don’t know what I am,” and “This is too hard!”  I was baffled.  I then added, “If you are having difficulty filling in the first line, go to the next and then come back.”  The second line was I wonder…, and I said, “Complete the line with something you are curious about or wonder about.”   More blank stares.  My suggestions and the students’ responses continued in the same vein.   Every other assignment which required answering questions about what was read or learned was a simpler task for these students than pulling information from their heads and hearts—answers that are neither right or wrong.  Since I could not believe their responses, I rationalized that maybe it was an issue with this class—they had lost concentration by the disruption of the para-teacher.  I would test this assumption during the second block—an above-level class with no para-teacher.

Meanwhile, I could not wait until this class was over.  The students kept asking me if I was going to give Mrs. Whitmore a bad report about their class.  My response was, “I guess you will find out tomorrow.”  I kept asking myself, “Am I in elementary school?”  The dynamics were dysfunctional, and my words and instructions fell on deaf ears.  I even had to threaten pushing the button to bring in the AP.   Then Mrs. Martinez, who has not helped me in the least to encourage good behavior, tells the kids to listen to me which falls on deaf ears again.  The bell rang early because of the mandatory DEAR program.  Interesting concept—on specific days, all school activities stop at an appointed hour and everyone reads a book for 15 minutes.  DEAR could not get here soon enough.

The second block students were identified as above-level.  Their behavior was great the first half, but upon starting the “I am” poem, they too, started complaining, wringing their hands, and racking their brains.  This was an independent assignment and the chatter was loud.  I had difficulty getting them to focus, so they could work through the poem.  Many could not complete it.  After 40 minutes, some had a few lines written on their paper, and some had blank lines.  This was an above-level class?  I was awestruck regarding the mental aptitude and capabilities of these students.  Are these 6th graders who cannot answer simple questions about themselves?

Fast forward to my third block.   Although this experiment is over, and my initial conclusions drawn, I am holding out hope for this last on-level class.   The same pattern was repeated.   I kept repeating to the students, “You know yourself better than anyone.  This should be easy.”  My words fell on deaf ears.  I struggle in how to reconcile what I experienced.  My only explanation was this assignment was atypical, in that the students were asked to not just spit back information taught but were required to have some creativity, independent thinking, and self-reflection.  I believe this assignment challenged them to think differently.

I am gravely concerned that the Texas public education system is teaching to pass the STAAR Test and nothing more.  We are not cultivating the ability to think independently, tap into creativity, or problem-solve, which are critical life skills for success.  We are creating a bunch of academic robots, who store information, retrieve it from their memory banks, and spit it back upon request.   What a disservice!

If I could choose one word to describe what I have I experienced as a substitute teacher in six different classroom settings, that one word would be IDIOCRACY.  Several years back a friend suggested I watch a fictional movie called IDIOCRACY (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiocracy) with a story line that describes what America has achieved 500 years into the future.  After watching this black comedy, it reminded me of the expression “the dumbing down of America.”   As I continue to walk through the classrooms of our public education system, I think we, as society, are laying the foundation in making IDIOCRACY a reality. Truly terrifying!

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of teachers and students.

World Changers on Mission


Excerpt from Sandra Dillon’s El Salvador mission journal (October 22, 2016)


I am writing my last entry before our team departs for El Salvador.  God has been stirring up a lot of imagery and concepts with me these past couple of weeks.  In early October while enjoying a few margaritas and Mexican flavors with Matt and Holly Smith, I shared our calling to launch a group of people who would meet on a regular basis with the sole purpose of supporting each other as each moves out into his/her mission field.  Six months ago, Darin and I left our life group, because we wanted to use the time for service as well as to shinecrossings_textbasedlogoexplore a concept that God was placing on our hearts.  We desired to launch a group (unknown what it would be called then) whose sole purpose would be for missional living and outreach.  As Darin and I continued to focus on developing short-term mission trips to Kenya and El Salvador and serving in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program and marriage/premarital ministry, this concept took a back burner.  However, on October 7th, Matt and Holly challenged us to launch it, and excitedly said they wanted in.  That night, as Darin and I laid in bed, I told him I thought God was telling us it was time!  God’s message was coming through the spoken words of Matt and Holly.  At that moment I committed to develop the program before we left for El Salvador to take the team to drill a well and do pump repair.  Because God placed this initiative on our hearts, the details flowed as I put thought to paper.  Shine Crossings will be launching World Changers on Mission (WCoM) whose inspirational Scripture is 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” (NIV).

The World Changers Vision

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

The World Changers Mission Statement

  • 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 goals:
    • 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 which honor personal spiritual gifts and talents
    • Meeting people where they are in their personal spiritual journey and providing information and encouragement to pursue Christ as their personal savior
    • Developing and encouraging future world changers to organize and move out in service

For those who want to learn more about this initiative, I have developed a simple PowerPoint that provides more explanation and detail.  Email me if you are interested in receiving more information.   Because I know how God works, I cannot help but wonder how this mission trip will impact or further develop the concept of World Changers on Mission.

I am reminded of TD Jakes’ message from the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) in which he said that if you can accomplish your dream on your own, you are not dreaming big enough.  World Changers on Mission (WCoM) may have been birthed by Darin and me through God’s planting of a mustard seed in fertile soil, but WCoM is about empowering everyone to move in their purpose.  TD Jakes, pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, has some incredibly powerful quotes which I share for thought-provoking action:

  • “Don’t stop at where you are as if it were the destination, when in fact, in reality, it may be the transportation that brings you into that thing you were created to do.”
  • “Everything you’ve gone through is preparation for what’s about to happen in your life. The Lord has already given you a word, move!”
  • “We need to be who we were called to be instead of contorting ourselves into what other people want us to be!”
  • “It is time for us to find the thing we were created to do, the people we were meant to affect, and the power that comes from alignment with purpose.”
  • “Here is the problem with how many people approach the question of purpose: many are looking outside of themselves for their purpose, destiny, or meaning in life. The very key to knowing your purpose is discovering and celebrating your personal identity.”
  • “God is about to plant you in a big thing. Your eyes have not seen, your ears have not heard, neither has entered into your heart what God has in store for you!”
  • “If we are called to be the salt of the earth, we have to get out of the saltshaker. Get out of your comfort zone, enlarge your territory.”
  • “Your Passion is your conviction about it, your Purpose is why you do it, your Destiny is where.”
  • “At any age you can still ignite your passion through finding your purpose.”
  • “When you know your purpose, you know what isn’t your purpose, so you can stop being distracted trying to do something that is not in the wheelhouse of what you were designed to do!”

All of TD Jakes’ (www.tdjakes.com) key messages are foundational to what WCoM embodies.  So, what field is God calling you into?