Change the Topic

topicchangeThe sign on the table said “Ministry to Women.” It was one of many tables from which people attending the networking breakfast could choose. Seats were first-come, first-served, so those who didn’t arrive early took the risk of having to sit at a table that was less than an ideal fit for them. And that’s what happened at the Ministry to Women table. Just as the program was beginning, a man slipped into the room, looked around urgently, then slipped into one of the chairs at the table with us.

As the facilitator, I wanted to be sure he felt as welcome as everyone else, but I was concerned about his comfort level…and the comfort levels of the women at the table. Everyone one seemed fine, and as we began introducing ourselves and sharing why we chose to sit at the Ministry to Women table, he confessed, “I really wanted to sit at the Elders table, but it was already full. But this table interests me, too. I thought that it said Ministry of Women, not Ministry to Women, and I’m curious to find out what you think about women in various ministry positions and roles.”

I was faced with a choice: (1) Stick to the plan of covering topics under the umbrella of Ministry to Women, which would meet the needs of the majority at the table. (2) Explore the Ministry of Women topic, which would meet the curiosity of one person. Majority rules, right?

Not necessarily.

I knew if I tried to control the conversation, push an agenda, or meet everyone’s needs, I’d fail as a facilitator. So I took a deep breath, set aside all my preparations and expectations, and guided the next forty-five minutes’ discussion by asking thought-provoking questions, acknowledging and affirming each person, and most important, trusting God to guide.

And we had a great conversation. As unexpected as it was and as controversial as it could have been, our discussion was filled with respect, inquisitiveness, and investment. Everyone had something to say and took his or her focus off personal experiences and onto ways to invite conversations and investment in the process, including ideas for moving forward in personal circles and ministries.

We can often get a little off-balanced when things don’t go the way we expect them to go, and that unbalance can make us just edgy enough to get defensive or take control. We can begin to push our own agendas, try to prove others wrong…and forget that settling the controversy isn’t about the topic itself as much as it’s about the relationships we’re establishing along the way. When we’re sitting on the edge of our seats, waiting to respond in order to prove our points or tear someone else’s apart, we miss the process. We miss the opportunity to meet others where we share common ground instead of stopping short because we’ve built a stubborn wall we’re unwilling to cross. Then we call it “establishing healthy boundaries” and rationalize why we can’t move. Supporting a person through listening doesn’t assume you support the idea or viewpoint. But it shows respect.

We miss out on a lot of opportunities to learn from others and about ourselves when we choose to sacrifice the process because it isn’t what we expect or isn’t comfortable. When God brings people into our lives so that what we discuss will sharpen everyone involved, we need to be willing to be involved in the process. We need to trust him to work instead of withdrawing or getting uptight about taking control of the situation. God knows what he’s doing.

The table discussion wasn’t what I expected, yet we weren’t read to end our discussion at the end of the networking breakfast. We exchanged contact information and enjoyed seeing each other throughout the conference in the following days. We didn’t get stuck in the differences; we moved forward in the possibilities. We encouraged each other and invited each person to share, question, and advice. We walked away feeling respected and appreciative that God gave us a tangible reminder of the value of the friendships he brings into our lives every day.

Look around you today. Even when you have a common purpose with someone, you might find you’re very different. Invite the opportunity to explore the differences while you’re standing on the common ground of respect.

To those who are without the law I became like a person who is without the law. I did this to win those people who are without the law. (But really, I am not without God’s law—I am ruled by Christ’s law.) To those who are weak, I became weak so I could win the weak. I have become all things to all people so I could save some of them in any way possible. I do all this because of the Good News and so I can share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:21-23)

This Week’s 7: The Human Experience

I love diversity. I enjoy sitting at a busy airport and watching and listening to the richness of colors, sounds, and interactions. I can always find something in common with people I meet. No matter how different you feel you are from others, there are some common human experiences we all share.

Tears. We might cry about different things. We might cry in different ways. Tears can indicate joy, grief, and extensive laughter.

You have recorded my troubles. You have kept a list of my tears. Aren’t they in your records? (Psalm 56:8)

Laughter. We laugh about different things. We laugh in different ways. Laughter usually indicates enjoyment of life.

Then we were filled with laughter, and we sang happy songs. (Psalm 126:2)

Hunger. How we define hunger differs greatly depending on the extent of our need. Those who hunger less seem more picky about what they eat. Hunger can be physical, emotional, or spiritual.

They were thin from hunger and wandered the dry and ruined land at night. (Job 30:3)

Fear. The context of fear varies from specific phobias to a fear of attack and death. Fear can be motivating, but it can also drain us of strength.

Yes, my dear children, live in him so that when Christ comes back, we can be without fear and not be ashamed in his presence. (1 John 2:28)

Warmth. We seek warmth but can be uncomfortable when burdened with heat. We seek relief from discomfort. While we try to regulate temperature for comfort, many people around the world try to regulate temperature for survival.

If you say to that person, “God be with you! I hope you stay warm and get plenty to eat,” but you do not give what that person needs, your words are worth nothing. (James 2:16)

Relationships. We seek relationships for various reasons: love, companionship, business, comfort, service, and so on. We need relationships, because we need one another to encourage, provide for, and be accountable. God created us for biblical community.

Here the saying is true, “One person plants, and another harvests.” (John 4:37)

Thirst. While we all thirst for something, there is only One who can satisfy our thirst:

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks the water I give will never be thirsty. The water I give will become a spring of water gushing up inside that person, giving eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Fully experience the depth and breadth of God’s will for you today.

Each Sunday on the Pure Purpose blog, I feature This Week’s 7, a simple list about an everyday topic, giving you ideas and encouragement. Thanks for joining me today!

We’re All In This Together!

There’s a group of people I only see a couple times a year. We typically work together at a couple large conferences, and the schedule is exhausting. We all fly in one evening. We know we need to be up early the next morning to set up, but we typically stay up late, catching up with each other. With Facebook and Twitter, you’d think we’d already have all the details we need, but face-to-face is different. We get to have conversations in real time, and we take full advantage of the opportunity.

After three days of connecting with people passionate about ministry, scurrying out for meals together, and trying to discuss and fix all the issues of the world, we’re exhausted. We usually have morning flights, so we typically flop into our beds the last night and try to get any amount of sleep that will help us return to our regular routines of families, ministries and all the things that don’t pause even when we’re away from them.

During our last trip, we set aside sleep the final night and went to Ghiradelli’s in Downtown Disney for late night ice cream and hot cocoa. Despite our exhaustion (or perhaps because of it), we got a renewed burst of energy once we squeezed around a small table and consumed our overloaded sugary treats. We laughed over goofy videos a few people on the team had made during a quick trip for supplies. We discovered the packed table next to us had similar ministry interests, and we shared stories and needs and took a photo right in the middle of the bustling restaurant. (Yes, we were those annoying people in the restaurant. A nearby table of teenagers gave us a couple eye-rolls and looks of disgust.) We shared a common cup of hot fudge despite most of us either being health-conscious or germaphobes.

And we sang. Yes, we sang. Who cares if the only line we could remember from the High School Musical song was “We’re all in this together…”! If you sing it over and over, it resembles a complete verse! (We committed to at least learn a couple more lines before we’re together again.)

We sealed the experience of being together for a common purpose (serving in ministry together) with an experience of being together for a common purpose (building relationships). We set aside sleep and made memories instead. We set aside everything going on in our personal lives and our preferences for answering emails, working out, taking a warm shower, or whatever else we wanted to do in order to share a brief window of time together.

When have you sacrificed yourself for a group experience?

What benefits are there to individuals coming together for a common purpose?

When you get together with others, do you usually only do so for “work,” or do you fit in some fun as well? Or perhaps fun always supercedes work for you. Do you need to focus a bit more on the benefits of having a group of people together and the possibilities of progress a group can accomplish?

I’ll be the first to admit my default setting is not to jump into the middle of a group of people just for fun. I enjoy people. I love the relationships of my life…but I also like my alone time. I need some retreat time to think, recharge, and to be productive with the responsibilities I have. But one of the responsibilities I have is to build relationships with others.

I need to seek relationships.

I need to maintain relationships.

I need to keep relationships healthy.

I need to invest in relationships.

I need to celebrate relationships.

I need to appreciate relationships.

Take a look at your relationships. Are they balanced? Are you seeking relationships with new people or simply investing in those you already know? Are you actually investing or just maintaining? Are you appreciating relationships or taking them for granted? Are you keeping relationships healthy or keeping status quo?

You’re in this life with someone…a whole group of someones. Do relationships intentionally.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

Get On The Same Page

At the beginning of the year, my friend gave me a book after realizing she had two copies. It’s a one-year devotional for couples. Tim and I didn’t think we’d consistently sit together at the same time to read the day’s devotion, so we decided to try something we knew we could maintain. Tim usually reads while drinking coffee in the morning, so he’d leave the book under his phone to remind him to read in the morning. After he reads, he’d place the book at my place at the table as a reminder to me. Then I’d return it to the place where his phone charges. Our plan worked, and we’ve been consistent.

We don’t sit side-by-side, but we’re still on the same page at least once during the day. Hopefully, it’s more than once, but at least we know we share one foundational piece in our day. We typically don’t discuss what we read. By the time we’re together for an extended time, it’s evening, and morning devotion time seems like ancient history. But sometimes when we’re walking together, Tim will bring up something that challenged or encouraged him, and it will springboard a discussion.

It’s important to be on the same page – whether with your spouse or others consistently in your daily life. Being on the same page doesn’t mean you agree on everything or take the same path. If you set your priority lists side by side, you’d likely see differences, but you should find one thing in common: You’re making your relationship a priority. You’re trying to find common ground with someone.

With all the pressures and demands of daily life, it’s easy to drift apart. Without intentional effort, relationships atrophy into chaos, or at least disinterest. Differences are often highlighted while similarities are ignored or understated.

Tim and I are similar in many ways, but there are definitely differences, and we can polarize each other in the differences. Early in our marriage, we loved to discuss a wide variety of topics. Along came children, and we discussed parenting. There’s always something we can discuss. As we begin the discussion, we might agree on all but one or two points. As we continue to focus on those things we disagree on, the chasm grows. Little by little, we step away from each other, creating distance. We can end up feeling much more different than we actually are.

Differences aren’t bad…when we respect the other person despite the differences. In some cases, we need to hold each other accountable because of the differences. The problem isn’t difference, but distance. When we find common ground with each other, we have to move closer. There might still be many differences, but the distance lessens. We have a commonality as our focus instead of a widening chasm.

Are there dividing chasms in your relationships? Today is the day to devote to getting on the same page.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4