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Summary: We are all fulltime but we are NOT all effective.

I was talking with one of our leaders about the idea of “fulltime ministry”. Very much like the virtuous sheen that covers NGO work, becoming a “fulltime minister” (at least in the Philippines) comes with the romantic idea of dedicating one’s self to “God’s work”. I’ve heard many times about how someone “feels called” to the ministry, as if their current job is not just as much a calling. It is.

Whatever you’re already doing now, you are called to glorify God and love others. In other words, you’re called to minister, which means you’re called to serve (ministry means service). If you need a career change to minister than you’re probably not going to be that effective as a minister there, because you don’t understand 3 simple points:

1. Its all God’s work
2. We are all called to fulltime ministry
3. Proof of effective ministry is fruit

It’s All God’s Work
How I serve my wife and son, how I wipe his butt, how I lead our organizations, how I serve my partners and superiors, how I satisfy my customers, how I take care of my body, how I pray, how I rest, and even more, my attitude and heart state while doing all of this, are all either glorifying God or not. I don’t need a title change or career shift to start serving. I can and have been serving right where I am. In fact, I’ve found that I’ve been free to serve in some very creative capacities because I’m daily interacting with the crazy world as it is – with all the poverty, sleaziness, greed, and corruption that exists. How I build my life, and how I address the great needs of our time, and the heart I keep as I do, determines whether I am a true  minister or not.  This leads me to the next point.

We are all called to fulltime ministry, as we are called to fulltime service.
Sometimes I wish I could have a break from being a leader. Like I wish I could just sleep all day, ignore whatever responsibilities I have, and just do whatever I want. But while I may feel this way, it is contrary to the call of growing to be more like Christ, and to experience life with this in mind, that I may respond to all things more and more like He would. This isn’t an 8 to 5 job that I can take a break from. It is a fulltime call, as full time as it gets. The idea that there are full-time and part-time ministers comes with the same unintended consequences of having full-time social workers. While there is a need for teams of people to orchestrate good works, we should never fall into the trap that doing community work is for a few noble professional do-gooders while the rest of us focus mostly on self-security and self-enrichment. Just think about the logic of a small percent of the population trying to undo the unintended social, economic, and environmental consequences of the majority of the population being preoccupied with selfish pursuits. Is it really reasonable to a few “earth warriors” to beat our collective pollution and garbage generation? Is it really reasonable to expect that our token donations and once-a-year volunteerism will bridge the inequality gap that our collective greed, envy, and materialism contributes to? Just as pouring an annual cup of water won’t put off a raging fire, thinking that I can do token work while someone else, some “full-time” person, does the heavy lifting is illogical and counter productive.

Instead, Paul reminds us that the hope of the world is not in a few good men but in all the saints. He says in Colossians 1:24-29

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them (the saints) God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. I love verse 27. After talking about everything he’s doing, Paul shifts and says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The hope of glory, the hope of a better community, the hope of a better life, the hope for answers, the hope for rest, lies in Christ in us. He goes on in verse 28, switching from “I” to “we”. We proclaim. We warn everyone. We teach everyone all wisdom. We present everyone mature in Christ. After talking about all his personal labors, Paul reminds us that this responsibility of proclaiming, warning, teaching, being wise, and showing our results to Christ is not just for so-called full-time workers but for everyone.

This leads me to my last point, and it jumps off from the same verses: “that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” To present something means to show. All of this work should lead to tangible proof of result. The result we are told in the verse is maturity. Another word we can use for mature is ripe. Are we ripe with fruit? Is our lives bearing good fruit? Being “nice” or “behaved” or “sociable” or “agreeable”or “committed” does not necessarily mean one is being “fruitful”. Despite an almost universal dislike for metrics and proof-of-concepts in religious and NGO organizations, there is  proof of effective ministry. If, by our service, others become mature, meaning they are able to live out lives that bursting with good spiritual fruit, then we are effective. If not, than we are ineffective. This means that it is possible for people who are not employed by a religious or non-profit institution to minister more effectively than someone who is, simply from a  fruit perspective. It is possible that someone who is not salaried by an NGO or church is actually more a “Hope of Glory” than someone who is supposed to be doing that full-time.

So here is the tension: If all people are called to minister then why are some people paid for it and some not? The answer is simple but is many times avoided due to the dislike for performance metrics when it comes to spiritual things. My simple opinion is those who are doing it “full-time” or are paid should be providing a level of ministry, a level of service, that goes beyond that which someone who is not. I like playing tennis but no one will ever pay to watch me play tennis. People would pay to watch Roger Federer. Why? Because he plays a much much much higher level than me. I like to do many things no one will pay me for simply because I do not do them at a level that provides large enough value. In the same way, since everything is a calling anyway, what determines the compensation should not simply be motivations to do good or do “God’s work” but because someone is seeking and hopefully able to serve the community in such a high level. From an organizational perspective, resources should go to the people and projects that perform or bear fruit. Despite the success of books like Execution by Ram Charam, Necessary Endings by Dr. Cloud, and the leadership series of John Maxwell among non-profit leaders, it does not take careful inspection to see that just like many businesses, non-profits are not designed to reward and promote the best people. They will reward and promote those closest to the center, and those who make them feel most comfortable, many times because they are the most like them. By like them, I don’t mean similar personalities, but similar conclusions despite not having objective, 3rd-party, non-biased metrics. This is sad because it ensures that the organization, just like with any business, will either fail to live up to the loftiness of its stated mission (like end poverty, end hunger, or reach the world for God), and most don’t even come close when looked in comparison to the populations they operate in, but worse, it ensures that the next generation will have a harder task of undoing well-meaning bad just to start doing good. 

By going back to the simplicity of the Bible, and remembering, it’s all God’s work, we’re all full-time, and we’re all called to bear fruit, then we, individuals, won’t fall into the trap of thinking “we’ve done our part” when every single day holds a new part. This way we stop outsourcing our good works to a few good men and then complaining when the world does not improve. In the same way, we can build (or rebuild) our organizations to avoid a trap quite unique to well-intentioned organizations: “we have a good heart so we must be good”. Like I said, it’s very possible for well-meaning people from well-meaning organizations to be ineffective. In fact, I would argue, it’s probably more the case than other wise. What’s my proof for this? Just look at the proliferation of NGOs, foundations, churches, private charities, and personal causes and see if it has lowered poverty, crime, sex trafficking, and other measures of ills in society. This is not to say that it is the fault of these organizations that these ills exist, that is all our fault. This is to say we need to relook at our performances and see whether they match our stated purpose and stated principles. #db

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In a Corner with My Anchor Manila, 9:17pm I think one of the most important abilities a person must develop, particularly someone who aspires to make a dent in the world, is the ability to cultivate times of healthy isolation. For me, this is a time to recalibrate from the busy of work of doing back to the deep work of being. It’s a moment to correct my regularly erring perspective, to remind myself of the whys behind my whats, and to repent of my sins, of which there are many (I don’t say that to be self-effacing). Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I’m a bag of conflicting traits. I’m a writer who has a hard time finding the right words during normal conversations, many times saying the perfect wrong thing and causing myself a lot of embarrassment. I’m a disciplined individual, waking up while it’s still dark, exercising regularly, working diligently, yet have a hard time with moderation – If I’m going to do something, I find myself taking it far – which can be great for good activities and bad for things such as my temper, self-pity, and overworking. I can list more contrasts but the point I want to make is beyond a description of my conflict but a reminder of something I wrote about before: WE ALL HAVE INNER CONFLICT. While some may seem less of a contradiction than others, everyone suffers from the ebbs and flows not only of the thoughts, feelings, and conditions within us, but also of the environment and people around us. We all must navigate the great world we live in and our own vast soul. Having contradictions doesn’t make someone more or less special. Contradictions make us human. But they also get us into trouble. They hurt our reputations, our reliability, and our ability to be consistent, which is an important part of success and growth in anything. So while we all have inner conflict, we must all strive towards SELF-MASTERY, and we do this through the practice of SELF-DISCIPLINE. As we do something in a disciplined manner, we develop mastery of that thing. It’s the same with life. When we are faced with frustration, and if we react to it, we reinforce the power of circumstances over us. But if we don’t react, if we pause and chart a wise response, we increase our power over circumstances. If we are afraid and we let the fear dictate our next steps, we allow fear to define our decisions, and fear has a great way of making our decisions smaller and more selfish. But if we face the fear, we strengthen our character and in the process develop courage. If we are faced with injustice, and all we do is grumble and complain without taking on the responsibility of our part, then not only are we useless to Justice but a partner of Injustice for it is unjust to hold others accountable for what we ourselves have failed to fulfill. But if we aim the judgement on ourselves, focusing on the plank in our eye instead of the spec in another’s, we find that we become agents of beautiful change, not because we are self-righteously attacking the wrong in others, but humbly dealing with the wrong in ourselves. These examples are hard and I have to admit I have a long way to go when it comes to responding properly instead of reacting, but with the practice of self-discipline, I believe that self-mastery is achievable. Someone once told me that we shouldn’t be mastering ourselves but should make God our master. It’s the type of uniformed comment that I find is typical of people who have not taken the time to refine their latest favorite sound bite. It’s the type of comment I tend to hear from people who are uncomfortable with doubt, naturally narrow minded from being spoon-fed, and have the luxury of a superstitious worldview. I do believe that God should be our master, but not in the way that He will somehow magically drop that one right decision I’m supposed to make, or lead me to that one right job I’m supposed to take, or that God mastering us is exclusive of us mastering ourselves. On the contrary, I believe that making God our master means offering ourselves up to Him as living sacrifices, not so much saying, “God, You make the decisions.” but instead “God, not my will but Your will. I CHOOSE to do Your will.” I believe that to make God my master is not to surrender the act of decision making to Him, a privilege He gave us when He gave us freedom and choice, but to use that freedom, my free will, to choose Him. That may seem like a simple difference but the implications are totally different. The belief that we’re supposed to let God make decisions for us puts the responsibly of our decisions on Him. But believing that our decisions are our own keeps the responsibility with us. Are we going to use our freedom for Him? Without the practice of self-discipline, we will be reactive to the things around us and within us, and will find it difficult to use our freedom for God. To say that the self-discipline that leads to self-mastery isn’t part of making God our master is to forget that God Himself is love, and that the Bible tells us that the “greatest of these is love”, and that true love requires the freedom of choice. To love someone is to choose them, not because you are unable to choose otherwise, but because you find them most beautiful. I believe that self-mastery in the Biblical sense is to become so awesome for the pleasure of the God you love, and for the people He has called us to love, who He Himself loves most. You choose to believe not because you don’t have a choice, but because you choose to please God with faith. You become a hard worker not because you don’t have a choice, but because you choose to be a good steward of the talents and time He gave you. You become a good husband or wife, not because you don’t have a choice, or because you’re obligated by society, but because you choose to love your spouse the way God chose to love you. You serve others not because you don’t have a choice or because you have an obligation to some institution but because you choose to love others with action. You choose to run back to God over and over and over again, not because you’re perfect, or some robotic holy man, neither because of your obligation and accountability to others, but because you love Him, meaning that at the core of your heart is a deep desire to choose the path brings you closer to Him, simply because you find Him most beautiful.
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I thought I’d hammer something out before hitting the gym. It’s been an interesting week for my father and I as we shot scenes for The LEGO Principle app at The Grove Studios tucked somewhere in the Central Coast of Australia. Every day has been full and I’ve had to follow this up with my own responsibilities. God is so gracious to us to involve us in His great work of ongoing creation and recreation. Despite our limitations, our evil inclinations, and the shame of our past, God, who sees all, chooses to give us another day, another opportunity to enjoy the life He has given us according to His original design. I use the words “us” and “our” deliberately to emphasize my strong belief that EVERYONE is called to an amazing life. Many times we miss this because we’re looking at the wrong places and the wrong things. Sadly, this is because we’ve been taught to look at and admire the wrong things. That’s why there’s this small group of “elite” human beings, the rich ones, the smart ones, the beautiful ones, the glamorous ones, the talented ones, the connected ones, the powerful ones, the winners, the sexier ones – the great ones. The religious world has their own version: the wise ones, the behaved ones, the active ones. These are the people we clap for and award. These are the ideals that we honor and teach our children to honor. The majority of people are either fighting to join them, wishing to join them, worshipping them, or saddened they’re not one of them. What about those who are neither of these? Is my value dependent on how close I get to these ideals? Is the value of a person dependent on how close he is to these? The problem with these ideals is that they automatically draw lines that separate people. Don’t you see that the greatest bigotry in society is not even racial or gender but between us and our selfish ideas and selfish ideals? If someone is not rich, then he is poor. If someone is not smart, then he is dumb. If someone is not beautiful that he is ugly. If someone is glamours than he is unglamorous. If someone is untalented then he is ordinary. If someone is not connected then he is isolated. If someone is not powerful then he is weak. If someone is not sexy then he is unhealthy. If someone is not great then he is a mediocre. If someone is not religious then he is sinful. If someone is not wise then he is foolish. If someone does not behave as we want then he is misbehaving. If someone is not active in church then he is an inactive human being. All these statements are generalized fallacies. You’ll never understand this if you seek greatness in the way the world understands it. I know people always say that “You can be great!” and they go on to tell you how the same way the world does which is “You can be great IF you reach these ideals. If you become rich because you prayed and saved and worked hard. If you become popular by showcasing your talents. If this. If that.” Let me explain. God made it so that everyone could be great because everyone can serve. He says, “If you want to be great, great in my eyes, you must be the servant of all.” And everyone, from youngest child, to the oldest, man or woman, smart, dumb, handicapped, healthy, weak, talented, whatever, can serve. God also made it so that the best way to please Him is simply to have faith. And everyone can have faith. The inferior audiences of the world need us to prostitute ourselves. The superior audience of one, God, needs us only to trust in Him. To trust Him for what? To trust Him to save us. Even when He asks of us, He asks of us to be expectant of the good He has planned. God made it so that the most fulfilling thing in life is to love and be loved. The Biblical view shows this as: To find someone so beautiful that you lay your life down for them and to be found so beautiful that someone lays their life down for you. Everyone can love. You don’t have to be special to love your neighbor. You only need to lay your life for them in living as excellently possible with the benefit of others in mind. You don’t need to be a “great person” to serve your parents, you only need to be available, accepting, affirming, and affectionate (as my dad likes to teach). God made it so that everyone can love and so enjoy the most fulfilling thing. And everyone is loved by God, so that is fulfilled. God found you so beautiful that He laid His life down for you. I write this because I get really bothered when I get emails and messages about how “lucky I am” or how “cool my life is”. There are many things you don’t know about me – and about every single person you admire. They’re more like you than you think. They’re probably uglier inside than you. Don’t worship man. Instead, YOU be great by being the servant of all. YOU have faith and so please the universe’s greatest Audience. YOU go love and YOU go enjoy God’s love daily in daily prayer and worship because that’s where fulfilment lies.
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