Posts Tagged ministry

What Writing a Spiritual Autobiography Taught Me – www.ethicsdaily.com

When I started writing Our Father: Discovering Family, the working title was, Our Father: From Certainty to Faith. I had two questions in mind stemming from an amazing, eye-opening, soul-stretching experience I had at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. How did my spiritual development bring me to this point from where I started life in a small provincial town in South Carolina during the days of racial segregation? The second question was equally daunting. What am I to do with the remaining years of my life?

I discovered that God had a much bigger plan. God wanted to expand my vision as to who is in God’s family. God always has a bigger plan than we have. I am reluctant to put words in God’s mouth, but it is as if he were saying, Mitch, you can’t understand me until you know who is in my family.

In 1998 my new wife and I were in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. At 11:00 a.m. the priest for the day announced, “At this time every day we stop and say together the Our Father Prayer.” An amazing thing happened. People from all over the world: white, black, brown, male, female, tall, short, handicapped, able-bodied gay, straight were all praying the Our Father Prayer. For the first time in my life the true meaning of what “Our” means swept over me. I knew at that moment that my life had changed forever and that my faith had taken a quantum leap forward.

The process of prayer, reflection, research and writing lead me to two conclusions. First, I needed to drastically expand my understanding of who composes God’s family and second God had been preparing me all of my life to be a voice for fostering better understanding and communication between Christians and between Christians and the rest of the world. We need a more Christ-like dialogue. Striving to improve Christian communication became my mission for both writing and speaking.

The book is best described as a spiritual autobiography. I grew up in the segregated South where learning about the brotherhood of man wasn’t easy. As a child I could not understand how a church that preached God’s love could turn black people away from its doors. Much later, I struggled through the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention and a church split. My late wife, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, challenged all of my provincial ideas in a loving but forceful way. Her death coming just days before Hurricane Hugo struck Charleston and my beloved church was an unimaginable tragedy. One from which I was not sure I could recover, but God provided abundant expressions of love and reassurance.

In 2006 my wife asked me to volunteer to teach creative writing to her students in an inner-city minority middle school. The atmosphere reeked with negativity from both faculty and students. That experience lead me to write a little booklet, Say Something Nice; Be a Lifter. Then I founded the Say Something Nice Day observance now listed in the Chase Calendar of Event. In 2007 because of the rising tide of animosity between Christian groups, I spearheaded the Say Something Nice Sunday Movement celebrated on the first Sunday in June… This movement has gained support from Baptists, Catholics, Disciples, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians. The book I edited and contributed a chapter to in 2009, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, which brought together leaders from various denominations grew out of these events.

God brought great Christian thinkers into my life through my visits at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York State and the many speakers at the John Hamrick Lectures at First Baptists Church of Charleston: Bill Leonard, Molly Marshall, Glenn Hinson, Martin Marty, Thomas McKibbens, Arthur Caliandro, Timothy George, John Claypool, Paul Raushenbush and Joan Brown Campbell to name a few. I owe a great debt to my childhood pastor, Rev. Roy R. Gowan. One day he said to me, “Mitchell, God made all of you and that includes your brain. He does not expect you to park it at the door when you come to church.” It took me years to fully grasp what this wonderful man had said to me.

As I researched and wrote, Our Father; Discovering Family, all these isolated events – a career in communication disorders, Sunday school teacher, life-long church and civic volunteer, deacon, writer and speaker, consultant – began to fit together. They revealed to me that God has been leading me step by step to discover meaning and mission in my life. There are no coincidences. God’s Word says, “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.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) It also lead me to understand that the God I had been worshiping all of my life far exceeded anything that I could imagine or comprehend. Insights keep coming. It is an amazing journey.

An Excerpt from Our Father: Discovering Family

London and St. Paul’s Cathedral are light years away from Woodruff, South Carolina and Northside Baptist Church but each is an essential mile marker on a journey – a journey to discover a fuller understanding of who God really is and how I can be more like him.  In the process God revealed a much broader plan for me. He wanted to open my eyes and mind to see who his children are.  It is as if he is saying,” Mitch, you can’t understand me without knowing and loving my children, your sisters and brothers. I am the Father of all.” He is constantly reminding me that I am one of his children and that I belong to a family that is much larger, much more diverse, much more inclusive than I imagined at the start of my journey.

There are no shutouts in God’s family or as Dr. John Hamrick says, “People are not throw-aways.”  We all belong.  Just as my aunt tried to do 50 years ago, someone or some group is always trying to exclude some other group from God’s family for reasons of their own.  It never works.  You and I are members of the family.  We are loved, but we are not the head of the family.  That is the basis of all sin – wanting to take the place of God.  God is the head of the family.  He alone decides who is in and who is out. His greatest desire is that everyone should be a member of his family.  My role as a member of the family is to invite others to join by living a life that is truly reflective of what being a child of God is all about. It is about inclusion, not exclusion.  It is about love not hate. It is about accepting the invitation, “Come and learn of Me.”

For more about Mitch’s books, including Our Father: Discovering Family, click here.

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The Most Effective Thing You Can Do While Ministering – ethicsdaily.com

The Most Effective Thing You Can Do While Ministering

Mitch Carnell

The Most Effective Thing You Can Do While Ministering | Mitch Carnell, Communication, Kindness 

When we are too busy or too distracted to listen, we demonstrate a lack of concern, Carnell writes. (Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The ability to communicate is a gift.

We can bless others with this gift by using it to heal, to build up and not to harm. Conversely, we can use it to tear down, to harm and to destroy relationships.

We all need and search for connectedness. We know how it feels to be in a crowd and yet feel utterly alone and isolated.

We need and want to belong. We need to touch and be touched. We can be warmed by another person’s smile or simple acknowledgement.

Good conversation, like good music or a good book, nourishes the soul. Good communication builds relationships.

Nothing says more about a person’s caring than his or her willingness to listen without judgment or interruption. Sometimes our greatest ministry is simply to be 100 percent present in the moment.

One of my most cherished books is “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen. Allen stresses that what we think about is what we will become.

We can control our lives by controlling our thoughts. If we fill our minds with goodwill toward others, that is what we will express and demonstrate.

Don Kirkland, retired editor of the South Carolina Baptist Courier, states in his book, “Something Ventured,” that what Jesus did in all of his time not accounted for in the Bible is clear: “He went about doing good.”

Goodness was in his heart and so it expressed itself. Kirkland goes on to say that, “Our Christianity must be visible to others or it is not Christianity at all.”

My mother and my late wife had the same favorite Scripture passage: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable unto thee, oh God, my strength and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

They both understood that what comes out of our mouths is a result of what is in our hearts. If our heart overflows with love, that is what we will speak.

Every Sunday morning, Clyde stands at the front door of our church and gives butterscotch candies to every person who enters and is willing to accept his offering.

He is greeted by broad smiles and a lot of hugs. When he is absent, everyone asks about him. Goodness overflows from him. His gesture of kindness helps create an atmosphere for worship.

Sister Sandra Makowski makes a case for kindness as a central ingredient for the ministry of good communication in her book, “The Side of Kindness”

“Could we say that saints were kind people? My guess is that kindness became their constant companion,” she writes. “It is what they carried with them when they prayed, when they worked for justice, and when they were martyred for the sake of the gospel. It became their companion in their life of prayer and the gifts that they developed in the service of others.”

The tremendous role that listening plays in the ministry of communication is expressed by Pope Francis in his book, “The Name of God Is Mercy.”

He asserts, “Mostly people are looking for someone to listen to them. Someone willing to grant them time to listen to their dramas and difficulties. This is what I call the apostolate of the ear and it is important. Very important. I feel compelled to say to confessors: talk, listen with patience, and above all tell people that God loves them.”

I asked my friend, Monty Knight, both a minister and certified counselor, “How do you talk to God?”

“Mitch,” he said, “a much more important question is how do I listen to God?”

When Mother Teresa was asked how she talked to God, she answered. “I mostly listen.” When she was then asked, “What does God say?” she replied, “He mainly listens.”

There are times when there are no words capable of conveying what is in our hearts, but there are no times when being 100 percent present with another is not effective.

Raymond DeSchazo, former professor at Mars Hill University, was fond of saying, “The way you know when you really love another person is when you can be in a room together for hours and neither of you says a word. Just being present is enough.”

For communication to be effective and work its magic as ministry, what we do and what we say must be congruent. There must be no conflict between our words and our actions.

Active listening is an essential behavior for showing concern and compassion for the other. When we are too busy or too distracted to listen, we demonstrate a lack of concern. We can change this perception by being 100 percent present in the moment with our communication partner.

Never underestimate the influence of an encounter no matter how brief it might be. It leaves an impression for good or bad. A simple act of kindness has the power to transform lives. An act of grace never goes unnoticed.

Mitch Carnell is a consultant specializing in effective communication. He and his wife, Carol, are members of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina. He blogs at MitchCarnell.com and ChristianCivility.com

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Communication as Ministry

 

Good conversation like good music or a good book nourishes the soul. Good communication builds relationships. Nothing says more about a person’s caring than his or her willingness to listen without judgment or interruption. Sometimes our greatest ministry is simply to be one hundred percent present in the moment.

There are times when there are no words capable of conveying what is in our hearts, but there are no times when being one hundred percent present with another is not effective. Raymond DeShazo, former professor at Mars Hill University, was fond of saying, “The way you know when you really love another person is when you can be in a room together for hours and neither of you says a word. Just being present is enough.”

We all need and search for connectedness. We know how it feels to be in a crowd and yet feel utterly alone and isolated. We need and want to belong. We need to touch and be touched. We can be warmed by another person’s smile or simple acknowledgement.

The ability to communicate is a gift. We can bless others by the way we use our gift to heal, to build-up and not to harm. Conversely we can use our gift to tear down, to harm, and to destroy relationships.

My mother and my late wife had the same favorite Scripture passage. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable unto thee oh God my strength and my redeemer.” They both understood that what comes out of our mouth is a result of what is in our heart. If the heart overflows with love that is what we will speak.

One of my most cherished books is, As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen.  Allen stresses that what we think about is what we will become. We can control our lives by controlling our thoughts. If we fill our minds with good will toward others that is what we will express and demonstrate.

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Thinking Theologically – Molly Marshall

Thursday, April 18, 2013 Thinking Theologically – Associated Baptist Press

Demystifying Christian vocation

“I am working in the field of adoption. I wasn’t able to find a church position after I finished seminary.”

“I oversee the freshmen dorms at a state university. You would not believe what comes through my door, but I am not sure this qualifies as Christian vocation.”

These comments came from two 30-somethings, concerned about their fidelity to a call from God. I visited a sister seminary this past week to offer lectures and listened to these graduates describe their work, both feeling as if they were not really in ministry.

I think it is time to demystify our language about what it means to be “called” and how we exercise our giftedness. This will grow increasingly important as we realize that guaranteed lifetime employment in a congregational setting will most likely become less of an option for seminary graduates. Rather than relegating persons who serve in other contexts to a differing status, it is important that we rethink our theology of vocation.

Rather than the old language of “full-time Christian vocation,” which meant paid pastoral staff work or long-term missionary appointment, our day requires a more comprehensive and imaginative description.

I believe that some of the most important ministry will occur beyond the walls of the church. Those not considered religious “professionals” will offer much of it.

Educators, engineers, endocrinologists, essayists, entrepreneurs and entertainers — to just name a few “e” professions — have distinctive contributions to make, and they can be expressions of gifted Christian vocation.

Are the gifts we use in the service of the church different from the gifts we use in our other work? What makes a gift “spiritual?”

Jürgen Moltmann helps correct some misconceptions about the nature of spiritual gifts by linking call and endowment. Instead of opposing natural gifts to spiritual gifts, he sees that when people are called (1 Corinthians 7:17), God “puts their whole life at the service of the coming kingdom, which renews the world.”

When offered to Christ, all gifts become charges, and nothing can be called unclean. Powers and energies that a person might regard as mundane can become instruments of the Spirit.

New thinking about vocation can assist in bridging the secular-sacred divide that has long plagued Christian thinking. Emergent Christianity finds these categories a false dichotomy and strives for a porous interface.

Anything that gets labeled as “secular” seems to be of negligent concern to God — or Christians, for that matter. Cultural and civic life matter, and Christian witness in them must be strengthened. Indeed, there are many channels for God’s work in the world, and divine power enlists human agency wherever possible.

As a person engaged in theological education, I care deeply about preparing persons for certain leadership roles for congregations, but I do not see our school’s mission as confined to that. We are preparing people to serve the common good in myriad ways.

There is a mission to humanity that is more encompassing than churches often envision. Our graduates exercise their callings through social services, public policy, collegiate ministries, health care, teaching in public schools, journalism, sustainable farming, hospice and counseling. All are contexts for transformative investment.

And all are worthy of being considered Christian vocation. Even as we encourage churches to “cultivate a culture of calling” so that new generations of pastors will emerge, we must not neglect a wider vision of vocation for the whole people of God.

I had an opportunity to speak again with these capable Christian ministers after the lectureship, and I inquired whether I had affirmed that what they are doing is truly Christian vocation.

They said that they sensed a new dignity in their professions and that they had not “left ministry.” I commended them for their remarkable work. They have opportunity to be the hands and feet, indeed the very presence of Christ, with those whose lives they intersect.

Dr. Molly Marshall is president of Central Baptist Seminary and a favorite speaker at the Hamrick Lectureship at First Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

 

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