The Chip (ministry conversations)

A church ministry fair has both major benefits and side benefits. At a ministry fair, each of the church’s various ministries set up and man a table with information on their ministry. People browse the tables, seeing what the various ministries do and talking to people about what it’s like to get involved. Hopefully, the ministry fair succeeds in it main goal of creating some good new matches between ministries and volunteers.

But a side benefit was illustrated in an actual event at one church ministry fair I attended. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

One of the planners, Phil, was walking around during the fair, observing, helping out, making conversation. A woman he knew pointed out a particular ministry display and mentioned that her husband, Steve, had participated in that ministry a good while back but had a problem while there and was carrying a grudge. A little later, Phil saw Steve. He wandered over to Steve and began a conversation, intentionally bringing up the ‘particular’ ministry and suggesting that Steve might enjoy it.

“Well,” said Steve, and he proceeded to mention his problem with that ministry, adding, “And I guess I’m still carrying a chip on my shoulder.” Phil listened thoughtfully to Steve’s explanation. Then he reached out to Steve’s shoulder, and flicked his forefinger from behind his thumb, as if removing something there. Steve gave him a questioning look. “I got rid of that chip on your shoulder,” said Phil. There was an awkward moment, and then Steve laughed. In the continuing conversation, Steve admitted maybe he should give that ministry another look.

This interaction illustrates a side benefit of ministry fairs—conversation about ministry.

When it comes to conversations about ministry, the more the better.

We see each other working in the church all the time. But how often do we ask people about what they are doing, and especially how they feel about it? It’s risky—it takes time to really listen, and the truth might not be pleasant. Leaders, especially, need to know how their workers are doing in their tasks. When someone is unhappy in their task, the church needs to know.

But you also learn a lot when you ask someone who is happy in what they’re doing. You’ll find out more about their skills, their values, and their personality, when you encourage them to talk about what they love doing.

It’s good to talk about conflict and problems.

It’s a human tendency to look the other way when conflict rears its head. Especially in the church, where we want everything to be ‘nice,’ we often do our very best to avoid problems. But where two or more are gathered, conflict is inevitable. Ignored, it grows. Taking the initiative to address a problem may be unpleasant in the short run, but it saves much grief in the long run. Although talking doesn’t guarantee a particular problem will be solved, it’s a major first step that is virtually always necessary.

People listen to friends when they know they care.

Steve’s wife had probably tried to talk to him about his attitude, but sometimes a spouse is not the best person to change our view of a situation. If Steve’s pastor had heard about it and called Steve into his office, Steve might have felt cornered and defensive. Oftentimes it is a listening friend who can break through and get us to reconsider. Phil obviously knew Steve well enough to take a chance that humor would make his point. When we ask, and listen, and care, we earn the right to be heard. And it makes a difference.

You don’t need a ministry fair in order to have conversation about ministry. But you probably do need to deliberately make new habits. What if we regularly encouraged all church members to regularly ask other volunteers, “How’s it going?” and really listen to the answer? I wonder what we’d learn.


See also the Conversation starters worksheet.

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