Please Pass the Mashed Potatoes

Please Pass the Mashed Potatoes March 17, 2006

The Calvary staff spent a day this week with Mark Holland, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Kansas. Mark was kind enough to come in and do a day-long presentation and exploration of a new model of church staffing which calls for a commitment to what he called . . . transformational ministry.

Sounds totally holy, doesn’t it?

Upon hearing this model, all of us in the training thoughtfully nodded throughout the whole presentation (mostly to make Mark think this was nothing new to us).

It’s been a few days, though . . . some time to mull things over. And with the benefit of that time, I’ve started to think that what Mark was asking us to consider was rather radically different from what most of us do. If you really wanted to be wild you might even argue this transformational ministry model goes against some of the basic things that got us into this business in the first place (specifically, that would be, the need that some ministry professionals–none that I know personally, of course–to be the center of attention . . . ).

Mark explained that transformational ministry is an approach to church ministry that challenges the paradigms many of us have accepted as the norm through years of watching them modeled in churches we grew up in and later served. Rather than building a church around a pastor or a staff (how many times have you heard “If only we could get a young/dynamic/energetic/enthusiastic/well-trained/great speaker/handsome pastor then our church would really take off!”), transformational ministry is a model in which everybody is consistently giving everything away.

That is, rather than working to accumulate power, influence, success, kudos, attention, well, the pastor should be working to empower staff who work to empower lay leaders who work to empower congregation members who work to empower visitors, and we keep on empowering, encouraging and equipping each other to be transformed and to enable the transformation of the world through the Gospel.

Mark gave the example of a church food kitchen. He told us (as if we didn’t already know!) that the best job in the food kitchen is serving the mashed potatoes. Remember the first time you served the mashed potatoes? Everybody was so grateful that you were there to serve them hot, nourishing food (as Jesus would!).

And then, Mark explained, when your life is touched by the ministry of serving mashed potatoes, you go out and find someone else who needs to experience the joy of serving others. In so doing, you become a coordinator of ministry–not just a doer, and you start actively empowering many others to experience what it means to live out the Gospel.

The thing the stymies this wonderful process is that it starts to be very fun to have a whole line of people who think you are totally fabulous because, well, because without you they might not get their mashed potatoes.

In fact, sometimes that feeling of being the cheery mashed potato supplier gets so rewarding that we start to really want to always be the one scooping out the mashed potatoes.

And, then, if things really start getting out of hand, I, uh, I mean, that person, who regularly scoops mashed potatoes might start to think that they are the very best mashed potato scooper in the entire world.

In fact, it could be a very real possibility that NO ONE IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE can scoop mashed potatoes in such a holy, Christ-like way.

And then what happens if the pastor, for example, insists on serving mashed potatoes every single day because, well, everyone likes mashed potatoes? That’s nice, except the pastor is being a real hog. He’s doing ministry . . . yes . . . but not for the sake of the Gospel transforming lives but rather for the sake of a lot of people thinking he is holy and a very nice person for giving them an extra scoop of mashed potatoes.

See what I mean?

Transformational ministry . . . what a great idea! It’s kind of like what Jesus did, you know, studiously turning the attention of everyone he met away from political power grabbing, trying always to get on his good side, and toward genuine relationship with God.

At the very core of who I am and what I do, this is what I want . . . for myself, for people I meet, for this whole entire world, to be transformed by the living and the sharing of the Gospel. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the transforming power of the Gospel, instead of being clutched to our chests and hoarded like a mashed potato scoop, could be handed over and multiplied again and again and again, until the transforming power of the Gospel changes not just us but the whole world?

When will we learn this is not about us, no matter how good we are behind the counter? Slow learners though we are, I hope it’s not too much longer.

Nobody likes cold mashed potatoes.

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