March 2009

Who Are Our Customers?

Who are my customers?  My members, their parents, the professional community and the local church.  While not all mud that I throw against a wall sticks, some of it will.  Therefore, it’s important that when interacting with customers I must be sure that I keep throwing mud against the wall.  That is, that I continue to try new things and keep my mind open to learning and growing. 

In dealing with parents, I’ve found that over a twenty year period, the Holy Spirit has used us to slowly touch the hearts of almost every parent in our community.  Believe me, that wasn’t always the case.  In fact, I can honestly say that for years the opposite was true.  One specialized ministry in the area deliberately targeted Special Gathering telling their developmentally disabled church members that they were NOT allowed to attend.  That rejection stung because we had referred others to their ministry and we’ve continued to do so.

Yes, faithfulness seems to be the key in reaching our parents.  Dealing with professionals, there needs to be a different strategy in our pitching techniques.  They are much more impressed with credentials and having an understanding of “the unique language” of this population.  Many of the effective professionals have worked hard to gain their credential strips.  They will look with suspicion, if you earned your pitching skills on a backyard make-shift field, rather than a professional training camp.  Please understand I am not saying that this is a good attitude or that there isn’t great need for the practice time spent in the back yard pitching for hours to be able to effectively throw mud in this ministry.  However, if you are meeting with opposition or you aren’t taken seriously, it could be your credentials. 

Is this an obstacle that can’t be overcome?  Of course, not.  Competence will eventually win over the professional community every time. 

In regard to churches, you will need faithfulness, competence and a passion for what God has called you to do.  Like a tightly wound rope, churches will see and understand when God is using you to win your population for Christ.  They must respect you before they will buy into your ministry.

Our members are, perhaps, the easiest customers to satisfy.  They are won with love.  If you love them, they will come.  If you love the Lord, they will stay.  If you are able to introduce them to the Lord as their personal Savior, they will be changed.  And that is the basic reason why we are throwing all this mud anyway.

Are you able to work with one customer base better than another?  Are you able to keep your mission paramount?

Oh, my, I posted this incorrectly.  It was supposed to be on Special Gathering Stories.  However, since it’s here, I’ll share it.  Shelley is a member of our Melbourne Special Gathering.  She is an avid writer and gifted.   Here is one of  of her poems.  Be blessed!

Real Life is Full of Laughter

Real life is full of laughter and fun.

When we


                                                                         We feel things inside.

Put yourself into a funny time.  Watch a movie

                                                                                            act out the funny part.

                              Make funny faces in the mirror.

Think of Jesus laughing with you!

Moving to Follow God

Genesis 12:1

Central Theme:  We are to follow God.


Introduction–Have you ever had to move from one home into another one?  I’ve moved five times in my life.  All but one was in the first four years after I was married. Moving for some people is common but not for me and not for a man named Abram…until God spoke to him


       I.     Have a member read Genesis 12:1.

              A. Tell the story of Abram’s becoming a nomad. 

              1. A Nomad moves from place to place, living in tents.

              2.  Abram was 75.  His wife was 65. 

              3.  God told them to move from Ur to Haren a few years back and now he was telling them to move again.

              4.  Abram took his family and all his things and obeyed.

           II.     Moving can be a big problem.

          A. It can be harder to move than staying where you are.

          B. Sometimes we have to move.

              1.  From our home, where Mama waits on us to a group home where you have to learn to take care of yourself.

              2.  Move into an apartment–Some say it is the ultimate but if you are honest there is loneliness and big problems.

              3.  We might have to move to a relative’s house.

              4.  We might have to have someone move in with us.

     III.     In the Church and usually in our lives moving is good.

              A. Growing in God always means that we have to move from doing one thing to doing something else.

              B. Abram knew God would take care of him.

              C. Paul, Barnabus and Silas, Priscilla and Aquilla understood that God would them if they were willing to go to other cities.  God used them in mighty ways because they were willing to move when God asked them.

Conclusion–God is a God who moves and he wants us to go with him.

Because Saturday is one day in the week that there are not many hits on this page, I sometimes take advantage of it to vent or to become deeply personal.  Tomorrow is my son’s birthday.  Please indulge me.

The day that our son was born seemed to start in an uneventful way.  Of course, I was very pregnant but the due date was three weeks away.  At four in the afternoon, my water broke.  I called the doctor.  He said to get to hospital as quickly as possible. 

Though my husband was at work, he rushed home.  Within an hour, we were at the hospital.  Back in those days, husbands weren’t allowed in the delivery room.  My husband stood at the door looking in the window, much to the irritation of the doctor. On the other hand, I was comforted that he wanted to be a part of this wonderful event.

Our son came the a few minutes after midnight next morning.  That was 46 years ago tomorrow.  He was a wonderfully compliant child who laughed and sang almost all the time.  I remember how proud I was of him.  I was a young mother who didn’t always handle the pressures of motherhood well.  Yet, he has always been forgiving and merciful about my missteps.

In fact, it was my son who radically changed my relationship with the Lord.  One day when he was about six months old, I stood holding him at the sliding glass door.   It was raining outside.  I wanted to say to him, “God made the rain.”  But there was an awkward embarrassment that kept my lips sealed.

All alone in the house, I stood looking at the rain holding him tightly, quietly weeping.  I was shocked and dismayed by my inability to say the simplest thing to my son about my Savior and heavenly Father.   I thought I loved the Lord more than anything else in the world.  What made that simple sentence impossible for me to express. 

Even more, my mind raced asking myself, how could I claim to love my son with all my heart and not be willing to tell him about his loving Father God. 

That incident set me on a personal journey that has been exciting beyond my ability to imagine.  God has taught me and led me through wonderful paths of adventure and love.  Our son is now a retired major in the US Air Force.  He is an amazingly gifted artist. We share in the adventures of our lives’  journeys in telephone conversations and during our visits together.  He lives half way around the world but that doesn’t keep him from calling often to share with me.

It was a blessed and happy day when my first born came into the world.  He has taught me so much about myself and life.  I am deeply grateful to him for his love, forgiveness and understanding.  Happy Bithday, Mark.  I love you and God loves you.

Placement of the Member/Leader

Erin is back with us after a time spent working with another ministry.  Erin is a leader among our members.  He is also a quasi-volunteer.  Today Erin came back for choir practice. 

Erin is a high functioning mentally challenged adult who is always eager to help others.  A close friend of Erin’s needed volunteer hours in order to complete a important building  project.  Erin happily gave hours of his time and energy.  We were all excited to see him back.   Without a doubt, I was the one most happy to see him back because I know how much I’ve come to depend on his help.

Erin is a man on whom our program depends because of his cooperative spirit and high energy.  He is part of our prayer ministry, the choir and a greeter.  He helps to tear down and set up our audio equipment.  He helps our immobile members navigate from one place to another.  His car is available for use because his grandmother is one of our volunteer drivers.  And there is so much more.  In short, there is little that is done in Erin’s local program in which he doesn’t participate or help. 

Erin–like many of our members–is part of the Special Gathering Mud Throwing Principle.  We often ask ourselves, “When does a member become a valued volunteer?”  And “how do we successfully reward these men and women who work harder than some of our most loyal volunteers?” 

Felena is another leader in a different county.  She is willing to pick up the phone and contact anyone who is missing from Special Gathering.  When we have new paid staff, we have come to depend on Felena’s gentle help to enable the new staff  learn the nuances of the program she attends.

Next month, I’ll be in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, observing how Joy  Fellowship, another specialized ministry,  trains their member/leadership.  I’ll be attending a four-day leadership conference that includes these servant/leaders who are also members.  The Mud Throwing Principle includes observing what God is successfully doing for others and learning to adapt these techniques to our program.

When we are throwing mud against the wall, we know some of it sticks.  Those of the things we’ve kept in our ministry.  Those are the things that we may be able to export to enpower other specialized ministries.  In addition, the sticking mud of our sister ministries become methods and techniques that are great for us to imitate. 

Are there things that you have found that work for other ministries that have also worked for you?  Have you found that you must adapt most of those initiatives?  Or can you simply transplant them into your unique culture?

May I Help You?

Part of what we need to do as mud slingers is to be sure that courtesy is a part of the experience our members enjoy each time we meet.  We need to be sure that they see coming from us guinuine courtesy, not flattery.  What does courtesy do that no amount of flattery can do?  And what is the difference between courtesy and flattery? 

As I work my way through MK Turner’s book about the demise of K-Mart entitled K-Mart’s 10 Deadly Sins, I’ve been reminded of the last time I deliberately went into my local K-Mart store.  This memory amplifies to me the importance of feeling the graciousness of the Lord and common courtesy when we venture into an a new or familiar setting.  I had gone to K-Mart to purchase an item I couldn’t get at Wal-Mart.

For camp, I needed to purchase two heavy electric scooters that came in two large boxes.  I’m pretty strong but they weighed more than 50 pounds and I couldn’t lift them into the carts.  A male employee passed by me.  “Can you help me lift this into my cart?” I asked. 

Without looking at me, he said curtly,  “No.  That isn’t my job.  I’ll send someone to do it for you.”  I think I detected a faint smile.

I waited for 15 minutes.  The man came by me again two more times.  Each time I asked him about the person who would help me put the $500 worth of merchandise into my cart.  His smile became a smirk and stare the second time he passed me.  He ignored me the third time as he ambled casually past me and my waiting cart. 

Because I really wanted those scooters, I manhandled them onto my cart.  Then I remembered I also needed a baby crib mattress.  I located the baby section easy enough but I couldn’t find the price on the mattress I wanted.  A salesperson was on the other side of the counter.  “Can you help me find the price to this mattress, please.”

“No,” she said, “I’m busy.  The price is right on the box.  Find it yourself.”

I went back to the mattress and still couldn’t find the price.  Again, I approached the salesperson.  “I’m sorry but I’ve looked and I can’t find the price.  I need you to come and help me.”

The woman snarled and breathed heavy.  We rounded the corner and she began to look for the price.  She couldn’t find it.  “There is no price on this mattress,” she said and walked off. 

“Can you help me find a price?”  I went back to her and asked. 

“I am really busy but I guess if you insist, I’ll do it.”

“Yes,”  I said with an impatient edge to my voice.  “I insist.”

The woman found the price and again walked off.  I approached her, “Can you help me lift the mattress into my cart?”

“No,” she said.

“Can you find someone who can help me?”  I asked.

“No.  I told you I’m busy.”

After attempting to put the mattress on my already full cart.  I suddenly realized that if I were in Wal-Mart only a couple of blocks away, there would be people falling all over me to help me with my purchases. 

I left the store and never went back.  Within a year, K-Mart had declared bankruptcy and closed my neighborhood store.

Courtesy has always been the hallmark of the Wal-Mart experience for me.  A survey proved that the K-Mart employee interaction with customers was less than 30 seconds a day.  It has been determined that Wal-Mart employees interaction is drastically higher or they don’t remain employees. 

This example was set by Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart.  He would casually enter any one of his stores and talk with the customers, gathering facts and information about the local Wal-Mart.  Walton would interact with the salespersons, asking questions and inquiring.

It was well known by the employees that any unassuming male customer could be Walton.  They were kept on their toes by this knowledge.  People appreciated the courtesy and returned because of the gracious treatment they received.

What does that have to do with Special Gathering and other ministries within the mentally challenged community?  Everything. 

God is a gracious and loving father.  He is with us every moment.  The Lord is at your program each week, watching, taking notes.  In fact, Jesus said, “What you do to the least of these, you have done to me.”  How courteous is the teatment of my members?  Are they ignored when they tell me the same story for the 1,500th time?  Are they shooed away when their needs don’t come to the level of my expertise? 

I have to admit some of this makes me say, “Ouch.”  Our Savior walks among us each time we meet.  Are the needs of your members seen as His needs?  Or do I dismiss them as “not my job.”

Learning to Succeed

I’m currently reading Marcia Layton Turner’s book, K-Mart’s 10 Deadly SinsIt is a pretty academic manual that reads like a textbook.  However, it has many applications that apply to the church world and particularly specialized ministries. 

Of course, you cannot understand the demise of K-Mart without a pretty complete investigation of Wal-Mart’s success.  Turner provides that analysis also.  Before Wal-Mart’s amazing rise to become the leading retailer in the US, K-Mart was the stand-alone discount giant. 

The thing that is standing out to me as I read Turner’s thesis is how little energy K-Mart spent in learning about their customers.  The CEO once showed reams of data garnered from the spending habit of the customers at K-Mart.  He bragged that this gave the company all the information they needed. 

Before Wal-Mart moved into our neighborhood, I was a regular K-Mart shopper.  However, I was amazed at how little the organization (local and corporate) seemed to know about my spending habits and what I really needed.  The things I valued (like a clean store and good, courteous service) was void.  I leaped to Wal-Mart when it opened because I found these things there.

The mission statement of Special Gathering has always been:  We are a ministry within the mentally challenged community, whose purpose is evangelism and discipleship.  The within part has been a great emphasis for us. Part of our deliberate mud throwing has been to experiment with new ways to get under the skin in the lives of our members. 

Our consistent goal is to get beyond the outside exterior of people who are mentally challenged.  To fully identify and fully know this segment of the population.  Do we always succeed?  Of course, not.  However, that is our goal.  It is a repeating rhythm that propels us into the community daily. 

How can I become a part of this community when I’m not mentally challenged?  I would be arrogant to say that it’s easy.  Yet by knowing, not just your members, but the entire community so well that I can speak in first person terms–us and we–rather than third person–them and they,  I can have a measure of success.  By not being afraid to fully integrate myself within their activities, needs and goals.  To be eager to identify with them as a shared participant, not just their pastor, I can participate in their eagerness and zest for life, as well as their woes.

Visiting activities where my members work and play is important.  But years ago, our Executive Director said, “You need to decide if God has called you to this community.  If he has, then our members deserve that your entire mindset and holy goals become ministry to this population.”  It was some of the best advice I ever received in ministry.  That day my focus and therefore my ministry changed drastically.

God became a man so that He could fully identify with humankind.  He wanted us to know that He understood our hurts, joys and despair.  That is the glory of the crucifixion and resurrection.  Christ came to live and died for me–for my sins.

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