The 3 Lenses of Ministry

3 lenses

3 lensesI’ve noticed over the years that capable ministers carry three “lenses” with them they change out with regularity. These “lenses” represent different ways of seeing the Kingdom and the Church.

The Microscopic Lens. This is the lens one earns over time as one spends time deep inside the lives of people. The microscopic lens is one carried and most often used by the personal evangelist, the chaplain, and/or the minister who spends significant time directly involved in the lives of people. This is a vital lens, because it’s use reminds clergy of how real ministry is. Not only officiating the funeral, but standing by the bedside as someone goes from this life to the next; not only running youth ministry events but visiting the young person in rehab; not only doing premarital counseling with the couple, but bringing her to safety when he goes on a violent rampage–this is the microscopic lens. Funerals, weddings, births, deaths, prison visits, etc., keep us firmly grounded in compassion, add depth to preaching, and remind us the church is ultimately about God’s Kingdom at work in the midst of people. In short, the microscopic lens keeps church from becoming a depersonalized experiment in organizational growth.

The Cell-Phone Lens. This lens is for everyday ministry–Sunday morning services, church gatherings, everyday life. It’s warm, but not particularly intimate. It is constant, and concerned with the moment at hand. It’s concerned with the pot-lucks, the small groups, and the church calendar up to one month out. It’s the lens we have on as ministry happens to us–and the lens most ministers wear most of the time. It’s value is provides some minimal perspective, but remains personal enough. It’s downside–it provides neither detail of the microscopic lens nor the perspective of the satellite photo lens.

The Satellite Photo Lens. Perspective…the big picture. The satellite photo lens is the least used by most ministers and provides perspective to what one sees while using the other lenses. It’s concerned with strategy, planning, and a sense of the Kingdom’s breadth.

All pastors should look regularly at the church through all three of these lenses. It will bring holistic understanding and well-rounded ministry. The microscopic lens only will forsake the 99 for the sake of the 1. The cell-phone camera lacks detail, keeps you at arm’s length from the church, and doesn’t allow you to think much beyond the moment at hand. The satellite-photo lens allows you to see the sum of the parts, but not the parts–which are real people that God loves lavishly.

Know when it’s time to use which lens. Look at problems and opportunities through all three. I don’t know for sure, but your default lens is likely the cell-phone level lens. Find ways to engage the other two. Accept the invitations you get deep into the lives of people. Set regular times to take satellite photos of the church and it’s place in the Kingdom. Carry them all at all times.

In my experience, however, these lenses work best in symphony. Getting to where you can look through them all at once is a skill that takes experience and wisdom. The ministers I look up to seem to know the value of each lens and have honed the skills required to use them for God’s glory.

Which lens is your default lens? Which needs the most development in your ministry?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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