This post is a special one because it's a joint venture with my new friend, Rebecca Carlisle. She is simply A M A Z I N G I N G and I cannot wait for you to meet her!!!! This gal is on fire for the world to know Jesus and you can learn more about Rebecca at her website here. We get to present at several workshops together (click here for more details) to encourage the local church in the area of hospitality and volunteers. So Rebecca and I decided to bring our thoughts and experience in one blog - enjoy! (and yes...it's a little long but remember, there are two women talking here.)
We are two gals, Rebecca and Mary Ann, who formed a bond before we even met in person! We talked on the phone and knew right away that our passions were intertwined and that we must do ministry together!
We love Jesus and share the same heartbeat for the local church: church should be the absolutely best place on the planet where people know that are seen, heard, and wanted. However, our journey that has gotten us here has been so different! And every time we get together, we are in awe how it seems we have been together all along.
So, we are combining our thoughts, ideas and passions into this one space.
Sisters forever with our hearts beating for volunteers in the local church. Enjoy!
AND this is a conversation so we look forward to hearing what your “why” is! Share your story with us!
Someone once said “if you’re functioning out of passion without purpose, you’ll burn out.” Knowing your purpose or your “why” is key
to fueling your passion when the “what’s” are going well
and when they go wrong.
My purpose behind my passion for First Impressions Ministry is Jesus. “There’s no greater act of hospitality than when Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that He might welcome us into His Kingdom.” (Piper)
There's nothing like feeling received - accepted - valued. Jesus did it for the Church and we must extend what we’ve experienced.
Over the course of my life, as a preacher’s daughter (don’t judge me), God has graciously made the significance of this ministry and its role in fulfilling the Great Commission clear. When I was young, I loved imitating my parents who were always serving and loving, walking around the sanctuary before church talking to people, standing at the door after service telling people to have a great week…It was beautiful!
However, I did get exposed the good and the ugly of professional ministry-life and there came a time when I felt like the Church was attacking my family and I angrily distanced myself from it.
But God is so kind. He overhauled the junk out of my heart and I realized that the Church is made up of people...
People are hard to like sometimes and I know because I'm a "people". But, people are just those who want to belong and feel loved.
Also, about the same time, I got food poisoning from a certain sandwich restaurant but I went back to that restaurant.
So, I went back to church.
God turned the stomach-turning bitterness into a passion to help build the Church to be what Christ died for it to be.
When I got married, my husband and I found our own church. I went from being at the same small town church where I knew everyone and it was obvious if there was a guest, to a large multi-site church where we were the guests. We were welcomed at the doors, but got lost in the crowd on the other side. I never want people to feel like that. As we sought community there, we served, rested, pressed in, and grew.
Four years later, church leadership called me to be the Hospitality/First Impressions Ministry Coordinator at a new campus. It came out of nowhere for me, but it was what God had been preparing me for my whole life.
I had been seen and positioned in a place to allow my gifting to grow and contribute to Kingdom purposes. It changed my life and is why I’m so passionate about communicating the importance of this ministry and bringing as many people into this as possible! We must always remember that “people are the mission” (Danny Franks)! We have to SEE them, identify their God-given gifts, and position them for their good and God’s glory.
If we want people own the mission of the Church, we have to show them their valued place in it. First Impressions Ministry perfectly allows for all of that.
My friend says there's only 2 things you can take with you to Heaven: the Word and people. Everything should be motivated by such purposes.
Ephesians 2 describes this purpose: “You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone…He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone…”
Jesus is the cornerstone and ultimate example of hospitality.
Hospitality shouldn't be something we tag on as another committee, but should be the very culture of our churches. We can't get so comfortable in our pews that we get complacent. Our purpose is to turn strangers in to family...whether they attend our church or another. Accomplishing this will allow people to feel safe and bold enough to move from guest to disciple-maker. For their good, the strangers' good, and for God's glory!
I was raised Buddhist.
My Dad served in the Marine Corp and he met my Mom while stationed in Japan and together, they provided a solid home with all the traditions of holidays and family.
Growing up in the early 1960’s, school wasn’t diverse like it is today - I was “it” and so began a journey of never feeling like I fit in or accepted, “as is”. In fact, my Dad’s family called me “half-breed”.
After college, I got married, started my career but 15 years later, in 1997, I found myself, divorced and a single mom with two young boys, 11 and 8 years old.
I suffered depression years earlier, but now the depression came back with a vengeance.
Any thought of “hope” was gone. And without hope, there is nothing.
Nothing to look forward to.
Nothing to live for. Not even for my boys.
And when you have zero support, zero community, your mind believes the lie that it’s better to not live at all….So I tried to end my life.
But God intervened.
And I then moved into a new neighborhood and met Jeff and Becky, with their 4 boys. I heard that they moved to NC to start a church. I was certain that “they” (those church people) wouldn’t like me and I knew I wouldn’t like them.
For 2 years, Jeff and Becky would invite me for dinner, cookouts and holidays when I didn’t have my boys. They were loving me “as is”.
Meanwhile, Becky was praying and telling her friends; “I have a neighbor who is a single Mom with 2 young boys and need Jesus, would you pray that she comes to church.”
I didn’t know God, but I knew Becky.
After 2 years of declining invitations to church, I finally attended in July 1999. (In my 40 years, no one had ever invited me to church before. Ever.)
On August 10, 1999, I made an appointment with the Pastor to let him know that a Buddhist was attending his church. I remember the Pastor asking me, “Mary Ann, what are you waiting for?”
I surrendered to Jesus.
God connected the dots of my journey to show me:
Even though I was a single Mom. I was loved.
Even though I suffered depression. I was not alone.
Even though I had totally ruined my life…and I could not fix it. God was restoring my life.
And then, God brought Dean into my life and this year we are celebrating 18 years of being married.
But my life is not perfect – I’m not perfect . I still have struggles and insecurities. In fact, the greatest pain in my life revolves around my oldest son, Alex. He has refused to make any contact with me or my extended family since 2008.
It continues to be the most painful part of my life to this day. There was a time when I would obsess over how to find him, talk to him.
But God led me to Luke 15:24 "..for this son of my mine was dead and has come to life again;.."
I noticed that the father never went out to the "far country" to find his son. He never used his power, position or money to get others to help retrieve his son. No, to the father, his son was "dead". There is nothing anyone can to for a dead person - only God revives us - wakes us - gives us a rebirth - brings the dead to life both literally and spiritually. I KNOW and trust and rely on the forever HOPE that He will bring Alex back as well.
So why bother?
I am on mission to remind the local church that there are so many more “Alex’s” out there that need Jesus. Those who need to be seen and know that they are wanted and belong.
The way Jeff & Becky accepted me and loved me into the kingdom is exactly what God is calling us to do. We can do it in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our gyms and absolutely in our churches!
God restored this gal from not wanting to live to living to point others to Jesus!
So, why do you bother...to sacrifice and pray and dig in and weep and give?