Review: Just Say Yes! Unleashing People for Ministry

June 5th, 2015

“Now there are a variety of gifts,” Paul wrote. Robert Schnase is earnest in desiring that all those gifts be given life and voice for the life, health, and mission of the church.

Years ago I was pastoring a small church with tired, aging members with neglected buildings and limited resources. Worse, I, too, was focusing on what we were not able to do, the resources we didn’t have, the obstacles to just about everything anyone thought up.

A Catholic sister leading a church revitalization workshop I attended out of desperation shocked me back to life by saying: “You have all the gifts you need. God has already given you everything you need.” My first reaction was denial. You don’t know us, Sister. That might apply to every other church in this room, but not mine! Our group discussion quickly proved me wrong. We all needed to cut the self-pity, do a 180š, and reframe the possibilities and gifts the Holy Spirit was indeed offering.

“Just say YES!” says Bishop Schnase. He does not present himself as a consultant or a rescuer with a magic to-do list. Instead, he starts from that Pauline premise about gifts and then invites us to consider anything and everything that might be saying “no” to their full expression in the life of the church. What are the behaviors, both subtle and overt—the systems, the committees, the rules, the policies, or the attitudes that turn people away, shut them down, or put them on hold so long that they finally give up or give in on a dream they had, a passion they had, a vision for the people of God? He’s seen how visions of mission, service, justice ministries, new worship expressions, children’s programs can all be quenched with the negativity, indifference, or overly zealous caution of those who would rather say “no” than risk something new.

Is your congregation stagnant, becalmed, like a motionless sailboat bereft of wind? Listen, Schnase urges. Listen to the dreams and hopes and longings springing up from the very body of Christ. Listen, hear, and practice the ministry of encouragement.

The wind of the Spirit is already blowing new life into those old dry bones.

This deceptively simple little book sets out to explore what sets people free for ministry. How might the church free people up for their ministries of teaching, leading, and service? What would a permission-giving church look like—and how do we get there?

Drawing from experience and citing many examples that will ring true with leaders of local church ministry, Bishop Schnase helps get inside the reasons people say “no” to new ideas and change. Based on the work of Ronald Heifetz, his insights into people’s fear of loss, fear of the grief they feel at leaving old ways behind, fear of a future they cannot see, will be helpful to pastors and lay leadership. The ministry of encouragement calls first for compassion and insight along with a resolve to open the doors and let the wind of the Spirit blow free.

Chapters move from the way individuals say “no” to the ways that negativity becomes structured into committees, rules, and procedures in the life of the congregation. Even worship bulletins and buildings are not exempt from scrutiny of the messages they send. Are all your doors locked? Are you making it nigh unto impossible for a newcomer to even get inside?

Just Say Yes! is a good primer for leaders. It would also be a growth-inducing resource for a church council or planning group. Each short chapter includes discussion questions, scriptural references, and a short prayer.

Most compelling, perhaps, are the bishop’s reflections on why a makeover from a culture of “no” to a culture of “yes” matters. Sure, it makes a church more lively, more fun, more engaged in the community, and hopefully more faithful. But there’s more, Schnase asserts. A church fossilized by its own negativity, armored by its antiquated and mystifying systems, is a church that will seem irrelevant. Young people, he maintains, want to experience a church open and responsive to the needs of the world, want to grow in grace and in the love of God, want to find real community and self-giving love.

Just Say Yes! invites us to take a good, long, deep look at ourselves and at how what we do and how we do it is—or isn’t—opening hearts, minds, and doors to the life and power of the Spirit. Encouragement literally means, Schnase maintains, “to fill with courage and strength of purpose, to hearten, to give heart.” Take heart, church. Read, discuss, pray—then learn and practice, with God’s help, to say “YES!”

Robert Schnase is bishop of the Missouri Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. He is also the best-selling author of many books such as Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations and Seven Levers: Missional Strategies for Conferences.

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