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Why Your Ministry Should Behave Like a Lava Lamp

Authors and poets have a great gift for using just the right combination of words to create powerful images.
They do so with very few words, and the trick is using words powerful enough to convey large concepts.

I like words that can do that, such as love, redemption, restoration, forgiveness and, for me, Red Sox. Each word carries with it weight and meaning, history and hope.

I came across two words recently that I am working on making into a concept for ministry: coalesce and disperse.

Coalesce involves coming together to form one group or uniting for a common end while disperse involves spreading out over a wide area.

I like the combination of these words to describe ministry. The body of Christ comes together for a time to do a specific task, then we disperse to coalesce elsewhere and continue the work of Christ.

Lava lamps, which are made with water and wax, provide a visual representation of this process.

Wax is denser than water and, as a rule, should always sink. However, when heated, the wax becomes more buoyant. It floats to the top of the lamp where it cools and sinks again.

The wax (“lava”) coalesces and disperses based on its response to temperature, which is how I believe the local church should behave when the Holy Spirit leads. The book of Acts is full of such Spirit-led responses.

In Acts 1, believers are gathered in a house praying when the Holy Spirit shows up and emboldens everyone to speak in new languages with boldness.

In Acts 4, after Peter and John are released from prison, they gather with others to share their story and the Holy Spirit shows up to the point the house is shaken.

In Acts 6, church conflict arrives when Hellenistic widows’ needs are not being met; they find a solution by appointing seven people to care for their needs.

In Acts 10, Peter goes into a trance while praying on a rooftop and is told to eat all sorts of unclean animals. This vision leads him to share the story of Jesus with a Roman centurion named Cornelius.

All of these stories reveal acts of the Spirit, in which believers coalesce, are embolden by the Spirit, serve together and disperse to do further ministry on their own.

The participants and bystanders don’t always like or understand what the Spirit is doing. For example:

â—     People accused Peter of being drunk (Acts 2:15)

â—     Apostles are arrested (Acts 5:17-42)

â—     Stephen is martyred (Acts 6:8-8:1)

â—     Peter struggles to understand dietary laws and Gentile believers (Acts 10)

â—     A council is summoned in Jerusalem to discuss the presence of Gentiles entering the faith (Acts 15:1-35)

â—     Paul later argues against circumcision as a mark of the covenant (see Galatians)

Yet, throughout these stories there was always room for the Spirit and the people responded. Much like the lava lamp, some went this way and some went that way.

At times, Paul was by himself and other times he was surrounded by a community.

Sometimes, the believers moved quickly like rising lava lamp wax; other times, they moved slowly like the sinking wax, as they cooled off to hear, once again, what the Spirit was up to.

We need to respond in kind by going where the Spirit leads us. Sometimes working as a large group together, other times in a small group, and still other times moving from one group to another – always in response to the leading of the Spirit.

For too long, ministry has been measured in long-term success, where ministries were measured on sustainability, repeatability and marketability, which has had less to do with following the Holy Spirit and more to do with maintaining institutions.

As a result, some ministries have had little to do with the teachings of Christ and more to do with the models of business and marketing; they’ve had little to do with the Kingdom of God and everything to do with our personal comforts and preferences.

By contrast, almost nothing in Acts happens exactly the same way twice. Some initiatives lasted a long time, others for a brief moment.

To follow the examples we find in Acts, we must be willing to create short-term, less expensive, more communal ministry efforts.

My hope is that the church of the future is more flexible and fluid, like the wax in the lava lamp, as it responds to the leading of the Spirit.

My hope is that we are heated and cooled on the teachings of Christ, and that we coalesce and disperse to advance the Kingdom of God.

Greg Mamula is an ordained American Baptist minister and serves as the associate executive minister of American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He blogs at Shaped By The Story, where a longer version of this article first appeared. You can follow him on Twitter @GregMamula.