A few times a year, I get an email asking if I’m interested in speaking at a men’s meeting or preaching at a church on a Sunday morning. It’s a great privilege and one I take very seriously, especially when I’m asked to talk about Compassion’s ministry.
I’ve learned a lot through my experiences to date, but I picked up on this fairly quickly: guest speakers polarize congregations. Some people welcome guest speakers warmly. Others are highly suspicious, certain the speaker is really only there for his own benefit. And when the speaker is representing an outside ministry? Oh my…
What is it about a guest speaker, particularly one representing another ministry, that puts people on edge? I wonder if it doesn’t come down to fear. Specifically, fear that church that week is going to feel like an extended sales pitch. A commercial. No one wants sit through that, especially not at church.
So what’s a ministry to do?
Rev. Laurel Buckingham is the recently retired pastor of Moncton Wesleyan Church, one of the largest congregations in Atlantic Canada, and a long-time supporter of Compassion Canada. He says ministries need to look beyond their own interests and pursue something “win-win.”
“[Having a guest needs to] benefit all concerned; it’s not just something that is being done for the sake of [one party],” Buckingham says.
That’s what he loved about having a Compassion Artist visit Moncton Wesleyan in the spring of 2013. Compassion Artists are a group of musicians and speakers from across North America using their gifts and stories to serve the local church and bring awareness of Compassion’s ministry. Although Buckingham was sold on Compassion’s work, he wasn’t sure if having a musician come to Moncton Wesleyan was the right thing to do.
“The idea of a Compassion Artist before you’ve ever had one is somewhat of an unknown,” Buckingham says, “you don’t know for sure what to think.”
For Buckingham, the highlight experience was their Easter, 2013, celebration. In much of Canada, Easter is one of the most highly attended days of the year, but in Atlantic Canada, attendance frequently drops. “We plan for the Easter weekend with some fear and trepidation,” he says. “We have a holiday on Friday and most people have another holiday on Monday. A lot of people look forward to going away.”
The leadership at Moncton Wesleyan planned what they hoped would be an incredibly effective weekend of ministry. And when they found out they could have a Compassion Artist it was, as he put it, “the frosting on the cake.”
The weekend was more successful than he expected. “We had over 5,100 people in attendance,” Buckingham says. “It had an incredible impact internally, as well as in the city, especially when people learned who was joining us.” Joining their services that weekend was award-winning country artist George Canyon.
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Canyon, a Compassion Artist since mid-2012, shared his testimony, telling those present about his experiences with Compassion and how God has been at work in his life.
The result: 221 people put their faith in Jesus Christ!
“His testimony was unbelievable,” Buckingham says. “It was a powerful, positive and effective experience to see a lot of children sponsored for Compassion and it’s done an awful lot for the impact of the church… it’s truly been a win-win.”
Telling stories about God’s work around the world
Mike Penninga, senior pastor of Kelowna Gospel Fellowship in Kelowna, British Columbia, had similar concerns to Buckingham. “To be honest when I first heard this concept of bringing an artist, I thought, ‘How are they going to fit with the DNA of our church family?'”
Despite his initial hesitation, having a Compassion Artist come to the church was a great experience for everyone. In the time the church has been involved with Compassion, they’ve had both Geoff Moore and Jacob Moon come to the church. But what was most compelling, he says, isn’t their talents (which he says are “off the charts”), but their commitment to understanding Compassion’s ministry. Moore and Moon are both deeply committed to Compassion—Moon even wrote a song about his sponsored child—and their love of the work and their sponsored children is an inspiration to their audiences.
“They have skin in the game. They share from personal experiences [visiting Compassion’s ministry in the field] as opposed to stories they’ve read from somewhere else,” he says. “That is genuine and authentic and real, and it connects with the people in our church.”
“Having a Compassion Artist join us here was fantastic because of their level of authenticity, their genuineness, and their personal storytelling,” Penninga says. “It was off the charts…and it was a wonderful way to help people catch the vision of Compassion and see the kingdom work around the world.”
Expanding hearts with the secret of contentment
Brad Watson, senior minister of Lakeshore St. Andrew’s in Windsor, Ontario, was enthusiastic to have a Compassion Artist from the beginning.
“Anything we do with Compassion is a slam dunk,” he says. “Our mission is to create small communities of Christ followers, following hard after God, and that just resonates with what Compassion’s doing with us.”
So for him, it wasn’t a matter of “if,” but of “when” and “who.” The “when” was April, 2013. The “who” was recording artist and speaker Shaun Groves and best-selling author of One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp.
“That morning really grew our hearts in worship,” Watson says. “We really feel that worship is getting a bigger sense and vision of who God really is at heart and how he’s made us.… I felt our hearts get bigger as a congregation.”
Voskamp shared her journey of developing the discipline of gratitude and how it put her in touch with all the ways she was experiencing God’s grace in her life. That led into her experience with Compassion. “She talked about Pastor Saul in Guatemala City, who had nothing and yet was making such a difference in his community,” Watson says. “That really inspired our congregation. It reminded us that it’s not about what we don’t have, but what we do with what we already have that makes a difference.”
Groves shared the story of a young woman, Karen, whom he met on a Compassion trip. “They were walking through these slums and streets where she lived,” Watson says. “And at one point he turned and saw Karen was crying. He said to our congregation, ‘What a dumb question to ask a teenage girl in a developing country “what’s wrong,” when everything is wrong?’
“But she turned to him and said, ‘Shaun, I’m not crying because I’m sad. I’m crying because I’m overjoyed, I’m happy!’ Shaun asked her, ‘Why are you happy?’ And she said, ‘Because I have God. I have Jesus in my life.’ She had actually learned the secret of contentment. And it’s not about stuff, like we’re so used to in our materialistic Western world, or about how we feel. It’s about actually knowing we have Jesus, and He has us, and allowing that simple joy to overflow.”
“For me, it was the best ministry weekend in my entire ministry career,” Watson says. “As a pastor, I felt like our hearts [expanded]. I think that’s something every pastor wants. To help their church get closer to Jesus and have a heart that reflects his. Our partnership with Compassion really helped that happen.”
If these pastors’ experiences are any indication, people concerned that a guest speaker = commercial can rest easy. Buckingham, Penninga and Watson serve very different congregations across Canada, but they all agree: having a Compassion Artist come to their church was one of the best things they’ve done for their ministries. Not only did children around the world find sponsors to provide for their needs, but their congregations were refreshed by stories of God’s work around the world and drawn closer to Jesus’ heart. That sounds like a win-win experience, doesn’t it?
Want to know even more? Read this story and more in the latest issue of Compassion today, where you’ll learn how Compassion’s ministry is helping children around the world develop healthy minds, bodies and relationships while discovering God’s love for them in Jesus Christ.Download the latest issue!