Ministry by Dictaphoneing Around
by Josh Hunt

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The most important technology since the printing press, as far as ministry is concerned, is not the fax machine. It is not E-mail or voice mail or beepers or cellular phones. It is not the personal computer. It is the Dictaphone.

After you hang around church for a while, you get a picture of what you are supposed to do. In fact, if you are normal, you know far more to do than you actually do accomplish. What you lack is not "oughts" and "shoulds". What you lack is for someone to grab your hand and squeeze until the remote control drops out. That is, you need someone to get you moving. What you lack is motivation, fire, gusto. Your get up and go got up and went.

There are two ways to motivate: carrot and stick. Most motivational theorists with stress that a balance of the two produces optimal performance. Not just the carrot. Not just the stick. We need both.

Preaching is about motivation. It is about leading people to live the life they ought to live. It is about associating positive results to the good stuff and negative results to the bad stuff. It is about telling people that there will be blessings for doing the right things and punishment for not doing so. Faith, prayer, Christian service and the rest bring their rewards. Failure to do so could result in hearing, "Wicked servant. . . " or something far worse. (Matthew 25:26)

Preaching is good. But it is not all that is needed to keep us on the straight and narrow. Sooner or later, we know far more to do than we are doing. It is tempting to become "weary in doing good." (Galatians 6:9). We need something else. We need to be encouraged. We need someone to come along side of us and say, "atta boy." Pastors ought to do a lot of that. Catch people doing something right and thank them.

A lot of this encouragement ought to be done personally, while wandering around before and after a service. Thank a nursery work. Acknowledge and usher. Say thank you to the guy who repainted the hallway. There ought to be a lot of touching that goes with this kind of encouragement. Still, there is another, more neglected form of encouragement that ought to be a part of every pastor's weekly habits. It is so easy. The dividends are enormous.

If you are a pastor, I want to challenge you to write 365 letters a year to people in your congregation. One letter a day. Seven letters a week. Mostly letters of encouragement. Mostly atta boys. Catch them doing something right and say thank you, in the form of a letter. It is so easy. The dividends are enormous.

If you use a dictaphone, you do this in the time it takes you to drive to work. If you don't use a dictaphone, it will be so time consuming you flat will not get around to doing it enough to make any difference. The dictaphone can be the difference between getting the letters done and not. The letters can be the difference between a motivated worker and one who joins the ranks of those on the bench. The dictaphone may be the most important technology since the printing press. And it is yours for around $250.

You will be amazed what a difference this makes. Like I was when someone came and shook my hand and said, "Pastor, thanks for the letter. I have never gotten a letter from the pastor before. Thank you." He fought back the tears. So did I.

He was happy to serve. Thrilled to serve. He just wanted someone to notice every now and then. He just wanted someone to say "thanks". No prizes. No fanfare. No recognition. No big deal. Just someone to say thank you every now and then.

I wrote a letter to our organist once:


Dear Maureen,

I am writing to tell you how deeply moved I was by the prelude you played today.

It is no secret that I am a big fan of music. You may not know that I have dabbled some on the keyboard myself so I have a great appreciation for the amount of time and effort that goes into learning to play. I know you practice each and every week to get ready for the service. When you played that arrangement of, "He Touched Me" God really did touch me. I quietly remembered the words and felt touched by God. It was one of those moments we all pray will happen in the service but we never know exactly how to make it happen every week. That moment when God comes near. This week that moment was when you played. I was touched, and as I looked around the auditorium this morning, I think there were a lot of other people touched as well. I could see it in their faces.

Thanks again for your work in helping us to know God.


Josh Hunt

Using a dictaphone, this letter took about five minutes to compose. But I will bet you Maureen does not have very many of them. I'll bet you she read it more than once. I'll bet you it meant something to her. How do I know? Because I would like to get a letter like that. And, because she told me. Five minutes of work to lift Maureen's spirits. She could stay motivated for a year on encouragement like that.

We spend so much time begging and pleading and asking and organizing to get people into the ministry. Why don't we spend more time acknowledging and encouraging the ones we have? The answer is that it is too much trouble and we just don't get around to it. That was a good answer before dictaphones. It is worth too much and costs too little to fail to do this.

Letters or encouragement are great way to instruct and build skill, as well as encourage. Suppose a greeter got the following letter:


Dear Bob,

I want to thank you for your faithful service each week in offering and friendly smile and warm handshake to every single person that comes into our church.

I don't know if you ever thought about it or not, but you are really representing God when you go about this ministry. In a broader way, the church represents God and you are the first contact people have when they come to church. You smile at them as God smiles at them. You touch them as we trust God will touch them in the service. You speak to them as God would do.

Four times in the Bible we are commanded to greet on another. As a representative of all of us, you are fulfilling this command excellently.

Keep up the good work. I know it is some trouble to prepare to arrive early and carry out your task, but it is important, and I appreciate it.


Josh Hunt

In addition to thanking Bob, this letter reminded Bob of some of the same things I would say to Bob if I were having a greeter training course. I reminded him of the importance of his work, that he needs to give a warm handshake and smile to everyone. I even subtly reminded him to be on time by acknowledging that I know it is a lot of trouble. This teaching may be as effective as a training class for ushers and it is a whole lot more pleasant for both me and the pastor and Bob. I also takes less time. The way I see it, you don't have time to not write 365 letters a year.

If you use this approach, keep the admonition secondary. The main purpose is to encourage. In another time and place you can instruct. But, even in a letter of encouragement, you can drop in some instruction. By catching them doing something right, you reward the right kind of behavior without having to nag or complain.

Letters can be written to both individuals and groups. The letter above could go to all the greeters. But be careful, I asked a secretary once to send a similar letter to all the greeters. She turned to her official list of greeters and promptly prepared and mailed the letters. Only thing is, one gentlemen could not even remember when he had been a greeter. The list was old. He wasn't offended by the letter. Just puzzled. I was embarrassed.

When you are writing to groups you have to be more general in what you say. Make sure it applies to everyone. When you write to someone personally, make sure it is personal enough that they know you composed it with a picture of them in your mind. One of the first things I think about when I get a letter is, "Is this a letter to me, or am I just on a mail merge list?" Most people know that just because it says "Dear Bob" on your letter it might say, "Dear John" on the next. If it is a personal letter, make sure they know it. Also, it is a good idea to add a one sentence hand written P.S. at the bottom. Again, it lets them know you are thinking about them personally. I think the Apostle Paul did something similar to this.

Children especially like to get letters. After a children's musical, I wrote something like this to all of the children who participated. In this particular copy, I added a line acknowledging Sean's solo. Once again, this is a way of personalizing the letter.


Dear Sean,

I wanted to thank you for the great job you did with the musical Sunday night. Your solo toward the end was especially moving.

I think musicals are one of the neatest things about church. I especially love to see children's musicals. Everyone in the audience just thought it was wonderful, and I have heard so many positive comments.

I think it is great that you are using your talents to serve God. I hope this is a preview of the way you will live your life: devoted and dedicated to him. God delights in our singing praises to him.

I know these kind of musicals don't come together easily. I know you spent a lot rehearsing and learning the music. It was worth it as it all came together so nicely.

Thanks again for all your work. We all had a wonderful evening we will remember for a long time.


Josh Hunt

I believe a letter like this would mean a lot in the life of a nine-year-old kid. I also believe a nine-year-old kid's parents would notice and appreciate it. If they are not believers, they will think differently about the church and about God as a result of this letter.

The Principle of Leverage

The tool of the dictaphone is an example of a larger principle that can be applied in a number of ways: the principle of leverage. You may remember the principle of leverage from a 5th grade study of simple machines. Simple machines were things like pulleys, wheels, inclined planes and levers. The principle of leverage says you move just a little bit in the right place and it moves something a lot some where else.

Two lines are running parallel. Move one off course by one degree. The difference is imperceptible. Set a train on tracks that are moving a part by one degree and the train will crash before it gets to the end of the block. Half a light year away they are in different quadrant's of the galaxy. This the is principle of leverage at work.

The principle of leverage is at work when we dictate a note that takes us 5 minutes to dictate and we encourage a teacher who stays with teaching another year because of it. We spend five minutes; they give us 5 hours a week for a year. That is leverage. Pastors complain all the time of being too busy. The key to controlling your time is to find the high leverage places in ministry and pour excessive amounts of time there.

The principle of leverage is at work when the pastor stands up and say, "I have been moved by this appeal. You can count me in for $100. Tonight. Five hundred people join him. The pastor give $100. $5,000 is given because of his example. That is leverage.

It is better to get ten men in the work than to do the work of ten men. God has called us to get men in the work. If a pastor will take the time to do so, he can recruit a person to ministry in the time it takes him to go to the store and buy a jar of peanut butter. This is high leverage time.

I worked for a while on a construction site. More exactly, I worked on a destruction site. Our job was to tear down the outer wall of a bank so they could expand. I don't know if you ever thought about how they construct the outer walls of banks or not, but they build them so as to discourage outside entry. This was really three walls built back to back. There was a cinder block wall, a wall of reinforced, poured concrete, and an outer brick wall. We worked for about two weeks tearing down this wall brick by brick with jackhammers and sledge hammers. In the months prior to taking this job, I had just gotten out of school and had done more pushing pencils and typewriters than I had sledgehammers and jack hammers . Each day my body grew more exhausted from the cumulative effect of the arduous work. The crew that was heading up the destruction project was from out of town. Their interest was to work as long and hard as they could every day with no days off until they finished the job and could go back home. They hired me and a couple other locals to help with the grunt work. There was a lot of grunt work.

During one of the later days of the project we were working especially late. I think the out-of-towners smelled blood and wanted to get the job done and go home. I remember working well past the late summer sunset.

On this particular part of the project, I was working on one side of the construction site, while everyone else was working on the other. I was by myself, alone, while the others worked in a group. They were taking turns taking licks with the jack hammer. One man would hit it for all he was worth for about 2 minutes, then tumble to the side and pick up a beer. Another teammate would resume the grueling work of jackhammering. Between turns they would exchange small talk. Sometimes one would tell a joke and they would all break out in laughter. They had their own small group going.

I was on the other end of the project. The light was such that I was in a shadow and could not be seen by the rest of the group. The rat-tat-tat of the jack hammer and the distance between us provided further insulation between the group and myself.

My job was to clear this stucco/plaster stuff--I was never told exactly what it was--off this huge wall. I accomplished this by ramming a crow bar between the stucco/plaster stuff and the cinder block wall behind it. I would ram the crow bar and my whole body would reel with the jar. If I was lucky, a little piece of stucco/plaster stuff--about the size of a woman's hand--would fall to the ground. Sometimes, nothing would happen and I would ram and ram and ram. Sometimes I would move to another part of the wall. I could do any part of the wall I wanted. The whole, gigantic thing had to be done. No one else knew if I were working chance or loafing. No one knew if I how much progress making. No one knew if I had simple gotten tired of it all and walked out. This went on for several hours. If felt like days.

One time during those hours alone my boss came over. He left the group and the laughter and the comradeship to check on me. "How's it going?" he politely asked. "Looks like you are making progress. Keep up the good work. I know it is hard, but it has to be done and there is no other way to do it. You just got to keep pounding just as you are doing. Take a break when you need to. You know where the water is." I could feel something deep in my spirit lift like a hot air balloon on a crisp New Mexico morning.

I didn't need a new technique. I didn't need him to show me how to ram a crow bar against the wall. But it meant the world to me that he came over and just asked, "How you doing?"

I wonder how many teachers of 2 year olds you have in your church who would say, "Pastor, I don't need to be shown how to teach 2 year olds. I probably know how better than you. I don't need a new technique or better materials. But, if you would stop by every once in a while and say, "How you doing?" it would mean the world to me.

Pastor, if it has been a while since you have done this, stop by your preschool area this weekend. And next week, buy a dictaphone and write them all a letter. Put something personal and individual to each teacher. Tell them thank you. Tell them they are doing a great job. Tell them you appreciate them. Tell them God appreciates them.

You may have someone who is on the brink of quitting. You may have some workers who are going through all kinds of personal problems. You may have some workers who are just plain tired. A word from you would mean the world to them. Some will keep those letters in a file for a long time to come. Some will keep them in their purse and get them out and reread the letters on a regular basis. Some will want to frame them.

Jesus said the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. We search heaven and earth to find laborers. Every church I know has a labor shortage. One way to address the labor shortage is to keep the exit lines out of ministry shorter. One way to do this is to show some appreciation for your workers. The easiest way to do this is to do ministry by dictaphoneing around.

I have a file I keep of thank you notes that I have received. It is a pretty thin file. Make sure that the people in your church have a fat file of thank you notes from the pastor. People never tire of hearing thank you.


20 Questions

1. Any new developments in your ministry this week?

2. Do you agree with the idea that, "People know what they are supposed to do, they lack motivation in doing it."?

3. What two ways are available to us to motivate people?

4. Which do you think is the more effective?

5. What are some appropriate uses of the carrot?

6. What are some appropriate uses of the stick?

7. Tell us about a recent time wandering around the church on Sunday catching people doing something right and encouraging them.

8. How have you used a dictaphone to encourage people? Give a specific example.

9. What do you think would be a reasonable goal for you in terms of how many letters you write a year?

10. What are some examples of letters you could write?

11. What effect do you think these kinds of letters would have on their recipients?

12. Why do you think encouraging people is so important?

13. Why don't we do more of it than we do?

14. Tell me about a time when you received a note that encouraged you.

15. Explain the principle of leverage as it relates to ministry. Give some examples

16. Do you think it is easier to recruit someone to ministry, or keep someone in ministry?

17. What is your plan for keeping the troops already in ministry encouraged?

18. Josh says, "It is better to get ten men in ministry than it is to do the work of ten men." Why is this true?

19. Who are some people you could encourage before the sun sets tomorrow?

20. Anyone in here discouraged about anything? How could we pray for you?