Images That Stick

Over the years, we hear hundreds, then thousands of messages, talks or Bible studies. Of course we don’t remember them all. The ones that stick for me have usually been profoundly simple, and often involved a memorable metaphor.

One of those was given at least a dozen years ago by my friend and mentor, Chuck Miller. The simple message was about integrating our deepening life with Jesus Christ and our outer engagement in ministry and leadership. The visual was kitchenware: a pitcher, a cup, a saucer and a plate.

  • The pitcher is all that God is and longs to pour into my life.
  • The cup is my life, uniquely created by God to be filled by Him and to express Him in the world around me.
  • The fullness of God in my life overflows onto the saucer, which is relationships—the network of people my life touches.
  • The plate is events, gatherings, programs, and organizations where God’s presence overflowing my life (cup) and my relationships (saucer) can touch and bless others.

How has this stuck? How has it helped me over the years?

  • Too often, life and ministry is about trying to pour out what’s in my cup to help others without having let myself be filled and blessed by God (pitcher). Burn-out has too often been the result.
  • My life isn’t filled just to bless me (cup), but to overflow in blessing others (saucer).
  • Ministry is meant to be overflow, not giving away my last few drops.
  • The saucer before the plate reminds me that my greatest influence is always relational. Events (plate) are meant to serve the people (saucer), not people to serve the events.
  • Sequence matters. When I get busy in ministry, I sometimes lose track of God’s loving, empowering presence (pitcher) and of the importance of loving the people around me (saucer). A “cup/plate” life becomes a driven and empty life.

This metaphor eventually became the core image for Chuck’s book, The Spiritual Formation of Leaders (Xulon, 2007). I especially like chapter 19 where he is playful with the metaphor, illustrating some of the ways we can get our kitchenware out of order.

Join the Conversation

What sermon visual has captured you and stuck with you?

When it comes to “pitcher/cup…saucer/plate,” how does this visual intersect with where you find yourself in life and ministry today?

Alan Fadling:
fadlingAlan Fadling serves as Executive Director of The Leadership Institute in Orange, CA, training Christian leaders to integrate spiritual formation and leadership development. He serves as a frequent speaker and consultant and is the author of An Unhurried Life (IVP, 2013). He is a certified spiritual director living in Mission Viejo, California, with his wife Gem, and their three sons.  
    • Nancy Lopez

      Alan, I’ve been very blessed by this visual too. I have a P-C-S-P on my kitchen table now, and I’ve heard that others do too. I was thinking the other day (because my pitcher is actually a tea pot) – how would it change the idea if there was a creamer and sugar bowl there too. I was wondering if we really come to God empty, or if we come with our flavorings already in the cup. Then when God pours into my life, He is pouring into something unique that will dissolve into Him. My life will be Him, but it will still be me. Maybe it’s not a good metaphor – what do you think?

    • michael ogdon

      Alan, I’ve also heard it said that people can only make 3 life changes per year (on average). With that in mind, my three life changes to this point in 2011 include taking medication for my cholesterol daily, reading a devotional every morning, and walking the dog. The first life change message came from my doctor who had a fairly graphic photo of cholesterol attached to artery walls. The second was a personal conviction turned into an action step, and the third a request from my wife. The dog is not yet getting my full enthusiasm, and therefore, my wife is not very enthusiastic with me.

      I mention this because of the tremendous number of life change messages I receive in a typical year. 50 Sunday sermons, 50 accountability sessions, hundreds of Christian radio requests, thousands of television commercials and show philosophies… Out of all these, I have only about three I can emotionally respond to?

      As a picture learner, I REALLY need a visual!

      • Michael – Such a good point. What if there was a sense of an interrelated and unified journey that was at the heart of all those messages? What if we were really on just ONE journey and everything we were learning pointed us along that way? (And I’m sure the dog will be especially grateful for that third big life change!)

    • Nancy – creative idea. It’s certainly true that what it looks like for my life to be full will be unique to me, as it will be for each one God fills.

    • Jim Kane

      A wonderful image!

      • Thank you, Jim. It has helped hundreds, if not thousands, of leaders think integratively about ministry.

    • Great to see you writing here, Alan!

      • Thank you, Marcus. I’m sorry we never connected after our first try last December. We’ll have to see if we can make it on a second try sometime soon.

    • Great blog post Alan. Now that I serve as a pastor in a large church, I find myself often fighting the “organizational pull” towards a “cup/plate life.”

      • That’s exactly the challenge, Brian. The pressures of ministry tend to diminish our awareness of Pitcher (God) and saucer (people). I feel I have less and less time for either. Not good.