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.  
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