Something old may just be something new!

I haven’t blogged in well over a month. I haven’t felt like I had anything new to say. Maybe I don’t. But in the past two weeks I’ve had two conversations with ministry leaders from two churches in two states, each of whom sharing with me something that set off my equipping alarm! I have been reminded that each person learns at their own speed, implementing what they can, when they can. In other words, when someone attends a training or reads a book or blog, there may be only one or two points that grab their attention and around which they take action.

Case in point: in the first conversation, the ministry leader shared that their church had enthusiastically encouraged gifts discovery, providing curriculum and a class for those who were interested in learning. Many of their members went through the class and were excited to learn their spiritual gift. However, there was no follow through. No follow up. No process for helping those folks find a serving opportunity that would utilize their gift in fruitful ministry.

This reminds me of the first Christmas we gave our son an electronic toy. He squealed with excitement when he opened his gift, then cried with equal fervor when it wouldn’t work because we had neglected to purchase the necessary batteries. I saw the same frustrated disappointment on the face of my grandson just a few weeks ago when, after gleefully ripping the wrapping paper off a Christmas present, he was told he couldn’t open the box to play with the toy because his momma was concerned that the small parts would be lost in all the empty boxes and wrapping paper. What’s the fun of opening a gift that you can’t use?

In the second conversation, a ministry leader shared that they had at one time offered a discovery process, but it had now been years since spiritual gifts was a topic of conversation around the church. New folks who had come since that time had not been provided an opportunity to discover their unique design for ministry, and those who had participated previously had not been encouraged to re-visit the process to see what new thing the Holy Spirit might be doing in their lives to birth new ministry.

In each of these cases, a discovery process was implemented–probably in response to a new idea gleaned from a book or a training–but the process was incomplete in the first instance, and relegated to a program (with a predictable end) in the second. I’ve no doubt that the intention of each of these ministry leaders was to encourage their congregation to serve, but they had only a partial understanding and implementation of what is necessary to equip their people for fruitful and fulfilling ministry.

These conversations lead me to believe that I may not have anything new to say, but the stuff I’ve said before bears repeating. With that said, I will focus the next few posts on casting the vision for what is necessary to create and sustain an equipping culture. For those of you who have heard it all before, I hope you will share your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions to make that which is old (to you) into something new for others…and perhaps for yourself, too!

something old made new

Martha on Steroids

Earlier this year, I had an epiphany: size matters. In response, I began working on making changes to our ministry processes and structures to bring them into alignment with the size of our congregation. Some changes have been relatively easy to implement and others are posing a bigger challenge. Take leadership for example. My leadership.

I’ve been pretty busy trying to manage ministry. There’s been a lot to do this fall–inviting new volunteer ministers onto teams, training, procuring supplies and equipment, coordinating schedules to avoid overloading families, breathing life back into an all-but-dead critical ministry area–all while trying to develop a strategic plan for developing team ministry in a manner consistent with our church size and growth. Remember the biblical story of Martha and Mary? That was me–Martha…on steroids! Then came the crushing blow: my senior pastor and partner in ministry pointed out that I was over-functioning.

Epic fail.

OK, I suppose that’s a little dramatic. It wasn’t really a crushing blow, nor an epic fail. But it was the truth. I had embodied the antithesis of an equipping leader.

Time to take a step back, breathe deep, and re-evaluate. Rather than list all the “could haves” and “should haves,” I am focusing on two simple steps to finding my way back to equipping equilibrium:

Step 1: Practice Weekly Sabbath

For pastors, Sunday is a work day. Yes, it is ministry; but it’s work. It’s our responsibility to see that “church” happens. I am bi-vocational and work a part-time job during the week. I’m also a homemaker. Not surprisingly, I was working in one role or the other seven days a week. Not all day every day, but there wasn’t a day set aside to simply be with God. I would snatch an hour here, a half-day there. Nothing consistent. Nothing like sabbath rest in the company of Jesus.

Beginning this month, you won’t find me at the computer or in the office on Mondays. My senior pastor is holding meclosed on mondays accountable to not even think about anything having to do with our parish on Mondays. (He absolutely wins the Pastor of the Year Award!) Monday is my sabbath. It’s not my “day off,” a day to catch up on housecleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, or anything else on my to-do list. It’s a day for life-giving rest and refreshment.

I spent the first couple of Mondays at my sewing machine doing what I love. (I needed to decompress.) Last week I resolved to practice Morning, Noon, and Evening Prayer of the Daily Office each Monday. (That will take a bit more discipline!) Today I scheduled a day away at my favorite retreat house for an upcoming Monday. (I’ll be Mary on steroids that day as I sit in the porch swing with my Bible and journal in hand, listening for the Voice I know and love!)

If you are a pastor or a ministry leader and you don’t have a sabbath day of rest, you need one. Make it happen. What’s more, as a leader, you have a responsibility to not only set the example for those you are leading, but to exhort them to make sabbath-keeping a priority for their life as well.

Next post…

Step 2: Invest in Potential Leaders

What difference might it make…?

I was in Colorado last week to come alongside ministry leaders, helping them develop the skills and systems to create an equipping culture in their churches. Their enthusiasm for creating a vibrant, serving mentality among those they influence encouraged me, and I sensed the question rising in me again, What difference might it make if you simply focused on helping others to live their God-given vocation in their everyday-walking-around life? To BE Christ wherever they are and whatever they are doing?

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you are probably thinking that this is nothing new, and you are quite right. This has been my theme for quite awhile! But the fact that I regularly pray Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven prompts me to continue asking if I’m doing all that I can–all that God is asking me to do–to encourage that reality.

It seems to me that if every believer is living their true vocation in their everyday life, the kingdom will come sooner. So, what does it look like for me to partner with God in making this prayer a reality? What is needed? As I asked this question, this is the answer that rose up within me: Each and every believer should…

  1. understand his or her true identity in Christ (Ephesians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 3:23)pitcher&basin
  2. grasp how the Spirit moves and works through His people (Matthew 5:16)
  3. discover and embrace his/her unique design for ministry (1 Corinthians 12 and 13)
  4. be ready and able to verbally share the gospel message (1 Peter 3:15)
  5. be connected to the body of Christ, the local church (Hebrews 10:25, Acts 2:42-47)

Each step is integral to becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, to facilitating the coming of the kingdom that we believers continually pray for. We can have systems and processes and programs to encourage an equipping culture in our churches, but if we neglect these basic five steps I don’t think that we–as equipping leaders–are doing all we can to hasten the coming of the kingdom of God.

Your thoughts?

The Path to Sainthood

My husband is a saint. He lives with me, an ordained deacon, who speaks, blogs, lectures, teaches, and thinks about serving…a lot. (He would say that’s an understatement!) It’s not easy to live with someone whose calling is to serve the church when you are stuck with serving the retail masses. One appears so much holier than the other. And for those who think–subconsciously or otherwise–that ordination might just be the true path to sainthood, David would be happy to debunk that myth!

But do I–the “paid holy person”–regularly affirm that his ministry is no less holy than mine?

Last week David was savoring the last few minutes of his lunch break as he sat in his car, listening to some blast from the past rock & roll tune–his way of de-stressing–when he noticed a young woman walking across the parking lot toward his car. She stopped a couple of feet from the door and asked him if he could help and her boyfriend. They were on their way to another town and had run out of gas. Not the most original story and he’s no fool, but he gave her a little money and she walked away. A few minutes later as he was entering the store to return to work, he saw her sitting on the curb by the door. He walked up and asked her what she was doing and she said she was hoping someone would come out who might give her a little more money. What David had given her was not enough, she said, to get her to the neighboring town. He knew this was true. He asked if she was telling him the truth and she pointed to her boyfriend across the parking lot standing next to the car. They walked over together and the boyfriend showed him the gas gauge sitting on empty. David believed the Spirit was prompting him, so he gave enough cash to fill the tank to help them on their way. Were these people taking advantage of him? Who knows. But it was a holy moment as David responded to the Holy Spirit.

Two days ago, David was in his department working when a woman came up to ask for help. As she explained what she was looking for, he realized that he was in for a long, drawn-out story–the kind that often signals a difficult customer. David’s initial inner reaction was irritation. But he sensed the Holy Spirit telling him that the task he was working on would wait, and so David listened patiently as the woman’s story unfolded. Before long, tears were sliding down her cheeks as she poured out her frustration about a contractor not finishing his job, leaving her house in disorder, and a blind daughter who had suffered many surgeries and who now couldn’t make her way around the house because nothing was in its proper place. My husband stood there in the paint department aisle in the middle of a busy day, serving this woman simply by listening compassionately. Would his supervisor have said David was wasting time? Probably. But it was a holy moment as David responded to the Holy Spirit.

My husband is a saint, but it’s not because he’s married to me. It’s because he fulfills his calling to serve as he goes about his everyday life, often in the most unholy places.

Ministry leaders: who needs your help in identifying the ways they live their call to serve in the everyday walking around moments of serve like Jesuslife, in the unholiest of places? Who needs to hear that the true path to sainthood is not reserved for the ordained, but rather open to all who believe in Jesus, who hear and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Encourage them to be aware of those holy moments, ready to act, ready to serve. Ready to be like Jesus.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:45 (ESV)

Size Matters…So?

changeContinuing from yesterday

Gaining a deeper understanding of what it means to be a pastoral-size church necessitates changes in our leadership and ministry structure. For starters, the senior pastor and I will be leading the various ministry teams. In order to make that manageable, I am faced with making changes…changes which feel like the antithesis of everything I’ve learned and practiced to this point! However, being mindful of equipping values–prayer, priesthood of believers and vision of the church as contained in Ephesians 4, servant leadership, team ministry, intentionality, proactive towards change–is my insurance against sabotaging the progress made in developing an equipping culture. What follows are some of the changes necessary to adapt to our smaller size.

1. Streamlining ministry tasks

In the program-size church paradigm, I’ve encouraged division of ministry tasks into “bite-sized” pieces, creating more opportunities for people to participate according to their unique design for ministry. However, in our pastoral-size church, I have to face the fact that there are simply not enough people to fill all those roles. Therefore, I am re-evaluating each task, asking if it’s truly necessary,whether it can be combined with other tasks, and then re-writing the ministry description to reflect the changes in tasks and qualifications.

2. Delegating tasks

In the program-size church, my primary role was to lead the leaders. I was not focused on the ministry tasks–that was the ministry leader’s responsibility. My role was to develop their leadership ability and encourage their spiritual well-being. In my new role as ministry team leader, delegating tasks becomes my responsibility, in addition to identifying potential leaders and encouraging the well-being of all the team members. Some tasks I will be able to delegate according to the gifting/design of the individual team members; however, having fewer team members means that there will be some tasks that will fall to me (incentive to do a good job with #1 above!).

3. Consolidating ministry teams

Because there are now two of us providing leadership for the various ministries, we will be consolidating some of our teams. For example, our Toddler and Children’s Church teams will become one. That is not to say that we are combining toddlers and elementary age children! Rather, those two teams will become one. Another example: all those who serve in the sanctuary for Sunday worship will fold into one Worship Team, rather than having an Altar Team, a Lay Leader Team, and a Music Team. By consolidating teams, we will be better able to coordinate and provide leadership.

4. Ministry training

This is probably the biggest challenge of all. In the program-size church, each team leader would provide the training for their team. Now that we have only two leaders and larger teams with more diverse tasks, individualized training would require too much time and energy. Our ministry training will need to be crafted for the larger group, more generalized, yet provide enough specificity to be sure that everyone is fully equipped to accomplish what is being asked of them. Two benefits to this larger training: 1) it provides a natural opportunity for re-casting vision and 2) everyone will have a general feel for all the ministries, potentially providing a larger pool of “substitutes” when we are short-handed. Specific training for each ministry task can be recorded and given to the individual team members to view at their convenience, with opportunity for follow up conversation as needed.

Size matters. Understanding the different expectations based on church size is essential to developing a successful equipping culture. While I work to adapt the equipping practices I’ve learned over the years to a pastoral-size church, I must remember that the day may come when our parish outgrows this pastoral-church paradigm and I find myself faced with the transition to the (once familiar) program-size church paradigm. With that in mind, I will continue to cast vision for a less clergy-centric leadership structure, identify and develop potential leaders, and give away ministry as God provides the capable and willing people he has called to serve.

In the meantime, I won’t be trying to fit that fat size 9 foot into a sleek and slender size 6 shoe!

Size Matters

In the culture of American church-dom, we hear and read often about the declining membership of churches–all denominations, all sizes. I don’t know of a single pastor or ministry leader that enjoys admitting that their congregation or their ministry is shrinking, no matter how obvious the shrinkage is! Declining attendance is often construed as failure. Sometimes it is; but sometimes the attrition is based on circumstances beyond the control of leadership. For example, my church has said good-bye to several members who have had to re-locate due to employment opportunities, as well as some who have gone to the mission field. That’s hardly failure! But whatever the reason for the decline, denial and a refusal to adapt to the change will most certainly lead to the failure we fear.cinderella slipper

I’ve recently begun to feel like one of Cinderella’s step-sisters trying to stuff a fat size 9 foot into a sleek size 6 shoe, and I am beginning to understand why. I have continued to use practices suited to a larger church even as our numbers have declined.

When church size changes, leadership and ministry structure must be adapted to fit the new size.

I’ve been reading up on church size and why it matters. Several years ago Arlin Rothauge wrote about the relationship between leadership and church size in a little publication entitled Sizing Up A Congregation*. Rothauge classified churches into four categories based on size:

  • The Family  Church: 0-50 members
  • The Pastoral Church: 50-150 members
  • The Program Church: 150-350 members
  • The Corporation Church: 350-500+ members

Rothauge (as well as the writings of a few others) has helped me see why church size matters. (Let me say now that I don’t think it prudent to lock in on these mathematical models–in fact, there are other studies that reflect different models–but they do offer a context for understanding the dynamics associated with different size churches.) I understand more fully why it’s not possible to simply “scale down” practices designed for the program- and corporation-size church in an attempt to make them work in the pastoral- to family-size church.

My church was teetering on the edge of becoming a program church in our ethos, if not quite in our number. However, we are now firmly a pastoral-size church, and Rothauge’s assessment that “the membership looks first to the central leader for direction, inspiration, and pastoral care” is spot-on. The very fact that we have an average Sunday attendance of 55-60 means that it is quite natural and easy for members to relate directly to our pastor. In larger churches, it’s more difficult to have that same ease of access to the senior leadership.

Simply understanding this relationship dynamic helps me see why it is a challenge to raise up team leaders. One of the key arguments used in a program-size church for enlisting volunteer leaders is that there are too many people–too many ministries–for one person (senior pastor) to lead. However, in a church of 50 that argument won’t win the case. Add that to the general busyness of most people’s lives and it’s understandable why they are unwilling to step into a leadership role. They don’t see the need. Yet, without volunteer ministry leaders, the landscape of ministry changes considerably.

It’s time we changed with it. In fact, it’s imperative. Come back tomorrow for a look at how we are navigating change…

 

*a PDF version is available online

An exercise in frustration

frustrationIf you are leading a small church and have designed even the most excellent equipping structure, rolling it out to a congregation that’s not big enough to support it and expecting great results is an exercise in frustration.

I have heard this time and again from pastors and ministry leaders in smaller congregations. They have preached and taught about serving, they have developed ministry descriptions for all their serving opportunities, they have a put a system in place to guide people through discovery and placement…yet they are still struggling to have enough volunteer ministers who are sure of their calling to lead ministry.

The values and principles are the same, so why doesn’t it work in a smaller church? What is missing???

Frankly, I was puzzled, too. But a recent conversation led me to a seemingly important insight. In a nutshell, it’s the institutional approach vs. organic approach.  I know those over-played words may trigger a fight or flight response in you, but resist it! Hear me out…

I spent 10 years in a large, well-established church. I learned and applied equipping principles and practices in that context. For the most part, they worked. Then I moved to a very small parish. Applying those same tried and true equipping principles and practices in this smaller context has been far less successful. On my bad days, dismal failure expressed my feelings perfectly!

For example: In the larger church, I could offer a gifts discovery class and have at least 20-25 folks sign up. I’ve offered the same class in my small parish (more than once) and had not one person express interest. See what I mean about dismal failure? Within the equipping process, gifts discovery is an integral first step. How do I move people through the process if they are unwilling to take the first step?

In a large church–say 1000 regular attenders–there may be 10-20% who have been discipled and are ready and willing to serve. Taking 100 to 200 people through the process makes it worth all the effort that went into that carefully designed equipping structure! And the odds of discovering a few folks in that crowd who are gifted and ready to lead are certainly in your favor.

In a small church of 100 regular attenders, that same 10-20% would amount to 10 to 20 volunteer ministers. Guiding only 10 people through a detailed equipping process can look like overkill! The structure overwhelms the number of participants (picture two people living alone in a mansion!). And you may not find one ready leader among those ten.

It seems to me that the institutional approach is to carefully design the equipping structure and processes first, then guide the potential volunteer ministers through them. It’s more likely to be effective for larger congregations.

However, it’s overwhelming for the small church. A more organic approach is to work with a few people at a time, discipling them personally. Discipling is more than Bible study. True discipling includes calling and gifts discovery, leadership development, and serving in a ministry. A lot is learned through your conversations that will enable you to skip some of the steps in the institutional approach (e.g., matching someone to a serving opportunity is much easier when you know them well, resulting in less trial and error). And while you are engaged in discipling, you are at the same time modeling leadership so that “leadership development” isn’t another step in the process.

Tired of the frustration? Investing in this personal discipling will help you design your equipping structure in a way that is congruent with your church. As your people grow, your processes will develop to fit the number of folks participating in them. Your structure will, in effect, be “under construction” as you are growing people into fully mature and devoted followers of Jesus Christ, willing to serve and lead as Christ served and led.