Roles and Responsibilities

In response to my last post, my good friend commented that his baptism was his ordination. So true! Baptism is the ordination for every Christian in that we are given “holy orders” to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). This is the universal calling for all baptized Christians. How we each fulfill or carry out that directive varies, depending on how the Holy Spirit gifts and equips us for ministry.

For some, there is “further” ordination as they answer God’s call to accept formal responsibility for a body of believers within an ecclesial structure: in other words, they step into the “clergy” category. Is their ordination better–somehow more valid–than the ordination of baptism? I don’t think so! It is a different role with a different responsiblity. I know plenty of saints who do not bear the title of “Reverend” and are absolutely faithful to the ministry to which God has called and equipped them. And I have known a few “Reverends” who were more enamored of the title than the responsibility inherent in that role.

(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / Andres

(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / Andres

Is the clergy role more important than the role of lay ministers? When I watch our Welcome Team greet people as they come in the door, I’m so grateful for their ministry. It’s of vital importance that everyone–especially guests–feel welcome in the church. And I’m very grateful for the Altar Team member who carefully prepares the altar, sets out the bread and wine, and lights the candles to prepare a reverent setting for worship and communion. When our Music Team starts singing, I’m incredibly blessed by their ministry, especially since I don’t sing well at all! I could go on, but you get the point. All of these ministries are important very The people who do them are called and gifted to do what I am not–and what I cannot do by myself. Is my clergy role of deacon more important than theirs? Hardly! My responsiblities are just different.

Every ministry role in my church is valuable. (Admittedly, some are more necessary than others, at least for a season). However, some of those roles have more–and weightier–responsibilities than others. Our nursery and children’s church ministers are responsible for the safety and well-being of the children in their care. That is a weightier responsiblity than our facility ministers, who are responsible for the orderly placement of chairs in our worship space. We need and value both of these ministry roles, however, and I look for the same dedication from one as from the other.

Valuing roles equally is absolutely necessary for a healthy church. And it is one way to avoid falling into the entitlement trap, the subject of next week’s post!

Questions for Conflict

I’m writing this as I sit in the airport waiting for my flight home. I’ve had the joy of speaking to the leadership team of another church today, casting vision for them to become known in their community as the church that equips people to live their true vocation in all of life. More than 25 people came out on a cold Saturday morning, giving up the better part of their day, to consider why and how they should spend their time and energy helping their church grow.

We opened the scriptures to carefully consider Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, particularly 2:10 and 4:11-16, and how it is relevant to their church today.

We examined the institutional church model with its clergy-centric, hierarchical culture, contrasting it to an equipping church model that values the priesthood of all believers. I strongly encouraged them to trade in their old church paradigm for a new one—one that is actually ancient in comparison to that institutional paradigm!

We examined their culture, asking the tough questions, “Are we who we say we are?” and “Who does the community say we are?”

Leadership was another important topic of our conversation today. What does an equipping leader do? How is that different from any other kind of leader? What makes a leader anyway? One older gentleman who had been in executive leadership prior to retiring was refreshingly honest in confessing that he liked being the “top dog” who had all the control. It was less messy that way. But he learned that he didn’t have all the right answers and, in the end, he came to value the messiness of collaboration over the control of the one-man show. He found that it yielded far more satisfactory results!

And lastly we explored doing ministry as a team. What’s the difference between functioning as a committee—long the pattern in their denomination—and serving together as team? What makes a team? We identified some of the sacrifices that developing team ministry requires, such as time and ego, and how their people might benefit from making those sacrifices.

In parting, I told them that becoming an equipping church is not easy. It’s really hard work. It will cause conflict at times, which will be painful. It takes time. Sometimes it will feel like they are taking two steps forward and one step backward…and that’s on a good day. But, in the end, they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they are choosing to be the church God is calling them to be because they are equipping others to be the ministers God designed them to be.

question markThere are lots of questions in this post. I encourage you to ask them of your church and of yourself. Even if you’ve asked and answered them before, you may find it’s a good idea to ask them again. The questions may well produce conflict, and this is a good thing. Conflict causes us to look at the choices we are making and evaluate whether they are the right ones. Conflict properly handled is a critical step to becoming an equipping church.

Misfit or misplaced?

iphone-misfit-toysDid you miss the right fit? It happens to every equipping leader at some time or another. The best leaders find out early and have the opportunity to correct the problem. The key is to resist the urge to deny or ignore the problem!

My friend Mac was faced with just such a situation–a misfit volunteer. Jane was serving as a children’s Sunday school teacher. She began her ministry enthusiastically, but it wasn’t long before Mac began receiving complaints from frustrated parents whose children no longer wanted to attend Sunday school. Then the Sunday school team leader shared her concern that Jane no longer engaged with the team. She missed a few team meetings and wasn’t responding to inquiries about her absence. Mac realized that he had a problem that needed his immediate attention, so he arranged to meet with Jane.

Mac later told me how much he dreaded that conversation. He didn’t want to “fire” Jane. She was a nice woman and had seemed the perfect addition to the children’s ministry team. Her eagerness to help children come to know Jesus had been almost palpable during their initial conversation, but it was now obvious that something had gone awry.

When Jane walked into Mac’s office, her discomfort was obvious. Mac intentionally sat on the same side of his desk as Jane and began with light conversation. After a few minutes Jane began to relax, and only then did Mac ask how she was experiencing her ministry as Sunday school teacher. For a moment it seemed she was not going to answer, but then the frustration poured out along with her tears. She felt like a failure! She wanted to teach the children about Jesus, but they didn’t respond to her efforts to maintain order in the classroom. The parents were unhappy because their children cried when they were left in her class. And she felt like such a misfit when meeting with the other teachers because they enjoyed their classes as much as Jane dreaded hers. Mac listened carefully. It was apparent that Jane’s passion to share Jesus with the children was still there; it was equally apparent that being a teacher was not the best way for her to share that passion.

“Jane, if you could do anything in children’s ministry that you wanted, what would it be?” Mac asked. Jane thought for a moment, then said, “The supply closet is such a mess. I can never find what I need! The other teachers can’t either so they just go out and buy new supplies, which end up lost in the closet again. I would love to take charge of that closet and make sure the children and teachers have the resources they need for Sunday school each week.” Mac almost fell out of his chair! That closet was the bane of his existence and here was someone who wanted to take it on!

If you are an equipping leader struggling with a misfit, this may sound more like a fairy tale with its “happily ever after” ending. But I assure you it is a true story.  Here are some key takeaways:

  • Mac didn’t ignore the problem
  • Mac took the initiative to have a conversation with Jane–not a “come to Jesus meeting!”
  • Rather than making statements, Mac asked questions to gain a clear understanding
  • After listening carefully, Mac created space for Jane to create her ideal ministry serving the children she loved

Most “misfit volunteers” aren’t really misfits…they are simply misplaced. Commit yourself to doing whatever it takes to help them find their ideal serving role. Who knows? You might just find there is someone willing and eager to tackle the project you’ve been avoiding!

Want more? Click here to read an excellent article on redirecting volunteers from Church Volunteer Central.

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!

Team Lessons From the Fab Five

Watching the United States women’s gymnastic team compete in the Olympics last week reminded me what a high-capacity team looks like!

1. Each one of the Fab Five is an accomplished athlete in her own right. At various points in the competition, one woman’s particular skill would lead the team. But, for the most part, they each brought what they had for the good of the whole.

2. They truly encouraged each other. Early on, it seemed the hugs were perfunctory, but as the competition continued, those hugs became more genuine.  “You can do this,” was heard more than once in the face of faltering self-confidence. A particularly poignant moment was when the camera focused on Jordyn Wieber cheering on Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman in the all-around—the competition from which Jordyn had been unfairly (in my opinion) eliminated.

3. Aly was brave enough to take out what wasn’t working. As she was practicing for the floor exercise, one particular move kept causing Aly problems. She just couldn’t quite make it work, so she took it out. Aly’s routine was less impressive, but she didn’t insist on being the star. The team would have paid the price if she had insisted on trying to impress the judges with a move that was simply not coming together for her.

4. Even after some less-than-stellar performances, not one of those young women gave up. They kept the main thing, the main thing: doing their best to win. They didn’t quit and, in the end, they brought home the Gold!

5. God receives the glory. During an interview after winning the all-around, Gabby said, “I give all the glory to God. The glory goes up and the gold comes down!”

Similarly, high-capacity ministry teams:

  • value the unique gifts and contribution of each individual
  • work together for the good of the whole
  • offer mutual encouragement
  • are willing to let go of things that don’t work
  • don’t attract glory-seekers
  • focus on what needs to be accomplished
  • give God all the glory!

Can your team bring home the Gold?

Vacation bible commandment #1: Thou must collect shells.

What is it about walking along the beach that simply begs me to stoop down and pick up a shell? And is it possible to pick up one…just one? Apparently not for me! Before we left on our vacation, my husband was rummaging through the closet looking for his hat when he came upon a box of shells from our last beach vacation several years ago. He thought it necessary to point out to me the existence of said box, perhaps in the vain hope that I would disobey vacation bible commandment #1.

As I mentioned in my last post, we shared our vacation with Debby–tropical storm Debby–so shell collecting was impossible for the first few days. My daughter hoped to find that treasure of all treasures, a sand dollar, and as soon as she could stand upright on the beach, she and her husband were out combing the sand. Because of the violent surf, I assumed she wouldn’t find anything that wasn’t broken to pieces, but I was mistaken. She found not one but two sand dollars! Fueled by her success, she moved on to a new project: finding tiny shells with which to decorate picture frames. Of course, I pitched right in to help, obediently following vacation commandment #1. I was duly rewarded with two lessons from the same Lord who created all those shells.

Lesson one:

As the collecting progressed, my daughter Katie and her husband became more discerning about the shells they wanted to use. They wanted small Florida Ceriths and Augers. At the end of the island, shells had piled up into a quite a large mound; this became the prime spot for picking up those little treasures. As I took an early morning stroll, I stopped to search the mound in hopes of finding an Auger or Cerith or two for their collection. It didn’t take long for me to get frustrated. How could I possibly spot those skinny little shells among the thousands and thousands in the mound? I was immediately reminded of watching Jeremiah the day before. (You should know that Jeremiah has the patience of Job.) He sat in that very spot and just looked for the longest time, occasionally moving his hand gently through the shells. As I tried to imitate his “technique,” I saw an Auger…and once I spied one, it was as though the blinders were removed and I could see several! I would gently move my hand through the shells and then patiently look until I could see another, and another, and another.

I sensed the Lord speaking to me about the perils of not seeing the treasures he sends me among the people I serve. It’s easy to go about my days looking at the sea of faces without really recognizing their value to God. How often do I look at a ministry team without seeing the giftedness of each individual? What about the times when I am tempted to speed through a conversation without really listening closely to discover how God has equipped this particular person for the good works he has prepared for them to do?

Jesus might have said, “Let those who have eyes to see, slow down and look more carefully.”

Check back tomorrow for lesson two!

Two wrong questions; One right answer

Where do you look for your leaders? Gotta have ’em, right? And too often we need them sooner rather than later! So we begin the search, which might look like this…

We need a strong leader for our finance committee. Who in the church is experienced in accounting or finance? Wrong question!

When I served on the staff of a large mainline denominational church, that’s the question that was most frequently asked during the nominations process. Who has marketplace experience in something directly related to the leadership role we need to fill? Who are the insurance brokers, builders, engineers who have exhibited marketplace success that we can nominate for trustees? Who among our congregation are teachers that we can nominate to lead discipleship? Who works in human resources that we can nominate to serve on this nominations committee? Wrong questions.

Or perhaps the search process might begin like this…

We need a leader for our finance committee. Who do we know that has the time to serve? Wrong question!

Smaller churches may not even be thinking about who is successful in the marketplace. They may simply be asking, “Who isn’t already serving in other areas? Who has the time to lead this committee? Who can we ask that we won’t have to strong-arm into saying “yes?” Wrong questions.

If you are honest, you know you’ve asked these same questions. When we are desperate for leadership, we can easily succumb to the temptation to ask the default questions, Who’s got experience? or Who’s got time?

Several years ago I read an article that asked, “What’s the most important quality to look for in a leader?” Now there’s a good question! The answer: Wisdom.

Scripture has quite a bit to say about wisdom. According to Proverbs, wisdom is supreme (4:7), worth far more than rubies (8:11), accompanies humility (11:2), is found in those who take advice (13:10), and brings joy (29:3). Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge above all else, and the Lord was so pleased that He granted the request–along with the wealth, riches, and honor that Solomon did not ask for! (2 Chronicles 1:8-12) What’s more, James tells us that God still honors that request (James 1:5). The first deacons were chosen because they were full of the Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3), and Paul includes wisdom in the list of spiritual gifts necessary for health and maturity in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:8). There are plenty more references to wisdom–pull out your concordance and see for yourself. A word study on wisdom might be a worthwhile expenditure of our time.

Marketplace experience is no match for godly wisdom. And having time to spare may be an indication of idleness (scripture has something to say about that, too!). Wisdom, on the other hand, is a “generalist.” A person who is wise will employ their wisdom in a leadership role on any team or committee. A wise person also knows how to manage their time, and values balance between work and rest. A person who is truly wise derives their wisdom from the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:17) and will lead accordingly. That sounds to me like the right person to fill the leadership role. What do you think?

I have some more thoughts on leadership to share in the coming days. I hope you will join in the conversation!