Equipping Culture, Small Church Style

 

small church

Eighty-five percent of all churches in America average less than 200 in worship attendance.

I can’t say exactly when Rick Warren obtained this statistic, but I know it’s at least a few years old. I’m not inclined to spend time tracking down that information because I can’t imagine anyone in church leadership who would dispute it! Small churches are everywhere. Not every pastor is called or gifted to lead a large church and that, I believe, is by God’s design. Likewise…

Some people love being in a really big room for really big church services. The size of the crowd inspires and encourages them. When they worship Jesus, they see that they are a part of something far bigger than themselves. The crowd helps draw them into a deeper place of faith. And that’s great.

But a lot of people worship and minister best in smaller settings. They’re drawn into a place of deeper faith through a worship experience that is more intimate and relational. The size, structure and spectacle of the bigger church is a distraction to them. It doesn’t draw them in, it puts them off.      –Karl Vaters

I served on staff in a large church with a high level of structure for ten years. I learned much about developing an equipping culture as I read voraciously and attended workshops, seminars and conferences. Most of it was really great stuff and I will always be grateful for the opportunities I had through the support and encouragement of that church. But that experience has also been a stumbling block for me.

My thoughts, habits, and practices regarding equipping people for ministry were developed in the context of the large church. However, I have been serving in a small church these past five years, and I’ve found that most of what I learned about structure and organizational practices just doesn’t fit here. By far, most of the resources available are written and presented for the moderate to large church, not for small congregations. I find this very interesting since small churches greatly outnumber big churches! Where are the equipping resources that pertain to the congregation of 100 or less?

Perhaps there are so few resources available because the answer for the small church is so simple: relationships.

If you serve a small church you don’t need all those structures and processes that are necessary in a larger church. What you need to do is come alongside folks. You need to meet with them, get to know them, invest in them. Help them discover how God has wired them for ministry, then help them find a place to live it out. (That may be in the church, but more likely it will be outside the church–more about that in a future post.) In many ways, this is much easier than the practices I employed in the larger church–less administrative detail to attend to, fewer systems to continually evaluate and tweak, fewer cracks for people to slip through.

Letting go of the large-church mentality proved to be a bigger challenge than I anticipated. However, I think it’s making me a better pastor, a better leader…a better equipper.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service… -Ephesians 4:11-12

Do you have vision?

Not “a vision”…just, do you have vision?Image

Vision is seeing God at work in your present situation and moving with Him. It’s about getting in on what God is doing in the world and being a part of it where He has placed you.  –Rick Warren

Can you see where God is at work around you? If you have not developed this kind of vision, having “a vision” is of no use because it’s simply your vision. Your vision–and mine!–is pitifully small next to God’s vision.

Return on Investment

A couple of weeks ago I was in Georgia and saw flowering trees.  As I look out my window I see daffodils and tulips trying to emerge.  All this gives me hope that our harsh winter is about to end as spring erupts.  Just as these flowers are responding to their environment, I have found I must create an environment for my team that allows them to flourish.  I operate on the premise that a happy staff is a fruitful staff.  When I equip them to do the ministry God has called them to and provide the kind of support they need, good things are released.  From this perspective, I don’t need to push and prod, but create opportunities and an environment that releases ministry.

That was written by my dear friend and colleague, John Criswell, in his recent newsletter. John currently serves as a Regional Director at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship but, as I reflected on John’s words, I remembered that he had this same philosophy when we served together on the staff of a large church not so many years ago. What’s more, it worked! As my supervisor, John didn’t have to push or prod. Rather, he invested in me and good things were released in and through me.results

As a leader, what are you doing to create opportunities and an environment that releases ministry? Here are a few investments that will yield good results:

  • Help those you lead discover how God has uniquely designed them for ministry. I know I write this over and over, but this understanding is critical to fruitful ministry! Teach them to listen for and recognize God’s calling on their life.
  • Regularly re-visit that discovery process with those you lead through reflection exercises designed to reveal their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their current serving role. Don’t be afraid of losing your volunteer minister! Instead, set them free to pursue something more fulfilling, all the while trusting that God will bring someone who is better fitted to that role.
  • Provide opportunities for ongoing equipping. This can be in the form of conferences, workshops, seminars–if they can’t attend a live event, consider purchasing a video or audio recording for your volunteers. Instructional materials can also be found in books, magazines, ezines, blogs, YouTube, etc. Consider that volunteers have limited time, so be strategic when choosing these resources.
  • And speaking of resources, make sure your volunteers have what they need to do what is expected. Case in point: At the end of the Toddler Church lesson, our little ones look forward to their snack. Believe me, it’s not a pretty sight when the Goldfish snack container is empty! It makes for some pretty unhappy Toddler Church teachers.
  • Be accessible. John had a comfy blue chair in his office that held many of his supervisees when they came to share a frustration or recount a moment of fruitful ministry, and everything in between. John was always willing to listen, counsel, exhort, and celebrate. Yes, he was my supervisor…but he was also a trusted friend.
  • Dream with those you lead. Don’t just settle for the low-hanging fruit. Encourage them to dream bigger dreams for their ministry. Help them reach for more of the kingdom.

How are you investing in your people? What kind of return are you getting on that investment? If ministry isn’t being released–if you aren’t seeing good fruit as a result–perhaps it’s time to review your investment practices.

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.

Need a leader? Disciple one.

In my last post, I wrote about the critical investment of mentoring potential leaders. Since then, I’ve had somewhat of an epiphany:”discipling” is a more fitting term than “mentoring.” Maybe it’s just semantics, but there is an energy in the term discipling that I don’t experience when speaking of mentoring. Oxford Dictionary defines a mentor as an experienced and trusted advisor who trains and counsels. That sounds somewhat pedantic to me,  like a sage on the stage kind of role, one-sided rather than an exchange between two people.

The dictionaries I use don’t recognize the word “discipling,” so I can’t quote a definition to compare alongsidedisciples-follow “mentoring.” But discipling brings to my mind Jesus going from town to town with the disciples following Him, observing His behavior as well as listening to His teaching. He would put them to work, too, challenging them to step beyond their comfort zones by telling them to feed 5000 people with a couple of fish and some bread, or sending them to villages to heal the sick and cast out demons.

Leaders come from discipling–intentional prolonged investment in someone’s spiritual formation. Not a quick Bible study on leadership. Not a workshop designed to develop the leader within you. I am not implying that these things are bad or useless–they can be quite helpful when used effectively. But on their own, they won’t create the leaders we need. No, this is a personal, one-on-one process that takes time, energy, intentionality. The reward, however, is well worth the investment.

To develop a leader requires letting them get close enough to see you when you are not at your best, when you are dealing with the difficulties of life. They are likely quite capable of consulting the scriptures to see what God has to say about feeding the hungry, but it’s quite another thing for you to suggest that you go together to a homeless shelter to serve a meal, debriefing the experience afterwards and sharing honestly how you found it difficult to tolerate the odor of alcohol, stale cigarettes, and unwashed bodies. The disciples witnessed Jesus when He was tired, frustrated, sad, and mad as well as when he was gentle, kind, generous, and forgiving.

While you are discipling someone, both you and they learn about their spiritual gifts. Gifting without discipleship is anemic; gifting under the tutelage of an equipping leader can be much more effective. When you disciple another, the opportunity to explore, encourage, and empower is built into the process. You can avert the train wreck that results from an unnoticed mismatched ministry opportunity, and celebrate the joy of successful, fulfilling service. You get to see up close and personal an emerging leadership style as it matures and bears fruit!

Leadership development is all about discipling. It’s tempting to think there’s a shortcut. There isn’t–I’ve tried. It’s tempting to think you can’t afford to invest the time and energy. Don’t be deceived. In reality, you can’t afford to do anything less. No one is going to do this for you. (Believe me, I speak from experience.) If you are a leader, you need to be discipling someone to become a leader, too.

So…what are you waiting for? Find someone who is FAT–faithful, available, and teachable. Let them get close to you, invest in a one-on-one relationship, pour yourself into them, then watch for a leader to emerge.

*Two resources I have found helpful are Building a Discipling Culture, by Mike Breen and What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement and Changing the World, by Steve Addison.

P.S. It should go without saying, but…if you aren’t leading, find someone to disciple you!

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

The missing link

I am a church member.

I like the metaphor of membership. It’s not membership as in a civic organization or a country club. It’s the kind of membership given to us in 1 Corinthians 12: “Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27). Because I am a member of the body of Christ, I must be a functioning member, whether I am an “eye,” an “ear,” or a “hand.” As a functioning member, I will give. I will serve. I will minister. I will evangelize. I will study. I will seek to be a blessing to others. I will remember that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  (read the entire blog post here)

Wouldn’t it be great if every single church member shared this perspective on membership? There would be no need for stewardship campaigns; there would be plenty of resources for ministry! Ministry would no longer belong only to the “paid holy people.” Instead of bemoaning the lack of volunteer ministers, church leaders would be scrambling to accommodate all those willing servants! There would be baptisms every Sunday as new believers professed their faith in Christ. Small groups would be regularly digging into the word of God–not just storehousing knowledge, but actually living it out as they went about their days blessing others.

Yeah, wouldn’t that be great! A perfectly unified church… But how?

Here’s a hint:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV)

Quoting Eric Geiger, Thom Rainer writes:

For the sake of brevity, let’s deal only with the role of pastors/teachers. Note these truths from the text:

  • Christ (He) personally gave this role. It was important to Him, so it has to be important to us.
  • The role of pastors is not so much to do ministry, as it is to train or equip others to do ministry.
  • If pastors fulfill this role, the body of Christ is built up.
  • As the body of Christ is built up, the believers become unified in the faith.

The passage is clear. As pastors are more involved in training others to do ministry, there will be greater unity in the church. (read the entire blog post here)

Rainer goes on to say that they uncovered an interesting–and unsettling–statistic through their research:

Almost all pastors we surveyed affirmed their critical role in training others to do ministry. But almost three fourths of these pastors had no plans to do so. For most pastors, the reasons behind this gap were simple: they either didn’t know how to take the next steps, or they didn’t feel like they had the time to do so.

Are we, as pastors/teachers, the missing link? Have we developed a plan for equipping our people, raising them up to be fully devoted followers of Christ? Are executing that plan? Do you need to develop one, write down what you are going to do and how you are going to do it…step by step? I’m not sure there’s anything more deserving of our time than equipping our people for ministry.

Perhaps the first step–one we may have overlooked–is teaching our people what it means to be a church member.