Avoiding the train-wreck

In my last post, I shared the A-Z Guide For Developing People and Growing Ministry, and said I’d explore some of those strategies over the next few weeks. As I pondered the list wondering where to begin, delegate ministry responsibilities seemed to jump out at me, and then a few others seemed to topple in behind it.

If I am honest, delegating ministry responsibilities has often been a challenge for me, and I know that I’m not alone. For most of us, there is an expectation that  ministry needs to move at a fast pace to keep up with our culture.  That expectation may be of our own making, from those who supervise us, or from those we serve. The need to reach the world for the sake of Christ is increasingly urgent; as the saying goes, there is so much to do and so little time.

With so much at stake, delegating ministry can feel risky. Will the volunteer do what I want when I need for them to do it and the way I want it done? Will I have to plead and coerce the volunteer to participate in training? If I put together a team, will I spend more precious time trying to get them to work together? Wouldn’t it just be easier to avoid the potential of a train wreck by doing the ministry myself?

Maybe… but that’s not really God’s vision for ministry, is it? Paul is clear in Ephesians 2 that we are all created to do the good works that God has prepared for us to do, and that the role of apostles, evangelists, prophets, and pastor/teachers is to equip the people for the work of ministry. As equipping leaders, we must focus on the vision for ministry.

So I put together a team and delegate ministry… and try to head off that train wreck, right? Wrong. Keeping a positive attitude is essential to developing people. If I doubt their ability, they will rise only to the level of my doubts…rarely beyond. We need to be realistic in our expectations, knowing that it’s going to take time for the team to learn to work together to accomplish a common goal.

Yes, there will be challenges along the way. My team may even come perilously close to disaster. But when I make it a point to notice the progress, we are all encouraged to stay the course.

The real key to delegating ministry responsibilities? Worry less and pray more. I once heard it said that worry is practical atheism. The Psalms show us that the cure for worry is prayer. Why worry when we can pray?

When all is said and done, it is God’s ministry, and he has made it clear that he wants his people to assist him with it. Perhaps the greatest potential for a train-wreck exists when we choose not to delegate ministry responsibilities.

I am very interested in hearing your thoughts on any of the strategies in the A to Z Guide. Which ones work for you? Which strategy reveals your growing edge? Post your comments below…

Rearranging the Bones

A couple of years ago, I read Seth Godin’s book, Tribes. It really stirred my perception of leadership. I was fascinated by the way Godin presented a new leadership paradigm that–in my mind, at least–opened the door for folks who don’t fit the traditional leader mold, yet they effectively lead others.

Previously I posted a blog about leaders who “drip vision.” * As I was writing the blog, I envisioned this person as having a more traditional leadership style, someone who is charismatic, dynamic when sharing their vision and very eager to do so. But I recently had a different experience of “dripping vision” as I worked with a leader whose style reminds me more of Godin’s paradigm than John Maxwell’s…

I spent two days last week with a team whose mission was honing the identity of an annual conference. Our team leader’s approach to guiding us in this process was refreshing. I believe that Tim has a vision for this ministry, but he wasn’t concerned so much with sharing his vision as with hearing about our vision. In fact, I don’t know that I ever heard Tim state his vision clearly and succinctly during the two days we worked together. However, I’m confident that I will hear it soon, and that it will sound familiar!

Tim came well prepared to facilitate conversation among the nine of us. He asked questions, suggested scenarios to ponder, and led us into activities designed to draw out our creativity. But mostly, Tim listened. He invited us to enter into the visioning process with him, without first influencing us with his own ideas. That Tim came with a vision I have no doubt, but he seemed more interested in what this team could contribute to that vision.

This approach to leadership is unlike the stereotypical model of visionary leaders who “cast vision.”  These leaders often develop their vision in a vacuum. Because they don’t have the skill set to convert the vision to reality, they find it necessary to enlist the aid of others who can more readily see how to put flesh on the bones, so to speak. However, those “others” typically aren’t invited–much less encouraged–to re-arrange the bones! The vision has been cast ( i.e., set in stone) by the leader and those who have been called alongside are charged with the task of developing a strategy for the vision. (This is, of course, a necessary step in any vision → reality process.)

So, did Tim “drip vision?” He did… and without a lot of rhetoric on his part. I think we each left the planning retreat with a vision for the ethos of the conference. When Tim does articulate the vision, I believe we will each recognize a bit of ourselves. It will feel familiar.

Moreover, there is another way in which Tim dripped vision. He showed us a different model of leadership, one that is highly collaborative and values the input of others. Tim dripped a vision for true team development and unselfish leadership as he invited us to rearrange the bones of his vision.

There is a time and place for each of these leadership styles–and others, too, of course. Perhaps the measure of a true leader is in knowing which style is appropriate for which situation…and being willing to adapt accordingly. In other words, are you willing to let someone rearrange your bones?

*This phraseology originated with Wil Mancini in his Clarity Evangelist blog post of Sept. 7, 2010.

Merge???

Many have asked me why I chose “Merge” as the name for my consulting practice. I have to admit, it’s a bit strange. What do you think of when you encounter that word? I think of a particular route I used to take to work every day, one which required that I transfer from one road to another via a ramp. I would travel up the ramp, unable to see the flow of traffic until I reached the top. Then it was time for some quick thinking: Do I slow down and try to squeeze in between two moving cars? Or should I speed up and try to get in front of the car that’s coming? How fast is it going? Can I make it? Uh-oh… what about the car who came up the ramp in front of me? Is it really going to going to drive in the merge lane until it runs out? Or is it going to stop and force me to swerve around it? I needed a strategy for merging into the flow of traffic!

For many, integrating their faith into the flow of their everyday lives is a challenge. When conducting a Bible study, we refer to that component as “practical application.” It’s critical, isn’t it? Without a strategy for applying what we learn, it simply becomes superfluous knowledge. As ministry leaders, it is necessary that we help those we lead to develop strategies to integrate–merge!–their faith with their actions. One such strategy is helping folks discover how God has equipped them with spiritual gifts to use in the service of others.

If a church employs a strategy of gifts discovery, it needs to be able to incorporate those gifts into the life of the body. When we read 1 Corinthians 12 we understand that the gifts work together for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. So, the church needs another strategy to merge people with particular gifts into ministries that need those gifts to function rightly.

Thinking of the church as a whole, we search for ways to fit into our community. We look for openings where we can merge into the flow of neighborhood life. If we are going to be the best church for the community (borrowing Rick Rusaw’s and Eric Swanson’s phraseology), we need to have a strategy. How do we make the most of the gifts God has brought into our fellowship to serve the needs in our community in practical ways, so that we become the Body of Christ–alive and serving–rather than just talking about it?

These are just three reasons why I chose the name “Merge” to describe what I do. So… what picture comes to your mind when you encounter the word “merge?” How does it relate to your ministry? your leadership?

Connections Strategist?

That’s me… I’m a connections strategist! I’ve been searching for a title other than “consultant”–something with a hook… a title that would ask for more. I don’t consult with churches to help them increase the number of people in the pews or the amount of cash in the offering plate. I know nothing about conducting capital campaigns to build bigger buildings (even though I’ve endured a few!). That’s the kind of assistance most church consultants offer, and it can be very helpful.

My experience, however, is in another area which is absolutely essential to the mission of the Church. (And, no, I am not biased! Well, maybe just a little…) I come alongside churches to help them connect their people with the ministry God has prepared for them. I help ministry leaders design processes to engage their people in gifts discovery and serving opportunities–two critical components to spiritual formation.

Christ-followers are called by Jesus to “make disciples.”  We can share the Good News and lead someone to pray the Prayer of Salvation, but if we stop there, we have only accomplished half the task. Let me illustrate with a story…

There was once a young man who had gone to Sunday school during his childhood, was baptized and confirmed in the tradition of his church. When he reached a certain age, he drifted away from the church. He wandered down a path that led to alcohol addiction and all the promise of that young life was being lost in a bottle of booze. Then came an event in this young man’s life that brought him to a point of desperation. God intervened in the form of an attorney who was willing to share the Good News and lead the young man back into a relationship with Jesus. The attorney handed the young man a Bible, wished him well, and went on to the next poor soul in need of salvation.

That could well have been “The End”… not only to the story, but to the young man’s “discipleship.” Thankfully, it was not. By the grace of God, there were others who came into the young man’s life and led him back to the fellowship of Christ-followers where he could study the Word of God. That, too, could be “The End” of the story and, at a glance, it looks like a fitting end.

But what happens with knowledge that is never put to use? Haven’t you ever attended a workshop or conference where you learned some really useful tools? You are so excited to get back to your regular routine so that you can try out those new tools, so full of promise. But, back in the real world, you quickly become too busy to apply what you learned and, eventually, it is lost. Sound familiar? The same holds true for Bible knowledge. In order for it to be useful in our spiritual formation, we must apply it to our everyday lives.

The Church is charged with proclaiming the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus. That is not the culmination of discipleship. Rather, it is just the beginning! The Church is also responsible for encouraging the spiritual formation of its people. But churches can also get so caught up in the busyness of doing church that they can’t quite move beyond the preaching and teaching and get to the practical application of being the Church.

That’s where a Connections Strategist–that’s me!–comes into play. I help churches develop strategic methods of connecting people with their spiritual gifting,  gifting with ministry, and ministry with the community. Get it?