Maintaining the Tension

I recently had my first opportunity to work directly with one of our ministry teams. I led a two-part meeting designed to foster community and encourage collaboration while revisiting the goals and objectives for our ministry to children. Each meeting was scheduled for three hours on a Saturday morning, one month apart. The first session focused on “what” and the second on “how.”

I felt really good after the first meeting. It went well and everyone seemed to embrace the process (Results-based Conversation facilitation method, which encourages collaborative processing and employs exercises that unleash creativity). I asked if they wanted to use the RbC process for the second meeting and all agreed that it was a useful tool.

During the second meeting, I chose to lead the participants through an exercise designed with three objectives: help us re-engage the momentum from our first meeting, think creatively about those we serve, and build the team. After we debriefed the exercise,  I suggested that the team select two objectives for which they would develop action plans. They divided into two groups, with each participant selecting the objective he/she wanted to work on. One group completed their action plan; the other did not.

The next day, one of the participants came to offer me feedback. She said that someone had expressed disappointment that at the conclusion of the meeting there still was not a clearly defined action plan. She talked about how full everyone’s calendar is, the sacrifice the meetings required, and that perhaps I could have better utilized the time by eliminating the exercises.

tensionI have been sewing for years. Early on I learned the importance of maintaining the proper bobbin tension on my sewing machine. If the tension is too tight, the thread will break. If the tension is too loose, the thread forms loops on the underside of my fabric. In either case, the seam won’t hold. My first machine was an inexpensive one; I was continually adjusting the tension. When I purchased a better quality machine, the tension was factory calibrated and I’ve rarely had to make adjustments.

Unfortunately–unlike my sewing machine–ministry teams don’t come with factory-calibrated tension between getting the job done and building relationships. For the ministry leader, discovering how to maintain this balance can be challenging. A healthy team is made up of a mix of people–some who have a “get it done” mentality and others who prefer time to get acquainted and learn how to work together. The trick is figuring out how to balance the two in such a way that the get-it-done folks feel something has been accomplished, and the get-to-know-you folks feel they are developing relationships while engaging in team ministry.

Have I perfected maintaining this tension? Obviously not! But these two things I know:

  1. Each team is unique; the dynamics will vary from one team to another and from one task to another.
  2. It’s counter-productive to sacrifice team-building for the sake of getting the task done, no matter the sense of urgency. Everyone is busy; everyone’s calendar is full. But if we don’t take time to build relationships, the team won’t know how to work collaboratively and ministry will be compromised.

What are some techniques you find useful in maintaining the tension between accomplishing tasks and building relationships?

Small Church Fish Swimming in the Big Church Pond?

Last year brought about a significant change in my ministry: I went from serving on the staff of a 2000+ member church to serving a 100 member church. It’s been an interesting experience, to say the least. Most of the material available on volunteer ministry speaks to churches that have a membership over 100 and a church building from which to operate. We have neither. So, what about the small fish swimming in the big pond? The small church trying to adapt big church resources?

With the growing trend towards missional church-planting, there is also a growing need for adaptation of volunteer ministry resources to the particular circumstances of the new church plant and smaller congregations. The optimal time to ensure that equipping values* become part of the basic DNA of the congregation is when the congregation is just beginning.

*Equipping values: prayer, priesthood of believers and vision of the church as contained in Ephesians 4, servant leadership, team ministry, intentionality, proactive towards change.

The natural tendency—and often the necessity in those early days of a church’s development—is for the church-planter to do everything him/herself. The result? The pastor’s “fingerprints” are on every ministry of the budding church. Consequently, when the ministry load becomes too heavy for the pastor to manage alone, it can be difficult for others to assume leadership for established ministries… not to mention initiating new ministries. This may not be the intended result, but it’s what we get if we are not intentional about prevention!

If you are building a volunteer ministry in a new or small congregation, what steps are you taking to create an equipping culture? Which equipping values are easiest for you to model? Which present a challenge?