Watch Your Step!

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.   -Acts 6:1-6 [ESV]

This passage is often cited in reference to the establishment of deacons in the church. It has long been a favorite passage of mine–appropriately so, since I am ordained a vocational deacon. But I remember years ago reading this passage and how it left a bitter taste in my mouth! Before I gained an understanding of spiritual gifts and calling, I thought the twelve were exhibiting no small amount of arrogance by insisting that it wasn’t right that they give up preaching the word of God to “wait tables.” I wanted to shout, “Watch your step there, fellas! If Jesus washed your feet, who are you to think that you are too good to wait tables?”

The more we progress in our ministry, the easier it is to step into the trap of believing that we (clergy) are above doing the seemingly menial tasks of ministry, particularly if the priesthood of all believers is not one of our fundamental values. Gifting and calling applies to every believer, not just the clergy–and all ministry has value. There are times when we need to be willing to serve by doing whatever needs doing, whether it’s below our “pay grade” or not! There is no room in the church for a spirit of entitlement–not from clergy, staff, or ministry leaders.

(Before I go any further, I want to be clear that arrogance was not what motivated the apostles–obedience was! They were being obedient to the calling that Jesus had placed on each of their lives to preach the word of God.)

As equipping leaders, we can set the example by occasionally helping out with tasks that are outside of our gifting and calling. My senior pastor and I decided to give our facility team a “summer vacation.” All summer we’ve been coming earlier on Sundays to set up and staying later to put away. I confess that I’ve grumbled a few times, but it’s given me a deeper appreciation for the ministry of this particular team! I also encourage our ministry team leaders to schedule themselves in their team’s rotation, serving alongside the team members they lead.

I once heard a bishop remark that his consecration as bishop was not a move up the ladder of success, but rather a move step_downdownward into deeper humility. What an exhortation! If it is true that an organization can rise no higher than its leadership, then let’s be leaders who side-step the spirit of entitlement and instead journey downward into deeper humility, that every member of our church will be truly humble, serving others according to their gifting and calling so that we all rise to the example set by Christ!

Caring for Multi-hatters

Multi-hman-juggling-jobs_400-213x300atters are a blessing in the small church…and often a necessity! I am so very grateful for the volunteer ministers in my parish who serve in two–sometimes three–different roles. But I also know that this can cause volunteer burn-out if not carefully monitored. It can also cause team leaders to “fight” over a volunteer minister, necessitating cutting the volunteer in half so that each leader can have him/her.

Oh, wait. That’s not how that Bible story ended, is it? Ok, ok…back on track…

When I began ministry in our parish, volunteer scheduling was at times chaotic. There were basically five ministries that had schedules, and there was little or no coordination between them. Being a small church, many of our volunteers wear multiple hats, serving in a couple of different areas. It was not unusual to find overlap in the schedules, calling for a last-minute scramble to find someone to fill in.  Needless to say, this caused a certain amount of anxiety for everyone involved. Another problem was that some people would serve for weeks without having a Sunday off.

The logical solution was to create a master calendar which would reflect all of our serving roles, making it immediately obvious when a volunteer was in danger of being cut in half expected to serve in two places at the same time, or was serving week in and week out.

In the beginning, I asked team leaders to schedule their teams, and then turn the schedules in to me. I found that it’s really much simpler, however, if I do all the scheduling. I confer with team leaders about preferences and any other special considerations. It’s easier for me to compile everyone’s preferences and work around them as I make up the schedule than it is for the team leaders to try and keep track of those details for all the teams.

I create the schedule three times a year–January through April, May through Labor Day, September through the first Sunday in January. In this way, I avoid beginning a new calendar with a major holiday or the beginning/end of summer. This can create havoc when the new schedule gets lost in the busyness of holiday activities, end-of-summer vacations, and the May madness of proms and graduations! My goal each season is that no one serves more than two Sundays/month, regardless of how many ministry areas they serve. I ask all volunteers to find their own replacement if they have a conflict, and to please let me know of the change so I am not expecting the wrong person to show up.

What are you doing to safeguard the ministry life of your multi-hatters? I know this sounds like a lot of work, and it is. Groan if you must–I certainly do each time I create our master calendar! I think it is somewhat of a cross between a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle and dominoes as I try to make all the pieces fit, then find that moving one piece effects the delicate balance of the others! But, in the end, it’s worth the time and effort. I am removing a major obstacle to ministry, which is one of the primary responsibilities of an equipping leader. Ministry is more evenly distributed. There is less volunteer burn-out. Our volunteers don’t serve week in and week out without taking a break. And, most importantly, no one gets cut in half!

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.

A critical investment

(Continued from my last post)

2. Invest in potential leaders

As I attempted to provide leadership for our ministry teams who are without leaders, I found it surprisingly easy to deceive myself into believing that my over-functioning behavior was an act of service. The truth, however, was that I was simply feeding my hunger for control and closure: get it done and move on to the next task. (This beast is the bane of many leaders, but that’s a topic for another day.) As an equipper, the appropriate behavior is to invest in potential leaders.

Who is a potential leader?

My view on leadership is somewhat atypical. I believe that any and every Christian is called to lead in one respect or another. When viewed through the lens of the Great Commission, we are all called to lead others to Christ. That makes every Christian a leader. The style of leadership is what differentiates one leader from another.

I’ve had the joy recently of watching my granddaughter learn to walk. Sometimes her mommy is in front of her, beckoning her to come. Sometimes Mommy is beside her, holding one hand to help with balance. And at other times Mommy is behind her, holding both hands as she guides her forward.  Likewise, some leaders are out front leading the charge, so to speak. Some leaders come alongside or lead from the middle of the team. And yet other leaders lead from behind, exhorting and encouraging as they propel.

My role as an equipping leader is to help believers identify their unique style of leadership so that they lead from their strengths rather than try to fit the cultural perception of a leader or–worse–abandon the idea of leading altogether because they don’t fit the stereotype. Since my time and energy are finite, it behooves me to identify those who are ready to explore their potential for leading, investing myself in them even as I set the example for them to invest in others.

How do I invest in potential leaders?

Mentor them. And if I intend to practice what I preach–that is, be true to my own style of leadership–it’s imperative that I understand my own strengths when it comes to mentoring. Steve Saccone identified seven mentoring styles that I find helpful:

  • The Wise Sage
  • The Opportunity Giver
  • The Informal Discipler
  • The Example Setter
  • The Coaching Mentor
  • The Spiritual Director
  • The Caring Counselor
  • The Focused Activator

You can read more about them here, and I encourage you to do so. Pray and ponder about which style/styles are yours. Keep in mind that you may feel comfortable with more than one style, which certainly broadens your ability to develop leaders. As you identify potential leaders around you, consider which mentoring style might work best with an individual. If it’s not a style you are comfortable with, perhaps that’s not the person you are to mentor. If you are part of a team of leaders who each understand their own mentoring style, you can direct that person to someone on your team whose style is a better match.

Want to be a more effective equipping leader? Help others…


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.

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?

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?