Vision without love is a…

pipedream

My friend Doug and his family have been searching for a church home. After visiting a particular church several times, they arranged a meeting with the pastor, thinking that they had finally found a place to belong. It didn’t take long for that thought to change, however.

As we chatted over a cup of coffee, Doug shared that his family has been searching for a while and had been excited at the prospect of settling down. The pastor’s teaching and preaching was sound and the congregation culturally diverse. It seemed like a good fit.

“What happened that changed your mind?” I asked.

“When we met with the pastor, he did all the talking. He never once asked what we thought we could contribute to the church, much less what we might need. He talked about his vision for his church. That was it. I felt like he was saying, ‘This is my vision; get on board with it.’ He simply had no interest in hearing about my desire for ministry or any needs I might have.”

What a sad end to what could have been a perfect match!

It’s so easy for a leader to get carried away sharing their vision for ministry. Most leaders are visionaries, and certainly there is a time and place for sharing vision–at a congregational meeting or a gathering of leaders. And, of course, with potential church members, who often want to know about the church’s “mission.” (Not that the church has a mission; the church is God’s mission…but that’s a topic for another conversation!)

However, no one likes to feel that they are simply a means to someone else’s end…a tool in someone else’s toolbox…an extension of another person. Each believer is uniquely gifted for ministry and, as a leader, it’s my privilege to help them discover their role in God’s kingdom, whether or not it fits in with our particular vision.

When I meet with newcomers to our church family, I make it a point to not only answer their questions about our church, but to ask about their needs and their interests. Only then am I able to serve them. Yes, I do share our vision for our church because I think it’s important that they know how we as a church participate with God in his mission. But God’s mission includes ministering to those he brings through our doors, recognizing their needs, calling forth the gifts of the Spirit that reside in each individual, guiding them into ministry either as a recipient or as a servant.

Valuing each person as a gifted individual whom God has equipped for ministry and helping each one discover their place and method of serving should be critical to every equipping leader’s vision for their church.

St. Paul–with the help of Eugene Peterson–says it much more eloquently:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.             -1 Corinthians 13:1-10 [The Message]

 

 

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.

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.

Something old may just be something new!

I haven’t blogged in well over a month. I haven’t felt like I had anything new to say. Maybe I don’t. But in the past two weeks I’ve had two conversations with ministry leaders from two churches in two states, each of whom sharing with me something that set off my equipping alarm! I have been reminded that each person learns at their own speed, implementing what they can, when they can. In other words, when someone attends a training or reads a book or blog, there may be only one or two points that grab their attention and around which they take action.

Case in point: in the first conversation, the ministry leader shared that their church had enthusiastically encouraged gifts discovery, providing curriculum and a class for those who were interested in learning. Many of their members went through the class and were excited to learn their spiritual gift. However, there was no follow through. No follow up. No process for helping those folks find a serving opportunity that would utilize their gift in fruitful ministry.

This reminds me of the first Christmas we gave our son an electronic toy. He squealed with excitement when he opened his gift, then cried with equal fervor when it wouldn’t work because we had neglected to purchase the necessary batteries. I saw the same frustrated disappointment on the face of my grandson just a few weeks ago when, after gleefully ripping the wrapping paper off a Christmas present, he was told he couldn’t open the box to play with the toy because his momma was concerned that the small parts would be lost in all the empty boxes and wrapping paper. What’s the fun of opening a gift that you can’t use?

In the second conversation, a ministry leader shared that they had at one time offered a discovery process, but it had now been years since spiritual gifts was a topic of conversation around the church. New folks who had come since that time had not been provided an opportunity to discover their unique design for ministry, and those who had participated previously had not been encouraged to re-visit the process to see what new thing the Holy Spirit might be doing in their lives to birth new ministry.

In each of these cases, a discovery process was implemented–probably in response to a new idea gleaned from a book or a training–but the process was incomplete in the first instance, and relegated to a program (with a predictable end) in the second. I’ve no doubt that the intention of each of these ministry leaders was to encourage their congregation to serve, but they had only a partial understanding and implementation of what is necessary to equip their people for fruitful and fulfilling ministry.

These conversations lead me to believe that I may not have anything new to say, but the stuff I’ve said before bears repeating. With that said, I will focus the next few posts on casting the vision for what is necessary to create and sustain an equipping culture. For those of you who have heard it all before, I hope you will share your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions to make that which is old (to you) into something new for others…and perhaps for yourself, too!

something old made new

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!

Done with fixing the church.

Church is the gift of a community of Christians in which we rehearse and orient ourselves in the practice of resurrection. It is never an abstraction, never anonymous, never a problem to be fixed, never a romantic ideal to be fantasized. (emphasis mine)

I pray that these two sentences will forever change my ministry. They are from the pen of Eugene H. Peterson, found on the next to last page of his book Practice Resurrection: a Conversation on Growing Up in Christ.

Through the words of New Testament scripture–particularly in the second chapter of Acts–I believe the Spirit gifted me with a sense of what the Church is supposed to be. I can’t necessarily articulate it in a clear and compelling manner,  so I prefer to speak of “sense” rather than “vision.”  Semantics perhaps. But this sense has been strong in me for 20 years and has become as comfortable as my marriage. I can’t imagine life without it. (A fitting analogy, according to Apostle Paul!)

But after reading those two sentences from Peterson’s book, I am struck by the realization that I may well have fallen into the trap of a romanticized hammer&nailsideal…meaning my concept of what is perfect, but not likely to become a reality this side of the Second Coming of Christ. And in so doing, I’ve been tempted into seeing the church as a problem that needs fixing and myself as one whom God has ordained to fix it.

In the previous chapter, Peterson has much to say about relationship to and within the church. I commend it to your reading, but for the purposes of this blog, suffice it to say that it’s all about relationship–relationships of trust and adoration with God, relationships of righteousness and love with one another (p. 238). The kind of relationship that is not abstract, that does not objectify others. The kind of relationship that understands that my maturation in Christ is inextricably linked to the maturation of those with whom I am in community. I can’t reach maturity on my own, and neither can anyone else in the church. God has graciously given us the gift of each other, that we might share this journey to maturity in Christ. I am to share the gifts I am given in order that we grow together, rather than using those gifts with the intention of fixing, of creating my romanticized ideal of  the church.

Ephesians 4 paints the picture, and it is truly the Spirit-inspired vision.

Persuading or Convincing?

Seth Godin’s blogs continually inspire me to examine, re-examine, and think outside the box–precisely his intent. A recent post, Persuade vs. Convince, caught my attention.

“Persuasion appeals to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Convincing requires a spreadsheet or some other rational device.”

Convincing tactics:
  • the “help needed” broadcast in the church newsletter
  • pleading for volunteers
  • guilt-inducing tactics
  • a stated vision. done.
Persuading tactics:
  • personal conversations about the joy of living ministry
  • the use of a discovery tool
  • “no rings, no strings” opportunities (when a potential volunteer shadows an experienced volunteer)
  • a personal invitation to participate in a serving opportunity
  • removing obstacles to serving
  • continually dripping the vision (read more here)
I hope that by now you are asking yourself, “Am I convincing or persuading?” If you are convincing, what kind of results are you getting? Is your volunteer ministry a revolving door? Do volunteers begrudge the time spent serving? Are your ministry teams imaginative and innovative? Are vibrant new ministries popping up regularly?
No? Maybe it’s time to try a new tactic. Try appealing to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Ask your people:
  • Is a life of fruitful, fulfilling ministry appealing to you?
  • What ministry is missing in the body of Christ that you are uniquely designed to provide?
  • If you could do anything and knew you wouldn’t fail, what would it be?

Persuade.community