Yes, I do have control issues!

There. I’ve said it (well, typed it) out loud. Of course, friends and family will not regard this as a startling admission. They are more likely to ask why I’m just now figuring this out! Actually, I’ve known it for a long time and I’ve been working on trying to control it (pun intended!) for years. But as is so often the case with self-awareness, I just came to another threshold of understanding.

During a conversation with a friend yesterday, I was hashing out how to schedule volunteer ministry orientation. In just six weeks our church will move to a new urban location. We will again be renting space, this time from a faith-based non-profit organization. There is much to do to figure out how to create a worshipful atmosphere each Sunday, organize all our “stuff,” and orient teams so that they can set up/take down efficiently.

And that word efficiently is what trips me up. It is like waving a flag at my control issues!

ducks

Because our parish is made up of people, there is a wide range of tolerance among us for messy. Some don’t mind it at all, just as long as we gather together for worship and fellowship on Sunday. Others find messy to be a distraction from that worship and fellowship, and prefer some semblance of order. (You an probably guess where I am on that scale!) Finding the balance is critical, and that means respecting the individuality and diversity of our little community of believers.

In defense of order, it is necessary for efficiency. And we live in a culture that places a high value on efficiency. Our demand for software that integrates all our mobile devices seamlessly, our frustration when technology doesn’t move fast enough or maintain a connection, and our outrage over stalled traffic are all evidences of our desire for efficiency. Our dependence on technology has conditioned every one of us to desire efficiency in at least some area of our life.

Back to yesterday’s conversation and my control issues… In attempting to work out a schedule for orientation, I was trying to take into consideration how many of our volunteers serve in more than one ministry area, how many families of young children have both parents serving, and the realization that we are entering into the busiest season of the year for most folks. I was making myself crazy trying to problem-solve for everyone! That’s when my friend posed two critical questions: “Do you expect others to problem-solve your calendar issues? Did you expect someone else to problem-solve your childcare issues when your kids were little?”, which led me to the aforementioned threshold!

God has ordained that the body of Christ be interdependent (1 Corinthians 12). That means we have to respect each other and learn to work together. We all have to be willing to give, to flex, to accommodate as needed, always keeping in mind that we are one body. (The body can’t work efficiently when the right foot heads south and the left foot goes north!)

While I need to be aware of all the variables when it comes to organizing an orientation for our volunteer ministers during the Christmas season, I also need to accept that I am not in control of each person’s calendar or family situation. My attempts at problem-solving for everyone won’t help us learn to work together efficiently. It will surely lead to frustration for all of us, and likely to burn-out for me.

Crossing that threshold is trusting that the volunteers who can make room on their calendar will attend the orientation. And it is accepting that our first few Sundays may be a little messy…and that’s OK. I’m not in control.

But I know who is.

 

Size Matters

In the culture of American church-dom, we hear and read often about the declining membership of churches–all denominations, all sizes. I don’t know of a single pastor or ministry leader that enjoys admitting that their congregation or their ministry is shrinking, no matter how obvious the shrinkage is! Declining attendance is often construed as failure. Sometimes it is; but sometimes the attrition is based on circumstances beyond the control of leadership. For example, my church has said good-bye to several members who have had to re-locate due to employment opportunities, as well as some who have gone to the mission field. That’s hardly failure! But whatever the reason for the decline, denial and a refusal to adapt to the change will most certainly lead to the failure we fear.cinderella slipper

I’ve recently begun to feel like one of Cinderella’s step-sisters trying to stuff a fat size 9 foot into a sleek size 6 shoe, and I am beginning to understand why. I have continued to use practices suited to a larger church even as our numbers have declined.

When church size changes, leadership and ministry structure must be adapted to fit the new size.

I’ve been reading up on church size and why it matters. Several years ago Arlin Rothauge wrote about the relationship between leadership and church size in a little publication entitled Sizing Up A Congregation*. Rothauge classified churches into four categories based on size:

  • The Family  Church: 0-50 members
  • The Pastoral Church: 50-150 members
  • The Program Church: 150-350 members
  • The Corporation Church: 350-500+ members

Rothauge (as well as the writings of a few others) has helped me see why church size matters. (Let me say now that I don’t think it prudent to lock in on these mathematical models–in fact, there are other studies that reflect different models–but they do offer a context for understanding the dynamics associated with different size churches.) I understand more fully why it’s not possible to simply “scale down” practices designed for the program- and corporation-size church in an attempt to make them work in the pastoral- to family-size church.

My church was teetering on the edge of becoming a program church in our ethos, if not quite in our number. However, we are now firmly a pastoral-size church, and Rothauge’s assessment that “the membership looks first to the central leader for direction, inspiration, and pastoral care” is spot-on. The very fact that we have an average Sunday attendance of 55-60 means that it is quite natural and easy for members to relate directly to our pastor. In larger churches, it’s more difficult to have that same ease of access to the senior leadership.

Simply understanding this relationship dynamic helps me see why it is a challenge to raise up team leaders. One of the key arguments used in a program-size church for enlisting volunteer leaders is that there are too many people–too many ministries–for one person (senior pastor) to lead. However, in a church of 50 that argument won’t win the case. Add that to the general busyness of most people’s lives and it’s understandable why they are unwilling to step into a leadership role. They don’t see the need. Yet, without volunteer ministry leaders, the landscape of ministry changes considerably.

It’s time we changed with it. In fact, it’s imperative. Come back tomorrow for a look at how we are navigating change…

 

*a PDF version is available online

The spice of life?

decisions3Variety is the spice of life!

It’s an old saying that, for some of us, holds a lot of truth. Culturally speaking, I think we’ve taken variety to an all-time high. I’m currently in the market for a new computer. My laptop has a defect that can’t be repaired and, though it’s only four years old, it’s destined for the computer graveyard. I can’t tell you how much I loathe purchasing a new one. It’s not just having to shell out a chunk of cash, although that’s bad enough. No, what really frustrates me is trying to find the right machine for my needs for the right price. There are simply too many choices, and sorting through the variety of available options requires more energy and time than I want to invest.

For ten years I served on staff at a large church. The immense variety of programs was certainly attractive to me and to my family when we began worshiping there, and I was excited at the prospect of  coordinating their volunteer ministry. I remember the first time I actually counted all the serving  opportunities we offered: 250. I was really proud of that–so much for people to choose from! However, many folks coming through our discovery and placement process found it overwhelming. Choosing a ministry from the wide variety could be a daunting task. It often took several conversations, several trial runs, before we found the right fit. There were some who quickly tired of the process and simply opted out, never finding a place to serve that would grow their faith.

I now serve a small parish as the pastor of ministry development. Ministry development, however, is certainly not limited to creating serving opportunities. I do that occasionally. But primarily I am concerned with developing a person’s ministry–their vocation— for wherever they are at any given moment. I begin by engaging in meaningful dialogue around one’s passions in life, their personal preferences, the talents they were born with and the skills they’ve acquired, the experiences they have had, and the way the Holy Spirit has uniquely gifted them. When we take those discoveries and line them up with that person’s daily routines, we begin to see how all of life can be ministry and how ministry can be the wellspring of life.

In this way, those who thrive on variety can see that each new day offers plenty of opportunity for ministry, while those who would be overwhelmed by choosing from a list of 250 serving opportunities need look no further than their everyday life to find meaningful ways to serve. Variety made simple.

Now, if only the computer companies could grasp that concept…