Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hitting the Bullseye

When I was in the military, I was never a very good marksman.  There were no hunters in our family, so I have never handled a weapon and I barely qualified with an M-14 rifle.  I could see the target, but I only rarely hit it and I never put in the time and effort to become more proficient.  What if I had been willing to put in the time to get better, but I was not sure what my target was?

I often find people who are highly motivated and want to do well, but they are not sure about their target.  How do you hit the target if you don’t know what it is?  In order to be measured on your success or failure, you have to know what you are trying to achieve.

There are many discussions today about “healthy congregations,” but too little decision about clear targets or objectives.  In Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal explains that if we really want to adopt a missional paradigm for the church, we are going to have to “change the scorecard”—that is, come up with new targets.

The traditional targets for the church usually deal with church attendance, number of baptisms, and budget receipts.  If we adopt a missional paradigm, our priorities will be different.  For example, we will probably be more interested in being externally focused and reaching people outside the walls of the church.  For another, we will want to see people come to know Christ but we will invest more effort in growing disciples than in filling seats.  Both of these targets—being externally focused and growing disciples-- sound good, but how does one go about measuring them?

Since each church has a different missional profile, the scorecard will differ from church to church.  Unless we decide what we want to achieve, however, nothing significant will happen.  The old business adage says, “What gets measured gets done.”  This applies to the church as well.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Wanted: A Christian Educator Who Can Grow Disciples

When I was a youngster, my home church in Mobile called Jim Tucker as Director of Education and Promotion.  Brother Tucker was a Christian educator.  He directed all of our education programs including Sunday school and Training Union and was the lead person in outreach.  (He also was the congregational music director since our choir director was a woman!)  He was part of a long line of congregational educators that began sometime in the 19th century with paid Sunday school directors.  The lineage was continued by those who served as Directors of Christian Education, Ministers of Education, and more recently Ministers of Christian Formation.

 Although all of these individuals have had a personal ministry with believers, their primary purpose in the early years was to lead programs that would nurture Christians in the faith. In recent years, however, there has been something of a change in emphasis in their work from program to process.  This means that the expectations for those in Christian education roles have changed and the preparation to serve in these roles has evolved in new directions.

Those who have the responsibility for leading in Christian formation are no longer simply administrators.  They are expected to grow disciples—men and women, boys and girls—who will be effective Kingdom citizens.  In order to do this, these leaders must have certain competencies.

First, they must understand the process of faith development. None of us is fully formed as a disciple. Each individual is involved on a life long process of becoming a person of faith.  James Fowler, John Westerhoff, and others built on the human development work of secular scholars such as Erik Erikson in order to explain this process.  A Christian educator understands that people are at different points in their faith journey and tries to meet them where they are.

Second, competent Christian educators also realize that people have different needs and teachable moments based on their stage in life.  Starting grade school, getting a driver’s license, experiencing puberty, leaving home for work or study, getting married (and divorced) or remaining single, having children, growing older—all of these and more are significant milestones in the life of an individual.  One’s faith can be either a stepping stone or a stumbling block in each situation.

Third, like all educators, those who guide this process in the church understand that people learn in different ways.  Some are visual learners, others are more reflective, others tactile, and some are abstract thinkers.  Content must be presented in varied ways so that all may learn in their own way. 

 Fourth, those who lead the church to disciple believers understand that there are varied approaches to spiritual formation—mind, heart, body, and spirit.  Just as there are different learning styles, there are various ways to approach God.  Some believers are very rational and logical in their faith.  Others are contemplative.  There are those who learn most through hands-on service, and those who find God in worship.  No approach is better than another.  All contribute to the richness of the Christian church and must be encouraged.

Finally, competent Christian educators will call out the best in others.  They will help congregants to identify and own their personal strengths, gifts, and passions—the way that “God wired them”—then assist them to use their individual giftedness in ministry.

Christian education or formation is a specialized and necessary ministry in the life of the church.  We must continue to call out, equip, and encourage those who can lead in the formation of Christian disciples.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wanted: A Pastor Who Can Lead

A man rushed up to a woman standing beside a road and asked, “Did a large group of people just pass by here?”  She replied, “Yes, they went that way,” as she pointed over her shoulder.  “Good.  I’m their leader.” We have heard some variation of this story many times.  One thing it teaches us is that people will often move ahead even if a leader is not involved.  Whether they are moving in the right direction is another matter.

My experience tells me that staff teams—in churches, denominations, and not-for-profits—really do want leaders.  They expect the leader to identify a direction, set the pace, and provide the resources and encouragement needed to move forward.  If the leader fails to do these things, then the situation can become very chaotic.

This is especially true of pastoral leaders or the person we identify as the “lead pastor” in a congregation.  Although the people that he or she works with may be more talented and experienced in their respective ministries, they instinctively know that they need a leader, a “first among equals” who will help them to do their best work for the church.

How does a pastor become this kind of leader?  First, he or she must be secure in his or her own sense of calling to ministry.  This comes from identifying the circumstances and embracing the spiritual journey that has led the person into a pastoral role.

Second, the pastoral leader must know herself of himself.  What gifts have been manifest in one’s life or ministry?  What are the basic values and core beliefs that provide a foundation for one’s life?  What are the pastor’s strengths?

Third, the pastoral leader needs the wisdom to know what he or she does well and the humility to ask for help in areas of weakness.  If a person knows his or her strengths, then he or she will know the kind of people they need around them to compensate for their deficiencies.

Fourth, a pastor must know his or her conflict management style.  Are you one who addresses conflict directly or one who avoids it?  Do you seek “win-lose” or “win-win” situations?  We often tend to think of pastors dealing with conflict situations primarily in relation to church members, but a pastor who does not know how to address conflict within a staff will be a poor leader, failing the staff team and the church.

Fifth, a lead pastor must be able to recognize when he or she is stressed.  This is different for each of us.  It may mean we eat too much or too little.  A stressed person may sleep too much or not be able to sleep at all.  Know your body well enough to recognize stress and find ways to address it before it becomes debilitating.

Sixth, a pastor must find the help he or she needs to be an effective pastoral leader.  Such help is available through peer groups, continuing education programs and coaching relationships.  Anyone can be a better leader and the resources are available to make that happen.

Are you ready to lead?

Monday, September 10, 2012

“I’m Just Not Being Fed”

How often have you heard someone say, “I’m just not being fed” as they left your church to join another?  I have always thought that such a statement was a bit humorous.  After observing my own children when they were young and receiving a refresher course in recent years with grandchildren, I have learned that youngsters learn to feed themselves pretty quickly.  In fact, there seems to be an inherent drive for them to learn to feed themselves.  This doesn’t always mean that they make wise choices, but they do want to ingest food.    This leads me to some observations.

First, most children are motivated to feed themselves.  I am not sure that this is completely connected to hunger.  I think it has a lot with a desire to provide for their own basic needs without parental assistance.  They want to learn how to do this for themselves.   When a believer lacks this desire, what has gone wrong?  Why have they assumed that it is someone else’s responsibility to spoon feed them?  Where did they get this idea that they are not ultimately responsible for themselves?

Second, learning to feed oneself is messy.  This is why we provide bibs and lots of wipes to clean up after children as they dive into their food with or without utensils.  Parents accept that this is a messy process, providing assistance as needed, and standing ready to clean up afterward.  Perhaps one reason that some believers don’t want to learn to feed themselves is that it can get messy.  As we read the Scriptures, we often find things that raise more questions than answers.  If you want a clear, unambiguous system, you might find this a bit messy and unsettling. 

Third, children tend to be picky eaters and often rebel against what is placed before them.  Parents work to provide a balance until a youngster realizes that pea and carrots really taste good as well as being good for you.  Perhaps some believers are not willing to stay with it long enough to realize that we can find a balance in the Christian life as we deal with the more difficult, uncomfortable, and convicting parts of scripture.

Paul used this metaphor when he wrote to the church at Corinth:  “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2, NIV)

Perhaps those who feel they are “not being feed” in their present churches have become stunted in their growth.  Perhaps they do not have the inherent desire to learn to feed themselves, have found it too messy, or are just too stubborn to accept a balanced diet.  Let’s pray that they learn how to overcome this malady so they can eventually “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18a, NIV)

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Challenge of Pastoral Leadership: Beyond the Local Congregation

Throughout Christian history, there have been leaders who have exercised pastoral leadership outside of the congregation.  We could point to those who founded and led monastic orders, mission societies, Bible leagues, and various para-church organizations.  Founders of movements and church planters are often in this category.

There is a new impetus for this type of leadership.  Such leaders are ministry entrepreneurs.  Many of them are young adults who have found a cause and are too eager or impatient to wait for the church to address it.

Leaders in these organizations engage in theological reflection, leader development, team building, effective communication, and administrative skills just as the pastor of a larger congregation does, but there certain other skills are necessary if they are to be effective.

First, they must practice cultural awareness and sensitivity. Entrepreneurial leaders deal with culture both internally and externally.  They learn to read the culture in which they minister, understanding its norms, values, and beliefs in order to function more effectively. At the same time, they are creating an internal culture in the organization that both guides and empowers its mission.

Second, these leaders learn and practice creative problem solving skills in order to develop the strategies, tactics and practices needed to pursue their vision, accomplish their mission, and fulfill the need they have identified.  They often find new ways to address old problems and this requires the ability to have a unique perspective on a situation.

Third, they must have excellent planning skills.  This means that they can clearly articulate their mission, develop a workable “business plan,” identify and state their objectives, and design effective action steps, and then identify and obtain the resources they need.

Fourth, they will be students as well as practitioners of leadership.  They must have the ability to learn from other leaders—through networking, participating in a peer cohort, reading, or being a protégé—and be able to mentor, supervise and coach those who join them in their cause.

The challenge for those who form ministry leaders—a theological school, for example-- is to provide the framework in which such skills can be developed.  This is not a task for the faint of heart!