Monday, July 22, 2013

Developing a Culture of Empowerment in Your Church

One of the most discouraging things that a pastor or staff minister can hear is this:  “I just don’t belong here. I can’t find a place to plug in at this church.”  This may be the last conversation that the minister will have with this person, and it may be said as the person walks out the door of the church on Sunday morning.

The person’s perception may be true.  Because of the direction that a particular congregation has chosen to pursue, the gifts and talents of this individual may fall outside the opportunities for service and fellowship offered there.  However, it is more likely that the failure to connect has more to do with the way that a church empowers its members than with the lack of opportunities available.

A model for equipping and empowering believers is found in Ephesians 4:11-13:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  (NIV)

There are believers who are set aside for the purpose of equipping God’s people for the “works of service” so that everyone can find his or her place in the Body of Christ and grow in Christlikeness.  This does not mean that we have two levels of giftedness—the clergy and the laity, for example—but different functions in the body of Christ.  Those that we usually refer to as “clergy” are ministers and those we call “laity” are also ministers.  Those gifted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (the last two may be one function) are specifically charged to equip and empower others for ministry.

So how do those with the responsibility to equip and empower other believers do their work?  They do it by developing a culture in the church that fulfills the goals of equipping and empowering.  Here are some specific actions that contribute to this type of culture.

1.     The church must recognize all gifts without respect to gender, age, or ethnicity.  This means that women, older adults, median adults, younger adults, youth, children and people of various races all have a part to play in the church.  We must remove the prejudices and ingrained habits that are barriers to their service.

2.    We must encourage people to discover how God has “wired them up.”  Each person is a unique mixture of spiritual gifts, talents, experiences and passions.  When we understand who we are, we are better prepared to find the right place of service.

3.     The church must organize for equipping and empowerment.  What are the structures—discernment, counseling, assessment, training, placement—that we can put in place to help people use what they have to further the ministry of the church?

4.    Finding ways to measure our progress in equipping and empowerment are not easy, but we must find the methodology to determine how effective we are in the process.  As someone said, “What gets measured gets done.”

5.     We must train both “clergy” and “laity” to mentor and coach each other to use their giftedness and find the right placement in the Body of Christ.  There are many examples of this in scripture, especially in the work of Barnabas and Paul.

God continues to call gifted and talented men and women for “works of service.”  We must be more intentional about helping them find how to perform that service.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Leader Growth: Bible Study

Step into any Christian bookstore or search for “Bible” online and you will find not only a number of translations but many editions of the Bible targeted to specific consumers—The Soldier’s Bible, The Godly Woman’s Bible, The Bible for Teenagers, and on and on.  Of course, many of us no longer use a print version of the scriptures; instead, we have downloaded a version to our computer, smart phone, or tablet.

Perhaps more than ever before the Bible is readily accessible to the multitudes.  The key question, of course, is who is reading it? As we read the gospels, we quickly become aware that Jesus was well-versed in the only scripture available to him—the Hebrew Bible.  If we are followers of Christ, certainly we are called to immerse ourselves in the Bible as well.

 In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul writes:

“Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.”  (The Message)

Paul, of course, was referring to the Hebrew scripture, but his intent certainly can be applied to the Bible we read today.  How do we read the Bible?

Robert Mulholland in Shaped by the Word suggests two primary ways of reading scripture—for information and for formation.  Although he identifies a sharp distinction between the two, both have their place in the life of the believer.

Informational reading deals with the who, what, when, where, and how questions: Who was the writer?  Who was the audience?  What was the context in which it was written and addressed?  What does the text say?  Where does it fit in biblical history? What does it mean?  What does it mean for me today?  How can I apply this in my life? And, as a corrective, what does the Bible say about this topic or concern in other places?  This is a very linear, didactic approach to reading designed to give clarity and application.

Formational reading calls for us to immerse ourselves in the text, hearing it as God’s message to us, and allowing God to speak to us as we dwell on the scripture passage.  There are many ways to do this.  One approach taught by Benedict of Nursia to his followers is lectio divina or “holy reading.”  Lectio encourages us to hear, meditate, pray about, and contemplate a passage of scripture, letting God speak to us through it.  Another approach encouraged by Ignatius of Loyola challenges the reader to immerse himself or herself in the passage through the use of one’s imagination, opening up to the deeper meaning that God may give the believer.  The goal of such approaches is to hear the voice of God through the reading of scripture.

Whatever approach we use, Paul’s words in the text above point us to the primary purpose of studying the Bible—guidance for pursuing a Christ-like life.  Paul would appear to be more concerned with orthopraxy (right living) than orthodoxy (right belief).  The primary goal of engaging the Bible is more to live right than to practice sound doctrine.

Here are some questions you might consider as you reflect on your study of the Bible:

·  In what ways have I engaged God’s written word, the Bible?  Daily Bible reading?  Bible study privately or with others?  Reflecting and meditating on scripture?  What works best for me?
·  What’s the latest spiritual insight I have received from reading the Bible?
·  Am I pursuing a plan for regular devotional Bible study?
·  How can I make my personal study more informative and more interesting?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Boundaries for Leaders: A Book Review

Dr. Henry Cloud, a well-known clinical psychologist and leadership consultant, always gives practical, applicable guidance based both on experience and research.  He continues to provide this type of information in Boundaries for Leaders:  Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge.

Written for organizational leaders, Cloud challenges leaders to be “ridiculously in charge” by setting boundaries “that determine whether the vision and the people thrive or fail.” He defines a boundary as “a structure that determines what will exist and what will not.” A leader must step up and take complete responsibility about what will and what will not be allowed in an organization.  He writes, “[A]s a leader, you always get what you create and what you allow.”

Cloud’s seven leadership boundaries are:  help people’s brains work better; build the emotional climate that fuels performance, facilitate connections that boost people’s functioning; facilitate thinking patterns that drive results; focus on what behaviors shape results; build high-performance teams that achieve desired results; and lead yourself in a manner that drives and protects the vision.

As a leadership coach, I found Cloud’s last chapter on “Boundaries for Yourself” to be very helpful.  He provides some great suggestions for self-leadership and personal development--being open to new insights and outside input, seeking feedback, embracing change and resisting fear.

The personal examples from his consulting help to clarify concepts and relieve the often repetitive and rather dense writing style.  The basic ideas probably could have been communicated with fewer words and more examples.

Even though it is often a hard read, the book provides helpful leadership insights from an experienced and respected consultant that may be applied in a number of organizational settings for positive change and growth.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the® <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Next Generation Leader

Many ask the question, “Where will we find leaders for the future?” but as important is the question, “How will we develop those leaders?”  Of course, this is only partially the responsibility of those in leadership roles today.  The work of leadership development is largely accomplished by the individual as he or she accepts responsibility, engages in ministry, and learns from the experience.  We can provide encouragement and resources.  That’s where Andy Stanley’s book, Next Generation Leader, comes in.

Stanley identifies five characteristics that mark the woman or man who will shape the future:  courage, clarity, competence, coachability, competence, and character.  Courage helps a person to harness his or her fears.  Clarity empowers one to leverage uncertainty in a situation.  Competence comes from discovering and playing to one’s strengths.  Coachability allows one to engage a leadership coach and learn from that relationship.  Character assures that one will maintain moral authority.

Each characteristic is explained and the author provides examples and lessons (often from painful missteps) from his ministry.  Stanley is a leader who has learned from his own experiences and generously shares this learning with others.  Although I especially respond positively to his comments about character, competence, and coaching, each of the characteristics he identifies is necessary for a person to become an effective leader.

Originally published in 2003, Stanley’s book is still relevant.  Although written prior to the days when he acknowledged the role of women as ministry leaders, the concepts will be helpful to all leaders—men and women, laity and clergy.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Getting Your Money’s Worth

Some church leaders disagree with the idea that we now live in a post-denominational world.  If they are arguing that issues of doctrine and polity are still important to many Christians, I can understand their position a bit.  There are still congregations that are clearly part of “faith tribes”—Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.—that cling to a specific commitment to one another as part of a denomination of Christians.

On the other hand, I have to disagree if they are asserting that those denominational ties fulfill all of the same purposes they once did or provide the same benefits as in the past. Denominational judicatories don’t provide the services they did in the 20th century; in fact, every denomination has cut personnel and field services in the past two decades.  Judicatories still attempt to provide support for local congregations but the breadth and quantity of those services have declined.

One reason for this change is that churches are no longer giving financially as much to their judicatories due to declines in membership, disenchantment with the denomination, or a shift in priorities.  The interesting aspect is that many churches continue to expect the same “free” services that they formerly received even though they don’t provide the same level of financial support.  Of course, as one denominational leader once pointed out to me, no service is really “free”—someone has to pay for it.  Under the old paradigm, churches gave money to their denominational judicatories and some of this was used to assist congregations.  This is less likely today.

This lack of adequate services has led many churches to pursue outside consultants or providers to help them with their needs.  Different types of providers attempt to fulfill various needs.  They might be divided into four categories—content providers, linkage providers, advocacy providers, and process providers.

 Content providers supply curriculum materials, educational resources, or information services.  This includes organizations like Nurturing Faith, Upper Room, Smyth and Helwys, Baptists Today, and Associated Baptist Press. 

Some organizations offer linkages or partnerships that will assist the church in fulfilling its mission.  Entities such as Global Women, World Vision, and Habitat for Humanity would fall into this category
A third type of provider is the advocacy group that works to change society, influence culture, or impact the political process.  Two examples are Baptist Women in Ministry and Bread for the World.

Finally, there are organizations that are primarily process providers.  They help churches and their leaders learn how to do something—train leaders, disciple believers, initiate new ministries, raise money, resolve conflict, transition to a larger size, or die with dignity.  Included in this group would be the Alban Institute, Center for Congregational Health, The Columbia Partnership, and Pinnacle Leadership Associates (the organization with which I work).

There may be overlap, of course, where a process provider also supplies curriculum or the advocacy provider supplies a process to train advocates in the congregation, but most tend toward one of the four categories.  An organization like, for example, might be seen as both a content provider and an advocacy provider.
How does the church find the right match in a provider?  Evaluation standards would differ for each type of provider, but let me talk a minute about finding the right process provider.

If a church is going to contract with an outside process consultant, the first step is assessing what skills are already available on the staff or among volunteer leaders in the church.  If someone in the church already has the expertise, availability, and credibility to provide the service, there is no reason to look elsewhere.  A church should contract with an outside consultant who provides something—a skill, an insight, or a process—not already available through “home grown” talent.

The second step is to review the competencies and experiences of a potential provider:   What is the training and experience of the individuals who will provide the service?  What’s the “track record” of the organization?  How compatible are those providing the service with the congregation members?   Are their fees fair in light of their abilities, experience, and preparation?
Third, determine whether the goal of the provider is to foster dependency or self-sufficiency.  Will the provider empower and train church members so that they can take what they learn and move forward or does the provider encourage dependency that requires that the provider continue to lead the initiative?  Self-sufficiency and sustainability should be the end product.

A church that has clarity and passion for the mission that God has given will be proactive in finding the partners to pursue that mission.  If those partners are not found in their own denominational “tribe,” they may be found elsewhere.