Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Third Way to Minister

Early in the history of the Christian church, believers were divided into two groups--the clergy and the laity.  Clergy were those called to a full-time Christian vocation.  Laity were the men and women who pursued secular vocations and supported the ministry of the clergy. Of course, these categories were not always hard and fast.  The Baptist movement in frontier America prospered through people who pursued a secular job (like farming) during the week and preached on Sundays.

Denominations have spent significant energy in differentiating between clergy and laity, and investing significant resources in the training of the former.  With declining resources and membership, however, judicatories are adopting flexible models of ministry that take advantage of the gifts of both biprofessional and lay leaders.  This certainly makes sense as many lay church members have not only spiritual gifts to serve but educational and professional skills as well.

At the same time, a third ministry alternative is emerging.  This is the person who is theologically trained but working in a secular vocation.  This may be business, education, health, or a not-for-profit organization.  He or she has voluntarily chosen this path and understands that their vocation is their ministry.  In many ways, this is the worker priest model where the clergyperson is both minister and secular professional.

Why has this happened?  Several reasons come to mind.

1.  Some who follow this model do not perceive the church as the most effective place to make a difference in society and the lives of people.  This is a painful admission, but an individual often makes a greater impact outside the walls of the church by being a Christian in a secular field.  He or she rubs shoulders daily with those who never attend a church and can bring a theological perspective both personally and organizationally in the workplace.

2.  Some realize that they can do good in ways that the church cannot.  Social entrepreneurs use their business skills to both provide a service or product and serve others.  Not only do they influence individual lives, but they make a difference in society by providing jobs that bring people out of poverty and despair.

3.  Too often, churches move too slowly in responding to individual and social needs.  Part of this is due to liability concerns; another part is fear of trying something different.  Whatever the reason, church and religious organizations often move too slowly in responding to need.

4.  Churches in decline are more interested in survival than innovative ministry.  Someone with vision and an entrepreneurial spirit wants to invest themselves in others without having to service a bureaucracy.

Some seminaries such as Central Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, have recognized the validity of this third way and have designed theological degree programs to provide formation for those who choose this path.  Their number will continue to grow in the days ahead and challenge our ideas of the ministerial vocation.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Importance of Groups in the Church

Every church traditionally has some type of small group experience--Sunday School classes, study groups, mission groups, and others.  Today, small group experiences may be more important than ever.  In a recent article, Thom Rainer identified eight major changes in churches over the last decade. One of these was the vital importance of groups in the church.

According to Rainer’s research, ten years ago churches had groups but they were of marginal importance.  Leaders “did not see how groups could enhance the health of the church in discipleship, evangelism, prayer, ministry, and fellowship.”

On the other hand, he observes, “Healthy churches today make groups (community groups, home groups, Sunday school, life groups, etc.) a high priority.”

We can identify several reasons why this is true.

First, most people have a desire to connect.  Although we have become a society immersed in social media, most of us have few deep connections with others outside our families. We have a hunger for connectedness that Facebook, Twitter, and other online services cannot fill.

Second, we have come to understand that real Christian growth only happens where there is accountability and groups provide this for us.  Women in small groups have known this for years, but men are starting to realize this need.

Third, we can accomplish more in concert with others than we can alone.  If we want to make a difference in our society, we must join with like-minded individuals to act.  This is messy, but working with others has a greater impact than working alone.

How are you using small groups in your church or organization?  How can you use them more effectively?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Millennials and Leadership

A friend and I have an ongoing discussion about millennials and their role in church leadership.  As a group, millennials are parodied, maligned, and caricatured as entitled, self-centered, and clueless.  The truth is more complex.  The millennial generation (ages approximately 23 to 30) are in our organizations now.  Leaders have a choice.  They can work with millennials, harness their potential, and equip them for the future or they can miss an opportunity for organizational innovation and growth.
In a Leadership Network article, Eric Swanson pointed out, “Millennials don’t want to work for you; they want to work with you.”  The millennial mindset is that of the journeyman worker--here today and gone tomorrow.  In many ways, this is understandable.  They have watched their parents and older siblings lose their jobs even when they have been with organizations for years and have done good work. 
So how does a leader deal with those whose motivation is based on the question, “What have you done for me lately?”  Here are some ideas.
First, since they don’t expect lifetime employment, put them to work right away.  Ask for their input, give them opportunities to lead, and help them to learn from their successes and failures.  If you don’t know how to use coaching skills, develop them and apply those skills to working with millennials.
Second, give them the chance to acquire new skills and abilities.  This will keep them engaged, help them to be more effective, and prepare them for future responsibilities.   The downside to this is that they may use these skills to go elsewhere!  If this happens, bless them and kick them out of the nest.  Everyone will be happier.
Third, utilize their abilities to connect with what’s happening in our culture to innovate within your organization.  In a TED Talk, Linda Hill said: “Talented people don’t want to follow me anywhere. They want to co-create, with me, the future.” Co-create is the operative word here. Get them on your team, learn what they have to offer, and give them a chance to create the future with you.
Working with millennials is like a conversation while on an escalator--you are always in motion, it is fun while it lasts, but the end is in sight.  Although one may not be comfortable with this approach, failure to work with, learn from, and encourage millennials will be a missed opportunity of growth for you and your organization.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

It Can't Happen Here

Our local news outlets have recently reported that some schools--private and public--have failed to report abusive situations involving students.  Several reasons have been cited by officials for their actions, but these indicate that they failed to protect vulnerable individuals under their supervision.

We have seen this before in churches, schools, and not-for-profit agencies.  Institutions can quickly become more concerned about protecting themselves than in doing the right thing. 

There two primary errors that institutions commit in relationship to abuse--sexual, verbal, physical, or psychological.

First, very often institutions act as if it can’t happen to them. Several years ago, I worked for an organization and became concerned that we be more proactive about possible incidents of abuse.  Nothing had happened, but I believed that it would be appropriate to take steps to head off any problems both for the sake of those we served and for our staff members. 

Surprisingly, there was little interest in this initiative.  Leadership was willing to let me come up with recommendations, but there was minimal support. When I talked with the organization’s legal counsel and insurance carrier, they acknowledged that this was a potential concern but were hesitant to address “hypothetical situations.”

We made some progress in training staff to deal with potential abuse situations, but it was not a popular topic.  I got the feeling from leadership that “It won’t happen here.”

The second error that institutions make when it comes to abuse is to act like it didn’t happen.  There is a tendency to blame the victim or to excuse inappropriate conduct on the part of those in a position of power.  We misplace our trust and fail to act.  If we don’t acknowledge it, perhaps it will go away.

Whenever one person is in a position of power or control over another, there is the potential for abuse.  Institutions of all types must acknowledge this and act justly rather than seeking to protect their reputations and resources. 

What is your organization doing to be proactive in relation to potential abusive situations?