Saturday, August 19, 2017

Church Business Meetings--Pros and Cons

For three years, I served as moderator of our church’s business meetings.  For the most part, this was a rewarding experience and I must have done something right since I received a standing ovation when I stepped down (or maybe they were just glad to see me go).

In churches with a congregational polity, the church business meeting is where important (and sometimes unimportant) decisions are made.  As moderator, participant, and observer, I have seen people at their best and at their worst in church business meetings.

Let’s consider potential negative aspects of such meetings.

Very often, those participating are not prepared to make decisions.  They come to the meeting with little or no information and are asked to vote on the spot.  To have more informed body, church leaders can use town hall meetings and small groups for discussions about a topic before it comes to the floor for a vote.  Often, consensus can be built in this way.

Committee don’t give good reports.  Although a church committee may understand an issue and have immersed themselves in preparing a response or proposal, they provide either too much or too little information.  An executive summary of key points should be provided ahead of time and then the committee can share additional information as needed.

The most verbal people sway the decision.  A wise moderator and church leaders find ways to hear more voices before the meeting (see town hall meetings and discussion groups above).

Remember that people more often decide an issue based on their emotions than their reasoning.  Committees and church leaders who fail to make an emotional connection with a proposal can expect a negative response.

Prayer is rarely seen as an integral part of the gathering but only a way to “book-end” the meeting.  What might be different if the moderator stopped during the meeting and asked for a time of silent reflection or called on a neutral party to voice a prayer?

On the other hand, church business meetings have positive aspects.

These meetings are democracy in action.   All may speak and vote.  A wise moderator will use rules of order in such a way that free speech is facilitated rather than hindered and all are encouraged to take part.

Church business meetings give us the opportunity to do the right thing.  In more than one meeting, I have observed a wise member of the congregation stand and insert a word of compassion or encouragement that tempered the decision-making process. This is the Spirit of God at work.

If there are healthy relationships in the congregation, there will be a healthy atmosphere in the business meeting.  Dysfunctional families show their stress at funerals (and sometimes at weddings).  If the church family is not getting along on a daily basis, we should not expect harmony in a business meeting.

Finally, we must seek “win-win” decisions. A vote in a church business meeting is not the final word. If segments of the congregations are seen as winners or losers in a decision, fellowship will be broken.  Our primary goal should be finding ways forward that all members can embrace.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Chose This Day Whom You Will Serve

When I was growing up in Mobile, Alabama, one of my favorite sights in the city was the statue of Admiral Raphael Semmes. Originally from Maryland, Semmes moved to Mobile after his service in United States Navy during the Mexican-American War, and accepted a commission in the Confederate Navy when the southern states seceded from the Union.  I knew a bit about his exploits during the way and saw him as a heroic figure.

Of course, I grew up where we observed Confederate Memorial Day.  We talked about “The War Between the States” not the “Civil War.”  I visited Jefferson Davis’ home Beauvoir down the coast in Biloxi, Mississippi, on more than one occasion.  When I went to college in Mississippi, our school’s mascot was Nathan Bedford Forrest, I was a member of the ROTC drill team, The Southern Generals, with a Confederate flag on our emblem.

I state all this to clarify where I have been in order to explain where I am now.  Although I was immersed in Southern culture from the time of my birth, I understand now how offensive that heritage is to many of my friends of all races.  My ancestors were not slaveholders or landed gentry, but I am sure that many of them fought on the side of the Confederate States of America.  They fought for their states, their families, and their property.  If I had been alive then, I would probably have done the same thing.  But I am alive now and I am not in that situation.

We cannot change the past and we must be aware of our history, but do we further the cause of a united nation by honoring those who rebelled against legally constituted authority and broke their oaths to defend the Constitution of the United States?  (Most the highest-ranking officers in the Confederacy held commissions in the United States Army or Navy prior to the war.)

I had the opportunity to visit the childhood home of President Woodrow Wilson in Staunton, VA, in April.  Wilson’s father was pastor of the Presbyterian church there when the future President was born in 1856.  The church had an agreement with a local plantation owner to provide three slaves to live in the manse--an older woman to cook, a younger woman to clean, and a young man to do the heavy manual labor.  On the tour, I saw the places where they lived and slept.  This was a better situation for these individuals than on the plantation, but they were still slaves. They did what they were told.  They had no choices in their lives; they were property.

We can argue about the economic, political, and geographic issues that led to the division of our country in 1861, but we cannot deny that the Confederate States of America uphold chattel slavery. People were bought and sold.  Race determined one’s status in society and place in the economy, and this became deeply ingrained in our national consciousness.  The war preserved the Union but it did not address our original sin of racial subjugation. 

Are we being Christ-like when we continue to honor a heritage that offends many of our friends and fellow citizens whose ancestors were participants in this subjugation?  The biblical teaching is that if our brother or sister is offended by an action of ours and it is not essential to our faith, then we ought to stop doing it.

Although I grew up in the South, I took an oath when I was commissioned as an officer in the United States Army to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.  The only allegiance that is more important to me is my citizenship in the Kingdom of God.  Both commitments call me to reject any practice, movement, or monument that honors rebellion or racial bigotry.

What is God calling you to do?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Why Should We Care?

An old adage goes, “Plan your work and work your plan.”  Planning is important but follow-through is, too.

In visiting with a friend recently, we talked about the strategic plan that his judicatory had developed with the assistance of a consultant.  His evaluation was that the plan was good but those charged with implementing it had little enthusiasm and were inclined toward deferring to executive leadership to take care of it.

As individuals and organizations, we need to have a clear direction for the future.  Whether we call it long-range planning, strategic planning, vision casting or something else, we need clarity about where we will invest ourselves and our resources.  At the same time, we need the motivation and enthusiasm to move forward without plans.

Developing a plan is the easy part.  The hard part is implementation.  This requires motivation.  I have found that this is true whether I am coaching an individual to identify and pursue his or her goals or working with a congregation to develop and accomplish a plan of action.

Although my approach is influenced by my training as a coach, the same principles apply to organizations as well as individuals.  I suggest several steps to assure follow-through on plans.

First, start with a spiritual and relational foundation.  Working with others in the church or organization, consider these questions:
  • “What resources has God provided for us?” 
  • “What do we do well?”
  • “What do we perceive that God is calling us to do in this time and place?”
  • “What can we do that no one else can do or is doing?”

Second, identify your values.  Ask these questions:
  • “What is really important to us as a group?”
  • “What is distinctive about our church or organization?”
  • “What are the non-negotiable values that we embrace?”

Third, once the plan is implemented, keep the answers to these questions front and center.  Return to them on a regular basis, reminding participants what they have identified as important for them and the church or organization.  As Bill Hybels says, “Vision leaks.”  We must come back to our reason for existence on a continuing basis.

Whatever our plan may be, we need to be reminded on a regular basis why we do what we do and why we should care.

Monday, August 14, 2017

What’s Your “Side Hustle”?

My friend Ka’thy Gore Chappell introduced the term “side hustle” to me.   Entrepreneur Magazine defines it in this way: “A side hustle is a way to make some extra cash that allows you flexibility to pursue what you're most interested in. It can also be your true passion – a chance to delve into fashion, travel or whatever it is you care about the most without quitting your day job.”

Some ministry colleagues may think I lack faith when I say it, but I suggest that anyone in ministry should identify and pursue a “side hustle.”  Having an alternative way of making money has always been at the core of biprofessional (bivocational) ministry and allows many churches to have a minister who could not afford to pay a full-time pastor.

When I returned to college from a summer doing mission work in the Midwest, I thought seriously about becoming a biprofessional pastor or campus minister in an area where Southern Baptists had few if any churches.  To move in this direction, I began taking some of the courses that would help me to get a teaching certificate if I chose to go that route. 

Although I never got that teaching certificate, I have found myself doing things on the side during my ministry that allowed me to exercise my creativity and make some additional income--writing, training on campuses and in churches, interim ministry work, and coaching.

Having an alternative source of income can provide several things.

First, this is an opportunity to be creative.  Your “side hustle” may use your mind (writing, teaching, or coaching), your hands (making furniture, cooking, gardening, glass-blowing), or your voice (performance) but it provides an opportunity to do something different and practice alternative skills or interests.

Second, a “side hustle” gives you the freedom to do ministry you care about whether within or outside the walls of the church.  Some ministry opportunities pay little or nothing, but if you feel called to a particular place, an alternative income provides the chance to pursue a calling that may not be highly remunerative.

Third, having a “side hustle” may provide an escape plan if needed.  As someone said, “When the horse is dead, dismount.”  There are times in ministry when it is time to part ways.  A friend once told me that everyone should keep some “go to H***” money in the bank.  Those of us with families usually difficulty saving up that kind of reserve, so an alternative source of income can fill this gap.

I would encourage anyone in ministry or thinking about ministry to have a plan B or “side hustle” in place.  Such planning can provide peace of mind, boldness, and freedom in your life.