Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Transforming Churches: Leadership

A friend recently accepted an intentional interim position in a church.  She was surprised on her first Sunday when it was announced that there would be a budget meeting immediately after the worship service.  She handled the situation gracefully and discovered that, due to the incapacitation of the previous pastor, laity had stepped up to take action, often without the pastor’s being involved.  The positive side of this approach is the commitment of the lay leaders to move forward.  The negative side was this was not the best practice and something the interim could help the church address before a new pastor is called.

This incident points out the importance of lay leadership but also the need to get everyone on board before actions are taken.  When a church begins to think about transformation, it is important to get everyone on the bus. They may not all be going in the same direction initially, but once the bus leaves the station, everyone needs to be going to the same place.

How is this possible?

First, the pastor and clergy staff must be on board.  The ministers of a church provide not on the administrative but the spiritual leadership of the church.  Since church transformation is rooted in being part of the mission of God in the world, they must believe in the process and support it.  If the ministerial staff is not enthusiastic (“inspired by God”), the process will have little momentum.

Second, key leadership must buy in.  Whatever the leadership group is called--church council, session, etc., they must have time to understand, agree to, and commit to the process.  In the best-case scenario, the leadership group is representative of the entire congregation.  They provide a place to discuss, question, and clarify the process the church will pursue.  Any concerns that arise there usually will reflect the questions that the larger congregation will ask.

Third, congregants must have opportunities to understand and engage in the process.  If we truly believe that the Spirit of God is present among the people of God, every person in the congregation must have the opportunity to be involved in the process.  Of course, some will choose not to participate, but the decision is up to the individual.  Even dissenting voices can provide insights and lead to clarity about the way forward.

As a church enters into a process of transformation, leadership must be defined in the broadest possible way and challenged to invest in the process.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Transforming Churches: Covenant

The Christian faith is not designed to be experienced in isolation.  There are certainly times when a believer may draw aside for contemplation, prayer, and communion with God, but Jesus calls out a people to follow Him.

This, of course, reflects the way that God has worked throughout history.  God called Abram out of Ur and promised him that he would be the father of a great nation that would not only be blessed but bless all of the peoples of the world.  God made a covenant with Abraham and renewed that covenant with Isaac and Jacob (Israel). When the Hebrews left Egypt, God added a new twist.  The covenant now was not just with Moses, but with the people of Israel.  

Covenants play an important part in the life of the people of God.  In a covenant, we make commitments not only to God but to one another.  Covenants not only voice mutual commitments but promise support, encouragement, and identify benefits from being part of the covenant.

When a church considers being part of a transformation process, the decision does not rest with key leaders alone, but must be made by the people.  By articulating and affirming a covenant for transformation, the disciples in a congregation are doing several things:

First, they are strengthening their congregational relationships.  They are affirming their dependence on one another to accomplish this task.

Second, they are identifying as a people under God’s leadership who are seeking the guidance of the Spirit in this task.

Third, they are offering up and encouraging the sharing of their gifts, time, and talents to achieve this transformation.  As someone said, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” God has made us as unique individuals, and each brings something important to the task.

Fourth, they are all agreeing to move in the same direction. Change brings discomfort and fear.  The covenant seeks to align the disciples in a church to walk alongside one another in the process of transformation, providing encouragement and support.

A covenant clarifies who we are, what we hope to accomplish, and how we can help each other get there.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Transforming Churches: Spiritual Invigoration

Dr. Richard C. Halverson (1916-1995), chaplain to the U.S. Senate, is credited with this statement made in 1984 in a speech before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church: 

“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe where it became a culture, and, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.” 

This statement may be a bit harsh but, in many ways, our churches tend to function today more as businesses than as spiritual organisms.  For example, when the stewardship committee of a church sends out a letter encouraging congregants to invite people to church in order to “meet our budget,” the church has lost its focus.  When the building committee becomes more interested in maintaining the physical facility than serving the community, priorities are skewed.  When the pastor is seen as the CEO rather than the spiritual shepherd of the flock, we are missing the point.

Have we lost sight of the truth that we are part of a spiritual movement?  The first step required for churches to transform toward increased faithfulness and relevance is to get in touch with and nurture the Spirit of God in their midst.  

The church has survived and prospered over twenty centuries not just through the creativity and talents of committed women and men, but because the Spirit of God has continued to break through and provide courage, insight, and wisdom for God’s people.

Any effort toward being a missionally faithful church in our time begins with remembering who we are as a people of God.  What we do in this time and place is important not only for us and our children but for the Reign of God.

The first step must always be prayer, openness to the Spirit’s leading, and listening the voice of God through God’s people.  Only then will we be prepared to undertake the task of church transformation. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Transforming Churches

Several years ago, I was teaching a class on the missional church.  One session was devoted to the various paradigms out of which the church has functioned over the last two thousand years.  One student summarized the basic idea very succinctly when she said, “Every so often the church has to renew itself.”

Despite all of the articles and blogs we read about the challenges that the church faces today, I am optimistic that the church will not only survive but prosper in the days ahead, but the way we do church will look different.  Even more traditional churches can adapt in order to minister effectively in their context without sacrificing their theological foundations. The key word is “adaptive.”  We must move beyond “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” and find a new means of transportation.  Rather than just tweaking a few things, we have to rethink how we do church.

Encouraging adaptive is an emphasis of Pinnacle Leadership Associates, the group I work with in coaching, consulting and training.  Mark Tidsworth, our President, leads the organization to provide Transforming Church Initiatives for congregations who want to become more missional.

A question that Mark asked recently was, “What’s required for churches to transform toward increased faithfulness and relevance?”  He has identified six prerequisites:  spiritual invigoration, covenant for transformation, leadership committed to transformation, contextual awareness, paradigm shifting, and a clear process and engagement plan.

I think he is on to something.  In subsequent blogs, I will address each of these from my own perspective and consider how they can be part of transforming any church for more effective ministry.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Creative Staffing for 21st Century Churches

Church staffing has changed in many ways over the past 50 years.  New positions and titles have appeared to meet real or perceived needs.  In recent years, however, changing demographics and declining budgets have required congregations to reassess positions, add or delete some roles, and rewrite position descriptions.

In a recent blog, John Wimberly addressed this trend and provided some suggestions about where congregations should place their staffing emphasis.  His observations are interesting but let me suggest some additional positions to consider.

First, most churches would benefit from employing either full-time or part-time a Minister of Missional Engagement.  This person would help the church identify and establish partnerships with organizations who are impacting the community through service or social entrepreneurship programs.  This staff person would connect congregants to these ministries and might also lead the church to provide grants for new projects.  

Second, a Minister of Arts would enrich the life of the congregation by encouraging spiritual formation through arts and media.  In addition to helping congregants to express their faith experiences though visual or performing arts, this staff person would provide resources to enhance worship and could provide a link to artists and performers in the community.

Third, although churches have employed Ministers of Christian Education for years and some have adapted this to Minister of Spiritual Formation, perhaps the more focused title would be Minister of Disciple Development.  This person would pursue his or her role as an equipper of equippers, using not only educational methodologies, but people development processes such as mentoring, coaching, and spiritual direction.  

A common thread running through all of these positions is the role of challenging and equipping people for personal growth and ministry.  Each of these persons would not only be talented in their areas of responsibility, but also committed to engaging congregants.  They would help to multiply the ministry of those in the church.  

People are one of the church’s most important resources.  Programs come and go but what we invest in people will endure.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Studying the Bible

Sunday morning Bible study is still an important part of the church I attend. I teach a class most Sundays and have served in leadership roles in the Bible Study/Sunday School program over the years.  Our church has long had the policy of giving teachers and classes the opportunity to select their own curriculum.  This can be a bit messy, but I have been impressed by the wisdom and creativity shown in this process.

I think a written curriculum is important.  Not only have I used materials from a number of publishers, I have written lessons in the dim, dark past.  The idea of scope and sequence in a series of lessons is important, but there are many ways to organize Bible and discipleship studies.

In recent years, I have come the conclusion that a teacher and class can have the best materials in the world and still have an inadequate learning experience.  What makes a Bible study effective?  I think there are three things to consider--presentation, participation, and inspiration.

First, the Bible study teacher does not need a theological degree to be effective, but he or she does need to do several things.  The teacher needs to allow the passage to flow through his or her life.  Each week, I try to read the passage early in the week and reflect on it before reading the commentary.  I must know how it speaks to me before I can lead others in discussing it.

An effective teacher also must be able to ask good questions. Certainly, the teacher can provide background, context, and content, but if he or she stops there, the class is receiving only information; they are not involved in transformation.

Second, participants in the study need to be engaged.  Just being present in a seat does not mean that a person is engaged.  As the teacher asks questions and shares insights, the group members are challenged to make application in their own lives.  If the class members are not actively involved in the process, the result is a nice time of fellowship with little or no impact on their lives.

Third, both teacher and learner need to leave space for the Holy Spirit to enter the process.  Some of the best questions that I have asked were not prepared in advance.  Some of the most candid answers from participants were unexpected, spontaneous, and inspired.  Some of the most moving experiences were Spirit-led.

One Sunday, I was teaching a class and a participant commented, “You know, what we talk about here on Sunday mornings has very little impact on my life on Monday morning.”  Rather than taking this as an attack, I immediately engaged him with questions about how we could change that situation.   God had spoken through him to identify a real need in our class.

Effective Bible study is a partnership between teacher, learner, and the Sprit of God.  Everything else is secondary.