Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Labyrinth

This poem originally appeared on Lindy Thompson's blog and is reprinted by permission. See more of her work at lindythompsonblog.
I am the labyrinth.
Keep moving.
I don’t know where I am going, God.
It looks like one way but ends up being another,
and I turn sharply when I least expect it,
and sometimes it looks like I’m going to collide with someone else –
how can this be right?
I am the path.I am the labyrinth.Keep moving.
I want to see, God.
I want to know.
Why must there be so much unknown?
Why must there be so much waiting?
Why do you move the way you do?
I am the light.I am the path.I am the labyrinth.Keep moving.
Other voices call and make other promises.
It sounds easier to go where they are,
do what they do, avoid what they avoid.
I don’t see them beating their breast,
prostrating themselves,
begging for mercy,
anguishing in their search for something real.
I am the truth.I am the light.I am the path.I am the labyrinth.Keep moving.
It would be so easy to step out of this and make my own path.
Yes, I might kill some flowers,
tread upon the homes of some small animals,
leave a path of mild destruction in my wake,
but I might get there.
Wherever “there” is.
I am the way.I am the truth.I am the light.I am the path.I am the labyrinth.Keep moving.
I don’t feel you.
I am too busy looking at my feet,
anticipating the next turn,
wondering when I will be given rest.
How do I know, God, that you are there?
That you are with me?
That you are guiding me?
I am love.I am the way.I am the truth.I am the light.I am the path.I am the labyrinth.Keep moving.
Reveal yourself to me, O God.
I long to feel your presence
as I walk on, trying to trust,
hoping for lamps unto my feet,
wanting the touch of your hand on my life,
yearning for your love to fill my heart,
drive out my fear,
and make me whole.
I love you.I will lead the way.I will show you truth.I will shine the light.I will guard your path.
I am the labyrinth.Be at peace.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Turning Managers into Coaches

Work is more complicated than it used to be.  Most jobs require not simply a person who will be a “cog in the machine” but a motivated contributor.  Especially with younger generations, motivation comes not just from a paycheck, but in the ability to learn, grow, and contribute.  This requires managers who will adopt a different supervision style.

In a recent article, Gallup provided a strong argument for managers adopting a coach approach to supervision.  Coaching requires a more personal, interactive style, but the writer states, “When managers provide meaningful feedback to employees, those employees are 3.5x more likely to be engaged.

Although becoming a coaching leader requires significant training, here are some ways that a manager can become a coach.

First, recognize the uniqueness of the person you supervise.  Every individual has different experiences, skill sets, and abilities.  Their uniqueness can make a valuable contribution to the mission of the organization.

Second, help the person discover their uniqueness and affirm those abilities. A coaching leader can help the person to identify their abilities and strengths if they are not already aware of them.

Third, seek alignment between the person’s abilities and the organization’s mission and goals. This benefits both the individual and the organization.  If there is not a good fit, recognize that and help the person find a better role in which to use their abilities, either in the organization or elsewhere.

Fourth, give the person you supervise opportunities to develop their abilities with challenging assignments or the freedom to try something different.  You can help them to develop “stretch” goals and the resources to pursue them.

Fifth, provide accountability on an on-going basis. This is not micro-management, but regular contact to provide feedback and support.  Gallup discovered that “employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are 3x more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year or less.”  Annual performance reviews don’t provide the type of accountability needed.  This requires regular communication and dialogue, often on a daily basis.

Of course, the downside for a manager who uses the coaching approach is that he or she may lose this employee to a more responsible position.  The opportunity to engage persons in affirming, growth-oriented relationships should offset that eventuality.  In most cases, both the coaching manager and the employee being coached will be much more motivated.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Transforming Churches: Contextual Awareness

One size does not fit all. In the ecclesiastical structures of the 20th century, denominations often provided standards for local congregations to pursue in order to be more effective and efficient. These standards and policies were meant to challenge each church and to call out the best in members.

The problem was that each church is very different. Even in connectional denominations, each congregation finds itself in a distinctive context.  The area may be urban, suburban, or rural.  In reality, the setting may be shifting from one of these to another! Those who attend the church come from different situations with varying experiences of work, family, and education.  In many situations, the community is changing due to economic and social factors.  

Churches in a particular denomination may have much in common, but the context in which they minister varies significantly.  This requires an awareness of where the church is and what is going on around it. As the church becomes more self-aware, leaders and participants reach a clearer understanding of what they have to work with, what their community is like, what they can do to make a difference in their community.  This is one of the keys to transformation.

How does the church enhance its awareness of its context?

First, the church can increase engagement with its external community.  The place to start is talking with church members about their own involvement in the community.  Teachers, first responders, health professionals, and business people interact with the “real world” on a daily basis.  Many in the church probably volunteer in local service organizations.  They can have great insights about needs and possibilities.

Second, the church can engage with community organizations. Especially in situations where church participants may not live in the immediate geographical area, church leaders can reach out to government agencies, schools, and not-for-profits to achieve a clearer picture of the area around the church.  This may open the door for volunteer involvement from the church or partnerships with other entities.

Third, as the church learns more about its context, participants can pray as well as serve. Prayer walks in the area around the church are a very effective way to raise awareness. When disciples are aware of the needs of the community, they can pray more intentionally and allow the Spirit to lead in opening doors for service and ministry.  

Wherever God has placed your church, there are opportunities for Kingdom service.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Ministry in a “Gig” Economy

My wife and I recently attended a concert presented by Jason Petty and his backup musicians at the Arts Center in Cannon County.  Petty is a musician, actor, and storyteller who got his big break portraying singer Hank Williams in a show called “Lonesome Highway.”   He has built on this role to build a career in which he channels the country music icon in various shows,  and he has developed similar tribute programs built around other musical figures.

Petty and his ensemble did a great job, but he got to me thinking about his business model. He is an itinerant performer who has found a niche and does this work at a number of different venues in the United States and Canada.  He continues to refine his offerings to reach different audiences with his product.  He is leveraging his talents to do something he enjoys doing.

His business model is really an example of the “gig economy.”  The gig economy can be defined as “a free market system in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.”   Gallup reports, "Twenty-nine percent of all workers in the U.S. have an alternative work arrangement as their primary job; 36% participate in the gig economy in some capacity."

Although this is usually applied to large organizations like Nissan or Amazon who hire many short-term or contingent workers, there are many highly skilled workers who find themselves building a living through the gig economy.  Petty does it by performing on stage through contracts with local organizations and theater groups; others do it with computers and software from their homes.

I bring this up because this is a model that those who want to do ministry in the future should consider.  There are people of my acquaintance who have put together a full-time ministry through supply and interim pastorates, consulting, writing, and coaching.  Others serve a church part-time and also serve as institutional chaplains or teachers. There are as many models as there are people engaged in the ministerial “gig economy.”

This has advantages and disadvantages for the one pursuing this approach to employment. The disadvantages include little or no employee benefits, uncertainty about length of service, and a continuing need to find employment or reinvent yourself.  The advantage is flexibility, diverse and fresh challenges, and the opportunity to do what you are best suited to do.

Whether you see the “gig economy” as a good thing or a bad thing, it is a reality.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Ministry in 2020 and Beyond

Several years ago, Intuit published its 2020 Report.  One of the key observations was, “By 2020, 40% of American workers will be independent contractors.”  A significant part of the population will be contingent workers who will piece together various paid opportunities in order to make a living.  Since 2020 is almost here, we should be asking the question, “What does this mean for the church?”

From the perspective of how the church operates, this means we will see more of the following:

First, outsourcing of non-ministerial services such as accounting, marketing, and cleaning to independent contractors.  This relieves the church of providing benefits and assures that someone with specialized knowledge or ability will meet a need that is important but does not need to be done by a paid staff member.

Second, increased use of outside consultants, which is another type of outsourcing.  We already do this with capital campaigns and the model can be applied to other church activities.  I have a friend who serves as missions consultant to several churches. He works with each church to discover the interests and abilities of their congregants, arranges a place where they might serve, provides orientation, handles travel plans, and is available during the project for support. In addition, he consults with churches on community mission opportunities and missions education.  

Third, increased use of part-time staff--bi-vocational and shared. We already have many bi-vocational or bi-professionals serving churches, but more congregations are adopting the Methodist arrangement of a two- or three-point charge or the Baptist “circuit rider” model where one person preaches in several churches.  The same could be applied to Christian formation, music, and age-group ministries.

What will be the skills required of these bi-professional ministers?

  • They will need to have a strong sense of ministry calling and a solid spiritual grounding in order to accept and pursue this challenging task. 
  • In life manner, they will have to be highly motivated to thrive in this work, but we already see this in many bi-vocational ministers who have a full-time secular job and still put in 20 plus hours a week in a congregational setting.
  • They will have to be prepared through rigorous theological training that is appropriate to the present context of ministry.  They must have knowledge, excellent people skills, and solid ministry competencies.
  • They will have to be agile, able to make good choices and pursue them with little hesitation.  Both personal and congregational ministry opportunities will arise in unexpected ways, and these ministers will need discernment to detect the “wind of the Spirit” as it blows.
  • These ministers will need to be technologically savvy.  We may complain about our “high tech” world but, when used properly, our gadgets and information systems can free us up for a “high touch” ministry.  We can spend less time on administrative detail and more time on personal ministry.

When will this happen? It already is happening, and we are lagging behind.

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.