I have to admit that in the 4 years I have been writing this blog, that my motivation for writing has more often been out of a sense of frustration than joy. I am currently attending my third church during that period, and during that time I feel that I have mostly been held back from participating fully in church ministry. Continue reading “Sometimes God Moves”
Programs are just programs. They’re a way to organize people and help them go where God has already called them to go and [do] what God has already called them to do.
I love this statement from Allison Vesterfelt’s post on the StoryLine blog.
I think when we look at our church (the one we are regularly attending) in North America, we tend to see its ministry in terms of the programs that it runs. We have a view on ministry that says ministry = programs and programs = ministry. That is, with more words, if some kind of ministry is important, we create a program to do it, and by default any ministry that doesn’t have a program wrapped around it isn’t that important. Continue reading “Programs are Programs”
To understand the struggle that evangelicals have with worship you must first define it. Frankly, I think, like many things that we evangelicals struggle with, we have placed our focus on method, rather than purpose. When we argue over music and liturgy and all kinds of stuff “that happens” but what is underneath that, I think, is that we have lost the plot on the purpose of worship.
So I want to talk a bit about this blog and how I have been doing it and something that has changed the way I will blog in the future…
Most of the posts on this blog have been born out of my own experience – both good and bad. I share because I care about the family of God, and the Body of Christ in general. I started this blog because I was frustrated and needed to express some things and clarify my own thoughts. I shared a couple of posts on Facebook and a friend got excited about something that I wrote. He said he wanted his church board to read it. That one event kept me going, thinking “if one person somewhere gets something out of a post that helps the ministry of the gospel somewhere, then I should keep going”.
This blog is not widely read. I probably get a couple dozen page views on each post. I don’t actively promote it. I have tried to post at a consistent, sustainable pace. I try to write and refine about 4 weeks in advance, so that I don’t feel pressure to get stuff out.
I really wasn’t involved in the larger ministry community (beyond my church). Sometime around the end of July this year, I re-engaged on twitter. Still not sure why, or what actually prompted me to go there, but I did. Wow – I found that there was a whole bunch of people who write the same kinds of things that I write (and much better). It is always amazing when I find others that think like me.
And so where before, I did not have a source for inspiration (except my experience and the scripture) I now read a couple posts every day from folks that I follow on twitter. So I decided that I will publish links and commentary on the stuff that I read and like on this blog. These posts will likely be much shorter than my “regular” posts, just a link to the other post, and a few thoughts.
You can follow me on twitter if you like, I am @regenerateweb.
I use posterous.com as a blog host. I like it for several reasons:
1) it has an e-mail interface – so I can send an e-mail from anywhere to post – this became a requirement because I wanted to be able to post from my blackberry which does e-mail really well.
2) it automatically connects with my social networks (facebook, twitter) and lets me autopost to them.
3) it lets me schedule posts in advance so that I can get ahead.
4) it supports some custom theming – which I might do when I get 20 free hours. but has enough basic themes so I can pick one that is not too obnoxious.
Most of my posts are written as I ride the train to and from work. I spend about 35 minutes each way, and try to write about 3 posts per week.
I use a note taking tool called ZIM Desktop Wiki. It is extremely simple, but lets me maintain hyperlinked notes – so that I can make a “page” related to a topic, and make links to those pages there, so I can organize my posts. Also, using the wiki metaphor, to make a new page, I just create a link and click it and a new page is created.
How do leaders in your ministry collaborate with each other? With their teams? With their directors? phone – text – e-mail – face-toface meetings?
I recently did a consulting gig for a church and was very surprised to find that they used Basecamp.com as a collaboration tool. I found that for the team that was working, it was a useful tool – both notifications of change and status, but also maintenance of a plan and schedule for the project. All collaboration was captured and posted in meeting notes, and commentary by participants.
When I ran a tech ministry (office pc’s, networks, servers, and web – not worship tech) a few years ago, we used open source web based tools for collaboration – we hosted them on our domain, and had some simple security around them. As the leader of this ministry team, I loved it. We used a CMS with an articles repository for knowledgebase, forums for different threads of communication, and a calendar to post events and updates. Continue reading “Collaboration Media”
Status quo is fact. This is the status quo – the state of things – the way things are. There is little emotional attachment to the status quo, other than the natural human inertia – the aversion to change – even change that is potentially positive.
Tradition is different! it is “the way we have always done it”, “the way they did it when I was young”, “the way Dad (or Mom) always did it”. It is imbued with nostalgia and emotion. People have an inherent tendency to view the familiar as correct, and unfamiliar as somehow less right. Perhaps “right” is not the correct word, perhaps it is “normal” vs. “abnormal”. Having watched my share of national geographic specials as a kid, I remember thinking over and over – how can those people be so weird? They simply were raised with different traditions.
During Jesus ministry on Earth, he consistently railed against the traditions of men, especially when those traditions were interfering with people having relationship with God. The Jewish people at that time, especially a party called the Pharisee’s, had established a system of legalism and ritual that portended to make it easier for people to figure out if they were following God’s law, while at the same time it masked the fact that all men are sinners and in need of God’s mercy. In the end, it was a system that created status for the Pharisees thus they were heavily invested in those traditions, because of the status afforded them.
So how do traditions manifest in ministry today?
Some traditions are involved with the worship service, the liturgy, the music, etc. Others have to do with kids programs: AWANA clubs or Pioneers. Some traditions manifest in attitudes towards christian education or home schooling. All of these traditions can be beneficial, but can limit fruitfulness. Perhaps one of the most insidious traditions has to do with legalism and behavior: the No drinking, No dancing, No movies approach. It leads to a judgemental spirit – and it tends to alienate those that we most seek to enter our fellowship – sinners. This tradition, so common in Baptist churches of the last two generations, is the reason that it is hard to find a church with Baptist in the name in any suburban community.
Traditions can become part of the ministry brand or identity – aspects of our ministry that “cannot be changed”. These are difficult to change because without them, “we wouldn’t be us”. If you think about ministry branding, our brand should be Jesus Christ, any distinctive we try to attain for our ministry is really in the end only differentiating ourselves from Him.
As the church membership dwindles, the remainder of parishoners strongly identify with the traditions, and threaten to leave if change is implemented. What is to be said about this?
Likely the traditions were established as new practices or methods at the time, replacing some older cherished tradition. They were innovative and effective at producing fruit. I think of “The Reformation” as a classic example of replacing traditions that had become unfruitful. Now, the culture around us has changed, the demographics of the community have changed, the demographics of our ministry participants have changed. Time for change – specifically to become more effective at producing fruit.
Ministry participants who care more about the traditions than about fruit need to be educated, indoctrinated, and re-purposed. If they think the purpose of the ministry is to please them – they are mistaken. It is not – it is to please God. It is to Make Disciples. It is to do the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. They either are willing to be re-purposed or not. It can either happen at their current church or somewhere else. When they leave the church, they will have much less authority or “say so” than they currently think they do, or are entitled to, especially if they have inhabited leadership positions in church.
A leader who threatens to leave your church is literally holding your ministry hostage. He or she is a terrorist. Do not negotiate with terrorists. If they are a large contributor, give them their last months contribution back.
Worst case scenario:
What about a church split. I think that most church leaders fear this more than anything. Church splits can be painful, dividing even families, and can hurt the ministry’s effectiveness.
Lemonade from lemons:
Maybe you should consider turning the split into a plant. If the difference of opinion is not over doctrine, but something less essential (tradition), rather than parting company in anger, support that leader and maintain a healthy relationship – plant a new church. Especially if the ministry overall is healthy, growing or maintaining and producing fruit. Let God find a way to make a problem into an opportunity to produce even more fruit.
Over the years, I have heard lots of arguments against systems thinking in church. Most of the time the argument is phrased “It’s not _________ to run the church like a business”. Over the years I have heard many words or phrases fill in that blank, but never “effective”, or “reasonable”, or “helpful”. What this tells me is that even though church leaders believe that something will help, they believe that for some reason God has prohibited them from doing that thing. This makes absolutely no sense to me. If you are not violating other biblical principles, or committing specific sins – why would God prohibit something that helps? I am sorry – that is just plain dumb.
Some reasonable objections exist so lets talk about them first:
- “Its all about money” – many ministries have fallen into temptation around the misuse of financial resources. So running a church like a for profit sounds like a bad idea, but isn’t it all about what you do with the money? If the monies are spent on missions and outreach – and ministry programs, there is integrity, but it seems very un-churchy. Like bingo and raffles and bake sales – just do it the old fashioned way – tithes and offerings. More churches apply systems thinking to fundraising than any other aspect. This is especially true of building campaigns, so when it feels like the church spends more energy on fundraising than it does on producing fruit, something is definitely amiss.
- “Its not very loving” – I think that at times, the policies of some churches do not reflect the love that believers are supposed to express toward one another. When policies are designed to make it easier for staff, or ministry leaders, but less friendly to those being ministered to, especially when the policies are administered with a particularly legalistic approach, this criticism rings true. Yet in order for the body to grow, there must me some organization and decisions must be made in a way that is fair and not partial to any person or group. Policies must be administered with enough lovingkindness to reflect both fairness and sensitivity.
Then there are the objections that just seem like excuses:
- “it is unspiritual” – If we plan every aspect of our ministry, does that not diminish our faith in God? If we are emphasizing the plan, how can the Holy Spirit lead us? Why would anyone think that the Holy Spirit would not simply lead the planning process. Besides, every ministry plan changes, when the actual ministry starts and we learn what really works and what doesn’t. But the unspiritual objection is not a good excuse to “fly by the seat of your pants and hope for the best”.
- “It is unscriptural” – In Systems Thinking In Ministry I already addressed this one, but let me hit this again, there are many examples from both new and old testaments about heroes of the faith who tackled difficult challenges by planning, and being good stewards of the resources God provided them.
- “It diminishes our faith in God” – While this seems right on the surface, because an emphasis on human plans and human means can take our focus off of God, if I recall the analogy of the farmer, this also is not rational. The farmer must plan which crop to plant in what order, and how to cultivate and care for the crops to ensure a good harvest, but the elements of nature are all beyond his control – just like in our ministry. So what if the farmer simply threw up his hands said – “Well it is all up to God anyway, so why work so hard, why be intentional about my farming – just do a little here and there and see if God blesses it.” Do you think that this farmer will reap the same harvest as the one who was diligent? So why would we expect our ministry to be any different? When God blesses our diligence and our Intentionality, we also recognize that He is the one who made the fruit. And that increases our faith, instead of diminishing it. When we measure and celebrate our harvest, we magnify the God of the harvest, and our faith in Him is magnified as well.
So in dealing with the criticisms that I have heard of systems thinking, what I want to say is this:
- Our intentionality and diligence are neither unscriptural, unspiritual, nor do they diminish our faith.
- We need to ensure that we are intentional about producing spiritual fruit and not earthly results.
- We need to contemplate how our policies, procedures, and plans are felt by those who are helping in the ministry, and by those who are being ministered to.
- The Great Commission must be tempered by the Great Commandments.
When we can do these things, the arguments against systems thinking in church are not so terribly relevant.
Ephesians 2:10 – For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (NASB)
What I have always known from this verse, is that we (Christians) were created to do good works (our reason for remaining on earth, and not going immediately to Heaven), and that God, Himself created opportunities for us to do them. But what I am just now understanding is this:
- God does not need us to accomplish His work.
- He allows us to participate in His work.
- Our participation in God's work deepens our understanding of God and his plan.
- God blesses us through our participation in His work.
If I were to summarize the above points, what is clear is that it is all about God's work. In ministry, we get off track when we forget that the work is God's work. Jesus himself said that he did not come here to do his own work, but the work of the One who sent him. As soon as we realize that ministry is not about us, then our attitude is right.
So what is "Our Part" in God's work? It is being ready, willing, and available to take advantage of opportunities to serve the Lord in church, with friends, at work, anywhere we find opportunities to share the gospel, to encourage other believers, to support God's work, to demonstrate God's love… We should do it.
As ministry leaders, how can we approach this?
- We can help new believers get started by organizing "light weight" opportunities. Short term committments, and lightweight service opportunities are great ways to get new people involved. Make sure that there is a clear path for them to move into more significant service roles as they are ready.
- We can make sure that our volunteers and potential volunteers are aware of opportunities to serve and to help. Somethimes ministry fails, because potential volunteers are not aware of the needs of the ministry. How will they know if you don't tell them?
- We can make a clear path for new volunteers to approach us. How do I plug in? For new people, it is often intimidating to ask how can I help? There should be a regular and accessible way for people to know about needs of ministry programs.
- We can manage our resources to help ensure that volunteers do not overcommit or commit to burnout. This can be tough, including recommending the elimination of a program that cannot be supported with staff – even though there is fruit. If people know there are needs, but the Spirit does not move any to volunteer, then that can signal God's direction to change programs.
- We can make sure that our volunteers understand our values around ministry. That it is God's work we are doing, and the the goal of all ministry is to produce fruit.
Ministry is hard. It is unpredictable, and sometimes even when the ministry is fruitful, that is harder still. I said that the biblical principle behind fruit is multiplication, so if you are going to be fruitful, you have to plan to multiply. Honestly, I think most of us plan to add.
Fruit exceeding all expectations:
So what happens when your fruit exceeds your expectations? Well, it rots. That is the sad truth. Fruit that is left lying around doesn't grow, or multiply, or even add. It rots. A ministry that does not plan to multiply, probably ends up with a bunch of rotten fruit. What does this look like? In a church, it looks like a revolving door – people who come, and then leave because they don't plug in. It can look like a congregation that is mostly spectators or that are complainers. It can look like people expecting the church to do for them, rather than them serving others with the church. At the end, it probably looks like a church that has stopped growing or has started to recede.
How do you plan for growth? You have to start with your resources. How are we going to use the resources we have? How can we make new believers? How can we take new believers and equip them to serve in simple capacities? How can we equip them to share their faith? How can we equip them to lead others? How can we equip them to be a shepherd? What are these time lines like? How then having equipped them, can we provide opportunities to serve, to share, to lead, to shepherd? How can we continue to encourage them in each of these activities and roles until they mature?
Back to our resources! What are our resources? What collection of gifted and talented individuals has God provided to carry out His work? Do we have resources who are ready to share their faith and lead people to Christ? Do we have people who can mentor and disciple new believers? Do we have people who can lead them in service opportunities? Do we have resources for training people in leadership? As God produces fruit from our labor, we get new resources; new gifts and talents to add to our resource pool. Who is the manager of the resource pool? Who knows what untapped gifts and talents we have available? Who understands the resource needs that we have in terms of gifts and talents?
Why all the questions?:
Because God doesn't have just one way for His ministries to work. He didn't prescribe any methods. He expects us to figure it out. At Pentecost, when 3000 believers were added to the church, do you think that the Apostles had a plan? Probably not. But pretty soon they figured out that they needed Deacons to help serve. I hope that my short list of questions has stimulated to think differently about ministry.
I don't believe that there is one surefire way to make ministry work. I am convinced that failing to plan is planning to fail. I don't mean that all details have to be known in advance, but if God expects us to fulfill the great commission, then we should at least have a plan that reflects our understanding of our intention to do so.
Changing the plan:
So what happens, when the plan doesn't produce fruit? Maybe its time to change the plan? Maybe our methods are not relevant to the community we are trying to reach.
Maybe we have organized differently than the resources that God has provided. Maybe its time to adjust the plan to improve the harvest.
Know the plan:
If a ministry had a plan to fulfill the great commission, and everyone who was involved in the ministry knew the plan, and how their role was key to the success of the plan, how do you think those people would feel about the ministry, and their role in it? If there was a plan that very few people were aware of, how would that help the rest of the people who were involved? Not much.
How many churches or ministries have you experienced that had a plan like this? How many have you heard of? I have been a member at a few churches, some big, others small, and none of them have had a plan to use all the resources that God provides to produce the maximum fruit. If the plan existed, it was so poorly communicated that nobody knew the plan. If the plan existed, it was so poorly executed that it was not recognized as a plan. I have heard of churches that think like this, but I have not seen their plan. How excited would you be if you were serving at a church that knew how it was going to fulfill the great commission? Me too.
One last question:
Can you imagine a church or ministry that has a plan that answered all of the questions above not being a truly awesome expression of God's power in the community? Can you imagine that the people involved in that ministry or church are not totally excited about the ministry? I guess that was two questions…
Measuring is something that we tend to be afraid of. We feel that it is so corporate, so business like, so unspiritual.
If measurement is unspiritual, why in Acts 2:41 – does it count the believers who were added to the body at Pentecost? Because measurement is required for celebration.
When God talks about the harvest, He doesn't talk about a puny, pathetic, barely able to keep us alive harvest, He talks about abundance. If God is talking about an abundant harvest, why are we satisfied with puny, mediocre, adequate harvest? How can we tell the difference?
All of the words that I used to describe the harvest are words of measurement. When the harvest is abundant, we celebrate. We celebrate the works of God in delivering a bountiful harvest. How do we know whether the harvest is bountiful or mediocre? We measure it.
Is measuring fruit biblical? I think it is. I am not talking about measuring incidentals, but real fruit. Incidentals are things that may or may not correlate with real fruit. BIPs is an incidental measurement – what are BIPs? Butts In Pews. Sunday morning attendance is not a good measure of fruit. You can get more people to attend by putting on a good show, than by preaching the truth of the gospel. Small group attendance is not a good measure of fruit. You can have a lot of small groups and many people attending, but no discipleship or personal growth.
So how do you measure evangelistic fruit? How do you measure discipleship fruit? The measure is more about completion than showing up.
How many people made decisions for Christ? How many were baptized? How many completed a "foundations of the faith" class. How many completed a 2 year intensive discipleship program. How many are serving on a regular basis? How many are serving out of their giftedness? How many have met the qualifications of deacon or elder? How many have been sent into a mission field?
I would be willing to wager that your church or ministry does not keep great statistics about these things. So how can your congregation celebrate the fruit if they are not aware that it is being cultivated? The celebration of God's results is where we rejoice in the evidence that God is alive and at work in our midst. It is when we all get to say, "If God can do that for [him/her] He could do it for me? Our faith is encouraged, and we are challenged when we see God at work in the lives of others.
There is nothing better than counting the fruit to inspire us to participate in the harvest!