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Posts Tagged ‘church leaders’

Years ago, I was a church leader in an ill church, and I really didn’t even know it! Certainly I had my concerns about different issues and challenges that we were facing, and I threw my influence as far as it would go to help enliven the church, but never did I think that the church might be in a death spiral!

Now, many years later, I ask myself why I did not recognize the very obvious signs of terminal decline. As I have searched my own soul, the following seem to me to be some of the reasons why church leaders do not even sniff the rottenness that is corrupting the Body!

1.     Too inexperienced. Few of our church leaders are trained church leaders. They are usually excellent volunteers, but how many would let an excellent hospital volunteer examine and diagnose you?  What if they couldn’t tell a mole from melanoma?

2. Too busy leading the church! The more rapid the decline, the more work there is for those trying to keep it alive! Hard to see imminent danger because of all the people needing your immediate attention.

3.     Too optimistic! Optimism–trust in God’s victory—is a highly desirable quality, but look at how difficult it was for Jesus to convince His closest disciples that He was going to die! Facing reality is also highly desirable.

4.     Too invested! Your family is in this church; your life-long friends are in this church; you grew up in this church! Unfortunately, none of these investments will save a declining church!

5.     Too satisfied. You have a great group! The building is paid for. Sure, you are a little smaller, but it is still alive for you!

6.     Too comfortable. It takes a lot of time and energy to change things. It is MUCH easier to just keep on doing what we have always done—and maybe it will work out!

7.     Too fearful. You can’t even go to the idea that this church might go away—too much pain involved!  Too many unanswerable questions about the unknown future.

8.     Too proud. After all, you are one of the leaders and things don’t fail that you are a part of! Not on your watch!

9.     Too tradition-bound. We’ve always done things this way and we’ve had rough days in the past, so if we just keep on course and not mess with the formula, we’ll be OK!

10.   Too much ownership! Granddaddy was an elder, Dad was an elder, and now I’m an elder. This is my church and my family’s church, and we will never let it fail!

11.    Too influenced by others. We’ve talked it over at the elders’ meeting, and the consensus is that  we are OK.  The members aren’t complaining.

12.    Too short-sighted. Even if it were true, what can anyone do about it. Might as well just ride to the end of the road.

13.    Too power-oriented. I’m one of the leaders. I can’t imagine not being a leader, so I think I’ll just keep on being a leader!

Rarely is leadership blindness the result of just one of the above Such lists are always an oversimplification of complex bundles of ideas and emotions, but no item on the list above allows church leaders to see clearly the plan of God for the people entrusted into their care.

I’ll end by just challenging church leaders to search their hearts and look for symptoms of reality blindness.  It’s not a fatal disease. Leaders can discover their vision and wisdom in time to take responsible action.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt.”   James 1:5-6

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Several ministers have responded to my last post “Can A Minister Have Close Friends?” commenting on the difficulties created by being a paid minister for a church. In general, their comments run something like, “When people think of you as their employee, it is hard for either one of you to be close friends!”  Or they say, “When people think they are paying you to do what they don’t have time or desire to do, they are generally not in a position to be a friend.”

Let’s think together about why these ministers feel this way.  See if you agree with these statements:

  • The “power” of an employer to hire or fire a minister makes close friendship almost impossible.
  • The “class distinction” between the ministers who are hired and the members who do the hiring makes a close friendship of equals almost impossible.
  • The financial dependency on the congregants to approve of a minister and his/her work never allows the minister to be authentic enough to form truly close friendships.
  • The common notion that a minister should be financially sacrificial, but the leaders and/or the members are free for unrestrained financial gain creates a tension that precludes true friendship.
  • The requirement in many churches of semi- or fully public disclosure of the minister’s salary creates both jealousies from those with less and/or condescension from those with more rather than close friendships.

Certainly there are exceptions, but isn’t there enough truth in every one of these statements to demand that we pause and reconsider why our churches are entrenched in a financial system that creates deep inequities, social liabilities, and fosters anything but a spirit of love?

I continue to believe that using a business/corporate organizational model —whether intentionally or by cultural default—is highly detrimental to our churches.  I’m talking about the elders being either the owners or the board of directors, the ministers/staff being the employees, and the congregation usually being the customers, with some exceptional churches seeing the members as unpaid volunteers.

Just limiting ourselves to the question of finances and friendships, I believe our churches would be better served and our ministers would not live without loving friendships if we used a family model for church instead of a corporate model?

Tomorrow we will look at the differences between a corporate model for church and a familial model. 

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Last week, we asked ourselves questions to discover whether or not the mission committee at our church works in a silo—that is, works independently of the main streams of church leadership and other primary activities of the local congregation.  Here’s the link if you missed that post:  Does No One Understand the Mission Committee: There Might Be A Reason

Before we explore remedies, let’s look at possible causes of silo organization.  If we can identify causes, then, I believe, we can do more than just address symptoms! We can cure the disease, not just manage it.

  • Silo organization can result by defaulting rather than strategic thinking. Since many larger corporations are organized by departments/divisions, each with its own budget and budget manager, those brothers who organize the church leadership into separate committees are just imitating what they have done at work.  There are other models to consider, for instance, the model of the physical body or perhaps the family.
  • Silo organization becomes a greater temptation as size of the church grows! The larger the church, the more difficult it becomes to gather input from multiple sources,  or to get diverse groups together, or to include larger numbers of people in decision-making processes, so the “natural” tendency is to opt for efficiency, moving decision-making into smaller, more specialized groups—the genesis of silos for many churches!!
  • Silo organization is often the result of the worship of specialization. I’m actually all for people learning lots about missions and using that experience and information for the good of the kingdom, BUT, I have seen mission committees dominated by the ex-missionary or the missions professor or the member who attended the last missions workshop, all to the detriment of the kingdom because no one knows so much that they can’t learn from someone else! No one’s experience is universal! No one set of mission principles works in every circumstance!
  • Silo organization may occur because of the budgeting process. If your budget is broken down into categories like local ministry, adult education, foreign missions, benevolence, building and grounds, then it is very easy to make two mistakes:  organizing your committees according to budget categories and assigning full responsibility for that portion of the budget to that one committee. 
  • Silo organization can happen with power players who want control of a fiefdom! If one person has to approve all the decisions; if only one person can sign the checks; if the meetings are just rubber stamping what one person wants to do; if one person sets the agenda for every meeting; if even one or two of these things are true, you are probably a member of a little kingdom within the church, no matter how benevolent the dictator is.
  • Silo organization often exists because of fear! While fear apparently is very real in industry because of job security issues, I tend to think that at church fear may be over loss of influence or loss of a sense of purpose, maybe even loss of relationships with certain missionaries. 
  • Silo organization can simply be a church tradition. Oops—the way we have always done it . . . . Surely I don’t even need to comment on that.

All of these First Causes are so common that I’m pretty sure many of you are saying, “Of course we do that. How else could it be done?” 

If you are a church leader and feel like there is always a little tension with the mission committee,

or if you are a mission committee member and feel like church leaders are always sticking their fingers into your business, or that they don’t understand how important this committee is;

If you are a minister and are frustrated by the lack of synergy and/or cohesiveness between the working leadership groups in your congregation, or

If you sense an allegiance anywhere in your congregation to a sub-group over the good of the whole,

look for silos, look for those who love silos—and I’ll finish this thought next time with some suggestions for actions to take to both avoid and remove silos.

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I regret that some people think that I have a low opinion of the church. I assume they think that because I have said that we as a fellowship could fulfill the Great Commission better by doing a number of things differently than the way we have done them.  I respectfully disagree with them and want briefly to show you why I think I have a higher opinion of the church perhaps than even those critics.

The church of Christ

In a recent conversation, a group of mission committee members were wrestling with the fact that several of their members had become full-time foreign missionaries without actually being a part of the mission budget of the church.  Many individuals of that congregation were supporting these member-missionaries privately, giving their money directly instead of to their local church. In this particular case, the church mission budget also contributes to these missionaries, so the mission committee certainly approves of and encourages these member-missionaries, even treating them like their own missionaries to a great extent, but still the committee wrestles with the feelings that somehow the individual supporters were bypassing the church’s system and the money given outside of the church contribution was in competition or lost to the church.

Many years ago, Sherrylee and I were new members of a congregation and were looking for something we could do. Sherrylee decided to start a young mother’s class in homes during the week, which met a great need and took off like a rocket.  Several months after this class had begun, one of the elders of the congregation came to Sherrylee privately and began apologizing! He said he wanted to apologize to her for the fact that the church leaders should have recognized this need among young mothers in the church and should have begun this class.  He went on to say how appreciative he was that Sherrylee had taken the initiative to start the class, but now the elders would like to assume responsibility for it and let the staff be responsible for it.

It was all kindly said and well-intentioned—but it broke Sherrylee’s heart because she had seen a need and invested herself in meeting that need, only to have it taken from her and absorbed into the official program of the church.

I believe the church is much more than the official programs of elders, deacons, and ministers. Why aren’t all the activities of the members, done in the name of Jesus the work of the church?  Are we sometimes guilty of thinking that if it is not a budget item, it is not really a work of this local church?

Sherrylee and I have fought for years—usually unsuccessfully—to keep people from describing Let’s Start Talking as a parachurch ministry.  By this, they mean an organization other than the church that is doing work similar to what the real churches do. So what’s wrong with this designation?

We have always argued that everyone involved in LST is a Christian and a member of a local church, so we are also church—not something other than church.  For most of our 31-year history, LST has been officially under an eldership. Only in the last few years was the ministry organized under a board of Christians as opposed to an eldership, mostly because of the size of our budget and because of Internal Revenue Service’s rules.  Still, we are doing everything we do as a ministry to advance the kingdom of God and to help people go into all the world. We are acting as members of God’s church—not as anything other than the church!

So I want to argue that I have a very high view of church and that those who misunderstand this may be locked into a view of church that is defined by bricks and mortar and by staffs, committees, and budgets.

Open the doors of our churches! Empower all members to initiate, to search for areas of service, to solicit others to join them in good works that advance the Kingdom of God!

I am not saying that we should do away with our collective works, but church leaders need to be careful about hearing their top-level decisions as the entire voice of the church.  Everywhere we go, we hear of churches working on getting their members to be externally focused! Congratulations to those churches that succeed in this worthy goal without it being controlled from the board room!

I love God’s church! 

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Building a new airplane is easier than changing out an engine while the airplane is flying! For existing churches, shifting to a new model for doing mission work is more like the latter than the former.

I recently had a lengthy conversation with the minister of a new church plant about how his church could adopt a new paradigm from the beginning of its existence; I also have been approached by a person wanting to do missions that would like to explore establishing a different way of doing support/oversight.

I’m eager to continue these conversations and work on the very practical questions that arise when building a new plane—but I’m also scheduled to talk to a couple of established churches in the near future who have established mission programs, but who feel the need for re-thinking the way they do mission work.  This is the more difficult–but not impossible— task!

A Plan for Transitioning

Step One:  Reach consensus on the desire for a better model for the church’s missions program.  If the call for change is coming from the elders, perhaps the preacher, then it is easier for the mission committee, the current missionaries, and the members of the congregation to be persuaded.  The lower in the church hierarchy the call for change begins, the more difficult it will be to reach consensus.  The most resistant person/group is likely to be where the most ownership/control of the mission program currently lies—unless they are the ones calling for change! 

Step Two:  Establish the goals and the broad parameters for the new model.   For instance, if a church wants to adopt a greater member-driven, relational model as I have been suggesting, then the goals might be something like these:

  1. 80-100% of the total membership of the church will be actively involved in mission activities, including local outreach of every kind, short-term missions, youth missions, internships, and co-mission groups that support missionaries with prayer, oversight, and financial support.
  2. All future missionaries will be raised up from among our members.
  3. Current missionaries will transition to support from a Comission* group over the next three years.
  4. More members will contribute more funds to support more missionaries than ever before.
  5. The church’s Mission Committee will be transformed into a group whose sole mandate is to achieve the mission goals of the church as stated above.

Step Three: Begin to educate and to implement!  Start by reconstituting the Missions committee—perhaps with new people, but not necessarily. The most critical factor in reconstitution is that the new Mission team is 100% on board with the new model.

This is the team who is now responsible for educating members, for instance, about Comission groups. These are the people who will need to work with the preacher and ministers, and especially with the youth and adult education program to encourage a vision and a desire for missions of all kinds from all members.

It might be that those on the earlier Mission committee who are closest to the established missionaries would be enlisted to help them understand the change and to assist them in developing a plan/strategy for building their Comission group.

Yes, there is a process of deconstruction that is occurring; the old engine has to come off. The biggest fear, I suspect, is that in the process of attaching the new engine, the plane crashes, that is, the current missions efforts disintegrate.

Here are some of the bad scenarios that could occur:

  1. The people with power won’t give it up! It could be an elder or elders, it could be a missions committee chair or person, or it could be the missionary the church has supported for thirty years!  If they cannot be persuaded, then either they have to be removed from their position of power or the plan to change has to be abandoned.  There is no workaround here!
  2. Supported foreign nationals are virtually unknown to the local members.  National evangelists on American support have to be put in a different category from American missionaries on church support. We cannot lightly abandon people who have no other obvious means of support. The American church has a moral obligation to help their national worker find a new means of support and to continue helping them until they do. (This is one reason I’m almost always opposed to national preachers getting American support.)
  3. Members are not willing to support a current American missionary.  Since we are talking about moving to a relational model of support/oversight, an American missionary that has no relationship with Christians in the U.S. is going to have great difficulty building a Comission group.  Since relationships were not originally a prerequisite, I do believe a church would have to provide a missionary ample time and opportunity to establish new relationships before moving them out of the budget.

I’ll close with some lines from Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll that seem somehow appropriate here:  How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle! 

Next, I want to address one of the strongest criticisms addressed to me in the course of these latest posts: “Mark, you have a very low opinion of the church!”  What do you think?

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The person who desires to become a full-time missionary supported by churches of Christ has an extraordinarily difficult mountain to climb—unduly difficult—before they will ever reach the mission field. Many never attempt to climb the mountain, and others fall off the mountain in the attempt.

 The current support/oversight paradigm among churches of Christ discourages both potential and existing missionaries. The results are too few long-term missionaries which means less mission work and fewer souls hearing the story of Jesus—none of which can possibly be pleasing to God!

I want to challenge us to rethink the oversight-support model for long-term mission work from churches of Christ and look together at a different model of oversight/support that will lead, I believe, to more missionaries who stay longer and can reach more people more effectively.

Let’s first work our way through the whole process of becoming a missionary as it generally happens among churches of Christ.

First Decisions

 When someone is motivated to become a missionary, he/she/they usually will go through a series of decisive steps before they actually can begin their work.  The basis for all of these decisions is usually the point of first inspiration.

  • If they were inspired by a short-term mission experience, then they want to return to the field they first experienced and work in a similar manner to the missionaries with whom they have worked.
  • If they were inspired by a teacher/mentor, they will make their choice based on the teacher/mentor’s experiences.
  • If they were inspired by a challenge or a public presentation, they will look for an expert (mission professor, missionary, preacher, mission organization.) to help them proceed.
  • Decisions about the field of work are most often driven first by inspiration, followed usually by short-term mission experience in a field or a short survey trip. The experiences and information gained are then supplemented with interviews with current and past missionaries to whom the potential worker might have access.
  • Decisions about the type of work are more difficult.  
  1. First plans are often very broad plans, such as church planting, strengthen the local church, campus ministry, even community outreach.
  2. Some plans are method specific; for example, potential missionaries might decide to start house churches, or do children’s work, or do media-based evangelism.
  3. First plans made by mission teams are often very personality and role specific. For example, the team might have one couple that likes children, so they will plan to do children’s work, while another team member wants to preach, so they will plan for public preaching. Overall their plans still tend to be broad.
  • Decisions about means and types of preparation depend mostly on those advising the future missionary.
  1. Undergraduates/graduate students at Christian universities may begin by taking general mission courses and seeking contact with mentors in mission study groups.
  2. Some desiring to do mission work may seek out higher level mission training, for example, through ACU Summer Mission Seminar, SIBI Advanced Mission Training.
  3. A few parachurch ministries offer mission training.  Continent of Great Cities and Missions Resource Network come to mind right away.
  4. Other people will look for short-term internships on the desired field, if possible, with a current missionary.
  5. Many will work with American churches—often required by sponsoring congregations– and learn to work with and evangelize through an American model.And there are those who will go with little or no specialized training other than their own life/church experiences. This is especially true of those who are a bit older when they decide to become missionaries.

If you haven’t already, go back through this first section and notice the following:

  • All initiative and initial actions come from the person desiring to become a missionary, who is most often untrained, inexperienced, perhaps not completely educated, but highly motivated.
  • While capable professors, mentors, and friends are available for guiding potential missionaries, the number of options for fields, types of work, and for training are enormous. In my experience, most go along a path of inspiration and least resistance rather than a strategic path.

And this is the easy part! Next, I want to lay out the ways we in churches of Christ have typically supported and overseen foreign mission work—and why it is an unsuccessful paradigm.

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Fifth in Guest Series by Tim Spivey, senior minister of New Vantage Church (San Diego, CA)

It’s one of the most frustrating things in the world to have a deep passion for something and not be able to get leadership to care much or embrace it. Few places have I seen this frustration more common or misunderstood than when it comes to global evangelism. When you meet resistance proposing something to church leaders, it isn’t typically because they hate ministry or people or they want to be frustrating. The resistance you face is often based on stuff under the surface. Everything below is a generalization. However, if you are meeting resistance, some of these attitudes may be in play. Let the generalizations begin 🙂

In general, elders tend to fear conflict, ministers tend to fear failure. Church members tend to feel like the church is overstaffed and spends too much money on themselves. The minister feels like the church is under-staffed and under-resourced. None of this makes for easy persuasion or full buy-in from leadership.

If it were me, I would focus on getting the preacher on board first. Preachers tend to me more open to new initiatives and they know how to get the elders on board. Like it or not, they are also usually the functional leader of the church by virtue of having high visibility and an open mic for 30 minutes every Sunday. Some will disagree with this…but without the preacher’s support a ministry will have about half the octane it could have otherwise. The good news is that most preachers don’t know they have the power they have…and tend to care more about ministry than power-brokering anyways. However, when you propose something new, or want to go to the “next level” in global missions (or anything else), here are:

5 Things Your Preacher Won’t Tell You He’s Thinking (Some are reasonable, some aren’t)

  • “I think you might pitch the idea, and leave me with the workload.” Create a ministry that requires little more than vision-casting and cheerleading from him. Preachers enjoy these and do them well.
  • “I think you might blame me and the elders if it doesn’t work.” If it doesn’t work, don’t blame them.
  • “I think this will mean less money and human resources to carry out the work of the local church.” Most churches actually drastically underfund local ministry. I would recommend finding ways to get the job done without pulling additional funds out of local ministry. I would also find ways for the missions ministry to add value to the whole life of the Body…not silo itself.
  • “I need you to help me understand how this works, because people will judge the ministry’s success by the numbers.” This is sad but true. A ministry that doesn’t “work” will hurt credibility for all involved. Have a clear way to measure “success,” even if not by numbers–though numbers matter. Just make it clear.
  • “I’m always looking for new ministries that will work and bless the church, but ending ministries is nearly impossible. Offer to try it as a pilot or experiment, and have a concrete end game in mind.

If you can find a way to put these concerns (many of which are shared by elders) at ease…odds are…you’ll not only get leadership on board–you’ll have real champions for your area of ministry.

 

 

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