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Posts Tagged ‘mission committees’

Apparently I got so excited about blowing up silos that I forgot to address adequately two of the main areas for avoiding silos, that is, transparency and distribution of information. 

Real-life silos exist because different kinds of grains need to be stored and they need to be stored separately.  So the best functioning silos offer secure and appropriate storage to conserve the grains, and they isolate their grain and protect it from contact with any other grain.

Mission committees (or any other committee or subgroup) which protect, conserve, isolate, and/or separate are dangerous to the health of the church!  I hope that message has come through loudly and clearly in all of posts.

Let me offer you some suggestions for opening up your committee or your processes to avoid dangerous isolation.

  • Diversify your committee. I’ve already mentioned the possibility of establishing a rotating pattern of leadership in committees, so that no single person sits in first chair forever. Terms for committee members is also something to think about. The reason most committees don’t like new members is that they bring in new ideas. The reason committees need to add new members is for new  ideas!
  • Include members who will sync you with the whole church. You want to make sure that the mission committee’s goals and actions are in sync with the whole church, so why not invite one of the vision casters to be a part of the group. This might be an elder, a minister, or a member of a special committee.
  • Announce both your meetings and the agenda for the meetings publicly.  I understand that occasionally some delicate matters might need to be discussed privately, but 98% of all the committee meetings I have ever been in were not those kinds of meetings.  Why should they not be open meetings?  (I would challenge elders with the same question!)
  • Provide the most public platforms possible for your missionaries when they are with you! I know there was a time when missionaries reported by showing thousands of slides—but unless you are 55+, you don’t remember those days!  Most missionaries are barely acknowledged publicly in our churches, both when they are there and when they aren’t.  Sherrylee and I were sponsored by a very good church and supported by several other good churches—but even when we were in the states, if we did not ask for a meeting with the elders, if we did not fit the regular schedule of the mission committee, or if we were only able to visit a certain church on a non-church meeting day, then we would not even get a chance to talk to those directly involved with us, much less the other members of that congregation.
  • Publish both the goals of your committee as well as how you are working to meet those goals. At least yearly, the whole church should be included in your committee’s work through published information that they can study or refer back to later.
  • Encourage members to participate in the work at your mission sites! Short-term missions give members firsthand experience with the missions of the congregation.  Especially elders and ministers need that personal experience if they are to participate at home in promoting  missions as part of the vision of the church.

Keeping the members ignorant is a way of controlling them. Silo committees are afraid of new ideas and transparency.  Your mission committee needs to be as open, as transparent, as receptive to input, and as cooperative with all areas of the church as is possible for you!

 

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Blowing up silos is dangerous work! Relationships are threatened, church revenues may be threatened, and serious discontentment among certain subgroups of a congregation may result.  Let’s talk about ways to get rid of silos and try to avoid stepping on any landmines.

If you as a church leader see silos, if you as a member see silos, what can be done?

  • Decide if the fallout is worth it or not. I once heard about a deacon who would not give up the keys to the sound board at church—because he ran the sound board. That was his kingdom.  So is this little kingdom here worth the destruction that comes from blowing it up?  Good question! And there is no single right answer. In this particular case, the worship minister could not practice and the praise team could not rehearse unless it was convenient for this deacon with the keys to the sound board. So, very concretely, the effective worship of the entire congregation was held hostage by the sound board deacon.  The damage to the whole church was greater than the damage of losing this one family, so he was forced to give the keys up! 
  • Don’t destroy without having something better to replace it with.  I know of one congregation where one brother has been in charge of foreign missions for decades! He has done a very good job and served the church well, but his vision has not grown with the congregation, so now he is sometimes out of step with the whole church—but he doesn’t know it.  When someone has enough courage to tell him to give up control, there certainly needs to be a plan and people in place that will serve the church better than the good brother alone was doing! Blowing up silos is not the conclusion of the matter, just the means to a better end.
  • Know the difference between a battle and a war. Leading a rebellion against the elders because you can’t understand why they meet privately and you believe them to have silo mentality might succeed in forcing them out, but the damage done could destroy the whole congregation.  Breaking up the foreign mission committee because they refuse to give up their kingdom  might cost the church a family or two, but probably will not destroy the congregation—especially if there is something better to replace it with.  Destroying the congregation is losing the war; losing a couple of families is painful, but probably only losing a battle.
  • Address the challenges holistically, rather than particularly. Instead of announcing that the foreign missions committee is ruining the whole church because they dominate the church budgeting process, perhaps stepping back and looking at the whole budgeting process and addressing its inadequacies would be more productive.  Instead of painting a bull’s eye on one silo, why not look at the vision of the church as a whole and ask all subgroups to define themselves within that vision. Those that resist or have a hard time will be addressed by all those groups who define themselves or successfully re-defined themselves within the vision of the whole church. 
  • Take a long-term view.  So you think the long-term chair of the missions committee has too much control and not enough accountability. It is reasonable to think that it will not be a quick fix! You are going to have to be patient, working for peace as well as change. God is longsuffering, not willing any should perish but that all chairmen should come to repentance.  You can be longsuffering and patient as well.
  • Relieve fears. We said some people can’t give up control because they are afraid of what they will lose, for instance, like prestige, control, respect, and relationships.  Try alleviating some of those fears as part of the process. Honor people for what they have done. Assure them of relationships and respect. Celebrate the change in status, rather than the demise of the little king.
  • Act in love. If you sense hard feelings or disrespect in yourself towards that person or that subgroup, stop and examine your own heart before you do one more thing.
  • Don’t be afraid.

Christians are called to be peacemakers, so I do believe in living at peace with all people as much as it depends on me. I do know, though, that little kings and little queens of church territories are sitting on little thrones that don’t belong to them and that diminish the ability of the church to function fully and gloriously as the family of God or the body of Christ.

We must never allow other thrones inside the church than the throne of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! 

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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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The term silo effect is pretty popular in business and organizational circles.  You also hear about silo vision and silo thinking.  All of these phrases derive from agricultural storage silos, typically with each individual silo housing a particular kind of grain.

The assumption in anything silo is that each unit is segmented in such a way that there is little to no communication or exchange between the two silos.  When this happens in an organization you might see two departments which are, in fact, interdependent, but which have separate goals and are working in a counterproductive way—but they don’t know it, because they don’t talk to each other.

Your church may be a collection of silos!  Many are!  The elders are one silo, the minister and his staff are another, the benevolence group are another—and the mission committee is almost always its own silo!

Let’s just talk about mission committees.  Let me ask a few leading questions, and you be the judge as to whether your mission committee works in a silo:

  1. Does your committee include and people from other important church areas: elders, ministers, youth, adult education, women’s ministry?
  2. Does your committee make foreign mission decisions as part of the process of making local mission decisions? Local benevolence decisions?  Local youth decisions?
  3. Is your committee invited to participate in the vision-setting meetings of the church leaders? (Budget meetings don’t count! Planning a budget is not the same as setting the vision.)
  4. How many of your missionaries or mission points can the average member of your church name?
  5. How many weeks per year is your mission work mentioned from the pulpit?

So what happens when several different committees of the church work independently of each other? I mean they may have different goals, different processes, different timetables, and different organizational styles!  Is this the picture of a body working in harmony?

Read I Corinthians 12 from The Message and tell me if silos are good for the body of Christ?

 12-13You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything.

 14-18I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.

 25-26The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

 27-31You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.

Next I’ll offer you some suggestions for remedying the problem of a silo mission committee.  In the meantime, start making your own list!

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When our team went to Germany in 1971, we carried with us a written twenty-year plan, describing what we were going to do, how we were going to do it, and when we would accomplish it. This strategic plan was the product of our coursework at Harding, input from our guiding professor, and the impressions that we gathered from our four-day visit to Germany—before we had even selected Germany as our future mission site!

Our plan was not ill-conceived, it was prematurely conceived! We did not yet know the language, so we did not know the people. We had met two or three workers in Germany, but we did know who was wise  or whose work was effective. We did not even know if we were visiting growing or dying congregations there.

I know missionaries who strategically planned on getting jobs in their new country, only to discover when they arrived that local law would not allow them as foreigners to obtain work permits. I know of missionaries who planned on doing house churches, only to learn that apartments are too small and large gatherings are not allowed in private buildings. I know missionaries who have selected a site for a new church plant without even knowing that there was another congregation already there!

And churches have sent all of these missionaries! With support and oversight! What’s wrong with this picture??

I’d like to suggest that the problem is not with making a plan! No, I believe in strategic planning—well, with flexible strategic planning!  But I suspect that most mission plans are done prematurely, that is, before enough experience and information has been gathered to even produce a written draft, much less a concrete plan.

And yet, I would suggest that the vast majority of those wanting to be missionaries have a plan in their hands that is premature.  Why is this?

The answer to this question begins to touch on the core of many problems:  Anyone wanting to be a missionary has to have a concrete plan in order to convince one or more congregations to agree to support their work!  (I think they might get oversight without a plan, but not support—which says what about this process????)

So just think about the preposterousness of creating a mission plan based on what will sell to our congregations!  Imagine with me some of the more “critical” bases that would need to be covered:

  • Plan for a field that is popular right now. (In the 90s, you could get support to any country of the former Soviet bloc, but now the results are not as exciting, so better try China!
  • Plan for a field where the cost of living is low. You can forget getting support to a country where the cost of living is higher than the U.S.
  • Plan for a field where you can establish a self-supporting congregation within five years. Churches do not want long strategic plans.
  • Plan for a field that is accessible to the supporting church. Plane rides should neither be expensive or overnight!  Churches should be able to send their teenagers in the summer.
  • Plans should include some kind of humanitarian effort or community involvement because these are always successful and are great emotional touch points for future reporting.
  • Don’t project building projects or home purchases for long-term works. You don’t know which American mission committees are for them or against them.
  • Try to have something new in your plan that other missionaries in your field are not doing! Mission committees have heard all the old ideas before. (Think about that for a moment!)
  • Plan to use the latest method that is currently being promoted, Use current buzz words! This will let potential supporters know that you have done your homework.

Conclusions

Good plans are essential, but good plans will be made with the integrity and efficacy of the mission work itself in mind, not for the promotional benefits!

I’ve said twice already that most plans are made prematurely.  I want to suggest in the next post that planning belongs to the time of preparation and is, in fact, part of the preparation—and that one of the biggest, most radical changes that we need to make in churches of Christ is in how future missionaries are prepared.

This series is generating lots of comments. Many current and former missionaries are jumping into the conversation—which is just great!  Be sure and take time to read what these people with firsthand experience are saying! 

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