Category Archives: Models of Ministry

Notes taken while re-inventing church – 03

The numbers game is one of the trickiest in the God world (aka church). There are at least three pieces to this dynamic.

1. We all say it isn’t about ‘how many’, but we all compare our ‘how many’ and feel either inferior or superior because of it. Some of us more than others.

2. Then there is the sustainability dilemma. If the church is going to support itself it takes enough people to make that feasible. But then it isn’t about making money, or guaranteeing an income for the pastor and other staff.  

3. On the more positive side we know that we have a responsibility to grow in both depth and breadth. Not one or the other.

As you evaluate your ministry try dealing with the numbers game this way: Numbers are important. They let you know some very important things about the sort of systems and resources needed. The numbers help you set goals that match your vision and calling. And they tell you whether your ministry is growing or shrinking. Remember, the answer to “Why?” is the important piece to this.

But while that bigger number is important, the key number is always ‘one.’ Never take your focus off of the individual. What is each person’s experience who enters your doors, who attends a small group gathering, who is encountered at a service event, who has a crisis in their life and needs your community’s ministry, who is met by a person shaped by your community? Who are you for the person standing right in front of you, right now? There is no such thing as the community’s experience, or the neighborhood’s reaction to your church. It is the experience and reaction of each individual. Build, equip, structure your community to be about the number that always comes first, one.

When you’re not the one

As a pastor I feel a strong responsibility to ‘be there’ for people. That’s not a bad instinct, but sometimes I can’t. It is easy to feel as though I should do whatever it takes for the people God has called me to serve. Strong theological themes like ‘sacrifice,’ ‘servanthood’ and ‘self-expenditure’ come to mind. But then there are other messages like self-care so I am there for the rest of the flock, not just the one that is lost. I also believe that the ministry I’m called to give myself away for is more than my role as pastor of a church. My larger ministry includes first of all my family. If I give everything to someone in my congregation who is hurting, who calls out to me, what about myself and my family? Dilemmas of limits and boundaries versus trusting God in all things challenge me.

Paul is oft quoted for saying he had become “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9.22) and maybe he did… few people gave as much as consistently as Paul, but are we all called to be Paul? And didn’t he lose his temper with some congregations and groups? Didn’t he refuse to stay and care for nascent congregations in order to fulfill his larger role in ministry as an apostle, leaving others to stay, care and nurture?

Jesus wasn’t the person for everyone either. He healed and ministered to many, but not everyone. He taught, he healed, he moved on. I suppose he didn’t give up on the Jewish authorities, but he sure didn’t lose any sleep over their inability to figure out who he was. I note that Jesus didn’t chase Nicodemus down, just messed with his mind (spirit) when Nicodemus kept coming back for more. Jesus even walked away from Nazareth concluding that a prophet just isn’t going to ‘be the one’ for  his hometown (Mt 13.54ff).

It’s complicated, but I don’t think I can or should be everything any one person needs at all costs.

I still struggle with the tension between giving of myself without measure and drawing the line  saying I can’t do it, but I am also growing in my appreciation that it is a mark of spiritual/personal maturity to discern the difference and act accordingly. It also drives me forward on intentionally crafting a community made in which people will, all in all, be there for each other. I don’t assume responsibility to be the one for everyone or anyone else, rather I  assume responsibility that the culture, systems and support are there so that we can be the sort of community where the right person will be there to be the one.

Pastors can be their family’s worst pastor

I know many pastors and church developers read this site, so here is a series of thoughts that I’ve been discovering or been taught. Hopefully you’ll be able to implement what is of value before you have to learn them the hard way – like I did…

You’ve heard people say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” well, not always true. Some of the characteristics that make me a better pastor for my congregation, make me a worse pastor for my family. In particular it is being there for the congregation. Always being available is great, but if you are, your congregation and community will take advantage of you, and you will not be available for your family.

Message to your congregation/community: “You are important to me!”

Message to your family: “Other people are more important to me!”

Spouse and kids can be (and rightly so) hurt and resentful. And how can they argue?!? You are doing good and important stuff. The laundry list of the things I get dragged into each week stuns me, and the little my family hears about it often shocks them. Not only is it good and important, but it is supposed to be God’s work. How can your kids, or your husband or wife, compete with that? How can they say, “I want more of you. Don’t give so much to God.” They can’t. Well actually, they often do, but they do so through rebellion, giving up on the church, God or you.

Your kids just want a dad, or a mom. They don’t want you to be a pastor, or a superhero for St. Whatever’s.

Boundaries are part of the answer. Have inviolable time set aside for the family. Don’t just make sure you are at the important events in their lives, set aside enough space to be part of making the memorable, unimportant moments.

Don't be SuperStupid

Don't be SuperStupid

Better than boundaries is making sure the ministry of your congregation belongs to the congregation, not you. Don’t worry, you won’t become dispensable. The “S” on your chest may just be standing for “Stupid” instead of “Super.” [That’s a Rick Warren line…] There is more than enough work that you will not be able to pass off to someone else. But the truth is that God pulled the people who make your congregation together because they need each other, not just because they need you. Design the DNA to turn your people to each other. More gifts, more hands, better ministry.

And you… you can do what you are uniquely called and equipped to do. And… you can let your family know that nothing God gave you is more important than they are.

Jacob’s Well in Sioux Falls

I’m in Sioux Falls today (Thursday, 10.23) and tomorrow at a “Churches Planting Churches” conference. I’m speaking about Jacob’s Well as a congregation that was launched by another church two years ago (Bethlehem Lutheran Church) and as a church that is launching a new church. We are planning our establishment of a second site in 2009). But while I’m sharing some of our learnings I am mostly just trying to learn everything I can. Keep me and all these people thinking brave thoughts about birthing new churches in many and various ways. Thanks!

More on Churches and Buildings

Some great comments on the last post have generated more thoughts.

Laurie, you DO make sense. Church buildings are an UnLearning issue. It is hard, and we are truly at a loss of how to operate and relate to THE church when the building isn’t there.

Monica, thanks for your thoughts too. First, this posting is meant to be an extreme statement to get us thinking, not a final and complete declaration. I would point back to Laurie’s comments though. Thinking outside the building, outside this church-box, is a hard adjustment. There are good uses and purposes of a building, but I’d challenge us to be more creative in how we meet those space needs.

Do we need to own buildings to house our presence? Can we rent, share, multi-use facilities? Cooperate with other, even non-church, organizations? There are many examples of this already. Unfortunately it is not the norm, and it is often perceived as a sign of weakness that a church borrows, rents or shares space.

Buildings tend to isolate us and separate the many Bodies of Christ from one another. We each need the ministry going on in our church. Ultimately I like the idea that we learn to head to people rather than a place when we have needs. After all, people, not places, will be how God acts sooner or later.

And face it, if I really want to go to a quiet place to meditate, I probably wouldn’t head to the kind of place we would be able to afford to do it, but would go to God’s great sanctuary out-of-doors, or to the Basilica, or maybe on the sidewalk outside our local police precinct, or the emergency entrance of HCMC anyway…

Lots of stuff to think about. Let’s be creative.

May churches build people always, and buildings when we must.

Guiding Authentic Spiritual Growth

I looked at the last post [“Which is the greater danger?  Heresy or Blind Compliance”] and I had to say, “Let people make mistakes.”  I completely agree with the concept of letting people take ownership of their faith even though they will and do make mistakes.  And that ownership only happens when people learn for themselves.  But that word “for” is a big one.  It is “for themselves” not “by themselves.”

That means I don’t think it is helpful or responsible to let people wallow around in sloppy thinking or fall prey to deceptive thinking.  It happens too easily.

I’m going to start sketching out a formula for what I try to do, and I hope others will add comments and ideas and raise up examples that others have come up with.

One – Pray – The is a holy process that God’s Spirit is involved with.  It starts here, grows here and ends here.

Two – Scripture – Model a balanced approach to reading the Bible (primarily) and other writings.

Three – Vision – Supply vision for the purpose of faith and what it means to be a Christ follower in your context.

Four – Groups – Create and support opportunities for individualized learning and conversation.  Give general guidance to these experiences, but don’t manage them.

Five – Service – Encourage and give opportunities to people to practice what they believe.

Six – Listen – Leaders learn from what the larger body is discerning.  This allows the body to mature spiritually.

Start process over…

This was just a quick shot at the process… It is an inexact process and certainly full of holes.  Help me with them.  But then… maybe the holes are the faith part…

Wisconsin Dells

If you are in southwestern Wisconsin, by any chance, I’ll be keynoting a conference at the Kalahari Resort & Conference Center on Saturday, Nov 3 (9am-3pm). The conference is sponsored by the South Central Wisconsin Synod of the ELCA and is about helping congregations make the transition to attracting and keeping new generations who aren’t going to church right now. The title is actually “Are You Ready for What’s Next Growing Life-Giving Communities of Faith.More info.

I’ll paint the picture of the need for congregations to get out of ‘business as usual’ mode, but focus my time on laying out the paradigm of relevance and value needed and how it can be done in a way that can be contextualized. I’ll also be leading a breakout session called “From Unchurched to 2nd Time Visitor” to help congregations develop a heart and a strategy to reach and keep new people.

BONUS: Nate Bergengren and the band will be along as well. They will lead the opening and closing worship experiences and also provide a breakout session about how they understand and use music to reach people and connect people with the message of our worship service and each week and bring people into the presence of God. This won’t be just talk, they’ll show you! Many other breakout sessions by area church leaders will also be available. (Click ‘more info’ above.)

Anyone of any church background or non-background is welcome and I’m sure you can just show up, but I’d advise registering with the church office at scswoffice@scsw-elca.org or 608.270.0201. Hey, $20 will get you in and buy your lunch!

Don’t be a dip, be a brick

Okay, so that is a pretty flippant title, and probably not what we will say – even at Jacob’s Well, but I wanted to give you the sense of what I’m thinking.  Below is copy that is in our Sunday Paper (that is what we call the handout at our gatherings on Sunday.)

Building

the Well

Been drinking from the Well for a while?  Figure you might have something to contribute to making sure the well is full for others?  Then it is time to not just be dipping from it, it’s time to help build the well.

Mark your calendars now.  On Saturday, November 10, 9-noon (wake up food and beverages, and childcare up to age 10 provided) we will have a special experience for people who want to do more than just dip, they want to build!

This is for everyone.  Whether you’ve only been coming for a few weeks but know this is home, or whether you were here when Jacob’s Well was just an idea.  Does this sound like membership?  Probably, but it isn’t about getting your name on the roles, it is ‘honest, real, thinking and casual’ like the rest of Jacob’s Well.  We think it is the next step you’re thirsty for!

Who wants to be a member?

You will be assimilated

That’s the Borg Cube from Star Trek. Remember them? They are the ones who cruise the galaxy and ‘assimilate’ everyone so they are no longer who they were, but who the Borg are. No one wants to be one, except those already in. When we talk about becoming ‘a member of the church’ people look at us like we are the Borg invading their otherwise happy universe. In fact, even of our ‘regulars’ at Jacob’s Well (who invest generous amounts of time, passion, expertise and money in the community) react like, “You’re kidding, aren’t you? We aren’t going to do that ‘membership thing’ are we?”

Yet as David Stark taught me some years ago, the problem isn’t that people won’t commit anymore, people commit to all sorts of things all the time. Got a cell phone contract? I rest my case. The question people ask is “Is it worth my investment of time, money, energy, etc to make the commitment?’ Likewise, when I talk about what happens when we do commit to something and understand the truth of our relationship to the growing, developing organism that we call Jacob’s Well they think it is great. When I ask them to think of being a member not as having their names in the book, but like my arm is a member of my body – the arm is lifeless and both are incomplete without each other – then they get it.

Clearly committing to a movement and a community they believe in isn’t the problem. The language is. “Member” triggers an allergic reaction that says, “Oh oh, they are just like all those other churches. They really are just an institution and want us to keep them alive.”

I believe committing to a local church in a very concrete covenanting way isn’t only a good thing, I think it is an essential part of committing to a life of following Christ. The local church is the manifestation of Christ’s body in a specific location. It is the means through which God can touch the lives of people in all fullness. We are looking at ways to talk about and do it.

Before I say what we are thinking of doing I would like to hear your thoughts, reactions and experiences.

UnFocused, UnConnected & UnCommitted

Following on the discussion of people liking Jesus and not liking the church, my experience  is also that people consider themselves ‘spiritual,’  but not ‘religious.’   Spiritual is a good thing, religious is not.  I know what they mean and feel.  Spirituality is the raw experience, the relationship with that which we call God.  Religion is how we practice it.  Spirituality is the real thing, religion is the human-made construct we use to follow it.  Religion should always be subservient to the spirituality it is trying to nurture.  This relationship has a tendency to turn itself upsidedown, however.

The problem is that without ‘religion’ (i.e. some form of organized pattern of nurturing and sharing that which is spiritual) ‘spirituality’ suffers.  In fact what I find is that most people who consider themselves to be spiritual, but not religious have an UnFocused, UnConnected and UnCommitted spirituality.  And consequentially an immature spirituality.  Those 3 words are very important.

This provides a church with a lens through which to examine what it offers and what it seeks to accomplish.

  • Can we help people focus what they call spiritual?  While we have to make sure our God is big enough, we don’t benefit from approaching God like a buffet line.  “I’ll take a little of this and a little of that in my god.”
  • Likewise can we connect people together on their spiritual journeys?  We can’t do it alone.  We weren’t meant to.  We need to learn from and teach each other.  We need encouragement and accountability.
  • Can we offer meaningful, relevant commitment.  Not like becoming due paying members of a club, but we grow when we “run the race with perseverance that was set before us.” (Hebrews 12.1)  Contrary to what many people are saying, younger generations arenot unwilling to make commitments.  (I know a 26 year old who just took on a 40 year mortgage!)  They just want to make sure what they are committing to is worth their investment.  Commitment to spiritual growth makes it happen.

We are all spiritual beings, and finding focus, connection and experiencing the benefit of commitment to what we value above all other things is like a cool drink to a parched and thirsty life.