Thoughts of a ministry veteran rethinking everything from the ground up. Our Mission is catalyzing leaders to accelerate their movement toward the vision of every person living, growing and multiplying together as disciples of Jesus who demonstrate the Kingdom of God among all peoples.
You’ve seen this situation before: A beloved pastor of many years has gone and now there’s a new pastor. The congregation is finding it hard to readjust. Even small changes in direction feel threatening. There is uncertainty about where the church is going. What will happen? Is this a good direction? Should we trust this new pastor? What will we be losing if we do?
In the face of change, we very often run into strongholds of fear. Yet we need to find ways to face the fear in order to get traction and move forward. That can be confusing; it can feel uncomfortable; it can even feel like disloyalty. But the questions need to be asked in order to move forward in any direction at all, as opposed to being stuck.
Getting congregational buy-in is a big job. It’s also a process that many leaders aren’t comfortable with or aware of. Yet it needs to be intentionally engaged to move forward. That process begins by identifying who the key leaders and influencers are—whether official or unofficial. Who has the voices that are being heard? These are the people you’ll need to get on board if you want to accomplish anything at all.
How do you go about getting this alignment? One of the most significant processes is listening. That requires time and relational investment. It requires asking the hard questions and dealing with the fears and losses that are involved in taking any new direction—no matter how beneficial it might be. It’s still different; therefore, it still feels threatening.
Most of the time, creating buy-in means listening to those fears and acknowledging them. Sometimes just knowing you’ve heard their concern and can verbalize it back to their satisfaction, can alone be enough to lower people’s anxiety because they know they’re understood. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Part of that process is to acknowledge what you’re dealing with, confirm that you’ll love each other through the process, then ask them for help and input: “So how then do we get from A to B? If B is something God wants for us, how do we get there?”
In this way, suggestions for change can come from within. A positive future is something that others are increasingly recognizing that they want too. There’s a good future ahead, and it can come through them. Having change come from within rather from without is a way to help your people take hold of the revitalization process and make it their own.
Last week I wrote a blog entry about some parallels I saw between sustainable farming and healthy ministry practices. I was surprised by how many similarities I found. If you missed last week’s blog, check it out here.
Another parallel I discovered was in the history of farming and in the steps forward that need to be taken to achieve sustainability.
“Agriculture has changed dramatically, especially since the end of World War II. Food and fiber productivity soared due to new technologies, mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization and government policies that favored maximizing production. These changes allowed fewer farmers with reduced labor demands to produce the majority of the food and fiber in the U.S.”
Just as mass production and technology made possible the movement from many small farms to fewer large farms, a similar dynamic has taken place among churches. Although most Americans still attend small or medium-sized churches, we’ve also seen a rise in the number of mega-churches. Why? The invention of the automobile and commuting. The specialization and professionalization of ministry. The expectation of uniform goods and services.
But what is the impact on our health? The development of our future leaders? Our long-term sustainability and independence? I’m not against larger churches, but the questions are worth asking. After all, larger churches can also practice sustainability if they’re intentional about the choices they make. For example, getting people into small groups or other clusters maintains the relational connections and often the serving component as well.
Interestingly, the way forward for farms—and churches—that want to shift to sustainable practices looks similar as well:
“Making the transition to sustainable agriculture is a process. For farmers, the transition to sustainable agriculture normally requires a series of small, realistic steps. Family economics and personal goals influence how fast or how far participants can go in the transition. It is important to realize that each small decision can make a difference and contribute to advancing the entire system further on the ‘sustainable agriculture continuum.’ The key to moving forward is the will to take the next step.”
And so it is with us: “The key to moving forward is the will to take the next step.”
If you found this blog post helpful, you may also be interested in these leadership and/or coaching resources.
I often take long bike rides through the agricultural regions around Santa Rosa. The vineyards are beautiful, and I’ve noticed frequent signs stating, “This is a sustainable farm.” Not having farming roots myself, I wasn’t sure exactly what sustainable farming practices entailed. I assumed things like efficient water usage, crop rotation, and letting the ground lie fallow periodically so as to allow the soil to build up its nutrients.
“Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Ministry cannot just be about meeting needs now, but also about developing leaders for the future.
“In sustainable systems, the soil is viewed as a fragile and living medium that must be protected and nurtured to ensure its long-term productivity and stability.” For any long-term sustainability, churches must stay connected to the Holy Spirit and maintain healthy DNA.
“Sustainable farmers… maximize reliance on natural, renewable, and on-farm inputs.” Rather than trucking in outside experts, we need to look first at the resources we already have present in our local congregations and tap into those.
“A systems perspective is essential to understanding sustainability. The system is envisioned in its broadest sense, from the individual farm, to the local ecosystem, and to communities affected by this farming system both locally and globally.” Good ministry isn’t just about the church—it’s about the impact on the wider community also.
Take a look at this list of general sustainable farming practices– also from the article cited above— and see how they can apply to ministries and churches. I’d love to see your parallels in the comments section.
Drafting the values is the last stage in this five-part process of identifying core values for a church or ministry. To read the full series of blog entries, do a search for “identifying core values” on the Logan Leadership blog.
Drawing from the exercises that have gone before, compile a listing of 5 to 7 core values that represent your ministry. Define them if necessary. Then write bullet point lists of behaviors under each so everyone can see what types of specific, concrete behaviors reflect each value. Finally, make sure each value aligns with scripture and connect it to a specific scripture passage that is important to your group.
For example, one value might be “honesty and transparency.” One of the behaviors exemplifying that value might be “confessing our sins to one another with confidentiality.” A scripture that may reflect this practice might be James 5:16: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
When 5 to 7 values are fully drafted, complete with behaviors and scriptural support, people should be able to look at the list and assess the degree to which they are living out those values. They could, for example, point to specific people they are confessing their sins to. Someone could look at each behavior and ask about it: “How are you living out honesty and transparency? What does that look like for you? Tell me about a specific time. Give some examples.” In this way, everyone on the team can proactively grow toward these values, as well as providing a rubric of sorts that allows prospective team members to assess whether this team would be a good fit for them.
After engaging in listening prayer, identifying core behaviors, and sorting them into categories, it’s time for your team to begin reaching consensus on what your core values are. I find the affinity exercise helpful for this purpose. It allows all people to have an equal voice regardless of introversion/extroversion.
In a smaller group of, say, 4-6 people, give each person 7 post-it notes. Allow 5-7 minutes of silence while each person writes down what he or she would consider the core values, putting one value on each post-it note.
Then, maintaining the discipline of silence, have each person go and post their notes on a whiteboard. Continuing in silence, everyone can rearrange the post-it notes to cluster similar ideas together. Anyone can move anyone else’s notes.
Next, as the facilitator, take a marker and circle each cluster. Reach each of the notes in that cluster aloud. If the group senses that they fit, leave them there. If some don’t, move them to a miscellaneous category for a while. Then give each category a name reflecting the dominant value. It could be “honesty and transparency” or “serving the least of these”… whatever seems to best reflect what is written on the post-it notes.
Because this is a Spirit-led process, with a lot of thought and discussion having gone into the exercise on the front end (see previous series of blog entries), I find that the affinity exercise usually yields a digest or synthesis that has broad support and hits all the major value areas. The full process is designed to take people out of the cognitive space where many of us usually reside and open us up to what we are hearing from the Holy Spirit. It de-equilibrizes everyone as each person tries to discern what God has for this team.
Next up is the final blog entry in this series on core values: drafting the values.
After the team has brainstormed a long list of behaviors affirmed and practiced by the community, it’s time to reverse engineer those behaviors into value categories.
I like to use the bin sort exercise. Each behavior is written on an index card. Looking at the list of behaviors, I create approximately five categories, or bins. These bins can be represented by bowls or by different tables. If I see that several items point toward prayer and several others point toward honesty, those might be two of the categories and I would call one bowl “prayer” and another bowl “honesty.” The categories should be broad at this point. There’s also always one additional bin representing the miscellaneous category. Any behaviors that don’t fit clearly into any of the other bins go here.
Then we sort, putting all the behaviors into categories. When finished, we assess:
Is there one bin that’s much bigger than the others? If so, could it be divided into two different bins?
Are there some bins with very few behaviors in them? Potentially these represent aspirational values, or perhaps they are not as important as we initially thought they were.
Would some bins be better renamed based on what’s in them?
When you look at the behaviors in the miscellaneous bin, do you see any themes or groupings? Do any additional bins need to be created?
The end goal is a set of categories from which everything else can be derived. These categories then are fine-tuned as values. There might be things like “servanthood” or “Christ-likeness” or “cultural relevance,” in addition to “prayer” and “honesty.” Underneath each of these are specific behaviors to help everyone understand the difference between the value and the behaviors that represent it.
Finally, look for anything that’s obviously missing. For instance, maybe you don’t see much related to “mission” or “outward focus.” You may have missed a category, or you may have discovered a value you’d like to work toward as a community.
Next up—and the topic of our next blog entry—is reaching consensus with your team.
To help facilitate the identification of core values, it can be helpful to start with behaviors and then work backwards. This process results in actual values rather than desired values. Actual values are those lived out in behaviors, while desired values are those that sound good that we’d like to be living out.
When asked about values, people often say the right things. We say what our values should be. But we also need to be honest about what they really are right now. What do our current behaviors say about our real values? Start with where you are, then compare that with where God wants you to be. Often there is a gap that needs addressing. We can be honest about that and take steps to grow in it.
Begin by giving each member of the team a pre-questionnaire to fill out separately, then bring them together as a team to discuss and see the similarities. The pre-questionnaire should focus on behaviors. What behaviors do we appreciate? What behaviors do we affirm? What behaviors are characteristic of us? What is it we do well? What would the surrounding community lose if our ministry closed its doors tomorrow?
This approach will provide actual values rather than desired ones, and it also makes the process less abstract. Potentially your team could have generated a list of 100 or so behaviors. An example of a concrete behavior might be “laying on hands and praying for people.”
From behaviors, we can reverse-engineer our way backwards into some helpful values categories… the subject of our next entry.
Determining core values needs to be a Spirit-led process. Although we borrow strategies and exercises from the secular world or businesses, we must never forget that we are part of the Kingdom of God. As such, God is leading, not us. We need to listen with an open heart and a spirit of sensitivity.
One way I like to lead teams in prayer is what I call “Asking God questions.” It tilts our hearts toward a posture of listening, and the practice is rooted in the Quaker tradition. This is a 45-minute period of waiting on God. Here are the rules of the process:
No statements, and no preambles. Questions only.
The first question asked is, “God, what would we be asking you?”
Then silence as people reflect and then pray out loud their questions.
Sometimes there will be long periods of silence in between questions. That’s okay.
Someone quietly writes down all of the questions as they are prayed aloud.
Examples of questions that might be prayed are, “God, what values do you have for us?” “How do you want our community to see us?” “What are ways we can serve?”
I find that this exercise works well not just for values identification, but for many other leadership issues where the team needs to hear from the Holy Spirit as well. And although the practice is originally from the Quaker tradition, it’s quite compatible with many different Christian traditions.
After the time is finished, the leader closes the prayer. Then he or she asks the group, “What words or pictures did you get as we prayed that may have been from God?” This allows people to process the experience and share what they were hearing.
Look for our next blog entry on the process of identifying core behaviors.
At the beginning of a new ministry or a church plant, leaders often discuss the issue of core values: What are we about? What do we stand for? What makes us different?
Yet for existing ministries, it can be helpful periodically to return to the question of core values and reevaluate them. One of the unexpected benefits can be preventing and resolving conflicts. The reason for this is that people act in alignment with their real values rather than with the stated values of the organization. Returning to the question of values and processing them can increase awareness and alignment. Bill Malick calls this “the need for agenda harmony.” I sometimes refer to it– from my choir days– as singing off the same page.
When people are not singing off the same page, the church can experience conflicts and even sustain leadership losses. Let’s take a common example. Some members value effort and inclusion– everyone should just do their best and that’s good enough and everyone should be included. Other members may place a value of excellence and results– people should do what they are good at with an eye toward a high level of accomplishment. So what happens when a young person who sings off key joined the worship team and they are trying? Then we run into competing values. These members will find themselves at odds with one another. One group will focus on the development of the young person and creating the supportive environment of a family. The other group will not find this state of affairs acceptable because the results are off-putting to those they are trying to reach.
Often churches experience conflicts when core values are unarticulated and unshared. That tension will lead to a slow divergence into “taking sides.” Returning to and reexamining values can bring clarity on what the roots of the problem are.
It’s worth noting that most churches have two sets of core values:
Ministry values: These are external values… how you go about the work you do.
Team values: These are internal values… how you work together as a team.
When one church engaged in a review process of their values, they realized that what they had been calling core values were actually points of theology. The list included things like baptism, communion, and the inspiration of scripture. Certainly those topics were important, but they were points of theology rather than lived-out values. So that church went about trying to re-determine their core values. The idea was to clarify what the church actually valued so that could be made clear for future potential leaders to ensure those values were shared, preventing similar conflicts among the leadership team in the future.
This is an outline of the process they followed. Each of these items will be expanded upon in future blog entries.
Note: This blog entry is excerpted and adapted from my upcoming book, tentatively titled The Church Planting Journey. We’ll be posting excerpts about once a month here and we’d love to hear feedback from you. We hope you are getting as excited about it as we are! And as we get closer to publication, we’ll give you the countdown!
In research done on the starting of new businesses, the key ingredient for success or failure was found to be time management. Entrepreneurs need to be focusing on the right things. It’s easy to spend monumental amounts of time on minutia, but what’s needed is a focus of energy on that which is truly important.
It’s surprising how much of good leadership relies on good time management. There are always many, many possible things to do, and many demands on the time of church planters. Yet we must all make decisions about how to best use our time during particular seasons of ministry. There are certainly times for putting out fires or dealing with crises or taking on difficult challenges, but if we are spending most of our time that way, we don’t have the availability for long-range planning for the development of the new church and its health.
Consequently, we need to be intentional about how we choose to spend our time. What will make the most difference? What can only we do? What will further the overall mission most effectively? It’s a matter of choices and priorities. Each planter might make somewhat different choices, depending on his or her gifts, best contributions, and season of life and ministry. There’s no one right answer all the time.
To manage our time well, we must:
Discern what’s important: Before we can manage time well, we need to take some time to discern what’s truly important for us to be doing with our time. Jesus regularly took time away to pray (Mark 1:35). We need to do the same, listening to the Spirit to hear from him about how we should be investing our time.
Recognize what’s necessary: Time management is not all idealism. It may sound good to say we want to spend all of our time doing ministry, but we need to take a hard look at our real-life situation. What relationships do we need to maintain? What are our current responsibilities? In different seasons of life, we may have aging parents, young children, or spouses with medical challenges.
Focus our Kingdom investment: After considering what’s required of us, we can then consider what ministry should look like in this season of life. What should our contribution be? We can’t do everything, but we should do something. What will that something be? Zero in on it.
Use our time intentionally: When we know what we are supposed to be focusing on, we then need to be intentional about how we use our time. Just “seeing how things go” is a recipe for wasted opportunities. At the same time, that doesn’t mean we never relax. On the contrary, using our time intentionally means proactively building in the rest we need—and protecting it from interruption. In this way, we can schedule our time to align with our priorities.
Evaluate and adjust as we go: The life of a church planter seldom goes according to plan. There will be interruptions, and some of those may be things we need to attend to. We can regularly reflect on how we are managing our time. What’s working? What’s not working? How can we build in the amount of flexibility we need while still remaining focused on what’s truly important? These are key questions for ongoing effective time management.
As church planters, you need to keep your family relationships, health, and spiritual lives on track so you and your ministry are sustainable over the long haul. As Bobby Clinton wrote, “Ministry flows out of being, not doing.” Let how you manage your time reflect that reality.