“The church began as a fellowship of men and women centered on Jesus Christ.
It went to Greece and became a philosophy.
It went to Rome and became an institution.
It went to Europe and became a culture.
It came to America and became an enterprise.”
Richard Halverson, US Senate Chaplain now deceased.
Could God be using the challenges we are facing in American society today to bring the church back to a Jesus centered fellowship?
Based on a true story and relevant to every Christian today!
It has been my honor to walk alongside leaders of churches and ministry organizations for over 30 years.
Sometime the places where these leaders are living is growing quickly and are full of messes like having your granddaughters come through your home like a storm.
Sometimes the place is struggling with plateau or decline and the messes are more like a neighbor’s dog who makes all of their potty dumps right where you walk.
I wanted to write a short book to assist leaders in gaining a clear perspective on how to approach and deal with the messes!
Healthy leaders understand that when people show up filled with questions, even if the questions are delivered with some anger, they need to receive them.
If there is an attacking manner in the approach of the person it provides a character development teaching moment.
It will help the leader to respond properly to begin by giving thanks that a person feel strongly about something. One of my pastoral mentors, Ron Barker, has often said, “It is easier to tame the demoniac than to raise the dead!”
Strong emotion may not always be justified but it does indicate passion and life and perhaps even a deep desire for the organization to be effective.
Let your first response be to listen by asking a non-defensive question to make sure you are clear on the concern or issue.
The church planter looked down breaking eye contact, I think, to slightly shield revealing the pain in his heart. He and his wife have put themselves passionately, prayerfully and consistently into birthing a church.
And not just any church but a family of diverse ethnicities. And not just mulit-ethnic but reflecting a broad spectrum of socioeconomic levels of the urban transitional community where the people live. I picture a cross. This church is at the center of being a reconciling gathering horizontally (diverse peoples) but also vertically (economic levels).
Most churches I work with, even in very diverse communities, are more like a small circle than this cross effort. A small circle where economically and racially everyone looks pretty much alike. What this leader and his wife have been attempting is much more like ministry often pictured outside their passport country where one is required to learn language, cultures and especially values and expectations very different from their own. And these same elements are also very diverse right in the community. Just go stand in the grocery store and watch people struggling to understand and navigate when one can hear five different languages competing.
So why is the church plant at such a fragile place right now? The planter feels it is probably a combination of his failure to motivate and call out a commitment from the core that have gathered around the vision, and a lack of commitment by the core. Most of them, an ethnically diverse group, have enjoyed studying biblical themes of reconciliation and unity. They have enjoyed learning to appreciate the diversity God had brought together. They liked the idea of a church demonstrating the radical love of God. BUT (don’t you hate it when there is a ‘but’ in the paragraph), they have failed to step up to pay the price of actually becoming an incarnational witness in the community. The price is too high, competing with other legitimate values of — for example, finishing a graduate degree, getting a job, concern for the quality of schools for their children, resulting in a lack of margins because life is just too full. They are tackling a work often attempted by full time cross cultural workers with a less than part time offering. After all most middle class North American church volunteer leaders can do what is expected in ten hours or less a week (and that includes 3 or more hours just receiving services the paid staff shoulder).
The vision and calling for this urban work simply exact a higher price.
So what will happen? Well you pray… a lot… and keep doing what you can do and what you can challenge others to join you in doing and see what happens. You trust God is bearing fruit in individual hearts whether the picture of a church that is in the heart of the leader and his wife ever blossoms into reality. You seek to simply obey God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leave the results to God.
What do you think? What is God’s perspective?
Care and supervision of a team of staff is critical to the health of the organization. One of the best pieces of advice I could give is work on gathering and refining GOOD QUESTIONS. Write them on your legal pad before you go to the meeting. Also discuss some questions that will be revisited at least monthly and ask them to come prepared to share openly assuring them a safe place of grace!
Bobb Biehl has an excellent brief e-mail that has given me creative ideas for coaching and supervision many times. Go to http://www.quickwisdom.com/ to sign up.
Questions to ask each month:
1) How would you describe your time with pre-Christians this past month?
2) Can you share an experience of helping a new Christian get established?
3) How did you invest in helping a person develop as a leader?
4) How have you invested in your personal and/or professional growth?
Coaching Questions from Bobb BiehlI have used often (note: these are slightly edited to fit my style).
1) What DECISIONS do you need from me?
2) What am I doing that is making your job more DIFFICULT?
3) What do you need to remove a hindrance or be EMPOWERED to move forward?
4) How can I PRAY for you and your family?
5) What problems are keeping you from investing the time you need in your PRIORITIES?
6) Is there anyone that works in this organization that you tend to see in terms of “US” and “THEM”? What needs to occur to get you on the same team?
WHAT QUESTIONS WOULD YOU ADD?
Leadership is filled with problems where getting a different perspective could be helpful. After all there is wisdom in getting outside counsel says the Proverbs of Solomon. But where do we cross a line with sharing a challenge with another person that becomes gossip or other harmful speech?
Here are some questions and principles for leaders to consider before seeking advice:
1) What is my level of responsibility, given to me by God, in this situation? Does this problem really fall within my circle of responsibility? If so is it part of God’s assignment, my stewardship and contribution, to take action. Or — is it outside of my circle of my contribution but is within my circle of influence?
Perhaps the responsibility for implementing a response and solution is held by someone else or a group of leaders but they have invited me to offer my perspective and possible solutions. I may not have authority to act but God may have given me a “voice” of influence. OR — is the situation outside of my direct contribution or my indirect influence and resides within my circle of concern?
I am not sure why God allows me to see a glimpse of problems and challenges that I have little or no ability to impact. My guess is it is His call to me to pray and watch. Before I start telling others about what I see I need to begin with determining where God has placed ME in relationship to the problem and others involved.
2) Have I established a clear understanding for why I am sharing this information with the person I am approaching? In other words, what is my expectation for how they can assist me? Am I seeking clarity from someone with greater experience in these types of problems? Am I seeking support and prayer support for courage to do the right thing? Am I seeking perspective to resolve my confusion? All of these may be appropriate.
BUT — If I am seeking to unload my responsibility on another person and walk away clean; STOP! Or, if I am seeking to gather their vote and support for my cause to defeat my opposition and create division I am on dangerous ground. If I tend to frame the problem in language of “US” against “THEM” that is a good indication I am standing in the wrong place. If I am just emotionally venting I may be making the situation worse.
3) With a spouse or special friend I may just need a hug and a reminder of encouragement that God will help me. That can be very helpful if the person I am sharing with understands the contribution I need. Usually I do not need to rehearse all of the history, details or attack others in my seeking some emotional care. Those details only confuse what I am asking the person to provide.
Perhaps this axiom from Robertson McQuilkin is a helpful summary of what I have tried to frame in the three questions. “When responding to a problem seek SOLUTIONS and not VICTORIES.”