It’s the time of year when churches across the nation will be installing their new officers, committee chairs, board members, etc. There will be a meaningful installation service (there will be a meaning-full service in your church, right?) and these committed men and women will excitedly begin their service to the church for the next year. In many churches, though, what could and should be an exciting moment in the life of the church, will simply be another moment of resignation and discouragement as the latest slate of warm bodies with pulses takes their turn in meaningless meetings. If this describes your congregation’s recent history, then let me offer a suggestion that could change the committee forecast in your church.
First, the small print. Be sure to read it (I know, we’re supposed to tuck it in around the bottom of the page where it won’t be noticed.).
If you follow what I’m about to propose to the letter, there could be risk. Some side effects may be severe, though most are mild and include raised anxiety levels, resistance to change, dug-in-heels, tightness of the jaw, scowls, and comments such as “We tried that once …” and/or “We’ve never done that here before.” Extreme complications could arise if symptoms (bullies and terrorists – see the Sept-Oct 2007 issue of Net Results magazine for more information) are not diagnosed and dealt with when they raise their heads. Contact a coach, such as the Easum, Bandy, and Associates team, as needed for immediate relief. Proceed only as directed.
With that out of the way, here is how you can begin changing the committee forecast in your church.
First, as soon as possible, call an all-leadership meeting. Include every committee chair, committee member, elder, deacon, board member, staff member, etc. in the invitation. Schedule this meeting around a meal. Doing so accomplishes two things. First, you’ll have a better turnout. People come to eat, and besides, every important thing that happens in the Bible virtually always happened after a meal. Second, a meal helps to break the tension and fosters fellowship and community. And if you have the folks “mix-it-up” so they sit with those they may not know as well as their best-buddies, you can almost certainly dispense with any ice-breakers you might otherwise have to deal with.
There are three main things to cover at the all-leadership meeting: Focus, Organization, and Discipleship. Although discipleship is by far the most important topic on this list, I recommend letting it be the last thing you cover so that (1) they don’t dismiss the whole meeting as just another sermonizing devotional and then zone-out for the rest of it because they’re ticked off; and (2) they’ll remember the discipleship portion best when it’s the last thing they hear.
Once you’ve eaten, begin the meeting by getting them to chat among themselves (two-by-two) about what their committee/board are primarily tasked with accomplishing. The good news is that almost everyone will already know most of the wrong answers, such as the finance committee looking after the finances in the church and the education committee making sure that the standing order for curriculum is correct and the numbers of Sunday School participants counted. The bad news, of course, is that most congregations don’t really know why the committees exist because they’ve always assumed that the committees (boards, etc.) are there to safeguard the church in one way or another.
Once they’ve had a good conversation, but before they’re all talked-out, interrupt them with a chat about why the church, and why that church in particular, exists. In other words, take them through a re-acquaintance walk with their mission, values, and vision. Remind them that the focus of everything that happens in the church must align with the mission, behave within the values, and further the vision. Introduce them to the reality that the committees/board/etc. exist to facilitate the mission and vision, not to be gatekeepers, but to ensure the individuals in the church have all the tools they need to accomplish the God-ordained work of the church. Thus, the finance committee exists to ensure there are adequate monies to fund the ministries in the church. They’re not budget overseers, but budget facilitators who do whatever it takes to make sure the monies are there for the ministry needs. The same goes for all the committees/boards/etc. They are there to be the support, the facilitators, and the chief champions and cheerleaders of their respective ministries.
The question many will have is, so what are our meetings all about? Well, first off, their meetings are first and foremost about praying for the ministries that are under their umbrella. Pray for the folks who are on the front lines of ministry: the Sunday school teachers and the small group leaders; the ministry leaders and the ministry work-a-bees; the worship planners, leaders, and up-fronters; and so on. Pray for them by name. Call them and find out how the committee/board/etc. can support them; ask what they need. And pray for that. Of course, if there’s a need that the committee/board/etc. can immediately answer, then they should do so.
Once they’re done praying fervently for their ministries, they should consume the rest of their time answering only one question: What ministries aren’t being done that need to be started to reach the vision God has planted in this church? Now, the truth is, they can’t effectively answer that question sitting in a Sunday school classroom that’s doubling as a conference room. The answer really only becomes apparent when they’re meeting somewhere in the midst of the ministry field. Invite them to hold meetings at coffee shops, the mall, restaurants, the library, the university or college commons areas, etc. In other words, have them be with the people so if they have a question, they can ask. Besides, showing our true colors of faith is a great witness only if the flag is flying where others can see it.
These two tasks, prayer and answering the ONE question, are the only two tasks of the committee. The only “recommendations” they should be bringing to the next level of permission giving bureaucracy is the recommendation to start another ministry. And at that point, the permission giving bureaucracy’s job is only to receive the report and then to begin fervently praying that God will raise up a leader for that ministry. The other committee chairs who heard the recommendation then have the task to get busy figuring out how they can be supportive of that new ministry.
The second thing to cover at the all-leadership meeting is how to organize themselves. If your nominations from the previous year only selects the committee chairs and then leaves the chairs to raise up their own committee members, then you’ll want to talk about calling servants rather than recruiting volunteers. Recruiting a warm body with a pulse who’s willing to serve in a slot because they’ve been asked isn’t the way to an exciting vision-capturing church year. On the other hand, helping leaders to identify God-called servants who are committed to a ministry because they cannot not do it (remember, the double negative thing) means there’s no stopping the enthusiasm for the ministry of the church during the rest of the year.
Your leaders can put this into effect by doing two things. First, they’ve got to get out there into the congregation and get to know the fringe-folk. Most congregations can be divided into two groups, just like belly-buttons: the Innies and the Outies. The Innies tend to be those who are doing the most complaining about how tired they are of doing all the jobs in the church. They’re also the ones that just about everyone on the committees/boards/etc. already know. Then there’s the Outies. The Outies are everyone else. They’re the ones who’d love to have a chance at doing a meaningful ministry, but won’t stand for meetings that waste their time (see the previous section on how to make meetings meaningful) or doing tasks just because they’ve always been done. In general, they only want to get involved in a ministry if they are convinced it will make a real and lasting difference. To include these people, your ministry leaders will need to get to know whether or not the ministry they represent (education, worship, finance, evangelism, etc.) matches the passion of an individual Outy. And there’s only one way to find that out: They’ve got to share their own passion for their ministry with others and take note of those whose eyes “light up.” Only those who show a genuine interest in the committee’s ministry should be invited to an introductory meeting. There the invitee can get an idea whether they’ve been “sold a bill of goods” or have stumbled onto a ministry where they can invest themselves to the fullest. It’s only the latter group you want on your committee/board/etc. anyway.
To make it even easier to find committed servants, the ministry leaders should consider the fractal organizational model. By definition, a fractal is a replicated pattern that, in general, occurs naturally. Take a close look at a palm frond and you’ll note that the frond’s pattern is replicated over and over and over again, right down to the molecular level. That replication model can be duplicated by your leadership.
There are two levels of fractaling I’m going to touch on—there are plenty of articles in the EBA archives on fractals that could be helpful if you need more information. First, each leader must replicate themselves. By that I mean that each leader needs an apprentice to mentor. They need someone who matches their passion for the ministry in whom they can pour their heart, their mind, and their soul. Each committee/board/etc. chair must identify and train their own replacement. The key word in that sentence is “train.” Training means not just teaching the apprentice what they need to do, but allowing and encouraging the apprentice to put that teaching into practice again and again until they’re as good, or better, than their mentor.
Secondly, each leader must divide the work of their ministry into roughly four parts. To begin with, in a perfect world, the pastor would divide his/her tasks into four parts (see the illustration). The pastor would then raise up a person who is passionate for one of these four ministry tasks, so Bob might be passionate about administration, Carol might be passionate about worship, Ted might be passionate about lay mobilization, and Alice might be passionate about outreach. Let’s call these four the committee chairs for our example and look at Alice specifically. Alice would “divide” her ministry into roughly four parts. In this case, she believes the primary ministries are marketing, pastoral care, local mission, and world mission. She could just as easily decided the four ministries were evangelism, community service, benevolences, and member care. When she’s decided her fractal parts, then she begins to share the vision of her ministry with the Outies (as well as with the Innies, but she probably already knows who’s passionate about what within the Inny-crowd). Those whose eyes “light up” about one of the four fractal areas are invited to an introduction meeting where the committee talks about their passions and the work that the committee could do (see Focus). Those who are still excited are then invited to share in the work of the committee for the year.
Okay, that’s a lot of information, but we’re not done yet. If you stop at this point, you’ll have an excited crowd, but you’ll never grow your congregation’s roots deep into the spiritual soil. And shallow rooted congregations easily topple when the storms of discord, disagreement, and dissatisfaction blow through—and they will blow through.
The last, and most important task of every ministry leader, is to both disciple and to be discipled. This is the very point that most committees fail. I recently attended a committee meeting where the business of ministry was discussed at length, but not once was God consulted. In fact, as I recall, not once was God even mentioned. Instead, the meeting was all about what the committee members themselves desired, what they thought was best, and what they preferred. That might be okay at a Kiwanis meeting, but it’s not the way faithful disciples of Jesus approach ministry.
To that end, one of the most important tasks of every committee/board/etc. meeting is the task of discipleship. Those who are members of the committee/board/etc. must be committed to discipling one another. There are many ways to do this, but one of the most effective is to expect personal responsibility from each member for their own spiritual development. I know, we’ve been taught that the institutional church’s job is to instill spiritual development, and that’s all well and good, except that as a church full of priests (1 Peter 2:9), we each must take personal responsibility for our own development. And yes, the church exists, in part, to support one another in that task, but ultimately it’s my responsibility to ensure I mature as a Christian. I suspect standing in front of the judgment throne saying, “Yeah, but the church didn’t …” won’t be much of a defense.
In a recent article (published in the Jan-Feb 2008 issue of Net Results magazine), I wrote extensively on how to raise up discipled ministry leaders, so I won’t repeat myself except to say this. Once the ministry leader has explained to the board/committee/etc. that each one is personally responsible for their own maturity, then the leader needs to (1) teach the members the spiritual habits—don’t assume they all know how to pray, study, fast, etc.; and (2) encourage the members to practice these habits. The leader can do this by simply asking each of the members regularly (like every time they see one of them) one of the informal accountability questions:
- What is the most significant word/message you heard from God in your listening prayer time?
- What intrigued you the most in your Bible reading this week?
- What have you intentionally given up for the sake of the Kingdom this week?
- What good work did you accomplish in the name of Jesus this week?
- How did you spend time reflecting on your spirituality this week? What new commitments did you make?
- How did the Spirit “break through” into your life this week in worship?
- How have you shared your faith this week? What was the result?
These are just a sampling of effective accountability questions, but you get the idea. Simply by asking the question, the leader raises the expectation of that particular spiritual habit. Ask the question regularly enough and the board/committee/etc. members who want to be faithful disciples will eventually fall into good spiritual habits. Oh, and just a reminder that the members themselves should get into the habit of asking both the leader and one another the same questions so that everyone is held accountable for their spiritual practices.
That’s it. Three things to cover at your all-leadership meeting. Teach these three practices and then start coaching the ministry leaders to help them put into practice what they’ve been taught. Encourage them by asking great coaching questions that spur them on to accomplish their ministries by raising up and calling others into ministry. And when you do … and as they do … the spiritual and ministry forecast in your church will change from partly cloudy (or worse) to mostly sunny.