What Churches are Teaching Me
About Permission-Giving Churches
To bring everyone up to speed with last month’s article, a permission – giving church is one in which people are empowered to live out their spiritual gifts without having to ask for permission.[i] Last month we focused on what permission – giving churches are teaching me about the importance of teams. This month we focus on what they are teaching me about the importance of core values and Lay Pastors.
Many church leaders know by now that the heart of a permission -giving church is the development of instruments known by a variety of names – mission, vision, values or belief statements, core competencies, or core values. Because all of these instruments are one in the same, for the sake of convenience, I will refer to them collectively as “core values.”
Core values provide the non-negotiable boundaries in which everyone in the church can minister. Individuals and teams are given autonomy to begin new ministries as long as they enhance the core values. With effective core values, anyone can start any ministry they feel called to begin if (1) the ministry enhances the core values, and (2) they can find two or three other people who wish to be on their team. Without core values, only a few individual members are empowered because of the many checks and balances (meetings) a church needs to insure control. Any one with an idea for a new ministry often has to make an endless round of meetings to gain approval only to be told “no” most of the time.
However, even though church leaders sense that core values are needed, they do not know how to go about establishing them. So here are some suggestions born out of my work with Christ United Methodist Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, an authentic permission – giving churches with very clear core values.
First, 99% of all core values come from an individual pastor, not a committee. There are no examples in scripture where God works through a group of people. God has worked through a donkey, or a heathen like Cyrus, but never a committee. My guess is that this is true because pastors have more time to place themselves at God=s disposal than do most laity. It certainly does not mean that pastors are smarter or closer to God.
Dick Wills, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, had an epiphany while attending a conference in South Africa. Upon returning, for one solid year he shared his newly found core values with the congregation. They are (1) To lovingly and relationally invite people to Jesus Christ; (2) to disciple those who respond in small groups; and (3) to relieve suffering. [ii]These core values saturated every sermon, conversation, and meeting. For one year, he lived those values before the people. The three core values so resonated with the yearnings of the congregation that a year later they were adopted as the churches core values on which it would build its future. The result is a remarkable story of the turnaround of an old, declining downtown church.
Second, after a pastor discovers core values, she/he shares them with a small group of key leaders. These leaders either resonate with or reject the values. If they resonate with them, they refine them and share them with a larger group of key leaders. In time the core values become a shared vision of why the church exits. It is easy to see how important it is that pastors are good listeners both to their people and to God. Putting the two in communication through the core values is at the heart of making disciples. The closer a pastor is to the people and to God the more likely it is that the core values will resonate with the yearnings of the key leaders.
Third, do not be in a hurry, but wait for God to work. Take as long as needed for God to share these values with you and for you to share them with your core leaders. Too many churches think all that is necessary is to send a group of people off on retreat to write these values. They can’t be written; they must be born out of experience.
The experience of Bank America’s metamorphous to VISA is worth recalling. Bank American was on its last legs when it brought in a man named Dee Hock to bail it out. Hock spent eighteen months doing little more than developing the core values for the new company. Everyone thought he was nuts. The company was in trouble and all he was doing was day dreaming about core values. Since 1972, VISA has been the most successful company in the history of the 20th century. Quick fixes seldom work.
Fourth, the core values should reflect a mission that is distinctively Christian. Delivering a Christian message is what distinguishes a church from other worthwhile organizations. I’ll always remember the core value of Trinity United Church of Christ is Chicago , lead by Jeremiah Wright- “We are unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian.” Those who craft the values should have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and a working knowledge of the Scriptures.
Fifth, most core values never have to be changed over the lifetime of a church. They must be short enough to be easily remembered and inclusive enough to encompass the entire ministry of God’s Church. Long core values are usually little more than a committee compromise and include time-sensitive programs. Most core values are too long to be remembered and too narrow or detailed to last over the long term. Don’t confuse them with strategy. Core values should not include reference to specific programs.
Sixth, do not include in the core values the name of the church or denomination. This makes the statement too institutional as well as too long. Focus on the mission, not the institution. Never include a picture of the church building with the core values. The core values should not invite people to the church or sell the church. Any institutional framework always results in an ineffective core values.
Seventh, do not copy some one else’s core values. God does not work that way and neither should you. They must be indigenous to your congregation and the area in which your church is located.
Eighth, core values provide the blueprint by which a church can navigate the future. Clearly defined core values help a church know what to continue and what to drop; what to emphasize and what needs refining; who to hire, when to let them go, and how much to pay them. Core values provide the framework for ministry, the context for evaluation, and the platform from which to think about new ministries years from now.
If the church in which you worship does not have core values that reflect the above, stop everything, take your Bible off to a quiet place, and get a vision that can be stated in very clear core values.[iii]
Lay Pastors are to the 21st century church what ordained ministers were to Christendom. The transition from congregations dependent upon clergy for pastoral care and leadership, to congregations that rely on gifted, called, and equipped laity for pastoral care and leadership, is one of the greatest paradigm shifts of the last two decades of the 20th century. If you feel the call to make disciples, empower people, and grow the Body of Christ, develop Lay Pastors.
Three types of Lay Pastors can be found: Small Group leaders who coach people on their spiritual journey; Ministry Team leaders who are responsible for specific ministries; and Administrative Teams who manage finance, property, or personnel.
Lay pastors are not recruited by the church, they emerge from the movement of the Holy Spirit. They are called not elected. Their credentials come not from education or selection by their peers, but from God’s call. What makes their ministry authentic is their spiritual integrity. They are held accountable to the core values of the church.
There are, however, some requirements. Lay Pastors must be (1) called by God to lead a ministry that enhances the core values; (2) able to find two or three others who feel the same call; willing to be trained once a month by their peers. (3) willing to practice daily the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study; (4) open to be mentored/coached by other Lay Pastors.
The problem with most “lay ministry” is that someone other than the person doing the ministry decides what type of ministry must be done. Those who initiate ministry and those who do ministry are not the same people. This inevitably forces a church to devote much of its energy to manufacturing new programs and then finding someone to do them. The typical church responds to new ideas and programs by saying “Who will we get to do this new ministry? We are already burdened with too much church work.”
Lay Pastors and core values save a church spending all of this “managerial” energy. Once the core values are in place and constantly shared through out the congregation, God does the rest. And no one will have to ask for permission or go looking for someone to do something that they really don’t want to do. That’s grace. That’s empowerment. That’s the way the Spirit works.
Does this model work? Christ Church has over one hundred Lay Pastors in less then two years. A young man came to the pastor one day and said, “I feel called to begin a ministry to the homeless.” Obviously, it would relieve suffering so the pastor said “Go for it!” In less than two years, the young man has involved more than one hundred people in the ministry which is now the second largest homeless shelter program in the entire county. As a result, he became a Lay Pastor. When gifted, called, and equipped lay people are set free to minister, miracles happen.[iv]
[i]. You can find out more about permission – giving churches and how they eliminate control by reading my book Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995). You can also dialogue with me on it by subscribing free to the Sacred Cow forum on my web page.
[ii]. To see a copy of the mission, vision, and values of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, visit their website at http://www.changingchurch.org/perspec/vol20/popmvv.htm
[iv]. To download a free copy of the Lay Pastor manual from Christ Church in Ft. Lauderdale see our website at http://www.easum.com and go to the archive section.