I was pondering where all these ministries came from? Well, they come from the Holy Spirit and the hearts of devout people. But why did they come now and not some other time?
Some of these ministries have actually been around quite a while, but we’ve lately had an explosion of ministry initiatives that involve more commitment and more compassion than ever. What else contributed to all this innovation?
And I think a big part of it is our old Vision 2000 effort from around 1995. We’d just moved into a new building. We’d heard that churches often struggle after a move because they will have lost some members in the move and will have accomplished their vision.
And so the elders formed a committee to find a new vision.
At the same time, we enjoyed a spurt of growth from a combination of things, and we had lots of new members who needed to be assimilated and involved — they needed to feel at home and we longer-term members needed to get to know them.
The committee surveyed the entire church, using a church growth survey prepared by Jon Ellas at the Institute for Church Growth, with two additions: an empty back page for extensive comments and a request for how many close friends the member has at church.
The committee compiled the results and found a strong desire to be more involved in outreach, a need for involvement (getting more people to volunteer), for assimilation (helping new members become a part of the church community), and a greeter program.
Then, on a Wednesday night, church members were assigned at random to classrooms to discuss each topic. A facilitator led the discussion, while the committee members and elders sat in but didn’t lead the discussions.
On the following Friday night and Saturday morning, additional discussions were held and results compiled.
Sometime later, the discussions were reduced to concrete recommendations —
* A vision to be known as an outreach congregation.
* A small group program.
* A committee to make sure new members were acquainted with the congregation and its vision, and incorporated into our system of ministries.
* A greeter program.
* A ministries team — 12 ministry department leaders charged to oversee effecting each point and to oversee the budgeting process. All ministries were collected into 12 departments, so that all ministries were represented on the team. Team members/departmental leaders were selected based on spiritual gifts and attitude regardless of gender, age, marital status, etc.
It worked, amazingly well. Believe it or not, the most difficult program to get going was the greeter program — but some time later, God sent the right leadership and some extraordinary volunteers, and then it blossomed.
Now, Vision 2000 is accomplished and the original plans have evolved in unexpected ways.
The ministries team now just handles the budget, as many of its duties are now handled by staff and, as the church grew, the church outgrew that structure. But for a time, it was a great structure.
And here’s what brought it to mind. A week or so ago, one of our members was loading groceries into his car, when someone noticed the bag of supplies he kept for the homeless there due to the B.A.G.S. ministry. He asked what it was for. My the member explained, and the other guy said, “University Church of Christ, huh?”
The member tensed, expecting a snide comment about the Churches of Christ.
“That sounds like something the University Church of Christ would do!” the other man said.
And so, some suggestions —
* It’s critical to have a clear vision for what the church is about. Not the usual 5 purposes of the church, but where the church is headed for during the next several years. This vision may well change over time.
If you want a church filled with compassionate ministries, it has to be a part of the church’s DNA. That comes from preaching and teaching.
But you don’t tell the members to go do this or that. Rather, you teach what the Bible says and how it works — how compassion serves Jesus himself. how it changes us to be attractive people and an attractive church, how by changing our church we can influence other churches to do the same and change our town — even our country — even our world. How works of compassion is to live like Jesus.
Teach and preach the vision — not the duty.
3. Put the right people in charge. It’s not about a magic structure so much as about empowering the right people. The ministries team worked because of who was on it.
4. Don’t encumber the in-charge people with a burdensome approval process. Rather, let them do what God has gifted them to do.
In the ministries team, one elder sat in on every meeting, so the team felt empowered and could be immediately told if they were violating the elders’ will and whether they could proceed or had to meet with the elders.
The hardest problem wasn’t getting elder consent — it was getting the team to feel empowered. They just struggled to believe that the elders really gave them authority to make the vision happen.
5. Elders have to put the right people in position to be effective leaders and then guide with a light touch. They need to make their expectations clear, and then not meddle so long as the leaders stay within the defined expectations.
Avoid creating a bicameral system, where everything has to be discussed and debated twice, once in committee and then again with the elders.
Now, as I said, the ministries team has been gone for a while now. But the culture shift of empowerment has stayed. The elders no longer expect to approve everything — or even to know about everything. They do want to know who is in charge of a given ministry and what expectations have been given to the leader and what support and training he has been given.
We aren’t perfect, but we’re learning. God’s Spirit works through the members just as much — if not more — than the elders. Oversee; don’t lord over.
And the ministries team helped cement a change in our attitude toward women. Now no one raises an eyebrow when they learn our preschool board is chaired by a woman and yet has male members. No one cares that our children’s minister is female and yet works with male volunteers.
We no longer think in those terms, and this has unleashed a flood of talent into leadership roles to use the gifts the Spirit has given our women.
A balanced, Spirit-led ministry system, where men and women serve based on what God has gifted them to do dramatically changes a church.
But none of this happens quickly. It’s been about 15 years. Be patient and persistent. Especially patient. And especially persistent.