Blog Archives

Do You Have a Process?

Image“What’s Your Leadership Development Process?”
I believe that every church needs a process for developing leaders. Without it, we miss the opportunity to cultivate the gifts of potentially great leaders. Many local congregations adopt the haphazard approach and I am fully aware of that. I realize that leadership formation is not a linear, cut and dry process such as take these five steps and presto, you are a leader, yet still there are practices and processes that can be put in place to help people move further along the path of service and live into their purpose as part of the body of Christ.
Here are some questions I believe that current leaders should ask themselves for starters.
  1. What are 3 to 5 qualities/character traits that you desire to see/expect of leaders?
  2. What is your ministry’s vision/mission/goals? What tasks need to be done to move you forward?
  3. Who do you need to accomplish those goals and fulfill your mission? What skills are needed?
  4. What needs to get done? Why does it need to get done? Who can do it besides you and the normal faithful few?
  5. What type of mentoring, and training is necessary?
  6. What types of administrative systems would help?
  7. What leaders are already in place? How are they developing leaders?
  8. What types of evaluative tools will you implement to keep people developing?
  9. What are some tools you can use to provide off-site training for leaders (blog, twitter, facebook)
Asking these and other questions will prepare you to start moving in the direction of developing a quality leadership culture.
Once you begin the process of creating a leadership culture, remember:
  • Assume that prospective leaders are in your church (even if you haven’t spotted them)
  • Recruit specifically rather than generally
  • Provide training/development and ongoing support
  • Delegate authority along with delegating tasks – be willing to give up control
  • Shepherd/care well for those leaders who commit to investing their time and energy
  • Invest in leaders by encouraging and supporting growth – fund a training, buy a book
  • Let leaders “catch” good qualities and practices from you – let them experience you leading them well so that they too can lead others well
  • Use technology to your advantage – training/development does not always have to happen on-site, in a meeting. Make the best use of a leader’s time
Creating a leadership culture is not a linear, regimented process, it is sometimes organic. However, haphazardness usually impedes progress forward if it is not balanced out with a plan, steps and structure of some kind. Church leadership is not about one or even a few “stars,” it is about a collective group of individuals serving and accomplishing what God has uniquely positioned a ministry to do
Remember, people are not shaped or developed overnight and character development is just as essential as skill development, and it is all a process.

Stigma

I have to admit that I do not grasp why stigmas exist. Why are some things permissible to discuss and other things off limits. I wonder about this as I consider topics such as Mental Illness. Discussing physical illness with friends, co-workers, and colleagues doesn’t raise too many eyebrows, however battles with depression (of all kinds whether Major Depression, Bipolar Depression or Seasonal Effective Disorder, etc), and other mental challenges is somehow off limits for public discussion – at least when it comes to acknowledging one’s own unique story.

As I read an article from the Huffington Post regarding Changing the Way We Look at Mental Illness my entire being was moved. I reflected upon those that I know who struggle and also took a moment to remember a period in my life when I was not as well as I desperately desired to be. Though my smile is authentic now and I love to get out of bed in the morning in anticipation of another day, it has not always been this way.

I can remember days of eating badly, using food as a means of self medicating, wearing a plastic smile in order to present the illusion that I was somehow content though I was dying inside. I recalled days when I sat in a quiet dark room and simply starred at the walls, and even during moments when the lights in the house were on physically, on the inside of my soul it was as if I was walking around in a dark room looking for the light, but there were no light switches.  My utter despair, and emotional inability to hold on to a desire to continue with life was compounded by an awareness that to honestly discuss what was happening within me was somehow inappropriate amongst many whom I associated. This was no one day feeling down/I have the blues experience – this was a daily, weekly, month after month, unable to pull myself up experience.

I am better now, in fact, I am GREAT now, but the journey to this place has not been easy. In fact the relief that I was seeking was not experienced until I stepped beyond the stigma of being honest regarding issues of Depression such as mine. And in my freedom, I wonder how much better can we do for those around us. Maybe neither snickering at the person on the bus who talks out loud to themselves, or becoming frustrated with the person who behaves in a manner that is not as “normal” as most of our friends is the proper response.

What if instead, we decided to be safe people that individuals can come to?

What if churches were places where freedom to discuss and get proper assistance was normalized?

What if we created environments where it were as permissible to mention mental/emotion battles as it were to mention physical ailments?

What if leaders didn’t just lead organizations, but lead the way in transparency?

Might we see a change? Would shame be a thing of the past? Would people reach out rather than suffer in silence?

I must admit, sharing my story has not come without price. I realize this as I interact with individuals who know my story. It’s admittedly frustrating when they foolishly think that because I shed a tear, have a bad day or have a moment of being angry that somehow they should say “oh-oh, is she going back into a stage of depression?” Being honest means that I have to contend with ignorance from those who mean well, but are nevertheless ignorant. So my expression of emotions are viewed through the lens of “a depressed person.” This is not what I am. I am a person loved by God unconditionally who happens to be winning the battle against depression.

Just thinking…

The Flipsides of Seminary

SeminarySpeaking as a person who has some seminary education both behind me and ahead of me (Certificate in Urban Ministries, Master of Arts in Educational Ministries, and currently working on a Master of Divinity), I’ve observed some positives as well as some negatives regarding seminary education (not necessarily in this order)

Myths

1. Every Christian leader or aspiring leader should attend

2. It prepares individuals for ministry in a church context or otherwise

3. It qualifies one for pastoral positions within local congregations

4. All who attend have a general knowledge of the Bible and a deep enough level of maturity

Upside

1. You can meet and connect with some great ministry leaders

2. You can also meet some examples of leaders who behave in ways that you learn not to emulate

3. It can help you think more deeply and even dismantle some theological practices that you once held so dear but need to let go of

4. It can humble you as you become aware of how little you actually know/still have to learn

5. You can move from a place of being shallow to a place of greater depth as you preach, teach, care for people, etc rather than just repeat tired cliques and ‘churchy’ language and responses that you used to.

6. It provides the opportunity to consider and reconsider your “call” to ministry and define it more clearly

Downside

1. It can lead you to a place where God is no longer central in your life and ministry practice and beginning to rely on oneself rather than Holy Spirit power

2. It can lead to arrogance – believing that you are smarter and even more spiritual than those who have not been

3. You can study and learn church history and ignore current culture and eventually become irrelevant in your effort to do ministry

4. There exist contexts where your voice will be disregarded as that which is not credible or worthy of paying attention to without a seminary degree/theological training.

5. Moving to a place where you are reading so many books about the Bible and about God that you treat the Bible and God (by your actions) as though neither are essential for the life you live or the ministry you hope to do.

6. You can loose sight of the practical ministry practices that you possessed prior to going to seminary and begin clinging to theories that would never work/be effective in practice.

7. Concepts and teaching methodologies are not usually relevant to a diversity of cultures/ethnicities – can be very euro-centric at times (depending upon where you attend)

That’s just to name a few, are there others that I have missed?

Declining Churches

The stats are in – the American Church in many ways is not booming, it’s declining. According to research done by David Olson the church is not keeping up with the growth of the population. Some churches are closing, others are stagnant, and thankfully others are seeing exponential and continuous growth.

I am no expert, so please don’t read this with that expectation. However, as I have observed certain congregations I have concluded that at least some of the following could be reasons why many (not all)  churches are either declining or failing to grow and then I will offer what I believe to be possible solutions. They are in random order.

#1 Answering Questions that No One is Asking
The world has changed and continues to change. Many of the issues our culture face in the 21st Century are vastly different from those of the previous century. Yet many churches fail to address relevant issues and apply God’s still relevant voice to those issues. Blowing the dust off of yesterday’s sermon illustrations, spouting off old cliches, and insisting on ancient music don’t draw many people to churches who are looking for hope and help. Listen to God and keep an ear toward culture and make the connection.

#2 Attachment to Outdated Methodologies
I have heard countless people criticize things such as contemporary worship songs, use of media, not having Sunday School, etc. No matter how much growth is experienced by those places who stay open to God’s ideas regarding some of the possible  “how tos” of ministry today, still critics remain. Yesterday’s ideas may have been God given and we should celebrate those ideas. However, to insist on doing them forever is to close our hands to the rest of what God desires to give us and do through us. No, every church doesn’t need to have bells and whistles, but God does call us to forward movement – He has more.

#3 Solo Leadership Models and Practice
I’ve been wrestling with whether or not solo leadership is healthy for an individual and for local congregations. One pastor who does it all couldn’t be healthy. Even if the ability to have additional paid pastoral staff is not possible, it is necessary for the health of churches and leaders to give her/himself to the role of equipping others for ministry so that they share in the work God is doing rather than simply watch the solo pastor do it. The same is true for those who lead specific subgroups within churches. It makes sense to me that those individuals are not called to do all the work but to “pastor,” develop/train, and release those whom they lead into service.

#4 Self Reliance Over God Reliance
There’s a statement floating around and I am unaware of where it originated from so please forgive me. Here it goes. ‘If the Holy Spirit walked away from many churches today, things would still carry on as if He never left.’ Reaching a place where we believe that we are smart enough on our own and skilled enough on our own to be effective at the work of God is a bad idea. The Holy Spirit is the One who sustains and empowers us to have a significant impact.

Do the challenges mean that we should pack up our bags and go home? The Church is God’s organization and organism in the world, so that couldn’t be what we are called to. These challenges present us with an opportunity to do one central thing – CHANGE.

LIFE CHANGE – Everyone who ever encountered Jesus experienced change, whether in thought, behavior, direction or position. The change that Jesus brings about in us is not just for us but to cause us to live lives that draw others one step closer to Him. We’ll get stretched and it’s worth it!

STRATEGIC CHANGE – Every organization, the Church included, should have clear vision, goals that walk in the direction of that vision, and a power source to enable the execution of those goals by accessing the resources made available.

PRACTICAL CHANGE – Lofty vision and goals are good, yet they need to be fleshed out in a way that makes practical sense for those we are aiming to reach and do ministry with. Practical change should take place in our practices within congregations as well as in our approach to connecting with the needs of the people in the communities where our churches are located.

That’s what I think. What do you think? Share in the Comments below and let me know. I want to hear from you.

Is Church Diversity Possible?

Is local church diversity possible? Not too long ago I had the experience of joining the staff of a local church as the only African American staff member. During the interview process the church had mentioned a desire to become a diverse congregation where everyone was welcome to come. However as I spent time on staff I would soon discover many challenges that accompanied this plan.

Now that I have recovered from the experience of being there, I can honestly say that the experience helped solidify my convictions even more deeply regarding church diversity. Many lessons were learned and insights gleaned. Here are some that flow, not only from my experiences there, but from internal places within the fibers of my being.

Courageous Leadership
When it comes to diversifying local congregations, cowardice really has no place. (I will refrain from using terms such as being a wuss, punk, chump, etc). The Church needs leaders who love people deeply – all kinds of people and refuse to become satisfied with status quo and always doing what has always been done. Leaders who aim to lead the way in the area of diversity take hits that can be avoided if only we keep the majority culture in our individual settings happy. We could avoid criticism and having people question our motives if only we didn’t launch into difficult conversations about race, cultural injustices, and issues of discrimination. Are you up for the task – pain and all?  Today’s Church needs leaders who aim to please God rather than appease people/be a people pleaser. Are you that kind of leader? There are some noteworthy leaders in the conversation of diversity that model courage for leaders, individuals such as Soong-Chan Rah, Mark Deymaz, Brenda Salter-McNeil, Daniel Hill, and David Ireland, to name a few

Long-Term Commitment to the Process
I suppose I don’t need to say much here. But I include it because I realize that starting out in the pursuit of diversity is one thing, and continuation is another. Some never start. Others start and quit when things get tough and even give “God” the credit for their lack of commitment to continuance, assuming that if they encounter opposition then it must be a signal that they should stop. However, opposition can and usually does serve as at least one indication that we are on the right track. Keep God’s vision for a diverse, yet united humanity in mind and keep going!

Celebrate Rather than Tolerate
A few years back after visiting countless churches during my time in New Jersey and leaving disappointed, I decided to give it one last try by visiting a fairly large church. I went with low expectation, because I was weary with the search and on the verge of giving up finding the place for me. As I entered the area it became clear to me that this was “the” place! As I walked from the parking lot to the church building I noticed that I was surrounded by a variety of cultures – Asian American, African American, Caucasian, Latino, Middle Eastern, etc. I entered into a space where I was greeted at the doors by Greeters of mixed cultures, encountered people from these different cultures interacting with each other. As morning worship began, the diversity was visible and audible again as staff members of different races and styles were present and those who lead musical worship were not only a mixture of races, but the music selections were from genres that appealed to urban gospel, instrumental, contemporary worship, etc.

It became obvious to me that this church did not only invite all people to come and then ask them to conform to cultural norms that were not there own, but each person could come and be celebrated for who they authentically were and were encouraged to celebrate who others were. The presence of people different that you are should not cause us to simply endure their presence among us, but to rejoice in the beauty of our differences! Willingness to let go of things always catering to our particular group, styles, etc we much be willing to join with others and celebrate their styles as well.

Willingness to do What Does NOT Come Natural
I suppose the Caucasian gentleman that once said to me “it’s natural for people to gravitate to those who are similar to themselves” was correct. When I enter a crowded space it’s natural for me to look for other African Americans and move in their direction as a point of connection. But after thinking about this concept of doing what comes natural, I shifted my thinking to biblical text and saw that God’s design is the extend us beyond what simply comes natural to functioning supernaturally. What I mean by that is that we should be willing to let God empower us to reach beyond ourselves and do some of the things we would not naturally have the tendency to do. Even a brief skimming of the book of Acts gives us a glimpse of what it means to reach beyond our specific cultural groups. A look at the life and ministry practice of Jesus also gives us a clue – as He talked to Samaritans and other marginalized groups. The very purpose He came for was to break down walls that divide us from each other and eliminate the barriers (Ephesians 2). So, maybe God doesn’t excuse the Church from diversity as easily as we excuse ourselves from it?

Shared Power and Authority
It’s one thing to invite people of various cultures to the table – changing them positionally from being an outsider to an insider, it’s a totally different dynamic to share the authority that comes with the position. I learned this during my time on staff at the Caucasian congregation as I was repeatedly left out of important meetings and decisions, as my authority even in the area where I was invited to lead was even nonexistent. The dynamics of being a women on a male staff, and not only a woman, but the only African American made it nearly impossible for me to lead. I had a position, but I soon discovered that the authority that was to accompany the position was not a reality. Sadly, this eventually lead to feelings of tokenism. If you are a church leader, particularly if you are a member of the dominant group/race/culture, remember not just to embrace the lofty idea of giving positions to people of minority groups/race/cultures, but be prepared to also share the power and authority that is appropriate for such positions.

I believe that church diversity CAN happen! I must admit that it disturbs me to encounter diversity everywhere I go  schools, malls, neighborhoods, restaurants, etc and then attend churches where homogeneity is the norm. When I enter into neighborhoods that are clearly diverse, and then enter a church in that same neighborhood and see a homogenous group of people it creates a sense of unrest. And though this unrest is uncomfortable I am inclined to believe that God is in the discomfort in that the discomfort compels me to action. So maybe dissatisfaction is actually a good starting point? What do you think?