Thursday, 30 April 2015

Church and the vision

We need to look beyond where we as individual and subsequently as church are to where we could and perhaps should be. Although the evaluation of established vision, values and practices within the church and her programs is important as it keeps everyone in tune with the overall direction of the church family; but neither are nearly as important as being in sync with what God desires to do with the particular local church.

Therefore, the life of leadership is a life of discerning God's will and harnessing differences for the sake of the congregation, while a continuous learning and growing together happens. Leadership is a commitment to walk together through a fog of different information, emotions, personalities and preferences for the sake of the goal that has been set out for the church. Leadership is not about developing a new vision for the church but rather the determination of what and how programs are designed, how ministry is organized, what communicators teach, identifying the "target audience" and how it is reached, and how daily decisions are made. Leadership is also a process of mentoring, teaching and challenging one another to do what they been called to do together and to do it well. It must become obvious to the congregants that the leaders see the good of the church family as more important than their own.

We need to carve out time to evaluate and plan
The ministry of the church in an ever-changing culture is far more than addressing issues, causes or programs. As important issues, causes and programs are, they do not possess a purpose on their own, they are simply practical expressions of the nature of the church, they are only the means but not the end. The nature and therefore the purpose of the church needs to provide the lens through which we evaluate current programs and any that may be considered. Self-evaluation that leads to a clearer understanding of the purpose of the church admits changes and allows us to let go of some comfortable and loved yet ineffective approaches to ministry. It also avoids burnout and helps prevent people from becoming entrenched and tunneled visioned.

The danger with an issue, cause and program focused church is that it can just become a way of life where activity replaces spiritual growth.

The fact of the matter is, if a particular involvement in an issue, cause or program isn't taking the individual or the church where we need to go, isn't it then just wasting time? Each ministry within the church should be seen as a step toward the identified goal rather than the goal itself. We can have all the programs in the world and can be addressing every issue and cause under the heavens, but without taking steps that brings us where we need to go we simply are running the treadmill. Further, we may create a spirit of competition in an already competitive world where good ministries compete for volunteers and money available. Where does God want people to be? When we are asking this question, a second, more strategic question follows; "How are we going to help to get them there?" The result is a way of thinking in steps, steps that lead someone to somewhere.

In order to identify what is actually important at every level of the ministry we need to have a clearly worded vision.

 Our whole reason for existing is to raise up people who hear God's voice and are prepared to go out into the wider world to make a difference.

The goal is to bring people into a vital love relationship with Christ. That reason will not change, no matter the changes in the surrounding culture, or changing context. The wording may need to change, the steps to get there might change to reflect better the targeted audience of this statement, but the goal basically stays the same; spiritual awakening and spiritual growth.

But how do we measure progress? 

Our vision statement somehow gives us the answer; by the number of people who grow not intellectually in their faith but who are maturing spiritually in their faith walk.

The next question is, what is the best organizational structure today to accomplish this vision? The very fact that the word today is inserted in the question hints to the fact that the New Testament is not uni-vocal in the description/prescription of the leadership structure of the church, but rather adjusts to the demands of the increasing complexity of the needs regarding the vision that needs to be addressed. True vision shapes everything about a church, organizational structure included. Every tributary within the family structure ought to be feeding into the confluence that is the vision of the local church. Hence, everything that happens emanates from the central vision, and the deriving core values.

How do we measure progress rather than business?

I suggest a certain set of questions around the idea of core values should be asked when we try to evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts. Core values need to be communicated and simply are the means or practices of what is really important and what really matters.

For example, do attendees feel comfortable inviting their neighbours? Are attendees recognizing the local church ministry as worthy of their giving? How many are successfully connecting to small groups? Do people understand how to apply biblical truths in their daily lives? How many more people are feeling at home in the church family? Does each attendee have close friendships within the congregation as well as outside? Do guests feel welcomed and loved?

Practicing these and similar questions means that the leadership is intentionally defining what is really important and what really matters, people not programs, progress not process. That helps us to see that an investment of time is going to make a difference. Everyone, from the greeter to the speaker, everyone is a communicator of some if not all the core values of the church. It is through the core values that the vision is pursued. 

People join the church with pictures of what they think church should look like. From the time they walk into the door and begin volunteering, they start trying to conform the ministry and therefore the church to the image of their own picture. The same by the way is true of leadership. It is therefore vital that especially people in leadership, pastors included, die to their particular image/vision of the church and embrace the vision and core values of the local church that came about through much prayer and discernment. 

One of the core values should be benefiting of and participating in the ministry of the church. Hence the importance to take a second step from simply attending to benefiting through participating needs to be communicated. Progress is made when more people get connected or involved.

When everyone clearly understands the goal, it changes how things are done. 

For example, what is the goal of a congregational budget meeting? The acceptance of the financial reports and passing of the proposed budget? No, the goal needs to be greater unity, love and owning of the church vision, a greater appreciation of the volunteers and an increased excitement of what is to come. If the reports are accepted and the budget passes, great, but not at the expense of any of the values. 

One other core value should be to hear God's voice through the message, which means that the greeter at the door needs to be welcoming and an initial little blessing to the people that comes through the door, that means that the worship leader needs to strive farther to create an atmosphere that prepares everyone further to hear the message; the goal of worship is hearts open to the truth. Hence the speaker is positioning the message to set up small group time for the attendees to connect life lived and message heard. The goal therefore is measured by how well during the time the teaching is being discussed. Those preparing refreshments help to provide a more informal "after group time." The goal is to provide an atmosphere where more and more people stay and keep talking, making new connections and building friendships. 
In the end, if people truly benefit and participate in an effective Sunday morning, we have made progress in our vision where the primary goal is not to meet someone's need, but rather to help someone get where they need to go together. 

Sunday morning is perhaps most important ministry, followed by the midweek small group and youth ministry, with the common goal to create an atmosphere where God's Spirit flows freely, where love and trust flow unhindered and everyone is welcome.  

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