04 June 2009

Quick Book Review

Last week I read a book entitled Doing Ministry in Hard Times by Bill Easum and Bill Tenny-Brittain. Rarely do I read a book in a single sitting, but this book is an exception to that rule. I couldn't stop reading it and I wanted to finish it before going to sleep. I also wanted to get it into the hands of some key people in the life of University so that they could read it and lose some sleep over it as I have.

I wanted to share a few key insights from the book that may change how I approach leading this congregation through the next 18-24 months:
  • there are two wildcards at play in the world today that make it difficult for churches to be successful while maintaining a status quo operational strategy: the cultural wildcard and the financial wildcard
  • strategic dreaming trumps strategic planning during hard times
  • there are ministries that should be cut during tough times (office personnel, missions, youth, non-essential ministries, money in the bank)
  • there are ministries that should be allocated more financial resources during tough times (worship, children, evangelism, marketing, continuing ed, volunteer ministries, small groups, spiritual formation)
  • hard times are the times to return to the basics - "sheep have a habit of getting so involved in feeding themselves that they munch along for hours without ever looking up to see where they are....Many Christians do the same. We munch our way so far from our roots that we don't realize how far we have removed ourselves from what we once were and what once made us great. Our greatness is only a memory." (pg 18)
  • "Without Jesus Christ, our congregations are nothing more than clubs on the lookout for just enough new dues-paying members to support their programs and keep their buildings open....Sadly, far too many churches actually organize themselves around this loss of passion for Jesus. Instead of organizing to spread the Gospel, they organize to run the institution." (pg 21)
  • cancel all the committee meetings you can for the next six months and see what happens
  • "If you have any money saved up for a raining day, let us remind you lest you hadn't noticed. It's raining." (pg 29)
  • in hard times, churches need to be led with quick and decisive action, flexibility, intuition, and self-regulation
  • all of this (reading the book, making strategic budget cuts, etc.) is worthless if there is unresolved conflict within the church
Which of these points strikes you the most (either positively or negatively)? Why?

I have already given copies of this book to our Finance Chair, our Business Administrator, and our Director of Discipleship. If you would like a copy of this book, email me and I'll get it to you.

03 June 2009

Random One-Liners, Part 2

Here's the other one-liner from yesterday's conversations:

Sometimes we think that the color of the carpet is more important than the people who walk on it.

This came out of my mouth within a conversation about the prevalence of "politicking" within the church. One of my buddies is in the throws of a serious round of "he-said/he-said" in his congregation and is fed up with getting placed in the middle of all the mud-slinging.

As we were talking about how to deal with antagonists in the church, we landed on the idea that when these political games are playing themselves out, the innocent bystanders are the ones who get lost in the shuffle or pushed aside.

How many times have you seen well-meaning Christians duke it out over the color of the carpet in the Narthex, rather than battle against the forces of evil for the good of the Kingdom of God? In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if the carpet is red, green, blue, rainbow, or plaid when there are people in our community that will never set foot inside the church to hear the gospel because the church won't spend a dime proclaiming the message of grace through Jesus Christ out in the community?

As I look out on the possible landscape of my second year of ministry at University, I want to make sure that I care far more about the people who walk on the carpet than I do about the color of it. The former will advance the Kingdom of God. The latter will only advance the Kingdom of University UMC.

I don't know about you, but I want to advance God's Kingdom, not my kingdom.


Random One-Liners, Part 1

I spent several hours in ministry-related conversations yesterday (one with a staff member and one with some clergy buddies) and came away from each convo with a one-liner that I thought you might be interested in hearing and/or commenting on. I'll share one now and one later this afternoon.

Church ministry is not "Calvin-ball"!

Those of you who have worked in a church or been in leadership within the church know that one of the things that frustrates people to no end is rules that change in the middle of the game. If you are fan of Calvin & Hobbes (and who isn't?!) then you already get what I am about to say. (For those of you who've never heard of C&H - shame on you!)

When playing a rousing game of Calvin-ball with Hobbes, Calvin was (in)famous for changing the rules in the middle of the game to suit his own desires, his own needs, or his own current predicament - often without warning and without notifying the other player (Hobbes). This frustrated Hobbes to no end each time they played the game and often resulted in a knock-down, drag-out fight between the two of them.

The same principle applies for ministry within the church.

When pastors, staff, or other leaders within the church change the rules of the game without warning, then a fight is inevitable.
  • A fight from those directly affected by the changes,
  • a fight from those who don't agree with the changes, AND
  • a fight from those who made the changes.
It really becomes a no-win situation very quickly.

Now, I am not saying that I am faultless in this category, because I most certainly am guilty of changing the rules mid-game before. However, I try my best to notify as many people as possible of the rule changes ahead of time. Do I always do that perfectly? Absolutely not! Does it still make me mad when it happens? Absolutely!

I believe the real learning takes place when church leaders take a step back and see where they have made a "Calvin-ball style" mistake and take necessary steps to recover from that mistake. I also believe that permanent damage can be inflicted upon a congregation when leaders fail to learn from their mistakes.

What "Calvin-ball style" mistakes have you witnessed/made? What did you do about them?