Missional Monday: The Wisdom of Considering Your Community’s Calendar

mmCalendars reflect priorities. They reflect what an individual or an organization chooses to do with its time – a precious commodity. Most churches have a master calendar that contains all ministry events, facility reservations, service times, and ongoing ministries to its membership and others. Churches have leadership groups whose responsibility it is to coordinate these activities. An important task in planning is to ensure as little overlap as possible. The last thing a church needs is to schedule multiple ministry opportunities on the same day that cause the people to have to choose. There is another calendar, a calendar often overlooked by churches – the community calendar. Local communities have a calendar that lists events, news, festivals, and other functions unique to them. Town and city councils publish these calendars far enough ahead to the ensure the residents can participate.

Why does this matter? For far too long the church and its community have been content to exist and function as if they have no need for each other. This is simply not true. If a church believes their community matters, the two should work together as often as possible. The church needs the community. The community is the place and the people into which God has planted the church as agents of light and ministers of grace. God has called His people to their community to flavor and influence it positively with the good news of the gospel. The community needs the church. Whether they acknowledge it or not does not negate the truth. The community needs the influence and care the local church offers. The community needs the church to serve it and make a difference.

Please hear me closely. I am not advocating allowing the secular community to determine the actions and direction of the church. I do not believe that would be wise. I am certain the community would not allow the church to determine its activities and direction. Does the church have a responsibility to be involved in the life of their local community? Absolutely. Can both parties benefit when this happens? No doubt.

I have given a great deal of thought to this and the what I have found has shaped my ministry philosophy. When planning ministry opportunities, the church should consider what is happening in the community at that time. The purpose is to determine the possibility of the church’s involvement. When there are special events in the community, the church would do well to seek ways to involve itself. As the church involves itself in the everyday life of the community, trust is built and relationships are formed.

The goal for the church as it relates to the community is to be an agent of change and hope through the message of the gospel of Christ. When the community sees the church cares about the people and their future with no strings attached, credibility is earned. Must the community acknowledge the church for the church to be credible? Of course not. Jesus Christ established the New Testament Church and needs no secular approval. However, the old saying is true here, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Credibility is a bridge by which the gospel travels. Consistent involvement is necessary if we hope to make a difference and a lasting mark on the community where the church has been planted. Why compete when we can cooperate?

 

The Driving Force Behind Ministry: Part #3

In part one of this series I spoke about the available ministry options for churches, limitations, and the need to focus precious resources on what matters the most. In part two I highlighted the first of two common ministry models: event-driven ministry. Today, community-driven ministry. I’ll place my proverbial “ministry cards” on the table here. I believe the overall ministry of a church should be driven by a concern and care for the community in which the church is planted. This concern should serve as the basis for all the church does for God’s glory.

The prophet Jeremiah ministered during a dark and difficult time in Israel’s history. His message of hope and confidence must have been hard to hear considering their captivity. His centuries-old words to Israel are worthy of the church’s attention today. He wrote, “Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7). He spoke of the Lord’s placement of His people and their proper response to that placement. Essentially, God told them to be concerned about the welfare of the city that was holding them captive. A revolutionary thought for sure.

In the community-driven ministry model, churches perform an exegesis of the community. Simply, the church performs a thorough analysis of its community. from this analysis, a community’s history, needs, hurts, goals, strengths, and weaknesses are discovered so ministries can be tailored to make the most impact. The church reads out of the community asking, “How can we help you?” instead of reading into the community saying, “This is how we are going to help you.” Why is this important? Not all communities are the same. Different communities require different strategies and methodologies to be reached. The ministry that flow from the traditional downtown First Baptist Church will look different from the inner-city church plant in Detroit or the Cowboy Church in Cheyenne. The ministry that flows from the rural county church will look different from the suburban church plant that meets in an elementary school. Why go to all this trouble? When a church studies the community and takes the time to understand it, the message received by the community is they matter. The message to the community is their uniqueness matters. The church cannot seek the peace of the city until they know how their community is conflicted.

In part two, I shared some of the challenges the event-driven ministry model churches may experience. The community-driven ministry model has its own challenges.

1. Community-driven churches will need to have the “we are not doing as much as other churches” discussion. It easy to allow another church’s activity and busyness to become our standard. Activity does not equal life change. It is here the church must choose deep over wide. Allowing someone else to chart a church’s ministry course is harmful. A community-driven church may not appear as busy as an event-driven church. That’s okay. It is more important to be fruitful than busy.

2. Community-driven churches will need to have the “this is not very glamorous” discussion. When a church thoroughly analyzes their community and discovers hurts, needs, and obstacles, the corresponding ministry may be messy and long-term. It’s not easy. The church must have the understanding that nice, neat, and uncomplicated ministry to community is not the normal.

3. Community-driven churches will need to have the “we are not seeing any physical results” discussion. We live in an on-demand, results-based society. When it comes to properly caring for its community, the church would be well served to view their ministry efforts as a long-term investment rather than a short-term fix. A community-driven church must understand the results of its labor, sweat, and love may not be seen this side of eternity.

Let’s go back to Jeremiah for a moment. Churches whose ministries are driven by the community where they are planted understand two critical realities.

The church does not get to choose where they minister. Jeremiah told Israel to pray for the peace of Babylon, even though they did not want to be there. Part of the church’s ineffectiveness is a desire to be somewhere else. God reminded Jeremiah how Israel found themselves in Babylon, “where I have caused you to be carried away.” Churches should grow where planted instead of always wishing to be transplanted somewhere else.

The church does not get to choose who they minister to. Israel had been carried away to an oppressive, hostile, and aggressive people who did not genuinely care for them. Healthy churches should reflect their given demographic. Churches are to love who they are given and never forget the community is its responsibility.

The Driving Force Behind Ministry: Part #2

In my last post, I spoke about the options churches have in fulfilling their individual missions. As I mentioned before, I believe the focus of a church must drive its ministry – not the other way around. I suggested two types of ministry models that drive churches today: event-driven and community-driven. Today we will examine event-driven ministry. When I speak of events, I am referring to special activities and productions that require time, planning, promotion, manpower, and finances beyond day-to-day ministry. Examples include concerts, illusionists, car shows, strength teams, sports camps, fishing tournaments, and monster truck shows (Yes, that’s what I said). I know what you may be thinking right now. Are these not good things? The answer is yes. Is a church wrong for utilizing them? Absolutely not. Can lost people be reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ through events like these? Yes, and they have been.

My intent is not to degrade, minimize, or lessen the importance of events in the church. The churches I have pastored have utilized events in ministry. I am not opposed to them. My intent is to examine them their effectiveness as the driving force behind a church’s ministry. Events such as those above have an attractional element t them. They can draw a crowd. The underlying desire is to bring the community to the church campus, have them interact with the church membership, introduce them to ministries of the church, and make meaningful connections that will lead to further involvement. Churches use these types of “come see” events to ensure the community knows where they are.

I will concede that events can produce positive results within the church. Anytime you can connect those who are far from God to believers, it’s a win. However, there are certain negatives that must be considered. Three traps are possible.

  1. The “one size fits all” trap. The danger here is assuming that an event will minister to everyone equally. The larger and more diverse a community is the less effective this ministry model becomes.
  2. The “everyone else is doing it” trap. It would be very easy for a church to see the apparent success of another church due to an event and think, “if it worked for them, it will work for us.” This can lead to frustration when the same success is not experienced. Churches cannot be carbon copies of each other. Each one is unique and uniquely fitted for ministry.
  3. The “where do we go from here” trap. Event-driven ministries face two pressure points. First, there is pressure to grow the event bigger and better. This includes additional funding, manpower, and time. When the community has taken part in an event, the natural tendency is to want more and more. Second, there is pressure to add something new and unique. The thought is something like, “Okay, I’ve seen that, what’s next?” The world we live in changes by the minute. People are fickle and easily bored with what they have already experienced. If the church is not careful here it can become nothing more than an entertainment company for the community.

Every church must determine for itself what it allow to drive ministry. As far as event-driven ministry, there question that must be answered is this one, “Is the church using the event as a means to an end or is the event itself the end?”

The Driving Force Behind Ministry: Part #1

Churches today have many options when it comes to the way they will carry out their individual mission. Every day there is a new model or idea that claims to be a “can’t miss.” Churches may choose to be involved in ministry that deals with addiction recovery such as Celebrate Recovery. Churches can choose to be involved in ministries that speak to the competitive nature of children such as AWANA and Upward. Churches may invest in compassion ministries such as Samaritan’s Purse, Disaster Relief, and Habitat for Humanity who seek the meet the most basic human needs. Churches may sponsor medical ministries such as Doctors Without Borders and Nurses on Mission. Churches may even invest in ministries with very specific goals such as promoting clean drinking water through Blood Water Mission, shoes for children through Soles 4 Souls, defeating human trafficking through Abolition International and End It, and child sponsorship ministries such as Compassion International and Clubhouse Guatemala.

In a room of competing voices, the church must focus. The church must tune out everything that does not support and fulfill its mission and purpose. The church must be good stewards of its resources. There are some areas in which every church is limited. Let’s begin on the other side and look at how the church is not limited. The New Testament church does not lack power. “And I also say to you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The church is empowered for ministry. The New Testament church does not lack purpose. Jesus told His disciples to go and “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). The church is commissioned to minister. The New Testament church does not lack a presence. Again, Jesus told His disciples, “I am with you always, event to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). The church is accompanied in its ministry.

On the human side, all churches are limited by finances, time, and energy. Ministry requires funding – no way around it. Churches rely on the monetary gifts of its membership and must choose how to utilize it best. Time and energy work together. Families juggle multiple calendars daily (family, work, church, etc.) There are a limited number of hours in a day to accomplish what needs to get done. When it comes to ministry opportunities, the decision to invest precious money, time, and energy is one the church must take very seriously. There needs to a central driving force behind the decisions made. This is what author Simon Sinek referred to as, ‘knowing your why.” For example, the driving force behind private business is to make money. The driving force behind schools and universities is to impart knowledge. The driving force behind the military is to ensure the nation’s safety and freedom. Whatever the identified driving force is, an institution/organization commits the limited resources to its fulfillment. Schools and universities do not invest their resources in national defense. The military does not invest its resources in making money. Private businesses do not invest their resources in imparting knowledge. If you miss the why, you miss everything.

For years I have read about the successes and struggles of churches through denominational publications, ministry blogs, and church health books. Two types of ministry models emerged: event-driven ministry and community-driven ministry. Over the course of the net two days I will examine these models and offer my preference. Let’s discuss this.

Speaking Church May Be Hurting Us

Within every profession, service industry, and organization, there are secret languages understood only by its members. If you don’t believe me, just walk into a Starbucks and listen to the patrons order their favorite drink. You are likely to hear a combination of words and phrases that would lead you to believe aliens have landed from the far side of the moon. For example, my usual order at Starbucks sounds like this, “I’ll have a Venti bold with no room”. What I am saying to the barista is this, “I will have your largest and strongest coffee, and by the way, I do not need room for cream.” Businesses such as these have created an environment that requires the consumer to learn a language that is specific to the product they wish to consume. This may or may not be intentional. What they are saying is this “If you want to be part of our ‘group’ then you need to learn our language.” Sound unfair? Hold on. What about the church?

Before we blame the businesses for requiring us to learn a foreign language, let’s take a look at how the Christian church may be guilty. I believe many would agree that Christians have a specific lingo that we are comfortable with. We use phrases and words that we are comfortable with that may leave the first-time guest in our services scratching their head and asking “what are they talking about?” We use words such as advent, apostle, disciple, rapture, righteous, sanctification, elect, trinity, covenant, redemption, and salvation much like we would car, home, cheeseburger, chair, or grass. Phrases such as washed in the blood, give your heart to Jesus, profession of faith, and walk down the aisle roll off our church-influenced tongues the same way turn off the light, answer the phone, and wash the car do. Think of the questions that must run through the mind of the person who has never been in church before. Inside they may be asking, “Is that going to hurt?” “You’re asking me to do what?” “Is that legal?” I may be exaggerating a bit, but I think you get my point.

As a pastor, I believe the church has a responsibility to remove barriers that may keep individuals who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ from coming to know Him. Barriers such as personal preferences, fear, and past hurts are hard enough to overcome without imposing a new language for which Rosetta Stone hasn’t even written software. I am becoming increasingly aware, and fearful, that the guests in our worship services have no idea what we are talking about. What should we do? First, it is important to acknowledge the fact that we are guilty of speaking “church”. Second, I believe that every ministry leader, when writing announcements, newsletters, and ministry promotions, should filter everything through this question; “Will the words that I have written and spoken be clearly understood by someone who has never been in church before?” We owe it to the first-time guest, the seeker, and the Christian desperately desiring to serve the Lord our commitment to remove the barriers that would hinder them, including our “church” talk.

Missional Monday : Church Leaders – Are You Serving Your Community While Secretly Desiring Reimbursement?

MMlogoIt is important for church leaders to know why they engage in community ministry. This means churches must understand what drives them outside the church walls and into the neighborhoods, businesses, and schools of the community. When you combine the command to pray for the welfare and peace of the city (Jeremiah 29:7) and the commission to be witnesses for the gospel wherever we are (Acts 1:8), an important truth emerges: the church has a responsibility to those who are not a part of it. With that being said, ministry in our communities is difficult. Ministry in our communities can be messy. Ministry in our communities can be time-consuming. Ministry in our communities has a financial component to it as well. As a result, members of the church wonder, if only to themselves, “What are we getting out of this deal?” This question, at the basement level, is one of reimbursement.

There is a danger associated with the church expecting reimbursement from the community for ministry on their behalf. To reimburse means to “make repayment for expenses or loss incurred.” If the church sees community ministry as a loss from the very beginning then certainly there will be cries for reimbursement. If the church sees community ministry as a means to gain materially from the people then certainly there will be demands for repayment and compensation. How might a church seek reimbursement from the community?

  1. Filling a seat in the sanctuary. Churches may take an intentional or unintentional stance such as “we went to them now they need to come to us” stance. A common question asked by congregants is “Where are the people we have been ministering to?” The easiest measurement of ministry success is people filling a seat in the sanctuary. Although the easiest measurement, it is not always the correct measurement. Ministry is an investment. It may require multiple engagements before the gospel is understood and embraced. Churches must be comfortable with the fact that beneficiaries of their ministry may never connect to their church body. This is not easy to accept.

  1. Filling the offering plate. Churches may also take an intentional or unintentional stance such as “we gave to them financially now they need to give back to us”. Our world has conditioned us to expect something in return for services rendered. The old saying goes, “there is no such thing as a free ride”. This would be true if you viewed your community exclusively from the business standpoint, seeing them as consumers only. Is it true that your community may take a consumer approach to the church? Absolutely. The church has to resist the temptation to “even the books” and fully embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ where we’re reminded that to whom much is given, much is required.

Ministry in which the gospel is communicated and delivered, regardless of the acceptance of it, can never be viewed as a “loss incurred”. If there is no loss incurred then there is no need of reimbursement. Church leaders, the economic laws of supply and demand and return on investment are measured much differently in the church. Be generous. Give what you have.

Missional Monday : 80 Days of Summer – A Family Ministry Challenge

mmSummer is coming to an end. Vacations have been taken, school shopping is in full swing, and family schedules are getting back to normal. Summer can be a double-edged sword. On one hand you have students who are excited to be free and are thinking only of having fun. On the other hand you have parents stressing over how to keep their kids occupied for three months. It can be tricky for families to juggle the summer. Summer can be a tricky time around the church as well. Family schedules are different. Attendance patterns shift.  For this reason churches operate under an unpublished principle during the summer: don’t start anything new. Well, we violated that principle this year.

With the reality of families scattering during the summer, we asked ourselves a question, “Why does it have to be this way?” So, we decided to give our families an opportunity to spend some of their free time together in kingdom work.  On June 3rd we began 80 Days of Summer;  a family ministry challenge that would continue through August 22nd. The concept is simple. 80 Days centers around a very specific goal: to see families serving their community together.  Over the course of 80 days, 17 ministry opportunities in 9 different community locations were scheduled. We challenged our families to choose a ministry event and work together. It pleases me to be able to say that we have accomplished our goal. We have seen families, some for the first time, give up their free time and serve the kingdom through their local church.

Getting all caught up in numbers is not a good thing. With that being said, numbers do reflect a certain reality. As of this past Friday, 15 ministry opportunities have taken place with two remaining. Over the course of these opportunities, 48 different people have been involved and have contributed 902 volunteer hours to our community. My heart has been blessed this summer to know that we were committed both to our families and to our community.