Pretend you are the pastor of your church (if you’re not). You’ve had a service event that empowered large numbers to serve in your community, small groups are engaging in community ministry, and your church is pairing up volunteers with public schools and nonprofits to serve on an ongoing basis. Now something new is starting to happen: people are developing their own ministry ideas and service partnerships—with or without staff leadership.
Mary and Harry catch you between services and say, “We know the church does a lot of ministry in the community and we have been so blessed in serving with the crisis pregnancy center. But we have noticed something missing and we have a real passion to develop something new that fills this gap we’ve seen. Can we sit down and share our ideas with you over coffee this week?”
You want to meet with them, but perhaps with a blend of both excitement and trepidation. Of course, they don’t see that as you pat Harry on the back, affirming, “Well, that’s great! I can’t wait to hear about it.” You set a date for the meeting.
On the drive home, you feel guilty about being worried over the conversation with these passionate innovators. You should be excited that they feel called, led and passionate about something, but a long list of “what ifs” are clouding your excitement…
What if this takes more of my time than one simple coffee?
What if this idea is a bad idea? How will I tell them?
What if it’s a good idea, but they ask for budget money?
What if this idea detracts them from their current service? How will I replace them?
Scary? Yes! Because it’s normally the pastor’s role to be the vision caster, innovator and instigator. Exciting? Absolutely! Because churches moving to the next levels of externally focused ministries are finding that the most successful ministries are those where vision and plans are shared by staff and volunteers .
Innovative ideas for ministry are not reserved for the professional minister, but put into the heart of every Christ-follower. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
If God prepared everyone in advance for something, how do leaders help people find that something ? Once found, how do you initiate meaningful advancement for the kingdom of God? With limited resources, how do leaders know where to invest? To move a good idea to boots on the ground means a commitment to leadership development, effective brainstorming, openness to creativity and the courage for leaders to multiply into teams.
As your church has effectively churned the experience of serving, like cream rising the innovators and passionate go-getters may also be rising to the top. It may feel like your church’s leadership model and structure is turning upside down.
Like any organization, churches sometimes follow a mentality of top-down leadership. The senior minister, staff or leadership are paid to come up with the vision and direction, followed by the events, activities and programs to make the vision a reality. Often, leaders have the ideas and together with the people, they do the work.
Breakthrough churches are discovering a new model of successful leadership to equip individuals to live out their specific good work God has prepared them to do. “Either Ephesians 2:10 is reserved specifically for those chosen few staff members, or it is for everyone. I believe it is not exclusive, but intended for everyone—young, old, ordained or lay leaders,” says Eric Swanson, Externally Focused Churches Leadership Community director for Leadership Network.
Rather than a triangular organization with topdown results, shared-vision leadership can present itself more like a diamond as both leaders and individuals shine with vision and passion to reflect blessing to the community. As individuals are impassioned with service ideas, successful church leaders will not be the only keepers of the vision; they will also serve as a conduit and encouragement for helping others develop in Christ and for community ministry benefit.
“Unless we invest our lives in the good works that God has created for us, we will experience a feeling of emptiness,” Eric says. “We hear lots of personal stories about how people find salvation in Christ. Shouldn’t we also hear lots of personal stories about people fulfilling the good works that God has created for them to do?”
The healthiest organizations are learning organizations where anybody can contribute. Ideas are not evaluated by who gives them but by how valuable they are to the mission.
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