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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Conversations with our doubts

As part of my church planting training I have initiated involvement with local University students. Students are not just a fun group to be amongst but because they are thinking through serious life issues and desire satisfactory answers, they embody an effective environment for the gospel.

Because of their intellectual pursuits many students require a no nonsense well reasoned explanation for the beliefs of Christianity. Therefore, my work has so far involved creating summaries of chapters from a book titled The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. Having realized that many students, especially those outside faith, are unlikely to buy the book, I am creating one page chapter summaries with discussion questions (example here.) As you can imagine this is a time consuming process--but a worthwhile one.

So far these discussions have been held with a Campus Crusade for Christ group at UMSL and have been very enlightening and equipping. But, now we are taking it to the next level. Over the next four weeks at Webster University Jubilee Churches College group LATITUDE will be hosting "conversations with our doubts". See the video below for more info:

Each week we will discuss the following topics:

Monday Nov 3rd: There Can't Be Just One True Religion
Monday Nov 10th: Christianity Is The Enemy Of Freedom
Monday Nov 17th: Science Has Disproved Christianity
Monday Nov 24th: You Can't Take the Bible Literally

The next four weeks will be a great way for us to engage college students with subjects they wrestle with in an intellectual way and provide some solid discussion and thought provoking concepts.

Have you ever doubted your doubts about God? I challenge you to get this thought provoking book: The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Church Staffing

As part of my church planting training I just finished reading Staff Your Church for Growth by Gary L. McIntosh first published in 2000. The book tackles questions like: When is it the right time to hire additional staff or pastors? And: How should a church begin to look for support staff? Gary L. McIntosh is a professor of Christian Ministry and Leadership at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and has over 22 years of experience in this field. 

There doesn't seem to be loads of material out there on the subject of church staffing, and nothing was personally recommended to me, so this book choice was an unavoidable gamble. I don't agree with everything in the book and found some language to be unfamiliar, but I'll share 2 main areas that I found particularly helpful.

Staffing a Church for Growth
I found this aspect of the book most applicable to church planting as it deals with the issues of who to hire first and how to keep making the best staffing choices to encourage growth. 

McIntosh points to C. Peter Wager who writes: "Most churches are understaffed for growth. They are staffed for maintenance and survival, but not for growth. If your church is to sustain growth momentum, staffing must become a very high priority." McIntosh writes: "[the] observation of churches that have recently called a new staff member has revealed that many are hard-pressed to define a clear, reasonable rationale for doing so." This means that church staffing decisions are largely not very smart--and at best a shot in the dark. 

The fastest growing churches are new churches. This is because the first priority of the new church is evangelism. If the core group do not win new people to Christ, the new church will not get off the ground. The early priorities of a new church are finding people, keeping people and gathering people for worship. However, as the church is successful at this, its members move into maintenance mode, taking care of what they have (people, programs, facilities) while abandoning the priorities that got them there (outreach, assimilation and worship). 

This shift in priorities is the cause of plateau in many churches. With numerical growth comes organizational needs. Those in the church are acutely aware of their needs and it can be tempting to staff based on the growing needs created by the constant addition of new people. However, staffing this way leads to an ingrown church and responds to a relational issue instead of a missional issue.

On page 26 he writes: "a church that wants to grow must staff positions ... [that] help find new people (evangelism), keep new people (assimilation), and worship (celebration)." These staff members will focus on the priorities that result in continued growth. To staff for decline would be to first hire a youth pastor in response to parents concern for their own children. This position is not going to grow the church. 

The book goes on to suggest that the second staff person to be hired should be a person who balances the gifts and talents of the senior pastor. You find the balance by understanding the two dimensions of nomothetic church roles, being growth focused positions. The first set involve finding, keeping and celebrating with people. The second set involve educating, overseeing and caring for people. If the senior pastor is stronger in the first set, then the additional leader should be stronger in the second, and viceversa. 

The third staff person should fall outside a nomothetic role and into an idiographic role, being more relational and focused on community maturity. Idiographic roles include internal programs like various adult, youth and children's ministries. However, there is a strong encouragement to staff these positions with volunteers for as long as possible because they do not grow the church. Additional staff beyond this can be alternated between nomothetic and idiographic roles to bring constant balance to the overall ministry. 

Adding a supporting staff member like a secretary, admin assistant, intern, or bookkeeper, is more flexible depending on how heavily program based the church is. A rough guideline is given of with 150 people one support staff is suggested. 300 would require 1.5 and 450 requires 2 support staff. 

The issues of hiring staff is also addresses well from multiple angles. Everything from recruiting, interviews, conflict and team roles are covered. 

Lone Ranger Vs Team
The book starts by attacking the notion of the "Lone Ranger" Pastor who does everything. On page 13 he writes: "Only one person has all the gifts and that is Jesus Christ Himself." Biblical reasons are given for the need to move away from this model of church staffing but another helpful insight is offered: "Just as the secular world has moved towards specialization and sub-specialization, so the church must respond with specialization to effectively minister to the complex needs of people." If the church is to be engaged with the culture, then we are to be engaged with an increasing complex culture. 

He also asserts that while vision usually comes from a central person, there always seems to be a team involved to bring the vision to reality. The various different team models are discussed. One example, The "Hired Gun Model", was addressed and warned against. This involves a strongly results-orientated environment where support staff and additional pastors are accepted as long as they do what they are paid to do. The major downfall of this model is that is breeds an inadequate loyalty to the team and means the "hired gun" can be hired away by another church. 

The best model for team is the relational/complementary model. There is diversity in gifting and function but with an emphasis on relationships and giftedness rather than strictly performance or popularity. The senior leader acts as a team coach, while the leadership team has room to help set the direction and agenda. A strong feeling of unity and shared ministry is developed.

The communication of a compelling vision and the development of clear job descriptions, evaluations, resources and rewards are significant elements in building a strong church staff. He writes: "Leadership and management are complementary and dependent on each other for the growth of a church ... it is entirely possible--indeed necessary if the church is to grow--for the pastor's role to move over time from shepherd to rancher." I didn't like the word rancher at first but in explanation this refers to a leader providing oversight through others, of which there are many good Biblical examples. This is a step on from the role of the shepherd which is one-on-one oversight. 

Another helpful insight is that of team and subteam size. Through Biblical observation and studies "... it appears that the best staff team is most often made up of seven or less persons since a team of seven allows for a leader and two subsets of three individuals (triangles)." This helps to explain why larger teams struggle to maintain intimacy and therefore common vision. He writes: "To keep larger teams healthy, it is wise to organize them by triangles." Keeping things small in the midst of growth is smart because it facilities change and sustains the personal dynamic and mutual ownership. He admits that developing a strong team simply takes time. 

This book had some really helpful insights into decisions about church staffing. There are of course many things I don't have space to mention. If you are interested, this is a quick read, checkout: Staff Your Church for Growth by Gary L. McIntosh

Friday, October 17, 2008

Breaking The Missional Code by Ed Stetzer & David Putman

I recently read Breaking The Missional Code by Ed Stetzer & David Putman. This book is a great way for me to jump straight back into a missional church planting learning mode after having been a little silent on my blog for a while -- here we go -- kappow

The main message of the book is pretty simple. The church is the primary vehicle for God to reach the world and local churches cannot simply copy methods, styles or techniques to be effective, but must discern their local cultures in order to be fruitful yet remain faithful. 

Breaking the Missional Code does not present a secret formula to suit everyone. It presents a principle for church life: to study and observe the surrounding culture in each community and adjust the methods/forms of the church in order to best connect people with the message of the gospel. On page 228 it says of code breaking churches that "... the mission of the church to fulfill the Great Commission does not get relegated to a program of evangelism, but it becomes intricately woven through the entire fabric of the local church." Everyone is on the mission!

The book talks about the sin of preference. Page 50 says "You can't be missional and pick what you like at the same time ... That is not a problem when our preferences line up with the missional choices for our community. The problem occurs when they do not. That situation requires a change of heart." This is a conundrum for many because everyone holds certain styles to be best, effective, right or even biblical. For example, I prefer a type of worship because I have grown up with it and find that I often experience the presence of God in that worship style. 

However, the book is challenging me to rethink that preference. The community we live in might have a different musical form that would more effectively allow them to hear the message of the gospel. The question is: am I good with that? Am I willing to do whatever it takes to connect with the unchurched and not just assume that the vibe of contemporary Christian worship is best for our community? I often preach 45 minutes to an hour at our yearly youth conferences. But, what if people just can't connect with that? Shoot! Dying to these preferences is going to be hard but essential if the lost are important. 

Some other key themes in the book are contextualizing discipleship, emerging church strategies and the characteristics of missional leaders. This book would be very helpful for church planters and church leaders alike as it raises a call to bring effective mission back into the church where it truly belongs. Christian community is the best place for mission. Our core identity and core calling should never be divorced. The church should be what she is -- an effective code breaking missional family.

Here are some highlights from the book:
  1. For too many, they love their preferences and their strategies more than they love the people whom God has called them to reach. Page 7
  2. America is the most diverse nation in the world. Page 14
  3. [Some] are convinced if you just "preach the gospel" and perhaps "love people" that your church will reach people. They are wrong, and their ideas hurt the mission of the church. Page 14
  4. Jesus' command to "go to all nations," we think countries. But when Jesus spoke those words, there were no countries as we understand them today. Jesus' instructions mean we must go to all people groups in the world. Page 34
  5. We have become fascinated with the very things that Jesus said not to worry about. Page 40
  6. It seems that every pastor really wants to get into mission -- if his church was just a little bigger. They do not want to give themselves away until there is enough to share. That is not the way God does things. God calls us to give ourselves away and trust him. Page 70
  7. Mission is an intrinsically translational task. Page 73
  8. Leaders who break the code create opportunities. They throw themselves at the challenge of creating environments where the gospel can be planted and flourish. Page 74
  9. Redemptive analogies are twenty-first-century parables. Page 97
  10. Code-breaking churches teach their members to invest and invite. Page 145
  11. ... we learn our way forward and therefore we must build time into our process to evaluate what we are learning. When this happens, we build a culture where team members are willing to take risks and come up with new ideas. When we evaluate everything on a pass/fail basis, it is not unusual for a culture to be created that is suspicious and lacking in trust. Page 196-197
  12. Vision is something people produce; revelation is something people receive. Leaders can dream up a vision, but they cannot discover God's will. God must reveal it. Page 205
  13. Pray that God might reveal what keeps local people from trusting in Jesus Christ, and then ask the Holy Spirit to break those barriers. Page 219