Melissa, Brent, Nate and Bryant continue their discussion on sabbath with some ideas to implement sabbath in your week.
Who is Mark DeVries? We knew you’d ask.
Bryant, Melissa, Jeff and Stephen discuss Jeff’s date night, church administration, and developing your ministry budget.
Today we share our most recent reads, celebrating stories, and finding the right entry points in a church.
What do Justin Bieber and youth ministry volunteers have in common? Bryant, Melissa, and Katie spend some time making that connection.
Contributor – David W. Carroll – Lead Consultant with Ministry Architects, one of the country’s leading ministry consulting firms. He retired in June after 34 years of pastoral ministry in the United Methodist Church.
By stroke of good fortune, and I’m sure the grace of God, I was afforded the opportunity of a November beach trip. Mind you, it was a working trip – not just the “fun’n’sun” type trip that we typically dream of, but it WAS a beach trip nonetheless.
We stayed in a beautiful house about a block and a half off the beach but with easy walking access to gorgeous white sand and salty ocean breezes. While we spent most of our time working through business processes and making improvements, honing our craft, and increasing our skills, there was yet some time for beach volleyball and for those renewing walks by the ocean’s edge.
For those times when we couldn’t quite get down to the beach, like during those ten minute breaks designed for snacks and bathrooms, there was one of those cool little towers on top, advantageously placed to give a peak at a beautiful ocean view or perhaps a sunrise or sunset … or so I thought.
As I first made my way up to the tower, never having been in such a one before, I could hardly wait to see the panoramic view. I topped the winding stairway, emerged from the access door, looked toward the ocean, and saw … (wait for it) … TREES!
Now I don’t know when that gorgeous beach house was built, and I don’t know when or by whom those trees were planted, but the ocean vista that I had anticipated was nowhere to be seen, cruelly obscured by Floridian flora.
Any rabid beach lover (and there are those such people) would probably just pull out the chainsaw and hack away at those trees, roaring much like the Queen of Hearts, “Off with their heads!” in order to reveal the hidden secrets of oceanic beauty.
But I fully confess that I’m a true tree lover at heart. It pains me when any tree is brought down, or as the more callous might say, “harvested.” Okay. Full disclosure. When my family built its new house last year on a wooded lot, we relocated the house footprint twice in order to accommodate old-growth trees that were acorns during the Spanish-American War. Okay. Fullest disclosure. I’ve even named some of my favorite trees – like Woodrow, the huge white oak which serves as the anchor end of several of our woodpiles (which is of course a row of wood = “Woodrow”). But before this gets too weird, I just wanted the reader to get a picture of how painful tree destruction can be for me. I simply love trees for all the right reasons, at least in my own mind. To me, trees are one of God’s greatest things.
But so is the ocean … and its panoramic vistas … currently obscured by an unintended barrier of trees.
I wonder if there are times in our lives when one of the great things that we love can prevent us from getting to an even greater thing. It may even be that one of those great things that we love hinders us in a way that we don’t even know. In youth ministry it can be that traditional trip that “we’ve always done” that is keeping us from trying a much more needed, much more important or meaningful event that would move the needle in the right direction. It might be that building policy that “protects” certain portions of our church building from those “unruly young people.” It might be that “debt-free” policy that bottlenecks important attempts at facility growth.
Sometimes the great things can even become sacred cows, which we may need to sacrifice in order to reach something better. Or as Bill Easum wrote, “Sacred cows make gourmet burgers.”
You know, as I stood there wishing for that incredible ocean view, I remembered that my family left town for a week while the bulldozers came to knock down the necessary trees so that we could build our new home. I asked the crew to pile the logs that came from those trees, that were acorns in the 1890s, so that I could with great respect saw and split them by hand to fuel the family fireplaces.
We were able to let those trees go – those great things – in order to find the greater thing God had in mind – in our case a cozy home with a close-knit family gathered around the glow and warmth of an evening fire.
Contributor – Steve McConnell, Senior Pastor and Staff Consultant with Ministry Architects
The Gift of Non-Anxious Presence
There is a story told of a ship and crew in peril on the sea. In the engine room the men were being tossed back and forth, and with each pitch in the sea they became more and more convinced that they wouldn’t make it through alive. One of the crew managed his way up to the bridge of the ship just to see if there was any chance of surviving. Several minutes later he returned to his shipmates, and though the seas had grown no less angry, he reported to them that they were going to be fine. “How can you know,” they replied. “I’ve been to the bridge,” said the crewman, “and I saw the captain’s face. And he was smiling.”
I’ve always found it encouraging that historically the Church has taken as its symbol – a ship in full sail on the sea. It likely goes back to that story of Jesus and the disciples on the Sea of Galilee amidst the great storm. While the disciples are in full panic mode, Jesus is asleep in the stern. “Do you not care that we are perishing?” the disciples screamed. And, as we know, Jesus stood up and calmed the sea. I’m guessing there was a smile on his face. That story has been repeated year after year and in church after church over the centuries. We are tossed and turned with sails eager to catch the wind of the Spirit and the captain is in the boat with a gentle smile.
Ministry in the 21st century Church demands a lot from its leaders. We sail into some pretty stiff headwinds of the world around us. We work with crew members that may not always agree on the coordinates. We may discover some historic church family skeletons down below deck. Finances might be tight. Staff members may not get along. It’s enough to rock the boat.
All the while, God empowers leaders to employ each and every gift we have to keep us afloat – administrative skills, pastoral skills, communication skills, exegetical skills, teaching skills, finance skills, facility skills – the list is endless. While the ship is rocking we scurry around to find people who have these gifts to keep us from keeling over. One often overlooked and undervalued gift though is the leader’s smile. And what I mean by smile is his or her non-anxious presence. The hope and confidence of a congregation is directly tied to the anxiety, or should I say LACK of anxiety, they see in their leader. Someone has to believe that we are going to be OK and that someone has to be the pastor/leader.
It’s not to suggest that conflict shouldn’t be confronted, or hard decisions shouldn’t be made, or thorny issues discussed, but while all that is happening the crew are looking to the face of the captain. And they need to feel the non-anxious presence of one who believes that the Lord is somewhere in this boat.
Now we all have different styles that we bring to leadership. We don’t all need to be the same personality type on the Myers-Briggs scale. Some of us may not even like to smile too much. So here are a few things that can help a pastor maintain the non-anxious presence in the midst of the headwind:
- Pursue and exhibit a gracious intimacy with God. The deeper a leader knows of the unconditional love of God for her the less afraid she is of the inevitable storms and criticism that will come her way. You’re not perfect, but God’s love is. You are a child of God before you are a pastor, elder, chairperson, President. If you are not anxious about yourself then you’ll be less anxious about your people.
- Develop a leadership community. The more that leaders come to know each other in life together the greater the investment they have in supporting each other to make things work. Set aside time for your leaders to share together in conversation, study and prayer. Help them to see each other as brothers and sister in Christ first, and leaders second.
- Set the vision and remind folks where WE are going. A great bit of anxiety in the church comes from not knowing where we are going. People don’t like change, but they especially don’t like it if they don’t know what it’s for. Carefully take the time with your fellow leaders to set coordinates for your journey – a point on the horizon – and keep pointing them in that direction especially when changes are occurring that feel unsettling. “We’re doing THIS so we can make sure to get THERE,” is easier to swallow than “Well, we just thought we’d try something new.”
- Be yourself in your care of your people. Every leader has their own way of caring for their people and people know if it’s real or not. We all have our own love language. Discover yours and use it often. The key is, do people see in you the genuine attempt to care for them? Note writing, prayer request follow-ups, hugs and handshakes, email check-ins, ministry recognitions, hospital visits, phone calls to home– they’re all ways to uniquely use your personality to make sure your people know that despite the rocky seas their pastor loves them.
- Trust the wind of the Holy Spirit. Leaders are too often implored by Leadership journals to, “Go!” And they are reminded that the resurrected Jesus in Matthew said, “Go. Go into all the world and make disciples.” Emphasis on the word, “Go.” But in Luke’s version the other thing the resurrected Jesus said to those early leaders was, “Wait. Wait for the Holy Spirit and you will receive power.” Both, of course, are necessary admonitions. But usually we create anxiety when we Go before we Wait. Patience comes to the leader when he realizes that that his job is not about proving what he knows as quickly as he can, as much as believing how dependent we all are on the movement of the Holy Spirit. When you’re out on the water with the sail limp on the mast, you can paddle a bit, but usually the best thing to do is wait and pray for wind! As one sailor once told me, “If you’re on a schedule, you shouldn’t be sailing!”
The good news in all this is that we get to be leaders in a 2000 year old enterprise. The ship set sail a long time ago and has stayed afloat despite some tough storms and less than effective captains. Our part upon the sea is but for a few moments. And if we can spend those moments keeping the crew calm and together pointed in the same direction, mindful of the Savior’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s power, then we will have done more than our part in getting the ship to shore.
Dr. Stephen D. McConnell comes from a long line of Presbyterian ministers including his great- grandfather, grandfather, father, uncle and two brothers. He was born in New Castle, Pennsylvania, but did most of his growing up in suburban Detroit. Steve attended Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA and Princeton Theological Seminary.
Steve served the Melrose Carmel Presbyterian Church in suburban Philadelphia and the Liberty Corner Presbyterian Church in Liberty Corner, New Jersey. He is presently the Senior Pastor of Church of the Palms in Sarasota, Florida. He has served as speaker at the New Wilmington Missionary Conference, the Massanetta Springs Bible Conference, the Wee Kirk Retreat in New England, and a variety of church renewal events. He also serves as a consultant for Ministry Architects, a consulting ministry for local churches.
Steve received his D. Litt. from the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies at Drew University with a focus on C.S. Lewis studies. He is married to Amanda and they have a daughter, Brittany. Steve enjoys reading and running and watching his favorite sports teams – the St. Louis Cardinals and the Michigan Wolverines – bring home the victory. He is the author of two books: Take Me to Aslan: C.S. Lewis and the Art of Trusting and When the Wind is Against You: Encouragement for When Life Pushes Back.
If you and I spent an hour together over coffee here in Nashville, there’s a great chance that somewhere in the conversation that dreaded “S” word would come up. My kids have a great time making fun of me about it (and even take bets on how long it will take me to say it). They’re right. It’s almost impossible for me to talk about the things that matter most without pulling the word “system” out a few times.
For years, the Ministry Architects team has been helping people build sustainable ministries by taking a uniquely systemic approach. Like the 14 or so systems of the human body, every ministry is made up of a complex system of systems that determine its overall health. And though most churches typically do well at pieces of each system, most fail miserably at becoming a healthy, collaborative community of multiple systems working in concert.
Though most people agree that, at least at some level, systems are important. Maybe they’ve read a little Ed Friedman or they’d studied a little Bowen theory. But for most, the specific systems required for sustaining a healthy ministry are ethereal and abstract.
Our experience is just the opposite. The systems required for sustaining a healthy ministry are very specific. In fact, we are in the process of compiling what we believe are the essential systems every church or ministry organization needs to tend to. We’ve come up with 15. The list may wind up as 12 or 17, but hopefully, this quick introduction will get the conversation started and prompt more and more ministries to have a much clearer picture of what healthy systems might look like.
I’ll introduce them simply with a name, followed by a one-sentence description.
- The Database System allows us to stay appropriately connected with the many different kinds of people connected to our ministry, so that we don’t communicate the same way with the lifelong member family as we do with the 15-year-old from Des Moines who visited the youth lock-in three years ago.
- The Calendar System ensures that we are not simply reacting to the most urgent demands but are also building a rhythm into the work we are called to do together.
- The Communication System pulls together the multiple streams of communication (both from the ministry and to the ministry) into a coherent, strategic, integrated message that actually produces desired results.
- The Volunteer System provides a congregation with a hernia-free process for recruiting, equipping, and dispatching volunteers into roles that are life-giving for the volunteers and make an impact for the cause of Christ.
- The Visioning System defines for a church where it wants to go and provides benchmarks for how it hopes to get there.
- The Hospitality System establishes clear processes to ensure that every person visiting a church or a ministry experiences a surprisingly welcoming environment, as well as consistent, comfortable follow-up contacts, appropriate to the DNA of that ministry.
- The Staff Development System provides a healthy eco-system for the paid staff of a ministry to thrive in their ministries, sustain their own emotional and spiritual health, while at the same time, staying highly engaged and productive in their positions.
- The Regular Programming System establishes a steady drumbeat for delivering consistently well-executed programs that participants experience as well worth the time invested.
- The Major Event System builds implementation teams that pull off effective, well-attended events, free of frustration of franticity and volunteers working at cross-purposes.
- The Financial System maximizes the generous investment of donors through faithful tracking and expenditure of funds, moving expressions of need, and meaningful expressions of gratitude.
- The Innovation System points a ministry in the direction of its future, welcoming outside the box thinking from a generation without a long history in the organization.
- The Compliance System ensures that all legal requirements related to the church are ministry are met, including background checks, payroll filings, licenses, etc.
- The Integration System links together the various departments and ministry efforts to remove silos and ensure the healthy, appropriate integration of the generations and the varied strands of ministry.
- The Missions System keeps the ministry always looking beyond the goal of its own survival and looking toward fulfilling its mission in the world.
- The Discipleship System identifies explicitly how the varied efforts of a church or ministry work together to deepen and strengthen the faith of those involved.
In the average ministry, what I find absolutely amazing is that these systems are almost always assumed but seldom built. The predictable result has been frustration, sideways energy, and volunteer-and-staff burnout at epidemic proportions. I have to wonder how many emergencies and crises in the church could be drastically reduces (or avoided all together) if churches simply took the time to invest in these systems, rather than expect them to be magically present without any deliberate effort.
As I often confess when I teach on Sustainable Ministry, systems are, of course, not the treasure; they are the clay pots (II Corinthians 4:7). But as long as our desire is to faithfully steward the treasure of the gospel through our organizations, we will need these systems, these jars of clay, to help us.
Mark served as the Associate Pastor for Youth and Their Families at First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee for 28 years. Though Mark resigned his position as youth pastor in 2014, after a year away, he plans to return to First Presbyterian as a volunteer associate pastor.
Mark is the author of a number of books, including Sustainable Youth Ministry (IVP, 2008), Family-Based Youth Ministry (IVP, Revised and Expanded, 2004) and 2011 releases, Before You Hire a Youth Pastor and The Indispensable Youth Pastor (Group Publishing), both co-authored with YMA Vice-President, Jeff Dunn-Rankin. Mark served as the General Editor for the 2013 release, Letters to a Youth Worker (CYMT, 2013). Mark and his wife, Susan, co-authored a marriage book (with their good friends, Robert & Bobbie Wolgemuth) entitled The Most Important Year in a Woman’s Life/ The Most Important Year in a Man’s Life (Zondervan, 2003). Their marriage book has recently been re-released as two separate gift books, one for the bride and one for the groom, called What Every Bride Needs to Know, and What Every Groom Needs to Know. (Zondervan, 2013).
Mark serves as the chairman of the board for the Center for Youth Ministry Training, a two-year residential, masters-level, youth ministry training program based in Nashville. He also serves on the Alumni Board for Princeton Theological Seminary. Mark is a presenter for Homeword’s “Understanding Your Teenager” seminars. And in addition to partnering occasionally with popular Christian musician, Mark Schultz, Mark is a frequent seminar speaker, training youth leaders at both the Youth Specialties’ National Youth Workers Convention and the Simply Youth Ministry Youth Ministry Conference.
Mark lives in Nashville with Susan, his wife of over 30 years, and they have three grown children: Adam and his wife, Sara, Debbie and her husband, Trey, and Leigh. Mark and Susan have three grandchildren, Parish, Nealy and Liam.