This is the first blog in a series: The Grass is Always Greener Where you Water it. As I write about the churches where I have served, I am using pseudonyms that will give me the opportunity to explore them a little more fully, without offending members or staff with my observations. Looking back now at the trail behind, I recognize that each one of the celebrations of a win, and each challenge (or epic fail) was directly related to how clearly the church understood its identity and calling.
When God called me out of the corporate world, into vocational ministry with the church, Big Community Baptist was the place He called me. My wife and I had recently moved from the Atlanta, GA and we landed at Big Community Baptist, which was pastored by an amazing, Godly man and a competent, well-loved staff.
As I write about my experiences there, I want to present it through the lens of clarity, and how they answered (or didn’t) the 5 Irreducible Questions of Clarity:
>>what are we ultimately supposed to be doing?
Big Community Baptist had a lot of things working in its favor. It was well-established, over 8K members strong. It had a skilled staff, and truly represented the big community church in Western culture – in both strengths and weaknesses. Though leadership used different church flavored words, what we were ultimately doing, was creating a wonderful place where good people could become better people. The church’s mission was generic and soft. Our strength was offering something to every felt need that a nominally Christian person could have – and we did it with excellence! I would characterize us as one of the largest Christian buffets on the East Coast.
>>why are we doing it?
I will speak to what I perceived as the top 3 core values, highlighted through the actions and ethos of the church during my time there, as opposed to our stated values that existed in a notebook on every pastor’s shelf:
== Everyone involved all the time – Instead of focusing involvement around no more than 3 strategic time slots in the weekly rhythm, there was an expectation that everyone should be involved every time the church doors open. The church also made provisions for people to be involved all week long (meals at the church, child care for every event). Contrary to expectation, this actually worked fairly well. There was a very high degree of involvement at the participation level all week long.
== Tradition as our guide rails – Big Community Baptist has a high respect for tradition. They utilized the strength of things done the same way for decades. There was an underlying structure of tradition and culture that served as a strong (nearly impassible) filter that determined ministry development, discipleship expectations, and leadership. While this is positive when done intentionally, it can also be stifling if not managed appropriately.
== Let the professionals do it – While there was a high degree of involvement at the participation level, there was a famine at the leadership level. Members, attenders, and staff acted on the expectation that ministry was the “professional’s” job. The staff and paid volunteers were unbelievably competent at feeding the masses and meeting needs, and that was the unspoken metric of success.
>>how are we doing it?
This question and the following are where I was able to explore my developing strengths most fully and bring some missing clarity in my time at this church. The strategy for Big Community Baptist was centered around getting the largest number of people involved in the greatest number of things. Part of my service here, arose from my passion for depth of development and transformation. One of the most valuable things that I learned about ministry from the tremendous leaders in this church, is how to handle people-development in large, complex ministry structures. BCB’s strategy and measures had been all about going wide with the big net. Part of that was the immediacy of having so many people involved with such a low leadership capacity. What that requires is always pitching to the weakest hitter, with no margin for working with players who have Pro potential to develop a larger leadership bench.
After a lot of discussion and debate (and more than a little tension), leadership gave the nod to start an 18 month leadership development process that would dive deep, reproducing radical discipleship in the lives of lay leaders. With many skeptics questioning the effectiveness and time-table it moved forward. After 18 months, the leadership was astounded, having a whole new group of people with the capacity and maturity to run whole ministry areas – and that’s what they did! This concept of slow-cook, life-on-life disciple reproduction challenged and evolved their strategy in significant ways over the next decade, and went on to have a high impact on other local churches as well.
>>when do we win?
Until shortly after Big Community Baptist invited me to reform the discipleship and community process, the picture of a win was based purely on Input Metrics (like number of people involved). There was a underground concept of what a disciple of Jesus looked like. It was rarely given voice, much less evaluated. We developed and articulated a number of characteristics that were measurable and understood to be the result of engaging as a follower of Christ at BCB.
This is by no means a perfect list, but it was revolutionary to write it out and begin to measure success with tangible characteristics in the lives of people growing at the church. Simply put:
- Worship with Heart, Mind, and Body
- Corporate service
- Individual worship time
- Serving inside and outside
- Instruction in Truth
- Seeking mentoring
- Giving mentoring
- Small group training
- Loving God, Unbelievers, and the Church
- Putting God first
- Active caring for people far from God
- Praying for the church daily
>>where is God taking us?
Honestly, there were quite a few answers to this question during my time there. This question should have the flex and flow of a journey into the wilds with God. Part of the intangibility in this case is a lack of clarity with the preceding 4 questions.
Big Community Baptist is a great church, and has changed a lot in the last decade. They have uncovered a lot of the clarity that was missing, and they are even more missionally oriented than they were during my time. It was a blessing to lead and serve there. I learned so much from patient leaders. I am thankful for my calling there, and it was painful for me to pull away and be called by God in to my next place of ministry…coming up!
>> Which of these 5 questions do you find most challenging to answer in your current place of ministry?
I am reminded of your earlier post that suggested that churches that try to offer something for everyone tend to fall apart/fail. Given the way you’ve framed this, I wonder about the potential dangers of narrowing your vision too much. Could it be that someone’s life may also be at risk if you clarify them out of your church’s vision?
Absolutely! The clarity that I’m suggesting is the refinement of a church’s DNA and mission to their particular unique context – not an abandonment of every church’s shared DNA (collectively called the Great Commission).
Imagine the concept in the educational world. People choose to get a degree at Baylor University because of their tremendous law program, or Harvard because of their business school. You can still get a good general education at either school, and that is their shared DNA. The more they play to their strengths, the more they benefit, their students benefit, and even arguably, the world benefits. Businesses that succeed have clarity about who they are and what they do.
Jesus had clarity about his mission, and left a wake of unmet needs for the sake of accomplishing the larger mission. And churches are possibly the most resourced organizations in the world that somehow are able to continue operating with such a lack of clarity. I have seen how much of an effective, positive impact a church can have when there is clarity about their unique strengths and missional context. And I have seen churches with good-intentioned, passionate people founder into obscurity through lack of vision clarity. GREAT comment. Let’s continue the conversation.