Monday, July 04, 2011

resourcing mission: challenge or opportunity?

Two different moments today that got me thinking about resourcing mission.

First, a student assignment. It described a standard local Uniting Church. Aging, struggling. It is resourced by a supply minister, who focuses on Sunday preaching and pastoral care. Toward the end of the assignment, almost as an afterthought, there was mention of events this church puts on for the local community – Anzac Day and Carols – and how 400 people turn up.

So my resourcing question. Why, on why, resource Sunday, when you have a booming community event? If church is about worship, then of course, focus on Sunday. But if church is about mission, why not focus on better resourcing the community events?

Second, a post by Scott Guyatt, Mission Planner in Tasmania. Titled birth and death, he noted the struggles around buildings, money, age, numbers. Then the following:

All over Tasmania, wherever I go, I am encountering stories in the Uniting Church of people trying new things, re-thinking what it means to live together in faith community, worship together, engage in community, participate in God’s mission. I hear the hope in a Friday night praise and worship gathering in the rural village … a lounge-room gathering … a wild and powerful vision of residential community … the quiet contemplation of a new garden … the burgeoning community meals … the dreams of a first-ever website … the endless stories of community service … the stories of a cape york visit by students.

Again the resourcing question. If your resources are limited, as most churches are, as all businesses are, where do you put them? Into what is, the existing? Which has tradition and heritage? And voice?

Or into what might be? Which is a huge risk. They might not work. (Not that what is, is).

The two examples got me thinking over what church is about. And this growing concern, that we have tied our resources and our imaginations into self-care. We pay people to sustain Sunday. We have buildings based to seat folk for worship. We have budgets that mostly serve those who contribute financially.

So often the resourcing questions seem to get defined by Christendom paradigms. Apparently we need enough people to sustain a sole-charge minister. Well, who says ministers should be sole-charge, or should serve the gathered church? We have a budget with a bit left for mission. Well why shouldn’t the whole budget be for mission, with a bit left to sustain some regular smaller groups?

If church is about participation in the missio Dei, then doesn’t that mean we need to ask our pastors to be missionaries, train our candidates for mission and convert our buildings into serving our mission. That our resources exist for others, not us?

Or am I missing something?

Posted by steve at 09:43 PM

15 Comments

  1. But Steve, all the “successful churches” are big with big buildings and lots of fulltime paid staff…

    Comment by Paul — July 4, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

  2. Paul, paul, so many straw people to shoot down. everything observed in Tasmania happens in any one of the “successful churches” you critique. If the conversation is about mission – im interested. If the conversation is about a pre-conceived bias against any christian community over 150 people or 500 people or 5000 people then prepare for disengagement from many effective, faithful and humble leaders who bear the burden of pastoring large, missional communities. If the conversation about missional leadership stops at resourcing people in a part to full time capacity then be prepared for disengagement….so over it.

    Comment by andrew — July 4, 2011 @ 11:50 pm

  3. I like the idea of our “pastors” being there to equip the saints for acts of service (eph 4). Think it is limiting to say that they are only there to equip for mission. But can see that you are addressing a large imbalance so often the understated need gets overstated to try and bring correction.

    I think the imbalance actually gets addressed when we have the influence of all five mentioned in eph 4. I know we call everyone pastor, but it is true that often churches are being led by people with a pastoral gifting and so with the current model of doing church the needs of the church people become the priority.

    However if we can find a way for people to be equipped by pastors, prophets, teachers, evangelists and apostles (regardless of whether each office exists in a paid or voluntary basis in a local context)then eph 4 seems to suggest that it is this that brings about maturity and growth within the body.

    Comment by Aaron — July 5, 2011 @ 2:31 am

  4. Least favourite phrase heard (or cognates of this phrase) ‘But we need to be built up first’….wonder if God sometimes says ‘No- you need to lose weight by exercising more’…

    Comment by Graham — July 5, 2011 @ 7:19 am

  5. LOL Graham – certainly the challenge of mission seems to me to be as tough whether you’re small or large.

    Perhaps tougher when you’re large cos you have more folk to lose if you propose something radical?

    steve

    Comment by steve — July 5, 2011 @ 8:15 am

  6. Andrew said :”If the conversation about missional leadership stops at resourcing people in a part to full time capacity then be prepared for disengagement”

    Andrew if you’re checking back on the comments, could you expand a little, say something more about this sentence? Just not sure I’m quite understanding your meaning.

    peace
    scott

    Comment by scott — July 5, 2011 @ 11:28 am

  7. Scott asked me to unpack my statement “If the conversation about missional leadership stops at resourcing people in a part to full time capacity then be prepared for disengagement”

    Once a community grows beyond 120 or so, there grows a need for certain people to be resourced to offer gifts and graces in ministry beyond what their regular rhythm of work and life allows. This is an ongoing issue for growing communities. we see this in Acts 6 where deacons are appointed to allow ongoing ministry of preaching, prayer and practical service to thrive.

    Similarly when communities grow beyond 150 or so the gifting of that leadership needs to include leadership capable of more complexity. The church growth movement got a lot of things wrong but they did get this one right.

    Its unclear to me whether the conversation about resourcing people in ministry [ie paid ministry leadership] is philosophically abhorrent to some people or perhaps is unnecessary for some given the small size of their communities. ie they see no obvious need for it and transfer that to conversations with other communities. It can also be linked to situations where a key leader of a community is resourced in another way [eg denominational position, lecturer, NGO position] and thus the community they serve or shape do not need to covenant finance for their pastoral leadership. Whatever the cause of the conversation, I have been confronted on many occasions by people who question the place of paid ministry.

    I have had it made clear to me on a number of occasions that I am part of the “machine” or that I cannot be true to the missional cause because I am obligated to the people paying my wage who do not want to change. As confused as i am by these statements [from which there is no real point of response or dialogue] it does seem to be an issue to many who are involved in the missional conversation in Australia.

    For those of us leading larger missional communities or changing the missional culture of those communities in a paid capacity it serves as a signal that we are not a welcome part of that conversation as co-contributors.

    My question / comment is reflecting that experience. If the conversation doesn’t include anyone within a paid role resourced by a missional community – then I and a number of other missional leaders simply can’t engage with the conversation.

    Comment by Andrew — July 5, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

  8. Thanks Andrew. Can I clarify whether you might feel excluded simply by past experiences, or by something in my post or by the comment made by Paul?

    Your comment “situations where a key leader of a community is resourced in another way [eg denominational position, lecturer, NGO position] and thus the community they serve or shape do not need to covenant finance for their pastoral leadership” really resonated with me.

    I have been thinking (and talked with Scott also about this) about the fact that if I, or he, were involved spare-time in a church plant, is it really lay led – given that my work means I have a lot of resource to bring to the table.

    Same with folk who might work for the church, but not be ordained – IMHO they are still bringing significant resources to the table.

    steve

    Comment by steve — July 5, 2011 @ 8:00 pm

  9. Andrew, I wasn’t very clear by what I meant. It was really just broad-brush cynicism at its interwebian worst on my part ;)

    I don’t have a problem with paid ministry at all – I am paid three days a week as a baptist pastor in a church with c.200 people – what I have a problem with is with what I see as the tendency to focus on paid staff and buildings to the detriment of mission, especially with limited resources.

    For example: In my experience, if you ask most mainline Protestant ministers of small churches what they spend most of their vestry meetings talking about it is maintaining their buildings and budgetary limitations. What is the biggest item of operational spending? The minister’s salary.

    Comment by Paul — July 5, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

  10. steve, I read you post and say ‘sure’, of course. this doesnt seem like a new insight. or is it extra evidence for what you already know?

    Comment by craig — July 5, 2011 @ 10:45 pm

  11. Thanks Andrew for the extra insights.

    I’m interested that you’re continuing to encounter what you describe as a “conversation that doesn’t include anyone within a paid role resourced by a missional community”. While there have been times in the past when that sort of vibe has been front and centre in Aus in my experience, I would have to say that more recently my perception is that the “missional conversation” has become very mainstream, and deeply embedded in the lives of denominations, and traditional congregations (whether large or small) with their particular approaches to paid ministry staff.

    I don’t doubt that you run into that sort of comment, I guess I’m just a little sad that it continues to exist.

    In my own context (Uniting Church, Tasmania)I work very closely with ministers (& other paid leaders) alongside unpaid/lay leaders to help resource congregations and faith communities. While I might sometimes be diasppointed to find congregations for whom the def’n of success = having a minister, for most there is a genuine desire to find positive and hope-filled (and ‘missional to use the word) ways forward in a challenging cultural context, and where there are ministry staff in place, they are key leadership resources in their communities.

    The piece I wrote came as I spent some time reflecting on the church here. 3-4 years ago it was all doom and gloom, but slowly, small step by small step, things are changing. Hope is in the air. And paid ministry staff are front and centre in the journey for many (but not all) of our congregations and faith communities.

    I hope you continue to engage in the ‘missional conversation’ because it needs paticipants from different perspectives to ensure a rich and helpful conversation. From those in roles & communities like yours, from those in roles like mine (denominational resource person), and from those in tiny little congregations and faith communities seeking a way. The bigger the variety of conversation partners, the better.

    Comment by scott — July 6, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

  12. And I read this from my own denomination this week: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/15051 . Either he could be copying you or you have become good enough a wise enough to be considered a Methodist :)… I prefer the latter….. :)

    Comment by Graham — July 6, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

  13. Thanks all for your thoughtful and humble contributions. Just to clarify Steve, the comments I made were a response to a number of conversations I have had in the last few years with several earnest folk who are trying to find their way. Paul’s comments pushed a button and I really appreciate his further comments that help clarify what he is thinking. I have found that the kingdom way will utilize whatever resources are in our hand – be it an inheritance, a lecturing position, a paid pastoral position or a catering job – I’ve had all of those at some time or other. What I have now is what Jesus has given me and each vocation is strategically placed by the Father to achieve his purposes. Each activity – be it building a building or lecturing or selling the farm or erecting a tent in the housing trust – if given by God will prosper – it not, it won’t. Even when it doesn’t prosper [and I've had a few of them!] I have always found God honours the faith in which the decision was made and brings me into a deeper humility and sensitivity to his voice. And the Holy Spirit loves that sort of stuff and gets excited about it. And it the Holy Spirit is excited – amazing things start to happen… I would be really interested in hearing the humility moments and the Holy Spirit things that are happening around my fellow bloggers ….

    Comment by Andrew — July 7, 2011 @ 10:14 am

  14. ps thanks steve for hosting such a respectful and helpful conversation

    Comment by Andrew — July 7, 2011 @ 10:54 am

  15. Thanks Andrew

    “respectful and helpful conversation” – that’s exactly the type of missional leader conversations I’d like to be part of, and what I hope the missiology stream here at Uniting College can foster both onsite, in class, with candidates and lay in all their uniquely fingerprinted diversity and via websites

    :)

    steve

    Comment by steve — July 7, 2011 @ 10:59 am

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