Monthly Archives: November 2009

Talking About the Gospel in a Pluralist Society

When faced with expressions of values that clash with biblical perspectives, Christians often resort to either “fight or flight” in response.  They either say nothing and miss an opportunity for a significant conversation, or they challenge the value. Fortunately, there is another way to engage people in conversation that is both rewarding and enjoyable, leaving all partners with their dignity intact and with a desire for further discussion.  Evangelism as dialogue, as opposed to proclamation, is proposed as a culturally sensitive approach through which people can converse about the values and beliefs that shape their lives. This perspective follows the principles of Significant Conversations: Evangelism that resonates with our Canadian context.

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The Unique Dynamics of Church Boards

On Saturday, November 7, 63 leaders from 7 Fellowship Baptist churches met for training at the Best Practices for Church Boards workshop. Even though we have been providing this training since 2005, the latest workshop was unique. We are constantly seeking to improve the value of the training, and through careful evaluation and surveys, we decided to reshape the teaching portion of the workshop around two distinct elements.

The first was to create a distinct list of capacities, or competencies, that define the unique responsibility that Church Boards must develop. The fact is that the responsibility of a church board is different than that of other non-profit boards on a number of levels, not the least of which is that a church board is responsible for a Spiritual body as well as a human organization. Identifying the unique list of Church Board competencies helps target training objectives.

The second element was intended to help churches discover the unique dynamics that belong to their specific church culture. It’s a matter of context for leadership. In the past, some churches have felt that the board training didn’t apply to their specific situation. To some degree, they were right, and the fact is that there is probably no single variable that affects congregational life and leadership responsibility as size. As Tim Keller writes, “size has enormous impact on how a church functions. There is a “size culture” that profoundly affects how decisions are made, how relationships flow, how effectiveness is evaluated, and how ministers, staff, and governing leaders relate.”

To help get a perspective on the relationship between church size and leadership demands, I developed a chart of four basic sizes of Church: Small (50-150), large-Small (200-350), small-Large (400-650), and Large (800-1,200). With each, the chart identified four general and unique characteristics related to: 1) The type of leadership structure (collective board, working/administrative board, traditional structural board, and a policy board); 2) The role of the Board; 3) The role of a Lead Pastor; 4) The role of a Staff or Ministry Team.

As the Church leaders matched the reality of their church size with their existing roles, they found that having a context helped them discover better ways to approach their work. Some of the comments from the day: Did we achieve clarity? Yes and we hope for a better chemistry and unity among board members … Our leadership team has needed to have a good discussion about our roles and clarifying who we are and what we are all about … the most beneficial thing from this workshop was defining the equally significant and complementary role of the board and the pastor … it has moved us forward.

While there is more work to be done and more applications to be made on the subject of size and an appropriate model of leadership relationships, there was one point that emerged from the discussion that transcended the presentation.

In an after-meeting discussion, one seasoned Board veteran made the comment: I’ve seen Church Boards with bad organizational models still work quite well. And, I’ve also seen Church Boards with great models stumble badly. When I asked him what made the difference, there was no hesitation in the answer: Spirit! Heart! A common Passion!

What a delightful discovery. A number of years ago, Jeffery Sonnenfeld wrote an article in the Harvard Business Journal, “What Makes a Great Board Great.” His conclusion was an echo of the same answer: “What distinguishes exemplary boards is that they are robust effective social systems.” Let me express it in simpler terms: they are people who work well together, who trust one another, who empower each other, and who need each other.

Let me suggest that there are a number of elements that can be found in the Spirit of a Great Church Board:

  1. A common Spiritual passion for their shared mission: They see their work together as a higher calling, and their relationship as a band of disciples centered by a common commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. They are more attuned to serving Him than they are to promoting a personal agenda. They seem to embody Romans 12:4-5 where they are determined to relate as a Body and not a Business. This perspective is reflected toward a sense of purpose: that their service on a Church Board is a critical spiritual ministry … and reflected toward their relationship with each other: that they need each other to fulfill that ministry.
  2. A tangible agreement to obey and support their shared role: While they tend to be very careful in evaluating their effectiveness and sensitive to “doing things better,” they are deeply committed to honoring their shared commitments and are obedient to the boundaries of their role. And, with their obedience, they are able to express their respect for one another.
  3. A climate of trust and candor: This is one of the five elements related by Sonnenfeld’s study of exemplary boards, and one that relates to the spirit of honesty and confidentiality that defines the integrity of Godly service. Great church boards are able to share difficult information and challenge each other with respect. They are able to, as Sonnenfeld writes, “be strong enough to withstand clashing viewpoints.” Their relationships could be described as “Iron sharpening Iron” and often their ability to disagree serves to provide creative solutions.

There are certainly more elements to be found, and I’ve begun to collect them as I’ve been examining and asking Church Boards to describe their healthiest dynamics. It’s an important task, done with the realization that if a Church Board is to truly fulfill it’s calling, it must go beyond attention to the details of direction and governance and the boundaries of an organizational chart. It must go to the heart of a unique bond of fellowship crafted by the Spirit of God.

Children’s Ministry

1191196_67173144Do you believe in the body of Christ? Somewhat of a ridiculous question to ask those who fully believe in Scripture and the teachings of 1 Corinthians 12. But if the saying ‘we practice what we preach’ is true, then where are all the children? In your ‘body of Christ’ – your congregation – where are all the children? Are they part of the body? Or are they a dismembered limb?

These are challenging questions, and to some, simply offensive, but they need to be asked. I worked in Children’s Ministry for 6 years before the children of my church were part of the ‘main body.’ Too many children had never seen communion or baptism, had never heard a missionary report or a pastoral prayer, had never seen their parents give in tithing, knew not their parents’ songs of worship … in short, ‘adult’ church had no meaning, no context, and no place for them.

Did we believe in the body of Christ? Could be debated.

Scottie May TeachingAt the TRANSFORM: Children’s Ministry Conference, we were posed with a variety of questions such as those above, challenging us to give honest answers. Compelling us to admit that though we believe in theory, our practice is not what we preach.

Dr. Scottie May, Assistant Professor of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College, and a long time participant in Children’s Ministry, brought us to the foundation of what we do. This was not a ‘cookie cutter conference’ where we took home a program and attempted to implement a program for 250 children with the 25 that attend. This was a challenge for each Children’s Pastor to consider children in light of the Scriptures; to consider their church’s and their leadership’s view of the child; to consider their programming and whether it left a child worshipping the one true God or mesmerized by their Nickelodeon set-up. As one participant wrote, the most beneficial aspect was “being challenged to think … not given too many answers, just more questions.” And as another wrote, “She [Scottie] really pushed people to think outside the norm and I thought that was great.”

Sessions at the Children's Ministry ConferenceBreakout sessions brought more depth and insight to Scottie’s teachings.  She began by stating, “I am not a speaker. I am a teacher and I’m here to teach. So let’s get started!”  Children’s pastors were given tools for practicing the spiritual disciplines with children; given scripture and helps for running a Bible-saturated ministry; and given tips from the ‘Little Blue Church’ on how to build a strong and healthy relationship with their local public school. Our eyes were opened to the needs of ‘special needs’ children and their families, and how the church can support them. Our hearts were drawn to sharing God’s story with hurting and abused children. And this is just a sampling.

So where did we (over 50 churches) go from there? Back to church. We went back to our ministries considering, contemplating and wondering why we do what we do. We were given the tools to biblically and philosophically consider our ministry and its purpose and spiritual effectiveness. We were encouraged to dialogue with church leadership to reconsider their perspective on children. In short, we left transformed.

Now some did not go directly back to church. Eleven of us continued our learning in the class, Transformational Teaching in Children’s Ministry, offered by Northwest Baptist Seminary and ACTS Seminaries. We had the privilege of diving even further into the elements and theory of teaching and learning, into the perspectives on children’s ministry, into curriculum development and assessment, into ministry to special needs children and finally into ministry to pre-teen children. The specialists who taught each component brought much wisdom and knowledge and reaffirmed what others had already taught.

And now we continue our learning. In January Northwest/ACTS will offer the class Biblical Philosophy of Children’s Ministry which will delve into a holistic understanding of Children’s Ministry. It will provide context for contemporary ministry, by looking into the history of Christian Education and the Sunday School movement. It will provide a biblical basis for writing objectives, goals and purpose statements for Children’s Ministry. It will teach Children’s Pastors how to write a Philosophy for Children’s Ministry, develop a Ministry Plan, and intricately assess a Children’s Ministry program. The professor, Melodie Bissell (MDV), brings wisdom, knowledge, passion and over 30 years of experience in Children’s Ministry to share with the students.

For more information on Children’s Ministry courses, and the Executive Certificate in Children’s Ministry of which these are a part, go to: www.nbseminary.com/academic-resources/certificates

“Deep Church”

Deep Church

On my website, preaching.org I posted the following review about Jim Belcher’s new book, Deep Church.  Click on the link below to read it in its entirety.

If you are anything like me, you have found yourself whip-sawed in recent years between the traditional and emerging churches. My recent comments on the Piper/Wright debate are a case in point. As much as I appreciate John Piper’s emphasis upon the legal aspects of the atonement, I find myself compelled by Wright’s concern for the broader implications of justification. As I read these conversations, I get the sense that the various parties are somehow “talking past each other,” as if they were speaking different languages.

For that reason, I was instantly drawn to Jim Belcher’s objective in his new book, Deep Church. Belcher, who has been something of an “insider” to the conversation over many years, is searching for a “third way beyond emerging and traditional.” Utilizing a phrase he found in C.S. Lewis, Belcher describes this third way as “Deep Church,” a way of doing and being church that draws on both sides of the continuum. The result, one hopes, is a church that avoids the excesses of the combatants, while embracing what is good in both.


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