Introduction. I’m in the process of putting together a “hinge piece” for my Opal Systems “Intercultural Connection Zone” training curriculum. That means I’m reviewing a lot of my older material to incorporate some in the new. And, I’m running across some very intriguing stuff – well, at least I think it is. For instance, I just happened to find this proposal that I wrote in April 2009, for a local consortium to help churches build or re-build their ministry systems from the ground up and for the long term. I thought the questions would be really good to share, so I added two more to the original 18 so we could play the “20 Questions Game” and see what emerged. So … here it is, with its introductory sections. Have fun!
Ministry Systems that Last:
Systems Design for Sustainability
Proposal for a “Marin Ministry Consortium”
A Core Problem
Conventional seminary and leadership training programs generally focus on transferring intellectual skills for developing theological content and Christian character. Those are important components for ministering to people. However, the skill sets for cultural research and organizational development are not particularly practical when it comes to actually creating organizational systems for ministering to people. Rarely are we as ministers-in-training given the skill sets needed to strategize, design, implement, and revise ministry infrastructures, processes, and procedures. We do not know how to develop our own assessments, correctives, and collaborations.
For instance, knowledge of spiritual gifts does not give us a practical system for helping people find their gifts, pinpoint what kinds of ministries they might best fit with based on their gifts (not on our church’s or ministries’ needs to fill program positions), or develop new ministry structures where their giftings can shine. Knowledge of spiritual gifts also does not give us a practical system or capable trainers for matching people with ministry roles, supervising staff and volunteers, or carrying out ongoing training for ministry leaders and volunteers.
Or, we hear more dialog these days about becoming missional in our outreach and contextual in our ministries. Were we trained in any skills for leading local people to conduct cultural research so we can understand our community, its people groups, and their needs? If we’ve relied on outsourcing our research in the past, did our consultants train anyone in how to interpret the data for ourselves so we didn’t have to keep relying on them?
A Systems Solution
May I suggest the strongest long-term solution to our problem involves learning to design our own comprehensive ministry systems (and then train next generations to do likewise)? Not just finding practical tips on this or that specific issue, nor hiring experts to do this or that for us. The design deficits in the same standard approaches seem to be manifesting more, when we see so many denominations in decline, churches that have plateaued, and ministries that have closed. If we want to steward what God has invested in our groups and gatherings, we need to invest in some transferable learning and hands-on practice.
This series of introductory seminars and the follow-up work groups are meant to equip local leaders to design ministry systems that last. Through a combination of learning, consulting, field work, facilitated brainstorming, and teamwork, we will acquire the practical frameworks to interpret our situation and setting, and practical skills for designing systems that have sustainability.
Expect that some of the material will be technical. Also, other material may seem technical because we generally have no background frame of reference for system design and development skills. However, expect that all of it will be practical, and that the facilitating will be personalized.
Introductory Seminars and Follow-Up Work Groups
There are seven introductory seminars, one to overview the key issues in each of the related work group modules.
- Module #1 – Discipleship Systems
- Module #2 – Leadership Development Systems
- Module #3 – Sustainable Organizational Systems
- Module #4 – Missional Ministry in Church, Community, and Culture
- Module #5 – Ministry Methodologies and Models
- Module #6 – Kingdom Collaboration Systems
- Module #7 – Discernment Strategies
Each introductory seminar is three hours. During the first hour, Brad Sargent will present what he sees as the most essential things we need to know on the topic. After a 15-minute break, the group will have 90 minutes for facilitated dialog on the ideas. The last 15 minutes is for final comments by group participants and facilitator(s). (As an alternative format, modules can be broken into segments, with one hour for each question. This would include a 20- to 30-minute presentation on the core issues for that question, with the remainder of the hour for group discussion.)
A three-hour introduction can only point toward what needs to be done in developing practical skills to produce sustainable ministry systems. Once the introductory series is completed, there will be an opportunity to arrange for follow-up work groups to go through all seven modules. Groups can be any combination of an organization’s leaders, staff, teams, and volunteers. The work group training series will focus on hands-on help and customized consulting to get participants into practical how-to’s of the skills needed for (re)building their ministry systems. Work group participants/teams will emerge with a written working plan for sustainable systems in their own church, ministry, or agency – along with suggestions for how to adapt and implement it over multiple generations. Work groups will probably meet several times to complete the work for each module before moving on.
If there is interest, we could offer an inter-church work group to improve cross-pollination of ideas, research, and practices. This could possibly lead to an ongoing “Marin Ministry Consortium” for eventual Kingdom collaboration on spiritual gift assessment clinics, new ministry development peer review teams, and community-wide ministries.
20 Questions for Ministry Systems that Last
Module #1 – Discipleship Systems
1. How do we encourage disciples to discover, embrace, and persevere in a spiritual formation approach that helps them mature in Christian convictions and character, while encouraging their approach to remain “Creator-sensitive” to the unique ways He’s made them to process information and learn?
2. How do we make disciples who become disciple-makers?
3. How do we disciple members of younger generations, when their thinking patterns, values, and world are so different from what we grew up with?
Module #2 – Leadership Development Systems
4. How do we grow leaders who are qualified for behind-the-scenes and/or up-front service, and what should be our threshold of maturity and skills for public acknowledgement of their leadership roles?
5. How do we discern is someone is spiritually abusive or has otherwise become unqualified for service, and what processes are needed for redemptive recovery and possible restoration to a ministry leadership position?
6. How do we develop teams that are gift-based and balanced, where leaders/overseers are equipped to supervise staff and volunteers, and everyone receives ongoing mentoring?
Module #3 – Sustainable Organizational Systems
7. How do we discern our unique “redemptive purpose” as a congregation, given our cultural setting and our own history of ministry, and use this to move confidently into a providential and preferable future?
8. How do we promote sustainability in our ministry systems and structures so we not only create legacies to pass on to next generations, but develop the next leaders to receive, adapt, and pass it on to those after them?
9. How do we develop new ministries that are timely, relevant, gift-based, well overseen, and resilient?
Module #4 – Missional Ministry in Church, Community, and Culture
10. How do we go about doing cultural research and analysis?
11. How do we discern where we can be relevant to our cultural context, so we can identify with people – and yet resist negative aspects of our cultural context, so we don’t get “inertified”?
12. How do we establish gatherings that are both welcoming and transforming, so all feel they can be a part of the group, regardless of where they are in their spiritual journey, and yet all are on a trajectory of transformation to become more Christlike, meaning we need to actively overcome barriers of brokenness and sin in our life?
Module #5 – Ministry Methodologies and Models
13. How do we design ministries with methods and models that create coherent systems and structures, and that also integrate enough flexibility to survive into the future instead of being stuck in paradigms of the past?
14. How do we apply these design principles to broad categories (such as discipleship, fellowship, ministry, outreach, and worship) and other specific areas (such as apologetics, youth work, arts, teaching styles, etc.)?
15. How do we aim our methodological models and ministries to create spiritual producers instead of consumers?
Module #6 – Kingdom Collaboration Systems
16. How do we move beyond past paradigms of collaboration based on nominalism, doctrinalism, or pragmatism?
17. How do we discern whether a potential ministry partnership will likely be productive or destructive?
18. How do we contribute from our unique redemptive purpose without losing our distinctives for “unity’s” sake?
Module #7 – Discernment Strategies
19. How do we discern what is from God and what is a counterfeit, and what is from internal human sin and brokenness versus external evil influences?
20. How do we use individual and communal strategies for discernment in order to discover the best ways to minister?