I have a soft spot in my heart for disciples involved in congregational growth and development. I love their passion, their sense of adventure, and the way they try innovative things. I love most of all their heart for reaching people who need a touch from the Living God. I love them. A lot.
Maybe it’s because I have a lot of colleagues that have or are currently doing it. It might even be because I’ve been involved in some heavy duty development work over the years. To this day, I still drive by buildings with a “For Lease” sign in the window and wonder, “Would that place work for an outreach center?” However, with most efforts like organizational or congregational development, you make a lot of mistakes. I’d like to talk about a few things that I wish I had known, done, or done better.
Go and Be - or - Come and See
Most of the time, especially when dealing with well-established parishes that are seeking renewal,. we have the philosophy that the church ought to be a place where you could invite a friend to ‘come and see’. It’s like that Samaritan woman that Jesus met at a well in the gospel of John … the one who ran back into town and said, “You gotta come and see this guy!” Usually, we seek to grow by using what some call an “attractional” model. Sometimes this works and we attract a few people, people that actually find Jesus in our community. I’m so grateful for the way God moves when that happens.
More importantly, I wish we could have more balance on the “go and be” side of ministry. It sometimes takes a while for parishes to be known as a place that ‘loves and serves our community’. I don’t believe that it’s an either/or when it comes to ‘come and see’ and ‘go and be’. It’s actually a both/and proposition. But y experience indicates that we should probably start with “go and be” before we get into the thick of the “come and see” phase of our ministry. I observe with great interest how some churches just show up and start building relationships, serving the poor, mentoring school kids, and making a difference in a community for months before they ever bring up the idea of sharing a weekend service. Then the invite to “come and see” flows out of the respect they have earned from serving their community.
We have all kinds of volunteer leaders doing all kinds of ministry. But most importantly, each and all of them need to feel more “ownership.” Perhaps there is a way to acknowledge their ministries by creating official staff positions although they are "non-stipendiary" (i.e. non-paid) positions. They could then participate in staff meetings where we can laugh about our foibles, study God’s Word, and pray for those in our community experiencing difficulties. I would want them to feel every bit of ownership as the few of us on staff often feel. We could use a few interns as well. What a great learning experience for college students that are thinking about ministry. Plus we could use a bit more help … for almost free :).
Although God supplies every spiritual gift we need, I wish, as the point leader, I could steer us toward finding greater financial resources: raising more than we think we need. This is the outcome fo having a theology of abundance! It is no less stressful, sometimes living one or two offerings away from hard and difficult times. But again, if we are honest with ourselves, we find that God provides and there isn’t nearly as much need for all that stress. Generous people will be involved if you ask. We just need to ask more clearly and more often.
Creating a Band of Disciples
While we have a great team and great people at St. Luke’s, I have found that we need to participate in more networks, training, and mentoring for our paid staff and volunteer ministers. We need to take advantage of the conferences, retreats, and other opportunities as offered by our diocese (and our neighboring dioceses as well). We need to seek out more friends who are in the same circumstances season as we.
It's About Getting Down and Dirty
Not long ago, I participated in a CREDO conference sponsored by the Church Pension Group. While the conference centered on my health and well-being, I can remember taking a day of prayer, on the mountainside where the retreat center was located. It was a great time of writing, journaling, praying, taking a nap, singing, watching nature in all of its wonder. Upon returning, one of my small group member jokingly asked me, “Did you hear from God up on Mt. Sinai?” I said, “Yep. I did.” He told me, “It’s about people, stupid.” We are so often concerned about buildings, budgets, and strategic five year plans that we can lose sight of the hurting people that Christ sends us to reach. You can do that you know. I often need that reminder.
Father Zwifka continues to teach in the Bishop Dean T Stevenson School for Ministry in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. Apart from academic pursuits, he guides an internship seminar for people discerning a vocation and is a lead developer in the new Vital and Effective Ministry Institute for new clergy and clergy new to their cures.