Tag: church leaders

Church membership reimagined

Some in my Southern Baptist denomination are calling for more stringent church discipline. That’s mostly because we can’t find about half of our 16-million members. Obviously, some of our folks don’t take church membership very seriously. The logical thing to do to solve that problem is tighten up — enforce church discipline — make members tow the line. But, that’s the wrong approach.

My solution? Do away with church membership all together. There is no biblical basis for “membership” in a church, and it’s largely ineffective today. The alternative is to create “participants” — one church calls them “partners” — people who connect to a church by participating in some or all of the things a church does.

For instance, some will be interested in worship. Others will take a course in parenting. Others will help in the food pantry, or whatever your community ministry is. Others will want to bring their children to an afterschool program like AWANA or Pioneer Clubs. Some will volunteer to help in the community garden. Some will be involved in more than one aspect of church life, others will not.

By creating “participants” churches no longer have to press people to “join.” We can then focus on building The Kingdom, rather than our own kingdoms. The objection, of course, is that people will not take church seriously if they don’t join. But, most don’t take membership seriously now, so I’m not sure we’ll lose anything. Plus, there is a difference in “belonging” and “joining.” You’ve probably experienced people who joined, but never really belonged. They soon disappear. By contrast, participants would feel they belonged to their interest group — or else they wouldn’t come.

By identifying them as participants churches will free people to experience the ministry of church in various ways, without pushing for a premature commitment. As for leadership, cream always rises to the top. Churches will easily identify potential leaders by their enthusiasm, commitment, and involvement. Potential leaders are then invited to join the “leadership development team” to be formed as leaders in the congregation.

Finally, most churches connect professing faith in Christ and joining the church. In the South, “joining the church” is actually code for becoming a Christian. By unbundling conversion and membership, churches make clear that commitment to Christ is our first priority, with participation in a community of faith as its natural by-product.

Local church administration will undergo a significant revision in this century. Would your church give up its membership rolls for the participant concept? Or, is this a really wacky idea? I’d like to know what you think.

Christian leaders manage meaning

Making Spiritual Sense I’m reading a great book by Scott Cormode, the Hugh De Pree Associate Professor of Leadership Development at Fuller Seminary.  Titled, Making Spiritual Sense: Christian Leaders As Spiritual Interpreters, Cormode says,

To the extent that Christian leaders provide people with a theological framework for action, they are proclaiming God’s message of love and justice….Pastors lead by providing God’s people with the theological categories  to make spiritual meaning.

That, he says, is the difference between leaders of organizations and leaders of the community of faith called the church.  Unlike the leadership models borrowed from corporate, military, or sports worlds, Christian leadership is about “the leader as ‘manager of meaning.'”  I like that.  After all, that is what Jesus does, and Cormode gives plenty of examples of how Jesus redefined reality in his “you have heard…but I say unto you” statements.  This is far different also, than tacking Christianity onto the culture in which we live, or adding “spirituality” to all the other consumer choices available to us today.

Cormode argues that we use a repertoire of tools to interpret and decode the world around us.  One of the most intriguing examples he cites is how humans use stories to interpret events.  He gives the example of seeing a crying child in a grocery, then watching her run to an adult male with great relief.  Cormode says that before he realized it, he had told himself the story of a little girl who got separated from her father while they were shopping, only to be greatly relieved to find him again.   The stories we tell ourselves help us interpret events around us.  It becomes the task of the Christian leader to lead church members to see events through the story of God’s work in this world.

Another pertinent point is that we all have expectations.  Churches often have expectations that a new pastor will solve all their previous problems, including attendance, budget, fellowship, and vision.  But, Cormode says, sooner or later, pastors will fail the expectations of their members.  Quoting Ronald Heifetz, Cormode reminds us that ‘leaders have to fail people’s “expectations at a rate they can stand.”‘

If you are looking for a very helpful, solid book on the task of leadership, pick up a copy of Making Spiritual Sense.   You might find it a refreshing break from the leader-as-hero myth that dominates our culture, including our church culture.

-Scott Cormode is also the founder of the Academy of Religious Leadership, and the Journal of Religious Leadership, plus the website, ChristianLeaders.org.

Why do I write this blog about small churches?

For those new to this blog, a little orientation might help.  I pastor a small church (avg. 80-attendance) in a small town (1300/population) in a rural county in south central Virginia.  Our growth opportunities are limited, our church is 151-years old, and we have our own set of blessings and challenges.

But, I have also planted a church that grew to 400, and pastored small churches in suburban areas that grew into larger churches running 400-600 in attendance with multiple staff members, and support staff.   So, I understand that perspective as well.

I try to write for a broad spectrum of small churches and their leaders, but one-size does not fit all, and I am well aware of that.  I write mostly about what I have experienced because that’s what I know.  I don’t write many theoretical posts because I’m trying to be helpful, not academic.

I believe that small churches are a good thing.  And, I also believe that not every small church will grow into a big church.  Statistics bear me out on that.  That might sound strange coming from someone who studied church growth at Fuller when it was at its peak, but I think that’s the reality.

Mostly, I’m writing to be encouraging.  I believe that small church pastors are under-paid, under-appreciated, and under-recognized.  I am also convinced that the small church community has ideas, insights, passion, and commitment that equals any you’ll find in the big-church world.  We just don’t have the high profile forums big churches have.  I’m not down on big churches, but I don’t believe that adopting big church methods to the small church world is helpful.

I’m writing this blog to share ideas, invite your participation, and build a small church community.  One day I’d like for us to do our own small church convocation, conceived and led by small church leaders.  I have the dream that a get-together like that would be free, and draw its content from the small church pastors and leaders who participate.  We have a lot to offer each other.  What do you think?