Chapter two, part b. Sometimes we get to know folk, but we don't develop mutuality in the relationships.
Lupton insists that our ministries must build trust. “For some reason healthy people with hearts full of compassion forget fundamentals when it comes to building relationships with those they attempt to serve. Forging ahead to meet a need, we often ignore the basics: mutuality, reciprocity, accountability. In doing so, relationships turn toxic” (Lupton 57). Mutuality is dependent on our built up trust, reciprocity requires that we recognize each as having something to give and some need, accountability requires the person who doesn’t have enough food to take a role in getting that food.
Lupton’s critique is not as strong in asking for accountability for those serving the food, although he asks if their programs are getting results. Given his concern for reciprocity and mutuality he might have considered results to be measured by relationships built or in boundaries crossed but instead he measures only whether people who need food stop needing it. He does note that it is a sign of the failure of our direct service charities that we are ministering to strangers, or, in loving cases, guests. Rarely are the poor and the people who need food part of our churches. We are not helping fellow members, but outsiders, people who are other (Lupton 62). They are invited only to be visitors for a short time, and then sent away, not meeting our own need for relationship, nor that of the person who also needs food.
Kevin Blue, also critiquing our present forms of direct service charity in Practical Justice: Living Off-Center in a Self-Centered World suggests that “[d]irect relief of another’s suffering is a high form of love. Sometimes it requires our money; frequently it requires our time. But most of all it requires that we see the value and dignity of each person we interact with” (Blue loc 571). When charity programs don’t focus on seeing the value and dignity of the participants we lose the ability to see each person as bringing gifts in addition to bringing needs. The result is ministries that reinforce the givers as one-up and the people with little as one-down. Blue describes ethical direct service as partnerships, where everyone is bringing something to the partnership, if only themselves (Blue loc 670). He sells people with little short when he adds the “if only themselves”. While there are surely some who are so wounded that it is only themselves they can bring, the majority of people who need food have many gifts they bring to the table. It is our failed sense of charity that blinds us to those gifts.
Stephen Bouman, a Lutheran priest who uses community organizing as his principal tool for creating congregational vitality, argues for creating partnerships around a shared table. The Mission Table: Renewing Congregation and Community takes the interesting approach that a church’s mission to serve people in need, and our mission to reach out to share the good news, are the same tasks. Using the language of solidarity from Alinsky (and Gutierrez as we will see in the next Chapter) Bouman notes that our goal should not be connections only to people like us, or members of the same church, or even people who like us, but rather to be made whole by gathering at a the table in solidarity with people who are very different from us (Bouman 10). The healing the church needs is exactly this fellowship across difference if we would take that risk. And yet Bouman notes that many congregations allow their anxiety around survival to pull them away from these ministries (Bouman 10). Many congregations are not willing to take the risks needed to actually meet our neighbors, hear their stories, and most importantly, recognize their gifts.
Blue, Kevin. Practical Justice: Living Off-Center in a Self-Centered World. Downers Grove IL: IVP, 2013. Kindle.
Bouman, Stephen P. The Mission Table: Renewing Congregation and Community. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2013.
Lupton, Robert D. Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charity Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It). New York: HarperOne, 2011. Kindle.
Pedro is part of a healthy vital congregation, and feels very much at home with the people who are active there. The worship is upbeat, the sermons are inspiring, and when his family had struggles they received great pastoral care from the congregation and from the ordained leadership.
The ordained leader tries to be collaborative, but has trouble letting go of the approval process; new ideas often get caught in the bottleneck of his overwork. The budget is never quite in the black so the congregation spends a lot of time looking inward, and can be anxious instead of hopeful about the future.
At the start Pedro could see that if the leader would allow teams to form, the congregation had the energy to be more involved in the community. He met with him and presented some ideas for outreach, but never got the okay to proceed. He tried meeting with the decision making Board, but they deferred to the ordained leader.
After trying one more time to get the leader on board Pedro was ready to quit, or try to get rid of the leadership, or do something dramatic to create change. But the leader was well liked, and it wouldn't help the vitality of the congregation to have a battle over his leadership style. Pedro realized it was time to lead from the side by working around the formal authority.
People in the local community were talking about how they could take a more active role in protecting the environment. Pedro announced at church that he was starting an environmental ministry and invited other church members to join him. He decided to have a leadership team from the start, and have that small group decide together how they would reach out to the community, how they would engage in study and action, and how they would connect their work to the gospel.
The team funded the advertising and flyers for the community themselves, and reached a large number of people from the town right away. They had already decided that they would add to their leadership team anyone who had a passion and desire to help make the environmental ministry happen---whether they were members of the church or not. The environmental ministry took off, developed leadership inside and outside the church, and helped the people in town to better see the Church as integral to the community.
“But I was still disappointed” Pedro shared. “I was hoping the leadership would see the ministry and realize that they should be more collaborative. They didn’t even notice the team approach! It was worst when I would get complimented for my leadership, as if I’d done it all.”
Leading from the side created a great ministry at this parish, and gave Pedro an opportunity to be the collaborative leader he wanted to be. But it didn’t change everything. The bottleneck still existed. New projects still struggled to work through the hierarchical system. Pedro realized that people were still afraid to work around the leadership. He’s learned that leading from the side is slow and doesn’t guarantee that the whole system will change.
Do you have leading from the side successes, near successes, and failures? I'd love for you to share them on my contact page.
*Names and details of this story have been changed.
I met Patty in a small group Bible study. She heard me ask people for stories about leading from the side and pulled me aside afterward to tell her story from early in her relationship with Church.
Patty moved to a rural area for her husband's job and went to the church nestled in the hamlet, her three young kids in tow. The only worship service was at 8:30 am, the sanctuary was cold so as to save money, and her children were the only ones present. She was the youngest adult present by a couple of decades.
"Even for the adults the worship was boring. I was a never going to keep my children interested."
After a few months Patty realized she needed to speak up rather than complain to others. So she met with the leader of the congregation and asked for a family service later in the day. He was kind and caring, listened fully, and clearly was not interested in creating another service.
It took some weeks of reflection for Patty to realize that she might be able to create the alternative worship herself. She got support from another elder in the congregation and buoyed by that support asked the leader again, this time if she could do the work herself. He said yes.
"I was new in the area, and new to rural living, so I had no idea how hard this would be. There was hardly anyone coming for the first six months." She was used to working with teams and expected other parents to offer help, but that didn't happen. Still, Patty was not deterred and somewhere along the way realized that if she asked the children to help with the worship she might get more response.
Starting with the connections her own kids made at school, slowly kids accepted her offer of opportunities for leadership. The kids were young so their parents came along. As the children’s leadership team grew, parents and other adults began to volunteer and eventually the whole ministry was run by a lay team.
"It's easy to get frustrated," Patty told me, "but I had the motivation that I wanted my kids to enjoy Church the way I had growing up."
I asked Patty what she learned about leading from the side. "Mostly I learned that my voice is important. I thought this could work, and it had a lot of struggles, but in the end I was right. We offered something that was needed and so it worked."
Do you have a side-ways leadership story? Use the contact page to share more leading from the side stories!
*Names and Identifying details of the stories are changed.
I’ve heard some great stories about leading from the side from people who are helping their congregations be more of what it can be. Some have shared success stories, others have expressed frustration.
Somewhat in the middle is the story of Wilma, a lay leader in a small congregation in the southwestern US.
Her congregation has lots of anxieties about the future and many members are laying the blame for this on their pastor. Wilma is confident the pastor is not the source of their problems—first of all because the problems existed before the pastor arrived, and secondly because the pastor is actually pretty good at what she does.
When the previous pastor left Wilma was hopeful like others that the new pastor would turn their congregation around. Instead she found that the several members didn’t even give the new pastor a chance—every little thing she did differently than the previous pastor was jumped on as a reason she was not the right one. Wilma realized that she had a role in leading from the side, that she has the power to refuse to engage in pastor-bashing.
To start, her main response was to simply correct factual inaccuracies in other’s blame-talk. “No, that was true before our pastor got here” and “Actually our deficit is the same as last year’s”. But what turned out to be the most significant role for Wilma was one she did not expect.
Wilma had been keeping the congregation’s blog on the website with the previous pastor—he sent her a line or two of scripture from the coming week’s sermon plan, and some comments on the meaning, and she organized those into a blog style posting each week. The new pastor did not provide this background information, and Wilma thought she would stop writing.
But then she realized that she could look up the lectionary readings herself! She began to think about the message of each reading for her congregation and wrote an article each week. At the start it was hit or miss, but as she worked at it she found that she could relate the text to their issues and anxieties. The blog posts are not judgments but rather things she notices.
And some people are noticing! The congregation reads the blog, as does the pastor. Some of the talk has subsided, and the pastor’s sermons have changed as well.
To be clear, this is not a dramatic success story. There are still people trying to remove the new pastor, still people who want to avoid change, still people who are gossiping and bad-mouthing their leadership. Wilma still has to be ever alert at meetings, standing up for what is right and refusing to engage in parking lot complaining.
The success is in knowing that she is behaving in a way that she is proud of, that she is standing up for right without judging, and that she is helping the system to become healthier, one person at a time. She is leading from the side.
Do you have a story, successful or not, about leading from the side?
I’d love to hear from you! You can write your own blog entry for possible posting, or tell us your story and I may be able to write it up for you. Send me an email from the contact page to share your side-ways leadership story.
The last in the four part series "Leading from the Side" at themissioninstitute.org
Maybe this blog should have been the first, but as we close this series, I must remind you that there is no such thing as solo leadership. You can't lead without followers, you can’t lead well without other leaders, and you are often called to follow different leaders. The decision to lead from the side is a decision to engage with other leaders in your congregation.
At the Howell family reunion my sister Marion started a back massage line with her nephew Brendan. Each person rubbed the back of the person in front of them, and had their own back rubbed by the person behind. While we recognized Marion and Brendan as leaders, we sometimes forget that success came because others followed their lead. Those who joined the line were followers of the first back scratchers, but were leaders of all those who had not yet joined.
Click here to read the entire blog post at the Mission Institute Web Site.
You may wish that change would happen like a thunderstorm, arriving quickly, without warning; that it would clang like thunder and awaken everyone to action. You may wish that vibrant lightning would alert the congregation to the spirit's leadings, that massive drops of excitement for change would soak everyone equally and fully in the new way. You may wish the coming changes were obvious and that like a heavy rain, they would, cleanse us of everything blocking the way. And surely we all wish that change would be gone as fast as it came, leaving a cool, clean feeling of newness, of freshness, of life giving beginnings.
This is a rare occurrence.
Link to the rest of the article at TheMissionInstitute.org This is article 3 of 4 in the series.
Part two of the four blog posts I wrote for TheMissionInstitute.org
When you begin to lead from the side in your church, I have found that people will question your authority, question your power, and question your ability to be a leader. To stand firm in my commitment to lead from the side it has helped me to be able to explain why I am allowed to do this, why I am encouraged to do this, why I am called to do this. You can do this, and while you are at it, you can explain to your fellow congregants that they are called, too.
Calling is a big word, and the authority to lead is a big idea. How can I so broadly claim that you have this authority? Quite simply, baptism is a call to ministry, Church is a gathering of ministers, ministers lead both in the church and in the world. Ordained leadership is a good and powerful thing, but it is not the only thing, nor even the primary thing, that keeps a church gathered together discerning God’s ministry. The primary thing is the people of the church listening for God’s guidance for being in the world.
Link to the entire article here.
This article is part of my work at The Mission Institute and this blog plus 3 more are on their website TheMissionInstitute.org
Often lay people tell me that they love so many things about their church, and that they hate so many things about their church. They describe how the congregation dreams of change and how change doesn’t happen. These members of churches ask me for advice, they look at their community life critically, they engage in creative thinking, they get excited about ideas that might work, and then they turn to me and say “you should talk to my pastor”. One minute they are full of energy for change, the next minute they are deferring all change to the work of the pastor.
Let me say this clearly: you can change your church; you can make a difference. I know, you are not ordained, you are not the paid staff, you didn’t study church change, you aren’t an organizational guru, you can’t work on this full time, you have a family and a job, you have a hundred reasons you cannot work on this problem. Yet still I say to you clearly: you can change your church; you can make a difference; you are called to be part of the change.
Link to the rest of this article here.
Is this the church of the Mystic Pizza? Sometimes we wonder! It is more than a year ago now that we sold the old church building and moved into the restaurant next door to “Andrea’s Pizza”. New folding chairs are starting to look like they came with the old oak altar and the brass cross from the Fellowship hall. The bar is well stocked with coffee supplies and plastic plates and forks. The screen for our power point worship order hides the waitress station/sacristy with the help of an old handmade altar cloth refitted as a curtain.
The dwindling congregation knew it was time to take risks if we were going to survive in our Worcester community. We can’t yet see what we will look like, but we have found new ways to live as the body of Christ. While maintaining basic giving to each of our three denominations (Disciples, American Baptist and United Church of Christ), our mission efforts have become very local.
Bethany adopted the Rape Crisis Center of Central Massachusetts as our primary local mission. In addition to funding, we have members trained as hotline counselors, a member on the board of directors, small group leaders, and assisting with planning the spirituality focus for Center’s upcoming 25th anniversary events. We have begun a weekly healing service and are studying biblical stories of rape.
Our new location has many surprise blessings. Our morning worship, with attendance around 20, feels comfortable in the small restaurant. Evening worship is followed by a delicious Italian meal provided by the take-out restaurant next door. Bible study around the bar is friendly and welcoming to new comers. Game night includes pizza; we are considering “dinner and a movie” as a possible after school program.
Can we build a church by selling a building? We still don’t know the answer to that question. But we have learned that the journey from place of the steeple to place of the pizza is a faithful journey.
Random comments on Church, Intentional Community, Leadership, and how we live and love together.