Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Standing Committee Variable in Congregations

I have repeatedly articulated my initial elation in encountering a congregation without standing committees. My energy reserves remain strong without depletion from managing bureaucracy, power struggles, artificially-mandated leadership shifts and the approach to ministry resembling four vehicles coming to a four-way stop at the same time:

"No, you can do it. You're so good at that."
"Please, it was your idea, it's a great idea, you run with it."
"No, we can't, this is really your area of ministry."
"Okay, we will do it."
"Why did you do it that way?"
"Why did you tell us to run with it if you were going to try to dictate how we did it?"
"Doesn't this committee do anything? Pastor, we need help!"

In some ways, I found the relational and organizational dynamics of a bureaucratic web interesting, but in the end, what was a curiosity to me was getting in the way of the foundation of my call to ministry. In my youth, I experienced a congregation where people served their neighbors abundantly in the name of Christ. The difference in the congregation with standing committees versus no standing committees is not that they serve and serve well. The difference is the word, abundantly.

Managing one ministry opportunity in a web of standing committees can easily take 6-12 months to get an idea to work (not all ideas, but this was a familiar pattern now serving in my 10th congregation) and even if the idea made its way through the bureaucracy, something could change because someone's term was up or committees would change members--and the idea filtering could start all over again. It was an agonizing process for me and many committee members and leaders in the various congregations I served.

For a pastor and staff, the bureaucratic structure created by a complex web of committees, a board, pastors and staff is an incredible resource drain--time, money and energy are a stewardship nightmare in most congregations I know. This weakness is exposed even more in an era where people do not have as much time to invest in congregational bureaucracy. People want to know the time they invest means something. A standing committee, though it can be effective at times, appears wasteful to potential committee members. Committee effectiveness appears to be a crapshoot at best. If I was still working on my sociology Ph.D., I would probably be writing a paper on the standing committee variable in congregations and possibly non-profits in relation to some kind of production data. This kind of paper writing is not in my immediate future (or is it)? I have different fish to broil (I'm trying to eat in a more healthful manner).

Back to where the rubber hits the road regarding standing committees, or lack thereof. I had my initial elation in not attending three hour meetings, two to four nights per week at First Lutheran Community Church during my first three months of employment. I have time at home! I can read to my kids, and sing "Jesus Loves Me" before they go to bed. I can monitor Kendall's homework, I can sing songs with Ashling. I can connect with Melanie on most evenings. Family life is good, and I work a manageable schedule with occasional evening or Saturday activities. I notice that even though I am not involved in 12-15 evening meetings per month (not including educational, leadership, fellowship, worship, or pastoral care types of work), more ministry seems to happen all around me. Sooner or later, I would have an idea for ministry at First Lutheran Community Church, and see what it was really like to work with volunteers in the congregation in this church governance structure. I talked with the volunteer "Volunteer Coordinator," shared my idea, and she set up a meeting with some congregational volunteers last Sunday. I think there were 10 people in attendance.

What happened at this meeting? I shared a more developed idea than what I shared with the Volunteer Coordinator, and I waited for their feedback. What was different? Not one person in the group spoke negatively of the idea. No one spoke about a bureaucratic maze, stepping on someone's toes, an impending turf war, or how something similar had been attempted and how it couldn't work under current circumstances. People looked for a way to make an idea take wings. People were employing the notion of what could be possible with God in a tangible way, and not merely a positive thinking push by discouraged people. By the end of the 45 minute meeting, around 10 people knew their exact responsibility, and I had no doubt they would follow through. I know there will be challenges along the way for this ministry, but it won't lack for energy, creativity, and the gift-affirming action of the people in that room. The Spirit was moving as I employed a provocation of the Holy Spirit when an idea took shape, and God breathed life into a dream. My role is to encourage the group, re-articulate the dream, help provide prayerful, biblical and marketing content, and prepare for grant writing. What few meetings I have attended at FLCC have been incredibly productive.

Up to this point, I have written about the process of a ministry idea developed. Next week, I will write about the content of this ministry because that is even more exciting to me than the process. I love process, but process is joyful when it will make a difference in the lives of those people serving and the people being served--all in the name of Christ.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Joe,

    You would love books by Easum Bandy then. I went through a ministry audit about 7 years ago and one of the things discussed was how to do meetings differently and sometimes even eliminate them. It involves more mentoring, more communication (but fewer meetings), getting contact people, and empowering teams to do things on their own rather than having to have the pastor lead everything.
    I have done it at the church I am now and after a little resistance, it has been amazing. I can share more, but a good start is a book called "If it Can Happen Here."