Stephen is a 25+ year youth ministry veteran. His books include Hollow Faith: How Andy Griffith, Facebook, and the American Dream Neutered the Gospel, ExtraOrdinary Time: 365 Ordinary Moments with an Anything But Ordinary God; and Organic Student Ministry. Stephen serves as the Sr. Director of Resource Development for CYMT.
Before we can lead effectively, each leader must ask the following 5 questions of the institution they are tasked with leading.
- Context– Context is EVERYTHING. So many leaders will import their dreams, visions, aspirations and goals into a ministry without ever considering the context they are coming into. In my book Organic Student Ministry I describe this as planing pineapples in Antartica. Just because it works, thrives and flourishes in one context does not mean that it will in every context. Before anything you have to understand the soil that you are hoping to grow fruit from.
- Pain & Glory– Beyond understanding the general context of the ministry you are leading you must understand their moments of pain and glory. You have to know what has hurt these people, those times when they felt betrayed, hurt, let down and disappointed. These types of pain leave institutional scar tissue and that scar tissue, which lies beneath the surface, can often be easily irritated and can create real issues that seemingly come out of no where. The flip side is also true. When a institution has victories it can shape and form them for years to come. It can give them confidence and shape how they see themselves in the past and in the future. It is important to know these because this is an important institutional identity shaper and because sometimes a church’s victories can be their stumbling block going forward.
- Weakness– Weakness is different than pain, although often times they are connected. When we talk about a ministry’s weakness I like to think about it in two categories, known and unknown weakness. Known weakness is a bit easier to deal with. These are the things a congregation does not do well, they know it and therefore there is an agreed understanding from which to work to improve. Unknown weakness is an all together different problem. I remember consulting a church many years ago and they would tell you how welcoming and hospitable they were, the kindest church in the city. They problem was they were anything but welcoming. When I presented these findings to them they were shocked and ready to run me out of the room. Before they were able to light their torches and gather their pitchforks I began to read them quote after quote of different people who had come to their church in recent years who had received an anything but war welcome. The only reason these people stayed was because they were determined enough to push through the invisible wall of belonging and be a part of that community. When a church knows its weaknesses we can deal with those, when they are unaware it takes much more time, care and courage to create awareness and move into health and healing.
- Assets– Just like each church community has its weaknesses they also have their strengths or assets. These can be institutional, staffing, physical or individual assets that the church can utilize and employ to help it grow and thrive. Assets are best utilized when they grow from the natural occurring DNA of the church. If an asset can be traced back to the DNA of an institution and the institution can understand it as a core part of who they are, then you have a recipe for success.
- God’s Vision– Sometimes leaders will come into a church talking about God’s vision for that church. What leaders often forget is that they are not the bearers of God’s vision for a place. God has already been working in that community for years, decades and even centuries. As leaders we have to remember that we are only a chapter in the book that God has been writing in that community, often before we were even born. We have to ask the questions above first before we can understand how God’s vision for our ministry weaves into the tapestry of God’s continuing vision for that church. When we can understand that we have to opportunity to be prolific leaders who nurture goodness and are catalysts of needed change in our contexts. As you think about goals and how you will lead in your ministry context I hope you will consider these 5 questions and find your place in their story.