Archive for ◊ October, 2012 ◊

• Friday, October 26th, 2012

• You are asked to bring your skills to a new Finance Committee at church. Your response: “Sorry, I work with numbers all day, I’d rather not.”

• The pastor asks you to attend a congregational conversation after church at 11:30.  Your reaction: “Would love to attend but I have a family gathering.” [at 4:00!]

• Teach Sunday School every few months?  “I’m with my kids every day; I want someone else to teach them.”

• Donate a Saturday morning to a fund raising Yard Sale?  “Sorry, gotta mow my lawn.”

We all establish boundaries when it comes to volunteering at our churches:  That which we’ll do willingly, that which we will do begrudgingly and that which we won’t go near.

It’s easy to be “too busy” to step up to certain requests at church.  There are hundreds of acceptable excuses to not undertake volunteer work at your church. The fact is, every excuse you come up with is probably a good and valid reason to avoid helping out.  Plus the person who is asking for your help usually accepts whatever excuse or white lie you give: no argument and only minimal arm twisting.

So what’s wrong with this picture?  Where to begin?

• Your refusal to do any but the most basic church activities (say, pass the collection plate on Sunday), means that you are not fully participating or contributing to the life of your church. And there are important aspects of your church that are not a part of your life.

• By always begging off, you are expecting others to do what is your share of church participation. The commitment is lop sided.

• You are allowing others to make decisions about your church’s future. (If you disagree with the leadership decisions for your church, but you’re not participating – you have no right to say anything.)

• And, frankly, if you’re not contributing to your church’s life – why are you there?

Okay, obviously you’re there for the Word of God; however, if you and other “excuse givers” don’t step up to help run your church, you may all need to find a new House of God.

•  Attend a Church in Transition discussion? “Would like to, but … but … but …”

When it comes to churches in transition – and church’s facing closure – there’s a common reaction:  “How did this happen?  When did this happen?  Why didn’t we deal with this sooner?”

Well, perhaps if you had not given so many great excuses, you might not only have known what was going on, but you might have provided some perspective (and solutions) that could have helped with your church’s tough decisions about the future.

The struggle for church survival begins with a finance committee that is trying, but lacks know how; no one showing up for the congregational conversation; a few Sunday School classes being combined because of lack of teachers; a fund raising Yard Sale that falls flat.   Not a big deal right?  Think again….

• Wednesday, October 03rd, 2012


Four Keys to Looking Outward by Tom Ehrich

The advice I am giving church leaders – “look outward, not inward” – sounds simple enough, but it is profoundly complicated and often unwelcome.

If it meant only “be more mission-minded,”  (or adding one more day at the food pantry) outward-orientation wouldn’t stir much alarm.  I think most churches have a serious heart for mission – maybe a bit too much “noblesse oblige”* style, but still a desire to help the disadvantaged.  Looking outward means more than mission, however.  It also means: a fundamental orientation toward the needs of others; deriving purpose from strangers and prospects, not from self-interest; giving away what you have, even that which is most treasured;  letting the future emerge, rather than insisting on continuity.  What do I mean and why is it so difficult?

A fundamental orientation toward the needs of others

Most enterprises exist to serve the needs of current constituents.  A school serves its students, a museum serves its patrons, a business serves its customers and employees.  A church is fundamentally different, or ought to be.  Die to self, Jesus said and live for others.  If a beggar cried from the roadside, don’t take a poll to see who wants to stop.  Just stop, because the beggar needs healing.

Churches have worked hard in recent decades to measure and monitor the satisfaction of  “those who pay the bills.”  Leaders ask constituents what they want and then, within available resources, do their best to provide.  An outward orientation does exactly the opposite.  IT asks what the world outside needs and then engages constituents in providing.

Deriving purpose from outside not inside

Most people, even churchgoers, have little experience in an outward way of defining purpose. In a sense, every generation is a “me generation.”  When a faith community does what Jesus did, it stands that attitude on its ear and thus violates every norm and expectation.

The pushback can be enormous.  I remember the bride who shouted at me during a rehearsal, “You’re not letting me get what I want!”  In less strident tone, that has been the bottom-line of church arguments fro decades.  I don’t like – the new prayer book, women at the altar, kids in church, that paint color, the new pastor – therefore it is wrong and should be stopped.

When you look outside at a world marked, say, by loneliness, poverty, unemployment and at-risk children, the paint color or pastor’s foibles seem less important.

Giving away what you have

Most churches have a strong inclination toward “preservation” – preserve the facility, preserve history, preserve denominational identity, preserve local traditions.  In an outward orientation, you discover that prospects and strangers generally don’t care at all about those treasures being preserved.  They have other issues, concerns and needs.

To respond to them, you will find yourself having to give up the beloved treasure.  Control of space, control of language, control of worship style, control of how the budget is allocated, control of staff priorities – it all gets challenged.

Letting the future emerge

If the congregation’s narrative is alive, it is told by people on hand, people out there, and our various senses of interacting with God.  It can be a challenging narrative to discern and articulate.  But you can be sure that the narrative – the story a congregation tells to name its identity,purposes and beliefs – will emerge as something in formation, and not as a continuity of something previously told.  An insistence on continuity merely shuts down the story-tellers and the story-livers.  If they are given wings, however, the will tell a soaring tale of what God is doing now and where God is leading.  The narrative will be breathtaking and audacious – and largely, perhaps entirely, disconnected from the narrative that went before.

This can be an uplifting process, as people see the amazing things God is doing.  It can also be painful and disorienting.

You can see why “looking forward” is often taken to mean adding one more day to the feeding ministry.  If only it were that easy…

  • noblesse o·blige: Benevolent, honorable behavior considered to be the responsibility of persons of high birth or rank.   (


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Please watch for our next post during the week of  October 15