This week is part two of a guest blog by Dr. Reggie McNeal. You can find part one by clicking on this link.
The New Normal … Ain’t Going to Be Normal (PART 2)
Second, we must change our scorecard. By scorecard, I mean what we celebrate. Church leaders shaped by a church-as-institution narrative are driven to assess progress in church-centric numbers: how many show up for gatherings, how much money comes in for operating, the number of participants who support church programs, etc. I am not naïve – we will always count these inputs.
What I am arguing for is that we expand what it is we measure, and that we bring our scorecard in line with the expressed will of Jesus. He did not command that we make customers; he commanded that we make disciples. By definition a disciple is one who follows. If we follow Jesus it means we care about what he cares about. And that is the kingdom. We cannot arrive at any other conclusion if we read the red letters in the Gospels. Jesus did not come to establish a religion. He came to show us the kingdom. Not kingdom understood as a geographical/political/religious entity, but understood as people experiencing LIFE as God intends. The LIFE that Jesus claimed to BE! The abundant LIFE that Jesus said he came to give us. To whet our appetites for a better world and to tell us how we can partner with God in making it happen.
Church leaders must find the courage to have a kingdom-biased scorecard for ministry. This means going beyond mere inputs (activities, participation) into measuring outcomes. We must look for and measure results. Meaning: how many people are experiencing life as God intends (spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally, economically, every aspect of human experience)?
We should certainly know the score on this for those in our immediate ministry constellation. If we asked them, people would actually tell us whether they are growing closer to God, have better relationships with their spouse and kids, are loving their neighbors. When I ask pastors how many better marriages they have in their congregation than a year ago, they look at me like I dropped in from Jupiter. Why shouldn’t we know this, just in case married people find this important? Why shouldn’t we know how many people are struggling financially, need some extra work to help ends meet, and how many are coming out of poverty (in case the congregation has poverty-stricken people in it)? The current pandemic has created financial havoc for so many, a situation that begs for churches to have a scorecard that keeps track of their challenges and the church’s response to these changing needs.
Since our people are deployed in all domains (government, education, business, health care, etc.) a church scorecard that reflects some of what they encounter every day would be more congruent and meaningful to their lives than the current one which just measures their church participation and support.
More data than ever before now exists to support our efforts to redo our scorecard to reflect more kingdom (quality of life) data. Harvard’s new Human Flourishing Index can be one way to access your own ministry constellation members to begin to chart growth in critical areas of well-being. GoodCities (https://goodcities.net) has produced a Neighboring project dashboard that can track need level and service delivery at a census-tract level (everything from checking on elderly to grocery delivery to health needs. This neighboring tool is especially important right now in a pandemic, but can be used as a way to develop data points for a church’s impact in meeting needs at a neighborhood level in real time over time.
A kingdom scorecard honors the lives and efforts of our people, supports the Great Commandment, and creates the culture for a missional church.
Finally, we must change the scope of our stewardship.
We can’t stop with a scorecard that simply focuses on the lives of those in our church. Our stewardship as the church extends much further. A kingdom agenda includes caring about what is going on in our communities.
The ecclesias of Jesus’ day—the word that he chose to describe the role of the movement he was founding—had responsibility for the welfare of the community they were part of. Which means that God holds the church responsible for the well-being of the communities we’re in. This is why stewardship that only extends to the limits of church programming misses the point.
We should be concerned about whether the needle is moving and in what direction when it comes to big societal issues: racism, economic opportunity, literacy, just to get started with a list of issues that confront us as a country. How many more third graders know how to read at a 3rd grade level (since this is a determiner of every life-health indicator)? How many jobs are we creating (since having a full-time job is the number one correlative to a sense of well-being, according to Gallup)? How many kids in foster care are finding adoption/secure home situations?
“Wait a minute!” you might be saying, “we’re not responsible for these results. We have a school system, and government agencies, and a health-care industry that focus on these things.” That’s true, but why not figure out how we are helping these enterprises and domain-focused organizations get their job done? Kingdom stewardship would push the church to support community efforts to improve the lives of people who may never worship with us, but are part of our responsibility as the ecclesia (and, while we’re at it, why not include the number of volunteer service hours our people invest in our community as part of what we celebrate in our scorecard, as well as how many readers/mentors/tutors we have deployed into the school we’ve adopted, or how many organizations we are partnering with).
Adopting an expanded kingdom sense of stewardship would also help overcome the sad competition between “churches” as we figure out a way for “the church” to express itself as an advocate for a better community. Since none of us can tackle and solve these large issues on our own, we will be driven to collaborate. We will figure out how each congregation brings its own unique contributions to the mix. We can quit trying to best one another on who has the better youth program for church kids as we figure out together how we can serve the youth of our community.
Shifting to kingdom stewardship carries significant impact for church leadership. We currently recruit and train leaders to focus on skills that are demanded by a church-centric ministry agenda. By changing the scope of church stewardship, a different leadership paradigm is called for than the current one, which presumes that the church exists to enfold and care for the flock of believers, with shepherd as the predominant motif for pastoral leadership. Once you move to a kingdom scope of stewardship, an additional set of competencies for church leadership portfolios come into play. These would certainly include community development knowledge as well as collaborative skills at a minimum.
We would also build leadership teams with a different composition, driven by a different ministry agenda. After all, if you build an anteater it looks for ants. A church-centric stewardship calls for leaders who are drawn to support a church-centric agenda. Moving to a greater scope of stewardship for the community would probably result in an enhanced recruitment pool both in talent and quantity as leaders reflected a larger bandwidth of personal interests and community engagement on top of spiritual elements.
Church leaders could start right where they are. Flip the script. Start elder meetings with prayer for the community and exploring church engagement and initiatives that manifest in the community-at-large. Move church-as-institution items to the bottom of the agenda. Invite community leaders in (or go see them) on a regular basis both to leadership meetings and worship gatherings. Have them share their perspectives, needs, challenges and opportunities. Doing this will support both the narrative and scorecard changes you are making. Make sure that stories of leaders’ engagement in the community are told. Conduct an influence audit by surveying the congregation on their current involvement in community agencies and boards to figure out where you already have people in leadership. Ask them how you can help them achieve the mission they are invested in.
Church leaders can move forward with confidence. When Jesus gave his church this assignment – to partner with God’s redemptive mission in the world – he said that hell would collapse as the kingdom advances. As a friend of mine says, we are taking back what hell has stolen! God is not caught off guard by COV-19 outbreak nor the digital age revolution. He is not struggling to catch up. But he is waiting on the church to do just that. These critical shifts by church leaders will help us get there. The post-pandemic church in America has a chance to thrive if it realigns with God’s mission in the world—expanding his kingdom.
CGGC eNews—Vol. 14, No. 22