Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Ministy Alignment (Part 1)

In a church environment – even at PCC – it is very easy for mission drift to occur, meaning we lose sight of the main thing as people and groups head off in different or separate directions.  That’s why it’s so important for all of our leaders and groups to be in alignment with our mission, values, and ministry philosophy.  When mission drift occurs a certain “disconnect” with the center of the church results, with all sorts of complications.

PCC has always been a close-knit, single-identity, Biblically functioning community.  This has been a vital key to our success.  Laser focus is the thing that keeps us on-point.  However, the natural tendency is to drift away from our ‘main thing’ towards becoming a decentralized, multi-identity, loosely connected cluster of groups and sub-ministries.  When this happens, people lose touch with the main life of the church.  For some people, all they ever knew of our church was the sub-ministry they belonged to.  Far worse, even some of the ministry leaders identified more with their department (or “my ministry”) than they did the church Body as a whole.  Not good.

There is a reason why people don’t seem to be on the same page:  because they’re not.

Mission drift.  It’s a breeding ground for conflict.  It gets people headed in separate directions, depletes resources, and is guaranteed to make our church flounder in mediocrity. 

This is why I’ve had to say hundreds of times over, “THIS-IS-A-CHURCH.  WE-ARE-A-SINGLE-BODY.  WE-HAVE-ONE-MISSION….NOT-MULTIPLE-ONES.”

In other words, “We need ministry alignment.  How can we be members of the same Body, functioning as a whole, unless we are going in the same direction, pursuing the same goals?  If we don’t pull together, the health of PCC will slowly deteriorate.  In time it will wither and die.  We cannot let that happen.”

I wish I could say that this church alignment stuff is easy to pull off.  It’s not.  Some people love to operate independently with total autonomy, so it’s not easy for them to focus on the bigger picture and put their energy into the wider church.  Neither is it easy for me to insist they do.

Here’s how things usually go wrong:  We launch a new ministry and tell the leader, “Go build a single-adult ministry, build a recovery ministry, build a married couples ministry.  Have fun!”  Everything starts out good in the beginning and they are having a ball.  But over time mission drift sets in and they get headed in a direction that is dramatically different from the church at large.  Although they are engaged in a worthwhile ministry, they fail to move the people in their groups toward the main life of the church and the goals we have agreed upon.

Herein lies the dilemma.  How can we expect the congregation of PCC to move in a certain direction if department leaders and group leaders are not holding up those values?  We can’t.  And a divided church is the result.

This is where strong pastoral leadership comes into focus.  It’s not enough to cast a vision and get people excited.  It’s not enough to get people involved in a group (or ministry) and keep them busy doing things.  You have to get them doing the right things.  Sometimes you have to hold their feet to the fire and keep them on course.  And it can get ugly.

Most people are receptive to course-corrections and will get back on track as soon as they recognize the drift.  But for others, it’s a long bumpy road because their loyalty has shifted away from the church (that platformed them in the first place) to their ministry.  It’s the classic case of turfism or tunnel vision.  It can take many months, filled with meetings and protracted discussions to help them see that a federation of sub-ministries is neither Biblical nor sustainable.

When I say the road gets bumpy, I mean it.  It often takes a heavy emotional toll on me.  Sleepless nights become the norm.  However, there are times when a leader can no longer be a moderate, thoughtful, careful articulator of policy.  He’s got to be decisive, make the call, and be willing to endure people’s anger. 

I’ve reached the place a few times where I have ran out of patience, trying to be calm and rational, waiting for hold-outs to come around.  At a critical point, after months talking about church alignment, I have said, “I’m through talking about this.  The future of PCC is hanging in the balance and you’re pulling us in the wrong direction.  Get on board with what we’re doing, or move out.  I am determined to go to the mat over this.”

I have never enjoyed resorting to the use of that kind of language.  I know Jesus’ warnings about wielding authority.  I also recognize the danger.  But I also recognize that there comes a time – after an issue has been discussed into oblivion – that someone has to take action, make the final decision, and issue an ultimatum if necessary.  As much as I dislike it, it often falls on my shoulders.

That’s the day when some people stop carrying pictures of me in their wallets and I am removed me from their Christmas card mailing list.  But I have no regrets.  I make no apology for being decisive.  When the future of our church is hanging in the balance I will not sit idly by while people continue to do as they please, taking us deeper and deeper into mission drift.

But the real credit goes to all my colleagues and fellow church members who pull together at a critical time, rally around the cause, and redirect every person, every position, and every department in this church to reflect total commitment to achieving our mission.  These are the real champions, and it’s why PCC is such a thriving, healthy church to this day.

First Corinthians 14:40 says “...let everything be done decently and in order" so that there will be no confusion in the church.  As a pastor I am able read that verse without feeling guilty.  When PCC is on-mission, when our leaders are aligned, when there is no confusion about the direction of our church, our ministry style, our structure, or the manner in which we conduct our church services, I know we are doing things decently and in order.  This gives me peace.

I've had some tough conversations in 2012 about getting this church re-aligned.  More than I wanted to have.  But I'm determined to see it through, and it's going to be a major emphasis in 2013 for PCC.

It’s a new day here.

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