All posts by Kevin Walters

About Kevin Walters

Director, Roberts Center for Leadership, Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church

Load-Bearing Roles

The popularity of home renovation shows has brought an important building concept to the attention of lots of people—load-bearing walls. As they tour a house, eager owners and confident renovators brainstorm ideas for transforming the space. Plans often focus on removing walls, but the cost of the project depends on whether targeted walls are crucial to the building’s structure. That is, they are load-bearing. Such walls can’t be removed without devising another way to carry the load.

This concept of load-bearing is a helpful way to think about how people function in a church. In the excellent book, Growing Young, Kara Powell and her Fuller Youth Institute co-authors use this idea to illustrate one trait of churches that connect well with young adults. These churches purposefully involve young adults in load-bearing roles essential to the community rather than in expendable jobs. By doing so, these churches often achieve higher levels of commitment because people are more likely to prioritize work that they see as important and fulfilling.

In addition to young adults, load-bearing roles would likely appeal to those of other ages, too. Church leaders would be wise to think in these terms and encourage people to involve themselves more deeply to the shared work God has called that congregation to do. People like to feel needed. Assigning load-bearing roles to volunteers is not without risk, but few significant things are. Most people will rise to the challenge if they can see the importance. Those who disappoint in the short-term might eventually learn that they can’t grow as a disciple as a passive observer.

Who in your church is ready to take a load-bearing role? What can you do to ensure that they have one? You might need to create something new (or let something go) to provide the right fit. As you help people find their load-bearing roles, you may be surprised at what God chooses to do through your church.

Knowing the Neighborhood

How well do you know the neighborhood or community around your church? Most of us feel that we know it rather well. After all, we do go to church there. Neighborhoods and communities, however, usually change over time. Churches change, too, but typically at a slower rate. In many cases, the longer a church has been in a neighborhood, the less it resembles it. In most cases, a church needs to be very purposeful to maintain accurate perceptions about its community.

One great starting point is to use demographic information. In the Central Texas Conference, members of our churches have access to MissionInsite—a powerful demographic tool. Once you create a free account, you can access numerous reports about your church’s neighborhood and surrounding community. For example, in the QuickInsite or ExecutiveInsite reports, you can discover population trends, racial/ethnic composition, estimated income, etc. In the Quad report, you can read about projections of likely religious beliefs, practices, and preferences.

When considering demographic data, the challenge is for your church to apply the discovered insights to what the church will do in the future. In some ways, the amount of data can be overwhelming. I suggest starting with a few basic questions:

  • Is the population increasing or decreasing?
  • How will the racial/ethnic composition influence ministry offerings?
  • How is the neighborhood doing economically?

Use these insights as a part of your church’s planning cycle.

Moving beyond demographic reports, there’s no better way to get to know your church’s neighborhood (and the neighborhood’s perception of the church) than actually talking to people in the community. Visit some local businesses and talk to the owners or managers. What can they tell you about the neighborhood? What needs or challenges do they see? Engage some of the patrons in conversation. Ask them if they know anything about your church.

By correcting possible misperceptions about the neighborhood, your church will better position itself to successfully make disciples and serve the community in appropriate ways. Enjoy getting to know your neighborhood!

Evil-Speaking

Have you ever gotten frustrated with someone in your church? I think it’s a safe assumption that the answer would be ‘yes’ for almost anyone who has ever claimed a church as his or her own. Working alongside others toward a common goal can be invigorating. Sometimes, though, our ministry partners disappoint us. How we respond to this will often shape whether or not the team will be effective in the end.

Too often, church people fall into the trap of what John Wesley described as ‘evil-speaking.’ Today, we might refer to this as gossip or talking behind someone’s back. We have a concern about someone’s behavior, and we talk about it with everyone but the person. In his recent book Lead Like Wesley, Mark Gorveatte describes how such behavior can undermine a team by eroding trust—especially in a church. “Speaking negatively about people who are not present sows seeds of mistrust in an organization,” he writes. “When that behavior is tolerated, even the participants are left to wonder what is said about hem when they are not present” (70).

Addressing problem behavior, however, is important to the well-being of a church team. Avoiding evil-speaking does not mean ignoring problems or avoiding confrontation. The difference is in how it’s done. Jesus taught a better way of dealing with conflict (Matthew 18:15-17). First, speak to the person directly apart from others. This gives him or her the opportunity to hear and respond without fear or embarrassment. If that doesn’t work, bring in a couple other trusted people to demonstrate that your concern is valid. If he or she is still resistant, bring your concern before the entire team. When this process is done charitably, most people will respond positively. Those who don’t probably shouldn’t be part of the team.

By avoiding evil-speaking, we honor God and strengthen our teams, churches, and communities. It’s normal to experience frustration with those with whom we serve. How we deal with our frustrations will make or break the group. What a great opportunity to model what it means to live as a follower of Christ.

Set the Table

Think back to the last time you visited a church other than your own. How did you feel in the church? Most churches know basic aspects of welcoming guests such as clear signage, dedicated greeters, etc. Too many churches, however, stop there. They make some technical adjustments and move on to other matters.

Hospitality goes much deeper than simply posting a smiling person near the church door. In his book Setting the Table, restaurateur Danny Meyer offers that the key to hospitality is how it makes you feel. In short, you need to make the other person feel important. For Meyer, relationships are the foundation of hospitality because taking the time to build a relationship demonstrates that you think the other person is important. Meyer trains his front-line restaurant staff to connect with people by seeking the story behind the story. He encourages them to take genuine interest in their customers and draw them out (sensitive, of course, to hints that they’d rather be left alone). In doing so, his staff collect “dots” of information that they can use to connect guests who share similar interests. Thus, building relationships is more than just a top-down effort. Those who excel at hospitality cultivate new relationships between previously unacquainted people. The guest feels important that someone else took the time to get to know them well enough to connect them with someone new.

What might this sort of hospitality look like in a church? First, you should help regular attenders understand that they function like the front-line staff in a restaurant. Help them understand that guest hospitality is everyone’s job. Help them see the vision of how they can be a blessing to others through hospitality. Second, these regular attenders need to feel that they are cared for so that they can offer hospitality toward others. Leaders should model hospitality in the way they interact with both regulars and guests.

Developing a culture of hospitality in a church is no easy task—especially when most churches believe they are far more friendly than they actually are. The way we treat our guests, however, is a reflection of our Christian witness. We know that people are important because we are created in God’s image. However, we need to help people feel important. By doing so, we help connect them to Christ’s community. When churches set the table for guests, we welcome them to a meal that will not leave them hungry.

Lay Servant Ministries Update

Lay Servant Ministries is a leadership development program in the United Methodist Church that prepares lay people for specialized ministry. In the Central Texas Conference, we try to organize a variety of classes in each district each year. For those who desire, we also offer certification tracks.

There are some minor changes to Lay Servant Ministries coming up this year. General Conference, the primary legislative body in the UMC, just wrapped up their quadrennial meeting, and they passed some changes that will be reflected in the next Book of Discipline. Most significantly, they’ve eliminated the local church lay servant certification track, which required only the BASIC course. The main advantage to this is simplification. People who have only taken the BASIC course will not need to make an annual report to their church, and district directors of Lay Servant Ministries will have one less track to monitor. The change shouldn’t affect lay ministry in the local church because lay people can still serve regardless of formal certification. Those who do desire certification should take an advanced course (in addition to the BASIC course) and pursue the certified lay servant track.

The changes from General Conference also affect requirements for certification renewal. As before, certified lay servants and those certified for pulpit supply must take an advanced course at least once every three years. In addition, those certified for pulpit supply must interview with the district lay ministry team once every three years and receive their recommendation to maintain certification. In part, this ensures that district leaders get to know and trust those certified for pulpit supply.

The Lay Servant Ministries program remains a great way to learn more about how to minister effectively in your area of interest and to establish connections with those with similar interests. You can find out more about possible courses by looking through the Lay Servant Ministries catalog. If you would like to see a particular class offered in your part of the Central Texas Conference, please contact your district director of Lay Servant Ministries.

Nose-blind

Have you ever noticed that you sometimes become so accustomed to a scent that you can no longer smell it? In my office, I’ve been recently annoyed by an occasional tiny gnat. Through the collective wisdom of the internet, I identified my potted plants as the likely origin of the insects. The most common solution seemed to be setting out a container of vinegar, so I partially filled a cup with some cleaning vinegar I found under the sink and placed it next to the plants. For the rest of the day, I noticed the smell, but it didn’t seem very strong. With each passing day, I noticed it less and less. When I opened my office after the weekend, however, the vinegar odor was powerful. I was willing to tolerate the smell in order to rid myself of the gnats, but I quickly realized that my coworkers might not be so understanding. It was evident that I had become nose-blind to the smell. I dumped out the vinegar to preserve harmony among my office neighbors.

Continue reading Nose-blind

Why Church?

Why are you part of a church? I suspect that too many of us can’t clearly articulate a compelling answer. Many of us have been dedicated church-goers since we were quite young. Church has become a habit. Though habitual church-going is commendable, it presents a couple challenges. First, we struggle to explain why someone who has never been connected to a church might want to be. Second, we forget what the purpose of church is. I’ll save the first challenge for another post, in part, because solving the second challenge will help solve the first. Continue reading Why Church?