4 Ways to Ward Off Ministry Myopia

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I need new glasses. I have had this pair for about five years. Both temples have broken off. One was saved by super glue, but the other was replaced with such a mismatched piece that I have to strategically place my hair over it. Because the temple pieces don’t match, my bifocals don’t really align, and I sometimes feel like I am walking at a 20-degree angle. I wear my glasses every day, so there is no way around getting a new pair, but I seem to be dragging my feet, both literally and figuratively.

The challenge is that I suffer from severe myopia in more ways than one. I can’t see what I look like in new frames because I am so nearsighted. Once I am close enough to the mirror all I see are the frames and I can’t tell how they actually fit my face. Furthermore, I have a hard time imagining any other type of frames because I am so used to seeing the glasses I have been wearing these past 1,825 days. All of the frames seem to look odd on me. What I really need is a second set of eyes.

Myopia isn’t just a challenge for middle-aged folks. It can also be a challenge for congregations and ministry leaders who have been running the same program year after year or whose lists of “we always” get in the way of new possibilities. Most communities are so used to making do with what has been working that they can’t imagine anything different. But like my mismatched frames, some makeshift programming and strategies can suffer from drift and actually not be well aligned with the core values of the group anymore.

What can congregations or ministries within congregations do when they feel that they need a change, a refresh, or help in choosing new strategies? Here are four ideas.

  1. Take time to assess your church culture

Like a well-rounded eye exam, including the dreaded air puff, dilation, and eye chart reading, it is helpful to look at the whole system that creates and supports a church’s strategies. As the quote attributed to Peter Drucker goes, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” So take time to understand your culture. Here is one way to assess what is happening in your church’s culture: the Building Blocks Assessment. A Regional Catalyzer from the CRC’s Faith Formation Ministries would be happy to help your congregation administer this assessment and review the results.

  1. Beware of relying exclusively on internal evaluation or self-diagnosis

Getting an internal read on ministry through self assessment and appreciative inquiry can be helpful, but sometimes it can also reinforce nearsightedness. Often we don’t know what we don’t know because we are indeed too close to see ourselves well. You may need a second or third set of eyes from outside your church family to help you see what you might be missing.

  1. Learn how to “Canoe the Mountains”

Expand your leadership vision by reading Tod Bolsinger’s book Canoeing the Mountains (IVP 2015). It will bring focus to many of the leadership challenges churches are currently facing.

Better yet, join leaders from CRCs across Ontario in Brampton, ON for a one-day workshop with Tod on September 22. Watch for details on the Network’s Calendar of Events.

  1. Engage a second set of eyes
  • Join a peer learning group where you can explore challenges with other congregations that can support, understand, and challenge each other. Here are links to two such groups that will be starting in the fall: a Family Faith Formation Cohort  and Worship Peer Learning Groups.
  • Ask the last 3-5 people who joined your congregation why they joined. Often we are so used to what makes our community winsome that we need to be reminded of it. Don’t forget to ask where they might have questions about how your particular church works. Both questions can help uncover blind spots.
  • Leverage the experience and perspective your pastor brings from having served in other settings. The refrain “You don’t understand us” that pastors often hear could change from recrimination to be the beginning of great learning and mutual growth.
  • Engage a catalyzer/coach to listen and point your community to resources. The Connections Project, Faith Formation Ministries, and Resonate all have people who are ready to walk alongside congregations.

My daughter has become my essential second set of eyes. She weeds out any frames that aren’t worth squinting for and keeps me from being too on trend (smile). How can Faith Formation Ministries help you or your congregation find a supportive second set of eyes?  Let’s talk! You can contact me at [email protected].

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