How to shrink your church or ministry

How to shrink your church or ministry:
1. Never change.
2. Keep to yourselves. Do not build any bridges to the community.
3. Make people fat on sermons/study and forget the vitamin A (application).
4. Never experiment, just stick to what you know.
5. Exist for yourselves, to keep each other happy.
6. Keep everything you do within the four walls of your church. Make your focus the one hour on Sunday.

Of course, the opposite is true, if you desire to reach more or new people with the Gospel.

This past week I was visiting three different ministries that were all asking the same question “How do we grow?”, that is “How do we grow in numbers?”, “How do we reach more people, particularly the younger generation?”
One was a conference where the average age has kept creeping upwards, and a sea of gray hair dominated the audience. Yet, for the first time they were experimenting with running a retreat for pre-teens simultaneously.
One was a small church where the youngest people were in their early sixties, but they were asking how they need to change to connect with the younger generations.
One was a kids’ club with eight very well cared for kids. The leaders met with Andrew and I after the program and their big question was “How do we grow?”
I love the attitude of these places! All are willing to ask, “Is there something different or more we need to be doing?” I love their willingness to ask the difficult questions. I love their hearts that want to reach more people.

I can hear you asking already – “Is it about the numbers?”
Yes and no.

No –
We cannot underestimate the value of pouring into a few lives, extremely well. I was particularly impressed with the kids’ ministry we visited this week. They had eight kids and three leaders (usually they have four leaders, one was sick). It was so clear those kids knew they were loved, known and cared for by the leaders. The leaders and kids see each other regularly, not only at kids’ club, but also out in the community where they look out for each other. I kept thinking about the Hemorrhaging Faith statistics, the high number of kids who grow up in the church, but leave the church by the time they are young adults. I was thinking about how connected these eight kids were: to seeing faith lived out in the community, to peers in the club with them, to opportunities to share their own questions, to leadship opportunities…and I thought these kids, with this many adults watching out for them, will not be one of those statistics.
I’ve seen plenty of kids, youth and adult ministries with a lot more numbers, but also with a lot less effective transformation, community and discipleship.
It isn’t all about the numbers, it’s what you are doing with those numbers.
How are you being faithful with what God has given you?
And yet, those leaders, were desiring to see more kids come.

Yes –
It is a good desire that they want to see more kids come.
Of course we’d want more kids to have this same support of caring adults, a loving community, a place to come to know God, a place to develop their faith…
Of course you want to see more people come to your church/ministry, especially if your desire is for those people to know the God who loves them, journeys with them and has a mission for them. It’s growth for a reason. It’s not flashy growth or gimmicks to get growth. It’s multiplying what is good and trusting God for the growth.
Each number, each life, matters to God and to us. So we should be multiplying!
Faithfulness also looks like following God to find lost sheep. Faithfulness looks like making changes to remove barriers from new people, new generations coming to Christ.
Faithfulness looks like doing everything you can for the sake of the Gospel and trusting God for the growth.

Yes and No
I love that these churches/ministries are asking for growth. We’re made to grow. We should desire to see God transform more lives.
This isn’t a bigger is better blog.
This is a faithfulness blog.
We are called to reach the people around us. We are called to pass on the faith to the next generations. We are called to share the Gospel and make disciples.
We are invited to leave the 99 and find the 1 who isn’t with us any more or never was with us.

How do you grow? How do you reach new people?

1. Change something – If you want to reach people you are not currently reaching you’ve got to do something different. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. What has become a barrier to this generation, particularly the young generation, connecting with your church/ministry? Where can you change to create greater relevance to every day people in your community? Some examples might be – change your on-line presence, change your formality, offer a new option for worship, change the ages represented on the platform, change where you meet, turn a program into a inter-generational experience…

2. Build a new bridge – Where can your church/ministry build a new bridge into your community? Are their existing connections from church members to schools, boards, city councils, camps, people groups, sports teams, food banks…? How could you be a support, resource or blessing to these connections? How can you build a bridge so that a new pocket in your community could see your faith in action? They might not be ready to come check out your church, but you can build a bridge to them and start a connection. Another question to ask is whether it is time to build a new bridge with another church – to share a youth ministry, to combine in running an Alpha program or to talk about amalgamation.

3. Equip – Equip people to live out their faith. Have clear applications from sermons/studies that help people connect Sunday to the rest of the week. It’s not enough to tell people – tell them, show them and give them practice in living out their faith when…there is an argument in their home, when their neighbourhood is going through a rough patch, when their health takes a turn for the worse, when their workplace becomes toxic, when they are trying to talk about God to their kids, when they are trying to talk to their kids about hot topics… Also equip people to personally invite others and talk about how Jesus is making a difference in their lives. Help people know how to line-up every area of their lives with the ways of Jesus and call them to live that out daily. Make it clear that belief in Jesus leads to changed living in all areas of life. Your community will notice changed lives.

4. Try a new experiment – if you want to reach new people, try something new. Call it an experiment and try it – try involving the church in the community parade, try sitting around round tables on a Sunday, try having a free BBQ in the park, try having a grandparent/grandchild day, try having a party for the new Canadians in your area… Experiments give us permission to try and assess the results later.

5. Have a crystal clear passion for a cause – we live in a world where people are keenly aware of the struggles and challenges of those in our community and world. They and we are often overwhelmed in discerning what to respond to and how to respond well. Give them a cause to focus on and an avenue to help. Let your church/ministry be known for making a difference in one area, and invite others to join you in that cause, even before they know what they believe about Jesus.

6. Invite everyone to join God in changing their neighbourhoods – Everyone is a minister. Train people to show and tell faith in the places where they live, work, study and play. Your greatest evangelism tool will not be a program, it won’t even be Sunday morning. Your greatest evangelism tool will be people in your congregation showing and telling the Gospel to others they know. Your greatest advertisement will be the people in your ministry telling the story of what a difference the ministry has made in their life. Equip people to share, in relevant and personal ways, with those they are already connected with in their daily lives. Imagine if everybody in your congregation became the “minister” to those around them in the places they go – journeying with the people around them in their life through their questions, struggles and faith journey. If you have eight people actively joining God in their ordinary lives every day, you are way further ahead then having eighty people whose faith is not evident beyond an hour on Sunday. Get people out of the four walls of your church and help them to see they are all ministers and ministry happens through them every day. Christianity was never meant to be contained within walls, it is a movement – unstoppable, every-growing, life-changing movement. Invite people to be part of the movement, with God, every day.

Help us out, what other advice should we be giving these churches/ministries that want to grow, for the sake of the Kingdom?



3 take aways from the forum that will change the way I lead

This past week I had the wonderful opportunity of being at the Canadian Baptist Youth and Family Forum in Niagara Falls, Ontario. It was a gathering of about fifty youth and family leaders from across Canada. Together this crew articulated the opportunities and challenges in reaching this generation with the Gospel. Together they reached some bold recommendations for the churches. Their observations are being put together in a report to be shared across our Nation. Please watch for the report!

In today’s blog I want to share my personal take-aways from the gathering. These three observations hit me strongly, from the perspective of one of the people on the planning team (Canadian Baptist Youth and Family Team) for this event. These three things will change the way I lead. May they change the way you lead too.

1. The power of listening – my role at this event was to listen. One of the main focuses of this forum was cluster groups, where we heard from participants the challenges and opportunities they see in culture, in engaging theologically, in leadership, and in church culture. I was a cluster group leader, where my role was to ask good questions, invite discussion and help the group dig deeper. My role was to listen to the voice of the participants. Even between sessions and over meals I was impressed with the level of deep questions people asked each other, as they listened deeply to each other – hearing the stories of what God is doing across Canada and discerning with each other what is happening in their leadership, church and context. Something amazing happened when the cluster group leaders got together at the end – very clear themes were repeated in each group and in the side discussions. We didn’t have an agenda, we didn’t know where the forum would go, but as we listened to leaders from across our Nation it was clear certain themes were being highlighted (Watch for the report! It contains these important themes!) Here’s my big take-away: God absolutely does speak through the collective. Somehow in the drive of leadership I’ve not taken as much time recently to listen to the voice of those in the trenches of ministry and life. Forgive me. I’m listening now.

Leaders – are we truly listening to those we are leading? Do we trust God’s voice speaking in and through the body of Christ?

2. We have excellent next generation leaders – during this forum our leaders impressed me repeatedly. There was not a hint of competitiveness in the group. Not once did I hear leaders comparing size of youth groups or churches, salaries or budgets. There was a clear heart to see God’s Kingdom come here on earth, across Canada. There was a great willingness to help each other, encourage each other, pray for each other, share resources, share ideas and share hope. There was an amazing willingness in this group of leaders to do whatever it takes to see this generation transformed by the Gospel. There was a great willingness of these leaders to look critically at themselves – their own walk with God, their own love for the church, their own leadership, their own theology – for the sake of becoming more effective in our Kingdom work. Again and again during the week the planning team was thanked by the participants for the level of professionalism with which we were treating them. I wonder if this comment comes from the lack of professionalism with which we often treat next generation leaders? Remember just because the Youth Pastor plays a killer game of dodgeball, she/he can also have the depth to walk with youth and the church through complex issues and change. Friends, our youth and children are in very good hands with this group of leaders. We need to let them lead and trust them to lead. We need to treat them with professionalism and trust their professional voice as those who work with this generation.

Leaders – are we trusting and giving real authority to our next generation leaders?

3. The power of imaginative hope – it was a very packed schedule and an exhausting week, and yet everyone I talked with said they were walking away feeling renewed. How can both be true? The power of imaginative hope. During the week Gary Nelson shared “The opposite of hopelessness is imagination.” This is why the week was so renewing. Every leader had space to imagine what could be – space to imagine what ministry to the next generation could look like, space to imagine what their leadership could look like, and space to imagine what their church could look like. Again, watch for the coming report as it tries to articulate the imaginative hope that was expressed at this gathering.

Leaders – are we giving space for people, especially our young leaders, to dream and pray with imaginative hope?

There are my three major take aways from the forum that will change the way I lead.
What do you think? How will these three things change the way you lead?
If you were at the gathering – what was your big take-away(s)?

-Renée @r_embree

Getting the Best out of People at Meetings

Next week I get to meet with the Youth and Family Working Group. It is two days of meetings. Maybe that makes you think “ugh” but I love it. The level of engagement, passion, honesty and pushing towards the better that happens makes the time so rich and helpful.
They are my accountability and feedback group. They literally make course altering, major decisions – like whether an event should die, whether we are on track with our vision, what we need to change, what location Tidal Impact (North America’s largest youth mission tour) should be in next, what people really need from us etc.
This isn’t “rubber stamping”, this is high level engagement and sharpening.
I don’t go for agreement and everyone to nod their heads “yes”, I go for lots of discussion, disagreement and push-back, so that together, given the full picture, we can decide the best way forward in this season.

These meetings are so rich.
Yet, I, like you, have been in many meetings that are a huge waste of time or never get to the “meat” of a discussion.

WHY does this matter?
Because I’ve seen too many ministries and churches that are stagnant.
Stagnant, boring meetings lead to stagnant ministries.
I’ve seen too many teams that coast on the surface and just keep things running pretty much the same way it has always been done.
This matters because we’re involved in Kingdom work and we need to invite people into giving their best thinking and listening to each other & God, so that we can join what God is doing to advance the Kingdom around us.
It matters because we’re never going to change Atlantic Canada neighbourhood by neighbourhood if we don’t have places where we can push each other forward.
Yes, I’m passionate about this because we so desperately need change so that more and more churches are joining God’s work in transforming neighbourhoods.
If our meetings just stay at the level of “what closing song we’re going to sing this week” we’ll never get to the heart of our mission together.

How do you create a meeting that invites the best out of people?
I’ve been thinking about how to create an environment to get the best level of engagement from people at meetings.
Here’s some things I’m learning help meetings get to the real issues and invite people to engage at a meaningful level.

1. Trust – in order to have deep level engagement at meetings those around the table have to trust each other, trust each other’s motives and trust their investment in the greater good or goal. It’s the leader that’s got to go first in displaying this trust and inviting others into this trust. One of the gifts I’ve had with my CABC Youth and Family team members is road trips together! We’ve spent entire road trips sharing our life stories with each other, sharing our fears, our hopes and our dreams. You don’t need a road trip to do this, you can create the environment, time and space for a team to understand each other’s hearts and wiring – share testimonies, share one thing that’s disrupting their peace, share what’s giving them the most joy lately, share their shadow mission or share team building activities together. The leader has to go first, if the prayer request or fear you share as a leader is at the surface level, safe or really about someone else, the team will follow suit.

2. Invite and model honesty – let the team know up front that you are looking for, value and expect honesty. You do not want a bunch of bobbing heads. Invite them explicitly to share their true thoughts, hesitations, concerns, hopes and fears. Remind everyone that nothing is sacred but the mission. Be honest yourself about what’s on the table for discussion and what’s not (what’s already been decided and why). Be honest about your thoughts around a topic.

3. Gather around the win and vision – Invite people to know they can criticize anything and change anything if the group is convinced it faithfully furthers the vision. Then mean it, by not taking the criticisms personally and driving everything back to the whether it helps the vison. I go into these meetings, yes with my thoughts and ideas on a discussion topic, but surrendering “my” way to the collective team and the work of God’s Spirit upon us. I truly trust God will lead us together. It doesn’t mean I don’t share my opinions, it just means my opinions are an equal part of the discussion as we discern together the best way forward.

4. Give pre-work – when I haven’t given pre-work for a meeting the team now asks for it! Be really clear what you’re meeting about, the goal of the meeting and the questions they are to work through ahead of time. I’ve found allowing teammates to gather their thoughts and ideas ahead of time means everyone is better prepared, we’re able to get into deeper discussion more quickly and everyone brings their best.

5. Ask good questions – This is the best thing you can do as the leader of the meeting. Keep asking questions until you hear from everyone and get to the heart of issues. This isn’t discussing stuff that could be an email update or a 5 minute meeting, this is digging into the important questions around vision, strategy and the way forward. Ask the what if’s? What if we were to…? How do we reach new people? If were to re-invent an event from scratch that challenges students today to take a springing leap forward in their faith, what would it look like? Keep asking questions that invite deeper reflection. I also like to change up how I engage people in the discussion, sometimes I let them mingle around writing their answers to questions on flip-chart paper and then we discuss them together. Sometimes I like to put them in pairs where they write down all their ideas on post-it notes (one idea per post-it), then we discuss all the ideas together. Sometimes we close our laptops and discuss in a circle. Mix it to help people be creative and give their best.

6. Push for the last 10% – Make sure you’ve heard all the voices. Do what you can to avoid the “parking lot” discussions. Actually say “I want to hear the last 10%. Any final thoughts, doubts, unsettledness or encouragements you have going through your head?” Or “When you walk away from here and you see someone from the meeting or a family member and you say ‘We decided at the meeting that ___, but I think…’ I want to hear the ‘but I think’ now.”

7. Clear action steps – make sure everyone is very clear what they are responsible for doing as a result of the meeting, attach clear deadlines to each action.

The environment and tone of a meeting is critical to having a healthy, fruitful discussion.

If it helps, here’s the weekly agenda we’re using right now on the CABC Youth and Family team with Andrew, Jacqueline and I.

1. Check-in and prayer – this is prayer for each other and what’s going on in our lives and leadership. It’s honest, trust level stuff, but is kept brief because we’ve already had longer trust building times. We pray for each other and for what God wants to do in Atlantic Canada.

2. Vision – as you know we’re passionate about seeing our churches in Atlantic Canada join God in changing their neighbourhoods. So each week we ask, are we on track? Where are we getting off track? Each of us has one big, new piece we’re working on to further this vision, so we check-in on how those pieces are going.

3. Current projects – in what you’re working now, where do you need input, advice or need to toss-around an idea? Any further tweaking needed to line it up with the vision?

4. Long term projects – what needs to be on our longer term radar? How’s that going? What do we need to do for that now? How’s it fit with our vision?

5. People/church stuff – anyone or any church that needs an extra call or visit from us?

That’s it.
It helps keep us on track and holds us accountable each week to making sure our schedules and events are pointed towards the vision.

Hope that helps.
Enjoy your meetings!
I know I’ll enjoy the Y&F working group meeting next week.

Please add your thoughts below on creating meeting environments that invite the best out of people.


Why we still need Youth Pastors in 2016

In the 1980’s and 1990’s a lot of churches hired Youth Pastors, often with pure and great motives, but also with underlying hopes that this Youth Pastor would be their “saviour” – growing the church, pleasing parents, and attracting a younger generation.
I’m sad to see in this current day era, where finances tend to be a little tighter and in some cases parents are less vocal (often because parents aren’t in the church either any more), youth pastor positions are disappearing or being squished into part-time hours or part-time responsibility in an ever increasing job description.
This concerns me greatly.
We need Youth Pastors!
Not to be a saviour. Not to attract (that doesn’t work so well any more). But…
We need people who will lead us in connecting with this younger generation!
We need people who will lead us in showing and telling the Gospel in relevant ways to this younger generation!
We need people that are inviting the church to ask the tough questions of whether we are truly making new disciples and remind us why the church exists today.
If anything the gap between the younger generation and the majority of our church cultures has gotten much wider and we need Pastor who will help us and lead us in bringing that gap.

Here are eight important reasons we need Youth Pastors today:

1. To help us engage in relevant ways with the culture today. Churches need help to understand and engage the culture. Youth Pastor must keep up on culture, trends and influences to understand the younger generation. They can help your church know how to stay relevant and apply God’s Word to meet people where they are today and invite them onward with Jesus. Youth Pastor train adults, youth leaders and all of us in the church to engage well and meaningfully with today’s culture.

2. To lead us in connecting with the younger generation. Youth Pastors can be our bridge builders between generations, helping us to understand each other. They can be bridge builders between parents and youth, helping parents understand their youth, youth culture and how to connect faith to their youth’s real life, every day. Youth Pastors are not meant to do the work of sharing the Gospel with youth and discipling youth for us, they are to lead us into doing that work together. Youth Pastors are to equip us and lead us into the culture, not do all the work for us. Youth ministry is not meant to be a silo of the church, but part of the body of Christ, with inclusion and bridges between generations in the church being the rule. Youth Pastors are connectors.

3. To be translators for us, articulating the Gospel in ways the younger generation will grasp and understand. The Gospel doesn’t change but the method and ways we present it and share it changes, it has to, to make sure it is truly understood. Youth Pastors help us re-articulate and re-package the Gospel for today’s younger generation. And then they can help us see where we are using “insider” language or old language that is not understood.

4. To create an environment where youth can explore Jesus. Youth Pastor create an environment where the younger generation can safely explore Jesus and His ways. Yes, this environment needs to look very different than your Sunday morning church service! It needs to. Please note, this isn’t a contradiction to the statement above, that Youth Pastors are not to do the work for us nor are they to be a silo. It’s a both/and situation. Youth Pastors, with their team, help create an environment for youth to explore Jesus, but they also build bridges to the wider church and community and train youth and adults to do the same. Youth Pastors create environments where students can explore Jesus and His ways.

5. To engage the younger generation with their tough questions. Today’s youth are faced with (or will be faced with, in their near future) tough questions about sexuality, tragedy, the validity of faith, end-of-life issues, relationships, decisions about the future, consumerism, media, multi-faiths etc. Youth Pastors help ensure there is a group of caring adults who are not avoiding these tough questions, but entering into these questions with youth. Youth Pastors need a robust theology, to lead us into engaging youth with their tough questions. (This is also part of the reason I’m a strong advocate for Youth Pastors having seminary training. Full disclosure, I also work a percentage of my time for Acadia Divinity College.)

6. To lead the Church forward now. Youth Pastor invite youth to use their leadership skills and gifts now. We need youth to help the church move forward and flourish in being the body of Christ in our churches’ neighbourhoods. With the support of Youth Pastors and mentors youth are leading the church now, if we listen and let them. Youth Pastor develop and support young leaders.

7. To continue the work of making disciples of all nations, all ages. The job is definitely not done. There are 340,400 children between the ages of 0 and 14 in Atlantic Canada. Our job is not done. There are many youth and children out there who don’t know the real Jesus and His invitation and what it’s like to be a child in His Kingdom. Sorry churches, but a lot of what you are currently doing will never reach them. Youth Pastor can train youth to reach their peers and create an environment that’s conducive for the younger generation to explore Jesus.

8. To help us innovate as a Church. Youth Pastors often have more freedom to experiment with ministry. They can try new things with the younger generation without the same scrutiny of trying something new with the older (or all) generations. Churches can learn from the younger generation and their experiments of doing community, being the church, worship, format, using media and much more.

Pat your Youth Pastor on the back today, they have a tough job. Let them know you appreciate them.
Don’t have a Youth Pastor? Pat your volunteer youth leader on the back today, they are trying to do this vital and important job in their spare time!
Don’t a Youth Pastor or Volunteer Youth Leader? Let’s chat!

You know, some churches are deciding the Youth Pastor role needs to be full-time, while the Senior Pastor role is part-time. I’m just saying.

I am thankful for our professional, passionate, dedicated Youth Pastors in Atlantic Canada.
We need them!
Value them churches!

Share your thoughts below.
-Renée @r_embree

11 Characteristics We Need in Leaders Today

The church of today looks different than ten years ago – or it should, if it doesn’t you’ll have a really hard time being effective in today’s culture.
The church ten years from now will look different than today.
It’s the message of the church, the movement of God that is sacred, it is not the methods or institutions that are sacred.
We desperately need leaders, with deep character and faithful competence, to help the church go from where it is today to where it needs to be for tomorrow.
In days gone by church leaders could be trained to give a decent sermon, hold a funeral, visit the faithful and they were good to go. As a professor of mine would say, church leaders need to be ready to “pray, preach or die on a moments notice.”

Things look different today.
Those days are long gone.
So much more is needed and required from our leaders today and into the future.
We need leaders who can bridge cultural divides, bring change to congregations, equip people to BE the church and remind the church of its role to join God on His mission in the world every day.

My colleagues, Garth Williams, Kevin Vincent and I, have been discussing the kind of leaders the church needs today. Here’s our list. Let us know what you think.

The leaders the church needs today and into the future are:

1. Highly relational – value people and are great listeners. They know trust is a key commodity and is only built through solid relationships. They build teams that accomplish a lot, but also know, trust and understand each other. They know when to be vulnerable and can be trusted with others vulnerabilities. These leaders can listen to even criticisms and hear the hurt and confusion that is coming out as judgement or anger.

2. Collaborative – invite others into help shape and accomplish the vision. These leaders are influencers rather than dictators. They have a posture of invitation into God’s way and into their leadership. They display an openness to discussion, while also knowing when to push the team from discussion to action. They are willing to give away power and control.

3. Less linear, more fluid – comfortable living in less defined constructs and living in the grey. They are comfortable ending a discussion with a comma and not a period. They are comfortable with uncertainty and leading into the unknown. They are versatile, agile on the method but married to the mission. They recognize the church cannot stay where it is and continue to reach new people and a new generation.

4. Great questioners – They are able to ask questions that are not judgmental but force assumptions to the top. They ask question that invite people into deeper and more thoughtful discussion. Questions also help these leaders be on-going learners. Leaders need to show this willingness to learn from outsiders, insiders and anyone. (More on great leadership questions here: 7 Questions to ask to be a better leader)

5. Visionaries – Leaders with extreme clarity of God’s mission for them. They know their “white hot why” and are able to communicate the cause clearly to others.

6. Strategist – Leaders that not only dream and vision but know how to lead a team and church to become passionate implementers.

7. Experimenters – Leaders that are passionate about experimentation. They have an entrepreneurial attitude and are not afraid to take risks. There is no failure, there are only lessons along the way.

8. Character – Leaders with depth of character and love. Leaders that have the character to withstand challenges with grace and perseverance. They have clear integrity, inside and out. Leaders that love and serve so fanatically that their deep convictions are respected by even those outside the faith. Other could say “I don’t agree with them in that but WOW they live out their faith in Jesus!”

9. Missionaries – know they are called by God to love and serve missionally where they study, live, work and play. They are desperate to understand their context, the questions people are asking today and the needs around them, so that they can equip the church to be missionaries in their context. They are both modelling being on mission everyday with Jesus in their own lives and are calling and equipping others to live on mission with Jesus everyday.

10. Kingdom minded – they are concerned about the Jesus movement going forward. They are not protecting a particular church, a building, a denomination, nor are they seeking to build their own church or kingdom. They are others’ focused.

11. Gritty – they are not afraid of hard work and pain. They are resilient and persevere through challenges. Their strength comes from being close to Jesus and listening to Jesus. They are not afraid of talk about the tough topics or have difficult conversations. They are willing to do whatever it takes for the sake of Jesus’ mission advancing.

We are so encouraged that we see leaders developing in these areas.
We are so encouraged that we see emerging leaders with these skills and passions.
God is absolutely building His Church.

Let us know – what do you think of our list? Leave your comments below.

You might also be interested in reading this blog asking the question “Who will create the new hoverboards and flying cars for the church?” 

Lead on!
-Renée @r_embree

I want a bigger sandbox! How to NOT get stuck in maintenance ministry

One of the easiest and saddest states to fall into in ministry is maintenance.
Your passion is dry.
Your heart is no longer in it.
Ministry has become routine.
It is more like taking your turn in the schedule, filling in your spot, than it is about fulfilling a dream.
You wonder what difference it is truly making.
You push through the motions.

This can happen whether you’re paid in ministry or a volunteer.
I’ve been through seasons of maintenance.
It’s awful.
Instead of the joy that can come from being a part of what God is doing in the world, it feels life draining.
Yet, we can get stuck in maintenance. We can even get comfortable there, because it makes everything predictable. We fulfill our duty, but we miss our purpose.

We were created for so much more.
Maintenance feels so wrong because it is wrong.
To quote Horst Schulze from the 2015 Leadership Summit “It is immoral to hire (or call) people to fill a function. Hire (call) for dreams, to be part of a purpose.”
We all desire to be a part of a purpose that is bigger than ourselves.

When you start falling into maintenance in your volunteer role or ministry role, how do you begin moving back to a sense of purpose? How do you get unstuck?

This will NOT solve everything but I want to share one question and one tool that can be a part of the conversations to get you out of maintenance.

The one question –What positive change are you passionate about bringing where you are?
This helps move us out of maintenance to consider the change God wants you to bring. You are where you are for “such a time as this”. How can you be a part of bringing change that would help the larger vision? How can you be a part of bringing the change that God wants for your organization/church/ministry/camp?

The one tool – The Sandbox. This is a tool I picked up from John McAuley at Muskoka Woods. After you’ve been in any ministry role for a while it is very normal to start wanting a bigger sandbox! It’s natural to want to be stretched a little and try some new ideas, new areas of ministry or new projects. In other words, it’s natural to not want to get stuck it maintenance. It’s natural to want to make sure you don’t fall into just fulfilling a function in the ministry and instead are allowed to keep experimenting and pushing towards a larger purpose. It’s natural to want a bigger sandbox.
I’ve seen this especially be true for Youth Pastors and Associate Pastors after a few years in a role.

The challenge is how to have a fruitful conversation with your supervisor or whoever you’re responsible to (deacons, key volunteer, staff person, boss…) that will help you understand if they are ready to let you take on something new, more or give you permission to significantly change something.

Have the sand box conversation.

The Sand Box

Explain how you are feeling ready to try something new and more.
Show them this sandbox and invite them into a conversation about these four areas to see if they are ready to trust you.
Track record – have you proven you are trustworthy in what you have been given so far? Is your track record one that shows you are a faithful and good worker?
Responsibility – have you taken responsibility for what is already in your portfolio and done it well? Have you taken responsibility for both successes and failures in your ministries?
Experience – do you have some experience in this “new” area?
Training – do you have training in this “new” area? Or are you teachable and ready to learn?

What having the sandbox conversation can do is either:
1. Help you and your supervisor see you really are ready for more. You are ready to try this new idea. This will be the case if each of the 4 areas of the sandbox are answered positively.
2. Help you and your supervisor see where you still need to prove yourself, grow and learn to be ready for more. At least now you have a focus, an area to grow! I have found even this has helped me stay out of maintenance as then I have an area to focus on for growth in my leadership and service.

You were made to be part of a purpose. You were made to be a part of God’s purposes in the world.
Don’t waste time fulfilling a function.
Don’t waste too long in maintenance mode.
Find your bigger sandbox.

I truly believe God is up to a bigger purpose in Atlantic Canada. I truly believe God is inviting us to be a part of what He is doing to change Atlantic Canada one neighbourhood at a time.
I invite you to be a part of fulfilling that purpose.

-Renée @r_embree

Who will create the new hoverboards and flying cars for the church?

As I’m writing this it is October 21st, 2015, back to the future day. If the 1989 movie Back to the Future II were based on true events, Doc Brown would have landed his time machine amongst hoverboards and flying cars today. I remember the movie well. I always wanted a hoverboard. I haven’t got to try one yet. Lots of predictions can be made about the future, but the only thing we know for sure is it will be different.
When we think about the future of the Church, it will be different.
See, the now is inadequate for the future.
Because the now is tailored to the now (or to 50 years ago in some churches. I wish I was joking.)
Each generation has to figure out how to best live out the Gospel and show and tell the Gospel, in their context, in their culture, in their generation.
The Gospel doesn’t change, the core of doctrine doesn’t change, but the church’s methods, language, approaches, needed services…changes with what works and the neighbourhoods where God has placed you.


The question is, who is going to lead us into the future?
Who creates the new hoverboards and flying cars for the church?
Who is going to make sure we don’t get stuck in 1989 or 2015?
The young.
To the young, we need you! Lead us!
Our imaginations are getting thin, lead us with your best imaginations into the future.
Our creativity is getting old, lead us with new creativity.
It’s not just any young that will lead us to the hoverboards and flying cars or whatever is needed for the church of the future. It is the young that are willing to risk and do the sorts of things in the list below.

This past weekend I was privileged to be at the Inspire Justice Conference in Halifax, NS (#IJC15). I’ve been chewing on one phrase ever since. “It is the task of youth think beyond your elders and leaders.”-Rick Tobias. When Rick Tobias speaks I listen. He has a heart after God and continues to live his life in partnership with the poor and marginalized in our society. He continues to give his best towards helping break the cycle of multi-generational poverty.

Here’s a piece of what Rick said, that I’m probably misquoting slightly.
“To the young, think past your elders and leaders. It is the task of youth to think past and see beyond your leaders.”
“Youth, move us to justice and inclusion. Dream, innovate and create the new.”
“Youth are saying ‘enough already telling us to care for the poor, tell us how to change stuff.’”
He continued to call the young to “rise up, don’t wait for permission, just do it. Live out your purpose.”

As I chew on this, here’s what keeps coming back to my mind.
We need you, young, to push us.
We need you, young, to not let us stay where we are.
We need you, young, to do the new.
We need you, young, to lead us into the future.

Church now will not be Church 25 years from now. It shouldn’t be. Now is inadequate for the future.
Young, call us into being the Church we need to be. Young, call us into the Church of the future.

So to those who are young and young at heart. (Feel free to define “young” however you like.)
Please think beyond us. Dream new dreams for the Church, for the Kingdom of God.
Below is what it will take for the Church to actually become different. This is what it’ll take for the young to go beyond current day leaders.
Repeating and building on what Rick said, here is a list to the young who are willing to lead beyond the now.

To the young…
1. Take courage to experiment. As Rick said, there is no blueprint, invent the new, invent the way.
2. Question. We need your questions. Question us, your leaders, the Church, the way “things are always done”. Let your voice be heard. Often the best way to let your voice be heard is to ask really good questions.
3. Listen to the voice of the outsider, those who feel forgotten, left-out, outside of your “camp”. Especially listen to those who oppose you and learn from them.
4. Be fiercely committed to the Gospel, but be very agile in how you live out the Gospel in different neighbourhoods.
5. Be fiercely committed to justice, including and embracing those who have been treat unjustly. Correct whatever allows injustices to continue. To quote Rick again “Compassion responds to need. Justice asks why those needs exist in the first place.” Both are needed.
6. Stay close to Jesus. This path will not be easy.
7. Just do it. Do what needs to be done to follow Jesus and His heart for justice in our world. Do not wait for permission from the older folks. Do not wait for the older folks to figure out. You, just do it. Live out your purpose.

To the older (not old, just older)…
1. Let the young lead.
2. Let the young experiment.
3. Let the young ask questions, even the ones that make you feel uncomfortable.
4. Release the young from unnecessary systems, rules, and traditions that are holding them back from fresh expressions of justice, faith, and showing and telling the Gospel.
5. Serve alongside the young, be the hands and feet of Jesus together. Join their cause.
6. Mentor the young, not as guardians of traditions, but as ignitors of God’s Spirit work. Help them develop a deep, robust faith, rooted in their relationship with Jesus.
7. Be the biggest cheerleader of the young. Support them and their efforts to live out their faith.

Let me say it again, we need our youth to lead us beyond.
Lead us, we pray.

Young, lead us into the Church we need to be – the Church that shows the Gospel, the Church that tells the Good News, the Church that heals brokenness, the Church that corrects faulty systems that keep people down and trapped, the Church that brings peace, that Church that lives Jesus and points to Jesus.
The Church that is Jesus in the neighbourhoods where we live, study, work and play.

-Renée @r_embree