Monday, February 14, 2011

Some notes from a pastor trying to imagine mission development

As I have been initiating a conversation in our congregation about what it looks like to do mission development in our context (perhaps especially focused on reaching the university community, and shifting to a multi-site model for ministry), I've been learning a lot by being in conversation and reading. Here are a few notes of grace I keep returning to that I think can help guide such conversations.

1) It's about God, and God's call. If we can keep that mantra central, "What is God calling us to do and be?" it will frame the conversation in a faithful way. It might also be good to remember where we have been and where God has been active in that, in order to see how God might be calling us in the future. God's shaping influence on a congregation in the past can help chart a path into God's future.

2) Think in terms of both/and and asset categories. What are our assets, and how can we creatively bring our assets together in fruitful ways to build up God's kingdom and do mission? And I tend to think developing a campus ministry (as well as other kinds of mission development) do not need to succumb to zero-sum thinking. It's adding, not changing. 

I've learned a ton about asset-based planning from Luther Snow and his model for asset-mapping:

3) It's a grand experiment. Mission development is new and innovative for all of us (with the possible exception of the radical innovators in our midst), so let's give each other grace to explore and grow and learn while we talk about it. We're talking about doing church differently (at least for Lutherans) than it has often been done, so we need to give everyone time to learn and become part of the conversation, and we/I need to remember that we don't have all the answers, we're figuring it out together. It's also helpful to be reminded sometimes that innovation diffuses in a relatively similar manner in almost all communities, described well by Everett Rogers in Diffusions of Innovation.

And then kind of a fourth, I always like the idea of problem solving and brainstorming. Get lots of creative (even wacky and crazy) ideas out on the table first, and think of all the fun things that are possible. Then only later filter. So for example, if I'm brainstorming about Lutheran campus ministry,  and I learn we can't call a mission developer this year (or even that the congregation and I, in this conversation, discern a different missional focus), then ask, "What can we do in the next year that builds our chances of getting grants next year, is innovative, and reaches university folk with the good news Lutherans have to offer, or moves us forward in mission development in ways that participate in God's mission in the world?" 

Finally, a mission-developer with whom I consult said, "If you do hit setbacks, they are sometimes (probably often) God moments." What can we learn from the times God slows us down and leads in ways we didn't expect? That's an important and faithful question and concept to keep in the mix. I've learned by moving here, and having a new baby arrive in our lives soon after starting work in the church, that this is a caring congregation that loves its pastor, and that when you have a new baby, you automatically are thinking about new life and possibilities. It's inspiring. We love this place and are blessed to be here!

Here are some further reflections from the mission developer I found particularly helpful:

It costs you nothing to be fascinated with a conversation and willing to explore what things would look like . . . .
[mission development] timetables are always all over the map . . . and the miracle is finding a way to bring anything to a ripe place at a time when action can be clearly taken.   It can and will happen, but brokering mission as a senior pastor means sometimes you are thinking ahead and exploring things you might not stir into your own setting for months . . .. . you and your congregation are always in charge of your timing, but knowing what partnership opportunities are opening up and stirring that into the leadership conversations at a time when it can be constructively engaged is a matter of patience, rapport, courage and timing. 
but I am always willing to try to imagine any possibilities with people that they are willing to field,  and sometimes the best commitment is to agree to look for an opportunity to field and idea with some leadership or planning group when possible, without forcing it prematurely.  After all, our congregations need to know that we love them more than our "plans" if our plans are to have any traction.
"What if" . . . . .if you can get leadership to ask that question a bunch, then you can get a climate of exploration going.

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