Friday, March 26, 2010

Changing your ministry culture

Out the front of my house I have a five year old Japanese maple tree that is dying. After years of shaping, the tree used to look very beautiful but at the moment it is looking quite poorly. So I have a few options; pull the tree out or try my hardest to save the tree. If I decide to save the tree I would have to do some heavy pruning and recondition the soil. If I decide to replace the tree I will have to start from scratch again with a younger tree, spending time shaping it to the look I want. Both options are going to require hard work.

What if we look at ministry in the same way that we look at the dying Japanese maple? When a ministry is in its prime there is very little work require maintaining the ministry culture because everyone lives the vision. Last week we looked at building a ministry culture but what if your ministry culture starts “dying” or is heading in the wrong direction. Perhaps the culture in your ministry was better a few years ago when everyone seemed positive and energetic to see the ministry succeed. Perhaps your ministry has taken a few hits lately and people have developed a survival culture where they don’t try anything new.

So how can you deal with change in your ministry? How can you change the ministry culture in your environment to get it firing again? You have three options:

  1. Do nothing: you always have the option of continuing the ministry in the way that it running at the moment. Every ministry goes through ups and downs and sometimes you just need to ride out the storm. Changing the culture of your ministry during a rough time may rob your people of the opportunity to learn the ministry survival techniques they need to last in ministry over the long haul.
  2. Do some Pruning: perhaps the basics of your ministry are correct but the culture of the ministry went a little off course. Perhaps people became lazy and the culture turned from commitment to a culture that says “we’ll be ok”. Perhaps people lost sight of the vision and the culture of going through the motions developed. Some ministries have times when a lot of new people come into the ministry and the culture was never explained to them, so they picked up bad habits.

If you get to the pruning phase there is going to be some dead wood that needs cutting. Once you prune a tree it never looks the same again. It won’t be possible to get the same ministry culture that you had when you first started, but keep the best parts of that and remove the dying programs or activities. The positive side to pruning your ministry is that cutting back on the programs or activities give your team time to focus on new growth strategies.

  1. Start fresh: there is something about a new ministry that gets people excited. Every ministry has a start and sometimes a ministry fails. Just like some trees, some ministries won’t grow again no matter how much hard work you put in. Sometime you need to let a ministry finish so that you can start a new ministry in its place. A fresh start is never easy; it involves:
    1. Communication - you need to be very open in your communication so that people develop a culture of trust and inclusion.
    2. Planning – you need time to create the new ministry culture, people need to own the new ministry, take time so they catch and live the new vision.
    3. Prayer – remember that your ministry should give glory to God, so pray for direction and blessing from God.

Change is never easy, hearing how others have dealt with change helps. If you have tried to change the ministry culture in your parish let us know by leaving a comment.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Building the right culture in your ministry

Many people look at a church they think is successful and ask me “How do they get so many young people?” Or they see the good ministry and believe that it is because of the music or fun activities or pizza or whatever. Whenever I have spoken to effective youth ministry leaders it is clear to me that they are as much about building a culture as they are about building a ministry. It is who they are as a ministry that attracts people, their culture is attractive more than their program.

In our last post we looked at the concept of ministry culture, so how do we build the right culture in our ministry? Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

  1. Get the big stuff right: Any ministry in the Church is guided by the church and takes on a big focus such as youth, young adults seniors, social justice music etc. Your ministry should sort out the big focus first so that the parish will know how your different to another ministry in the parish. Within your big focus area you need to sort out the spirituality of the group so that you can create a culture that achieves this spirit. The key question is “how is our ministry culture helping our members to be a disciple of Jesus?”
  1. Laser focus on the little things: News flash – your ministry can’t do everything. Your will have to define the culture of your ministry by picking between the little things that you have a say over. An average ministry will try to do a lot, a good ministry will be involved in the right things but a great ministry will have laser focus on one or two key things. For example, a social justice ministry will have to focus on local or overseas, charity or developmental, support or campaigning; it can’t do all of these well. What are the little things that don’t matter to others but define the culture of your ministry?
  1. It comes from the top down: Everyone looks to someone for leadership of the group. If the person in the position of leader doesn’t lead everyone will look to someone else. People want to see how they can behave, what they can say, what they can get away with. There is always someone who tell newcomers “we don’t do that here” whether in words or by their actions. The person that everyone looks to is setting the culture of the group. So if you find yourself in a position of leadership, as an intern that should be the case, then you are setting a culture in the ministry. Ask yourself these questions:
    1. What do you think is important in your ministry?
    2. What would others say about what you think is important?
    3. What statements are you making by what you are not doing?
  1. You can’t give what you don’t have – if you want the people in your ministry to take on the right culture, then you have to expose them to it. You will have to teach people about the culture that you are setting for your ministry. Be proactive at answering the “why?” question for people you are leading, “why do we do it that way?” At times you might even have to correct people who get the culture wrong. Ask yourself “do people know why we do the things we do? And can they repeat it to others?”
  1. What is celebrated is repeated – The ministry culture will be enhanced if you celebrate the wins in your ministry. You can do this making role models out the people who get the culture. You can do this by rewarding people who go “above and beyond the call of duty”. Have a party in your ministry, not to have a good time but to celebrate and enhance the culture of the group.

Please leave a comment about how you have enhanced the culture in your ministry. Join us next week for another interesting ministry thought.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What is your Ministry Culture?

If “vision” is where your ministry is heading, then “culture” is the way your ministry is behaving. The culture of your ministry is lived by the people rather than the direction they are headed. The activities you as a group build the ministry culture but culture is in the people not the activities. So what do we mean by ministry culture?

Firstly we are talking about spiritual culture not pop/youth culture: Sometimes people think that youth ministry is built on the latest fad or being up to date with pop culture. For example, having a Facebook group may be a useful ministry tool but your youth ministry won’t grow just because you are on Facebook. We want to look at the spiritual culture in the lives of the people in your ministry.

Types of Ministry Culture: Let’s face it you ministry can’t do everything. When you take a particular focus in your ministry, the activities you choose develop a culture within the people. The old say “what you reward gets repeated” is true with ministry. Here are a few examples of how a particular focus can create a ministry culture:

  1. Bible focus – groups that focus on the Scriptures develop a ministry culture that develops disciples who understand the Word of God. An example of a culture that develops when your ministry has a bible focus is that members bring their own bible to the meetings.
  2. Discussion focus – groups that are based on discussion develop a culture where everyone wants their say. Usually discussion focused groups thrive on the culture of being known. An example of a discussion based culture is that people feel “ripped off” if they haven’t had a chance to say something during the meeting.
  3. Prayer Focus – groups that focus on prayer can develop a more reflective culture. The prayer focus develops disciples who are open to God speaking to them in the silence. A prayer culture can develop around a ritual or series of prayers. An example of a culture that develops from a prayer focus is that the group will light a candle or have a “sacred space” or focal point in their meetings.
  4. Charism Focus – often a group will develop its ministry culture around the particular charism of the ministry. A Legion of Mary group will have a devotional ministry culture and everyone will bring their rosary beads, that’s culture. A St Vinnies group will have an action based culture and include visitation as part of their program. A youth ministry such as Lifeteen will develop it’s culture around the Sunday Eucharist and Catechesis. Your ministry culture might be past down from a previous generation. A good indicator of this Charism based culture would be seen in things that you think are “normal” for Catholic’s but not many other people “do them”.

So what focus do you take in your ministry location? As an Intern or Ministry leader how is the focus you are taking creating a culture in the ministry? Your ministry culture may not be right or wrong, you just need to be aware of the culture you are developing. The key culture you want to develop is a focus on discipleship and a connection with the Church. In the book Essential Church, Thom Rainer states that young adults drop out of the Church because they don’t see a connection with Church as essential to their life. In your ministry are you creating a culture that helps young people to see the Church as essential in their lives?

Next week we will talk more about developing the culture, so until then reflect on the ministry culture in your location. Please leave a comment.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Are we on the same team? dealing with unresolved disagreements.

Recently I was talking with a group of ministry leaders about their work in a variety of locations. This group included many experienced people yet each of them had a few areas of concern in there work. Each member of the group had at least one or two areas of ministry that were troubling them. Even though they had some conflict or concern, no one was paralysed by this. This got me thinking, how do you deal with conflict in a ministry setting?

As a Parish Intern or Leader you may encounter disagreements about ministry. There may be a disagreement between Interns or between ministries or even within a ministry. There are a couple of things to remember when handling conflict in a ministry setting:

  1. We are on the same team: A very wise piece of advice that I heard from a work colleague was to remember we are on the same team. When we minister in the Church we are on the same team. Each team needs to work together rather than fight within the team. As a group of Interns remind each other that you are on the same team, there shouldn’t unresolved disagreements between Interns.
  2. Work on a common understanding: Sometimes people get into a disagreement about one area of ministry yet they are really arguing over two different things. To develop a common understanding you need to make sure you are talking about the same thing. For example an argument may arise over starting small groups in your parish, but one person imagines bible study, another other imagines prayer groups and another person imagines personal accountability groups. Find the common thread by explaining the terms you are using, in this case what is a “small group”?
  3. Focus on the Vision – sometime we get lost in the small details about our ministry and forget the bigger vision. There are many ways to achieve the big vision so find a way that works for the common good. Any task that you undertake should you’re your ministry achieve the vision. When a task fails to achieve the vision you may need to stop doing the task, even though some people may like performing that task. For example, Pizza nights might attract young people to a starting youth ministry but you might cancel the Pizza part once the ministry is launched. If the focus is on the pizza and not the goal of starting a youth ministry then people get distracted.
  4. Who are you following – please remind yourself of this topic in the previous post. Ultimately if there is an unresolved disagreement over ministry in your parish, the parish leadership should have the final say.

We all get disappointed at times in our ministry because our vision is bigger than what we see in front of us. If you are to continue to develop as a Parish Intern or Leader, you need to ride through these disappointments. If we are to be effective leaders in the Church then we have to inspire people with hope, hope that comes from our daily surrender to God. As Andy Stanley wrote “The end of a God ordained vision is God”

Please leave a comment about how you have overcome conflict in your ministry.