3 Ways for Shifting the Church Schedule from Doing Projects to Loving People
December 13, 2022
By Rev. Erin Burleson
Most ministry projects start with two components: people and passion. These are promised to produce meaningful, engaging, and transformative ministry for most planning teams. Yet, all ministry projects struggle to maintain a balance between these two components so that one doesn’t overpower the other. Where there is prioritization of a particular passion, there is a neglect of the people. Where there is concentration of people, there is complexity to identifying shared passion. Either element can inspire action but does not guarantee the engagement for which we all long.
Engagement is the result of suffering alongside others. It comes from putting in the hard work of getting proximate with people, stewarding passion, and adopting the practices necessary to further work that is named by our neighbors. Knowing that the root word for passion means “to suffer or endure” re-orients any missional engagement efforts to bridge the gap between people and passions, to do the hard work!
So, how do we make a shift from doing projects to loving people? For practical purposes, consider adding “processes” to the list of ministry components. From planning and preparation, to execution and evaluation, it is possible to keep engagement at the forefront of all the activities of the church. In specific, build in a process for assessing ministry ideas from the participant/recipient point of view. Three primary areas for consideration include:
Mutuality: Participants and recipients will have a higher level of engagement when there are opportunities for them not only to receive, but also to give. When ministry efforts are “one -sided” the givers experience joy, pride, enthusiasm, and more while the participants may experience a combination of relief, appreciation, shame, guilt, and grief. When everyone has a part to play, the gaps between participants and leaders lesson, and the “playing field” is leveled. As opportunities for mutuality are identified, communication becomes key for building trust. For instance, communicating “we allow participants to _______”, could become more invitational, “we encourage our neighbors and friends to _______.
If necessary, start small and work up to substantial opportunities for folks to share. This give and take approach is foundational for moving participants towards ownership.
Ownership: By keeping the pressure “low” for the participant, there is a tendency for the people who carry a greater weight for the work to subconsciously (and sometimes blatantly) communicate the power that they have in making the ministry happen. Inadvertently, this perpetuates the mindset of dependency and limits the longevity of the offering. However a ministry program will be structured, extending ownership to the participants themselves will strengthen the planning, serving, and sustaining the efforts.
One of the best byproducts of ownership is that it communicates a level of freedom for the participant that is normally only reserved for ministry planners. Participants in ministry programs are often viewed through a lens of suspicion. Many people don’t trust them to make good decisions, to take care of themselves, or to even know what they need. Any way that the planning team can create space for participants to practice freedom is a step toward strengthening self-confidence, assuring them that they are indeed capable of growing, giving, and succeeding by some measure. When assessing your ministries, ask; which decisions are we making that our neighbors can make for themselves? How are we offering guidance without taking control?
With the participant lens as a starting point, ministry planning teams can build up the engagement evaluation process from there, including categories for leadership, programming, and the organization itself.