24 Feb, 2022 Principles for managing necessary agenda in pastors’ groups
FINAL TWO CHAPTERS OF ‘IN ONE SPIRIT’ RELEASED.
- Three years after writing this book on the unity of the Church, the promised closing chapters are here.
- I pray they are ‘prophetic’ – in the sense of being a ‘now word’ for our nation’s pastors’ groups, in view of what our next steps might be in these times.
Principles for managing ‘agenda’ in pastors’ groups
PREAMBLE: THE PROMISED CLOSING CHAPTERS
These last two chapters were penned three years after writing the prior chapters. The book had alluded prior to the fact that I had not fully completed the writing this book. The hindrance was a lack of shared vocabulary for this discussion. In the interim I was able to travel to discuss this very topic with pastors’ groups an additional 130 or more times — separate to weekly gatherings I have with a group of pastors where I live. A broadly shared vocabulary for defining how united Church leadership might work, and something of its purposes and process, resulted. Of note, these definitions avoid key Biblical terms for which different movements and individuals have different definitions. The paradigm articulated has found acceptance from pastors of many denominations, and in pastors’ groups across the wider geography of our nation
However, as various pastors’ groups began discussing what they could do together with increased intentionality, this immediately highlighted a new challenge regarding how we manage specific agendas we now accept within our meetings.
So, we will consider this topic first.I hope this will prove useful.
Principles for managing agenda in pastors’ groups
A pastors’ meeting is unavoidably a ‘hub’ for the united efforts of the Church in each city and town. If certain things aren’t considered by the pastors together, where else will they be considered?
With an increase in united efforts taking place amongst churches, a key area of challenge is the juggling of the discussion and management of these things. So how do we manage agendas that we might now agree need to be on the table before us when there really are multiple valid agendas?
At one level the answer seems simple, and the question almost redundant. Pastors already manage the operation of their church communities, with their various programmes and activities. Those of us who run businesses, already manage them too. We have managerial experience, so what needs discussing?
The reality is that the managerial dynamics are different to most local churches. Firstly, time is tight because these meetings are not highly regular (maybe 10 times per year), often short (rarely as long as 2 hours), and have the relationship of pastors as a priority (usually including coffee or a meal). It is hard to fit an agenda in.
This challenge is then compounded by the reality that many groups have previously not allowed an agenda into their meetings! This makes juggling agendas in this specific context an understandable challenge.
To be clear on our context, in many places nationally few have had time to really consider what God’s people might be wise to do at the city or national levels, or to take a great deal of responsibility to encourage and support the array of things that might result. To note how we have structured our local churches, pastors are employed by denominations to run congregations — not to bring leadership to the vision or efforts of the Church as a whole in their city or town. So, when pastors give their time to unity things — it’s extra work — and I think they are amazing!
However, it remains that many things that sit within the ‘unity space’ of our cities do not even get a mention in most pastors’ groups in an average year. The reasons why we’re somewhat weak in our united function is understandable — but changing this is also our responsibility! We need to lift the name of Jesus up in our cities while we can. We must work while it is light (John 9:4)! There is also something to discuss here because it really is a bit complex. We should expect this to be the case! Encouraging and facilitating the united efforts of the Church in a city or town is, by its very nature, going to be broader and more complex to manage than one individual congregation!
So, we’ll start by looking at how we already do this in our local churches. We’ll extrapolate out to the work of a city — and consider a simple framework for what does and doesn’t get onto the agenda. We’ll then discuss how we manage that agenda — so it doesn’t exclude our relationships and prayer, which are foundational dynamics to these groups.
THE ONE HOUR PER WEEK CHALLENGE
I suggest most pastors have only one hour per week available for unity things. Those with a stronger vision for wider city work might have two hours per week available. For example, the monthly pastors’ meeting takes two hours — so only 2 hours per month remain (or 6 for those with a greater vision or sense of calling to united things). A combined church service takes 3 hours. Intentional conversations over coffee with 3 different pastors, to strengthen relationship with them, take 4 hours in total. Someone invites pastors to hear about a possible united project — and that takes 90 minutes. We then each drive back to our local church office and have a full schedule ahead of us. We have very little time available amongst us to consider what exists on the united platform — let alone to manage it well. What is the way forward?
In a local church, only a few things can be included in the weekly Sunday announcements. What gets that profile is hopefully determined on the basis of what is (i) most current, (ii) most important, and (iii) what affects the most people.
This challenge is multiplied many times over in a bigger church. Let’s now imagine a church with three to five separate congregations, 150 small groups, and 50 entirely separate ministries. (I previously pastored in a church of over 1000, with 63 small groups, services in 3 languages, and I’d guess about 20 to 30 ministries).
- A youth leaders’ meeting might be a current and important matter — but only affects 25 people. A phone call or text message could suffice. They therefore do not get Sunday announcement time.
- An upcoming small group leaders’ meeting might involve 200 or more people, and it is important — but this promotional message could likewise be communicated by other means.
- A community ministry special event might be a current matter, and involve a sizable number of people — but in the balance might not be the most important. (We therefore create other habits and platforms on which we encourage these people).
The leadership principles for a larger church are the same for the united Church in a city or town. There is increased complexity — but there are still principles that can guide decisions. The task isn’t impossible. This can be effectively managed, and it is important enough to consider.
PRINCIPLES FOR MANAG ING AGENDA IN PASTOR’ GROUPS
1. THE ONLY ITEMS THAT COME TO A PASTORS’ GROUP ARE THOSE REQUIRING OR REPRESENTING UNITY
Chapter 10 was about things that could plausibly be considered the responsibility of the churches together in a city or town. It listed:
1. Stewarding key community opportunities for united representation or engagement
2. Partnership with relevant national initiatives
3. Engagement with the spheres of influence
4. One-off united efforts and local initiatives, as God leads
To consider how we manage the many things that could sit within this scope:
- A city wide programme run by one larger church doesn’t need discussion — because it doesn’t need unity. However, giving it a little profile, and praying blessing on it might be wise because their programme does represent us all (as in area 1 above) as well as because this affirmation might be important to the relationship we have with the church running the city wide programme.
- A united effort like a proposed united outreach effort in a park (area 4 above), or the establishing of a Pregnancy Choice Centre (area 2 above), might need collaboration between a few churches. These kinds of proposals need space to be aired — so pastors can be aware, to then communicate these things to their interested members. They therefore deserve a space in the time together (even if short), so the vision can be shared and expressions of interest from church leaders given — so those interested can connect and discuss the proposal later.
- People working in spheres of the city in a role that might be representative (area 3 above) could also be on the agenda at certain points — like a campus ministry, or people relating in a representative role for the Church with Council or Iwi. While we might sometimes ignore some of these works because they are structured separately, it remains that they actually represent us. We can affirm them, pray for them, support them an help them. This not only has value; it can be catalytic.
The point is that giving profile to something affects the perspectives of those listening. This is no different to how local church leadership works. Our comments breathe life into things and enable collaboration.
This builds culture, releases resourcing, and brings encouragement.
Regarding how the various things in the united space could be managed, the outline of Chapter 12 can help. Imagine if the first pastors’
meeting of every quarter gave 10 minutes to highlighting things God’s people were doing in the city in 2 or 3 spheres of influence. Those areas are then prayed for. This would achieve something valuable in the hearts and minds of the pastors.
We only ever innovate in the areas we have, in some sense, taken responsibility for. This is an important and profound spiritual principle. If I only believe myself to be serving a local church, I will only ever innovate or aid solutions that sit within that scale of operation.
If, however, I were to accept that my platform for service were in God’s Church in a city (or nation), I would begin to see a different level of problem — thus prompting thoughts of solutions that operate at an entirely different scale! If we do not, as a practice, put the wider vision in front of our pastors, we will see neither the kind of innovation needed, nor the support it needs, coming about to see it achieved!
One thing we are trying to facilitate here organisationally is the connecting of churches and their members to things that might be of interest to them. This is about ‘resource management’ — with a view to all our assets and people in the city, to enable and feed our united function. Without information, vision and awareness, there is no shared vision, collaboration, or innovation!
Only when pastors see the needs of the city will they then be able to take that to their members, to enable their involvement. This is about releasing church members to unite as one body, in one Spirit, in their areas of interest and influence, for the faith of the gospel!
2. WE PRAY FOR AND SPEAK ENCOURAGEMENT INTO ALL UNITED EFFORTS AND THEIR INNOVATORS GENEROUSLY
I believe pastors have a role to play in speaking life into areas of ministry that we ‘own’ together in the unity space (even if unconnected to our own congregation’s programmes), as well as to pray for them. This is a big statement, and a challenge directed toward all of us involved in facilitating unity, with the glory and mission of Jesus in view.
The attitude here is one of vision and faith. If we ‘take responsibility’ for the lifting of Jesus’ name in the city, rather than only in our own congregation, all Christian work in the city becomes something we care about. Words of encouragement then become easy because we care!
I also encourage a view that recognises that the various people God has raised up to represent him in city-wide roles are a part of our team as pastors. Even if these people don’t attend the pastors’ meeting, they are part of ‘us’. It is our attitude that is important here. For example, who gives authority to someone to lead God’s Church in its engagement in a University? Who appoints them as our representative? The answer is, God! The authority to appoint Church leaders (vs local church leaders ) sits with God alone — as contrasted with the authority I believe we have to prayerfully appoint local church leaders. Our role with regard to Church leadership is only to discern who God might be raising up, so as to then empower and support them if we feel led to.
It is also true that we genuinely need the innovators God raises up — whether in relation to a campus, the facilitation of Bible in Schools, chaplaincy in a hospital, prison or workplace, connecting with Iwi or Council, social services, town planning, or in some other area! Some of these people will have opportunities with greater potential for spiritual influence and witness than many of our local churches do. We need their efforts!
Pastors are spiritual leaders, and are looked up to. Their words and affirmations are respected — and desired. The positive words and prayers of our pastors for each united work, or representative work, matter! Their words shape perspectives; they encourage; they build; they empower; and they enable.
1. The only items that come to a pastors’ group are those requiring or representing unity
2. We pray for and speak encouragement into all united efforts and their innovators generously.
3. WE DEFER THE MANAGEMENT OF UNITY THINGS TO SEPARATE MEETINGS
With many things getting small mention, the reality that they cannot all be discussed is obvious. Where things are discussed, the time allocated will often need to be small. In short, I suggest pastors’ groups are a place for clarifying vision in a wide range of areas for the city and nation — but not for discussing it’s management.
Regarding united things — for which a pastors’ group might be the primary connection point, we have to recognise that those in the room are already mostly senior leaders. It is therefore right that there is a high level of empowering, delegation and trust. This is how large churches, and larger organisations, manage what they manage!
To consider a scenario, if a larger number of churches are involved in a particular united effort, a temptation for those involved will be to bring their own managerial matters into the pastors’ meeting. There is a natural human dynamic to this. In view of the limited time most pastors’ groups have together, this generally needs to be avoided.
To consider an exception, some who oversee united ventures might be lacking in experience or confidence. It is therefore with a pastoral sense of care that exceptions might be allowed — to encourage, affirm or reassure a leader. They might be feeling insecure in their role, needing confirmation that the group is behind them, or unsure if they are truly entrusted to lead in a given area.
However, to the most part, pastors’ group meetings will be meetings for senior leaders — each capable of ‘holding a sword’ and leading a charge into battle alone (David’s Mighty Men — 2 Samuel 23).
Vision needs to be made clear, while managerial matters are discussed separately.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PROCESSES THAT MANY OF US FEEL INCLINED TO RESIST
The Western Christian tradition has often been guilty of separating the ‘sacred’ from the ‘secular’. In this thinking, prayer is ‘spiritual’, while human effort to achieve something is ‘of the flesh.’ While every church leader I’ve ever discussed this topic with can agree this separation isn’t Biblical, I suggest the thinking it represents is embedded in our thinking.
Specifically, if we discuss the need for prayer — many are keen. However, if we discuss the need for strategy — many will withdraw, because it is seen as an ‘effort of the flesh’. I point out that ‘administration’ sits within the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12. Human ability and human effort is not ‘of the flesh’. It is the attitude of the heart that determines the nature of an action!
We need simple strategy!
Here is a simple approach that can catalyse life and innovation. I refer us again to Chapter 12, which shows how the various things that exist in the united space could be highlighted, encouraged, prayed for and therefore helped, all in connection with a quarterly combined prayer gathering. Four gatherings a year isn’t difficult in many places. Synching their timing with the four terms of the school year makes simple leadership sense.
I see no simpler way of ensuring that a vision of what we might be responsible for together is kept before us all.
In case the point is missed, the purpose of the prayer gatherings is, therefore, not only the prayer. Through our words and prayers we are concurrently building the perspectives and vision of our people to see the city! We are also building relationships amongst ourselves. This becomes a platform for teamwork!
As a second step, the same areas mentioned for united prayer in each quarter of the year (Chapter 12) could likewise be brought to a pastors’ group meeting beforehand. This might only need 10 minutes to achieve. The purpose could simply be to highlight a dozen ministries or people who are working in the selected spheres for that quarter — to encourage everyone with a vision of all that
God’s people are doing in the city. You then pray blessing on them together, while having raised awareness of these various efforts and people in the process. This would be catalytic. This would endear increased support for or favour toward these united things — even if only in small amounts. This would likely draw out stories about other thing happening that were not mentioned too. Doing this would build a picture in the minds and hearts of the pastors of all that we (the Church) are actually doing in this city. This perspective would be transferred to their members through their words and attitudes. Faith and vision for increased collaboration in service to the wider city (and nation) would result!
A pastors’ meeting is unavoidably a ‘hub’ for the united efforts of the Church in each city and town. If certain things aren’t considered by the pastors together, where else will they be considered?
In view of this, I suggest that the managing of necessary agenda in pastors’ groups is a topic requiring more thought and discussion. This is especially true given the changes taking place amongst us, with an increased vision for unity, and regarding our potential united function.
The NZ Church is more united than many have realised. What churches are achieving together is amazing. We are concurrently in a season of change. Our unity is going to be more needed in our future than it has been in our past. Let’s keep adapting — and let’s keep this journey going!
READ THE FINAL (NEXT) CHAPTER OF THE BOOK TITLED ‘A vocabulary we can agree upon’ HERE
For other articles by Dave on the same topic of Church unity
2022 – A vocabulary we can agree on (This one is a particularly important FOUNDATION if coherent national discussions on unity are to one day take place)
2020 – It’s time to take responsibility to educate our own children and youth again (On united direction and strategy – for city change)
2020 – A need for new media platforms – not more voices (How do we address the increasingly left-leaning and also anti-faith bias of public media?)
2020 – A vision for national Church unity (What might REALISTICALLY be within our reach to achiEve – if we merely thought differently?)
2019 – ‘In One Spirit’ – The purpose of the book (Written at the time of the book launch and press release)
2019 – United we stand (A blog just prior to the release of the above book, ‘In One Spirit’)
DAVE MANN. Dave is a networker and creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing and also being valued in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and has coordinated various national nationwide multimedia Easter efforts purposed to open up conversations between church and non-church people about the Christian faith, with stories about the specifically Christian origins of many of our nation’s most treasured values intentionally included. Dave is the Producer of the ‘Chronicles of Paki’ illustrated NZ history series created for educational purposes, and the author of various other books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last” and “The Elephant in the Room”. Married to Heather, they have four boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.