Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bottom-Up or Top-Down?

Corporations, governments, agencies, denominations, and pretty much any organization that is trying to accomplish something are all discovering that in our contantly changing, frangmented, information-overloaded world, that the people who know best about many things are not found at the top of the organizational chart. It's the people who are trying to carry out the work who know the most about how things are working and what's going on.

I experience this every day at Olive Garden. Olive Garden is a multi-national corporation, broken down into different districts and regions. Every restaurant is measured against every other restaurant in the corporation, in the district, and in the region. Cooks in Italy design our menu and tell us step-by-step how to make it in our restaurant, and the corporation tells us how long it should take to cook it.

The problem? The instructions we're given have no connection with reality. According to our corporate headquarters, an order of kids chicken fingers should take three minutes to cook. If I followed their directions, our restaurant would become a hotbed of salmonella poisoning because no chicken finger has ever cooked through in less than six minutes ever since I started there. But I can't even get our kitchen manager to admit the corporate information is wrong. Information from above is never questioned in our corporation--information from below is never heeded. It's a top-down structure.

Our denomination has undergone a reorganization in the last couple years. What once was a top-down system--where churches had to follow the latest fad program that the denomination endorsed... until the next one came along--is now a bottom-up system. The denomination headquarters serves as a support team to equip, empower, and uphold local churches as they seek to carry out their mission locally. The denomination still sets the broad parameters within which churches must work, but they give churches wide latitude in the manner in which they carry out their work. And they seek to come alongside churches and help them in whatever way they can with whatever resources they have at their disposal.

I would love for our church, too, to be a bottom-up church. I envision a time when small groups and ministry teams will see needs--both inside and outside the church--and simply move to meet those needs. I picture neighbors working together to reach their other neighbors for Christ and invite them to our church. I see people greeting newcomers with more than a handshake but taking them out to dinner, or inviting them over to their house, so that they can sit down and talk and really get to know one another.

In other words, a place where ministry just happens--not because some committee created a program, or the pastor said to, but because each member has a passion for the kingdom of God, and we all love to be a contributing part of it.

There's nothing that would stop this from happening right now. Our structure would definitely support this. It's not a violation of our mission, vision, or values; in fact, I think it's a better expression of them. It doesn't run counter to the philosophy or theology of our church.

And yet, it seems to me that we are stuck in a formalism. Everyone wants to come to me and ask my opinion, and get my permission to do stuff. Or ask the Church Council for their permission. Church, I want you to know--you are empowered! Go do it! Whatever God has laid on your heart, GO FOR IT! We want to be a bottom-up church. I'm confident that you have many more wonderful ideas than I do. I couldn't possibly come up with everything myself. There are situations that only you know about. There are needs that only you can meet. So I want you to know... you have my permission--go after it!

Bottoms up!

There will be no blog posting for the next two weeks. I will be on vacation from 11/19 to 11/26. So I'll see you again here in December. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fall Vision Update

For the last three months, this space has been pretty much constantly devoted to our 40 Days of Community campiagn, "Let's Get 1t Together!" But the purpose of this blog is much broader than this one campaign. It is intended to serve as a vehicle for clear and honest communication regarding many things related to our corporate life and faith journey here at PCC.

And that's what we need to return to, now that this 40-day campaign is behind us (although I hope the spirit of the campaign never leaves us!).

During the campaign, I shared a "Vision Update" message, during which I outlined our strategy for moving forward and accomplishing our vision "to become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family." This strategy consists of assembling a LEAD Team of churches in Jackson that would work together for the purpose of launching a daughter church.

While each congregation that is part of the LEAD Team will eventually contribute to the success of the daughter church, only the senior pastor of each congregation participates in the initial planning phase. These senior pastors get together for a 24-hour meeting 5-6 times per year for a two-year period. LEAD is an acronym that summarizes the main activity of the team at these meetings:

  • LEARN: Something about church planting will be learned at each meeting. This will most likely take place through reading and discussing chapters from a particular book.
  • ENCOURAGE: The pastors will encourage one another and pray for one another in their own particular challenges, struggles, trials, and difficulties. We will pray for the success of, and God's involvement in, each of our ministries. And we will spend time together building relationships and trust.
  • ACHIEVE: At each meeting, various assignments will be given out, and the LEAD Team members will report back whatever progress has been made. Plans will be made regarding what should be accomplished before the next meeting. By the end of the two-year process, with everything being accomplished, we should be able to celebrate the birth of a new church.
  • DREAM: Time will also be given to dreaming about where God wants to take this process, what he wishes to accomplish through it for his kingdom and his glory.

Over the two years, the churches involved in the LEAD Team will commit to contributing three things to the church plant--people, prayers, and pockets.

Once a church planter has been selected, he will be given permission to speak in each congregation represented by the LEAD Team. At that point, he will share his vision for this new church and invite members from each of the parenting churches to join him as part of the launch team--the core of the new congregation. The pastors of each of the churches agree up-front that they will bless and release anyone whom God calls from their church to be a part of the new church.

Churches also commit to praying for the church-planting process from beginning to end--the establishment of the LEAD Team, the work of the LEAD Team over the two years, and the success and health of the new congregation once it is birthed.

Finally, churches commit to financially supporting the fledgling congregation. The minimum investment is $100/month for 2 years, but some churches will need to contribute more than that. Typically with LEAD Teams, new churches can be financed 1/3 from a denominational source, 1/3 from money raised by the planting pastor, and 1/3 from the sponsoring churches (i.e., the LEAD Team). As I mentioned, ours will be the first LEAD Team that I am aware of that is a multi-denominational endeavor, so denominational money may be more difficult to come by. Most denominations want to send money only if it goes to "one of their own." That's one of the hurdles that will need to be jumped, and one of the items of prayer we'll need to bring before God's throne of grace at the proper time.

So far, we have a list of about 20 churches that we want to contact and invite to be a part of this endeavor. We are praying for 4-5 churches that will say yes and join with us to ignite a spiritual movement in Jackson County, reaching out to the 100,000 unchurched and reconciling them to God through Christ Jesus.

I'm going to begin contacting these churches after the holidays at the beginning of the new year, and I'm so excited about this. We're hoping to have our first LEAD Team orientation meeting in March or April 2008, after which point pastors would decide for good if they and their churches are in or out.

There are still many questions to answer:

  • Who will be part of this LEAD Team with us?
  • What denomination will the daughter church be?
  • Who will be the planting pastor?
  • Where will the church plant meet?
  • What community (or "target") will the church plant seek to reach?

These will be answered in time by the LEAD Team itself as we work and pray together. I'll be certain to keep you well-informed as plans develop.

I ask you to keep this whole process in prayer. Pray right now especially for our future partners--that God would lead us to them, that he would open up the right doors for us, that he would prepare the way for us to connect with each other, and that we would be engaged with kindred hearts that beat for the lost of Jackson County. May God bless our church and our efforts as we step out in faith, trusting in his leading, his provision, his guidance, and his will for his kingdom. Amen!