For so many reasons I absolutely love living and ministering in Florida. I'm exceptionally grateful for the work of the Florida Baptist Convention. Since we got here I've found them nothing but helpful, encouraging, and generous towards pastors and churches. Each year across the state they host Sharper conferences, one day conferences geared towards ministry leaders to take away practical application.
Normally if I get 2-3 takeaway points from a conference, I consider it a success. But this year at Sharper, hosted by Family Church West Palm Beach, I had 10 takeaway points that I cannot wait to think on and work into our ministry.
1. Everyone has their own unique ministry context - Far too often we want to take what works at one church and copy-paste it into our own setting. The problem is that we're not in the same context as whatever church we're copying. Each of us has our own community, demographics, history, and culture. And we can't force another model on ourselves. Our context was given by God and requires us to think about how to best engage that particular context.
2. Move the needle for Jesus - Why are we here? Are we here to house Christians until they go to Heaven? Or did God place each church where He did for something more? Our task isn't to simply exist, it's to move the needle for Jesus. We do that by impacting our neighborhoods, sharing the Gospel, serving others, and pointing to the hope of Christ.
3. Culture > Programs - Programs are vehicles to get us to our objectives, but they're not the end all. They're secondary to the culture we create. As lead pastors, we have the opportunity and the obligation to set the culture for our ministry. No matter how successful or popular a program is, if your church doesn't have a healthy culture it won't matter. If you implement an incredible outreach program without a culture of inviting and evangelism, you're wasting money. We change culture by investing our time and energy in people.
4. Jesus is the hero, not us - Whenever we talk about the great things happening, it can be too easy to fall into the trap of "I-We-Me" where we point back to ourselves as the hero of the story. But the reality is, whenever good things happen around us, it's because of God's work. It's because Jesus is the hero. It's because God does incredible things and we are simply the conduit for it. So the hero isn't us. In fact, most of the time our job is to stay out of the way! So instead of pointing to us, we point to Jesus.
5. Passion for People & Place - Ministry leaders have not just been called to a church as an organization with a Tax ID and the ability to write you a paycheck. You've also been called to a particular people. And to a particular place. And we're called to love them where they are for who they are. We can't love them where we want them to be or who we want them to be. And we can't think we'l be effective if we don't love the people God has placed us among and the community He's placed us in. I'll be honest, this was a hindrance for me where I never really felt like I loved the place. It was good. We enjoyed it. But I focused more on what I didn't like about it than being burdened for the city.
6. The Gospel Brings Together - I was amazed listening to how Family Church does ministry in South Florida, which is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse areas in the nation. Over a dozen languages are spoken in the church, and their staffing reflects the multicultural communities they minister in. On the surface, it's everything wrong. We want to put ourselves with others like us, who look like us, talk like us, make the same money we do, have similar interests, etc. We put ourselves in demographic boxes. But the Gospel tears all of those down and brings together as one people everything the world and its exclusion is confused by.
7. Behind the Scenes Matters - Most of the time what we do publicly is what gets the most attention. The message we preach. The songs we sing. The teacher leading a class. But so much happens behind the scenes no one else sees, and those roles are crucial. Think about all the people who serve in your church behind the scenes, who never get noticed. They unlock doors, make coffee, set up chairs, fold bulletins, empty trash cans. The work they do matters. And we need to remember to recognize, appreciate, and thank our volunteers.
8. Each Contact/Connection Leads to Another - Whenever we meet someone new, we can either let that be a closed interaction or an open interaction. Closed interactions end with "Thanks for coming today, we're glad you're here." Open interactions say "Oh I see you guys have kids. Would you like to meet our Children's Ministry Director? We have a nursery and children's ministry available if you'd like to check it out." Or "Are you new to the area? Have you gone to the beach yet?" We live in Florida, you get to ask that here! The point is this: whenever we meet new people who are our guests or prospects, we need to identify ways to multiply connections. Introduce them to other people. Introduce them to leaders.
9. Simplify the Process for Guests - We often have blinders when it comes to our facility because we've been there so long we forget what it's like to be new. So we simply know where to go because we know where to go. We use lingo and slang no one knows except those on the inside. And we don't have signage or name tags because "Everyone knows who we are." But beyond those visible processes, we often make guests make more decisions than they really should. So we simplify the process by having clearly designated guest parking. We simplify by having clear signage and friendly faces at strategic locations to give directions. We simplify by asking guests to give whatever information they feel comfortable giving.
10. It's not our fault, but it is our responsibility - Whatever situation you inherited. Whatever community you're in. Whatever demographic shifts. Whatever messes you have to clean up that were left for you. Whatever it might be, it's not our fault, but it is our responsibility. We weren't there when the bad decision was made that crippled the church for decades. But it's our responsibility to fix it. We've been tasked to care for God's people, lead God's church, and impact our neighborhoods (whether our neighbors are here legally or not, whether they're white or brown, whether they're gay or straight) for God's glory.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.