Sharing Leadership and Ministry
by RON HARMON
As we encounter the scripture stories of people who responded to Jesus’ call it becomes clear they were not extraordinary persons. People who responded to his call to “come follow me” were ordinary fishermen and even despised tax collectors. There is a common thread that runs through the scriptures and speaks to us today. It is most fully expressed in our enduring principle, All Are Called. Every man, woman, and child has something significant to contribute to Christ’s mission. Pastors and congregational leaders are called to share leadership and ministry to model a full understanding of the gospel to be the body of Christ.
In Romans 12:5–6 Paul counsels the saints in Corinth, “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” The challenge for congregational leaders is to not let programs, buildings, and issues take precedence over our fundamental call to belong to one another in Christ. This is the foundation for everything leaders do in congregational life.
In practical terms, every congregation is a community of diverse individuals with gifts, hopes, and concerns for the future. The congregation is truly the church God envisioned when it learns to come together in love, supports one another even in differences, and shares its giftedness for the sake of others. When a congregation achieves this, it becomes a unique sacred community signaling to the world around it God’s intent for the coming kingdom.
Learning to share congregational gifts in leadership and ministry only happens when congregational leaders are intentional. Some very practical questions can guide the leadership team as it attempts to broaden participation in all aspects of Christ’s mission in the congregation:
- What does it look like to be in relationship and discernment with members of the congregation?
- Do past experiences and biases influence our openness to the calling and giftedness of others?
- How can we specifically engage others in shared leadership and ministry in the congregation?
What is leadership? The life and ministry of Jesus, demonstrates that he cultivated an environment for the disciples where they:
- learned from his teaching,
- encountered human suffering and healing through his acts of unconditional love, and
- experienced renewal through prayer and fellowship with one another.
For Jesus, leadership and ministry were adaptive and intentional. He utilized his context to convey important truths. In his final words to his disciples Jesus commissions his disciples for leadership and suggests to them that they will do the same work he has done, and in fact, they will do greater works (John 14:12).
How do we define leadership in the context of the congregation? Looking at the life and ministry of Jesus, we can employ several important principles about leadership and the congregation to guide us:
- Leadership is to model Christ’s example of teaching, encountering, and renewing in word and action.
- Leadership is not a solo activity. The good news of Jesus Christ calls us into new life together. Without each other Christ’s mission is not sustainable.
- Leadership is about intention. The gospel of Jesus Christ can only be proclaimed and lived in sacred community when disciples choose to share in leadership and ministry.
- Leadership is about cultivating an environment of divine encounter, safe space, learning, spiritual practices, and inspired innovation.
- Leadership is about creating an environment where disciples discern and engage in Christ’s mission together! Leadership is not about having the answers.
In order to break away from many cultural notions of leadership congregational leaders need to be grounded in their primary identity as disciples of Jesus Christ. When leaders truly identify themselves as belonging to Christ and to one another they recognize they are not in control. They seek to discern and join God’s movement in their individual lives, families, congregations, neighborhoods, and world.
Practices of discipleship and relationship building become very important in cultivating safe space to risk new ideas and imagination with God. For a more in-depth conversation, see the article “Becoming Sacred Community: A Foundation for Mission.” One practice, “Dwelling in the Word,” uses scripture to listen to the Holy Spirit and to one another to ground leaders and the congregation in their identity as brothers and sisters in Christ. “Dwelling in the Word” is about how the text of scripture invites people individually and collectively into God’s purposes as revealed in Jesus Christ.
Cultivating environments of divine encounter, safe space, learning, spiritual practices, and inspired innovation is challenging and requires both adaptation and intention. Outlined below are steps to cultivate an environment that leads to a deeper expression of Christ’s mission together:
- Schedule opportunities for meaningful relationships and community building. Creating safe space is the foundation for a willingness to risk new ideas and ministries. Consider committing to the practices of “Hospitality” or “Sharing in the Round” one or two times per month to deepen relationships and trust. Consider congregational trips that provide opportunities for meaningful shared experiences.
- Model the enduring principle Worth of All Persons in every leadership team meeting, congregational meeting, and church school class. Utilize the “Valuing the Other” practice as a discipline of honoring and carefully listening to every person—adult, teen, and child.
- Commit to the practice of “Dwelling in the Word” every time the congregation or leadership team gathers. Ask someone to keep a journal of insights shared and reflect on those insights from time to time as a congregation. Consider together new ideas and ministries for exploration and possible experimentation.
- In order to create an environment of inspired innovation, the pastor and leadership team encourage individuals or small groups to experiment based on their sense of how their gifts can best be utilized in the five mission initiatives. For this environment to flourish, leaders shift away from permission granting to encouraging new ministries that respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit. The role of leadership becomes coordination and support not control.
Some people are reluctant to risk new ministries for fear of failure. The pastor and leadership team can model the way by sharing ideas as well as successes and learning from ideas that don’t come to fruition.
Those called to lead have a specific responsibility to cultivate an environment where every person feels valued and connected to Christ’s mission as lived out by the congregation. Good leaders are secure in their identity in Christ and can devote their energies to helping others discover and utilize their giftedness. Congregations are most fully the church (i.e., body of Christ) when every person feels connected to the loving community (i.e., Blessings of Community) we are called to create. This is not an easy task for leaders. Some people demand more than their share of attention. Others are content to fade into the background. The pastor cannot be the connecting point for every person. All disciples share a mutual accountability for one another’s welfare.
The pastor and leadership team can take these steps to create connecting points for each disciple:
- Engage the priesthood in a conversation regarding mutual expectations for ministry. When the priesthood meet for worship and learning affirm expectations and identify specific needs for ministry. Many congregations assign small pastoral groups to priesthood members or priesthood teams to ensure intentional ministry and connection is taking place. Engage the priesthood in the practice “Praying for the Other” as part of their commitment to provide ministry to individuals. For a more in-depth conversation refer to the article “Priesthood Ministry: Developing Mutual Expectations.”
- During leadership team meetings pray for individuals in the congregation and for discernment of individual giftedness and opportunities for ministry. Take time to share thoughts and insights and record the insights for purposes of ongoing discussion and discernment. See the practice “Honoring and Discovering Your Gifts” for another approach to discerning giftedness.
- The leadership team can also consider identifying persons who may be on the periphery of the congregation and discuss specific steps to encourage participation. Developing relationships is the best place to start. When individuals feel we are only interested in them for a particular position or function it can have the opposite impact we desire. As leaders we lead with relationships (i.e., Worth of All Persons) as the foundation for everything else we do in ministry and leadership.
- For more ideas on utilizing the giftedness of others refer to the article “Orienting Mission around the Gifts of All Ages.”
- In smaller congregations (and some larger ones) it may be more effective for the leadership team to ask individuals to take on specific projects or assignments. Often individuals are reluctant to take on a role for an entire year (for example, Christian education director or congregation missionary coordinator). A project or assignment that has a defined beginning and end (such as a six-week adult class or outreach fundraising dinner) may seem less overwhelming and actually better match the giftedness of the individual. This strategy may result in more affirmative responses by congregational members.
Community of Christ has a rich heritage of shared leadership and ministry. When leaders generously share their gifts they most fully embody Christ’s mission for the church. Congregational leaders can continue to share in ministry and leadership only when they have the support of a congregation that shares accountability for the mission entrusted to all.
- How can we broaden the base of those committed to the well-being of the congregation and living out Christ’s mission?
- How can we identify and utilize the gifts of all ages for mission?
- How do we model shared leadership by learning to discern and lead as a cohesive team?
- How do we know when we have reached consensus on a particular issue or direction?
- How do we honor diverse perspectives and work through disagreement?
|Dwelling in the Word|
|PRINT THIS PRACTICE||Return to Top|
To read and hear scripture as a spiritual practice that leads to new understandings. “Dwelling in the Word” is a practice based on our understanding that God continues to speak to us in the context of our day and calling. Listen for God’s voice in scripture to connect with God’s mission in Christ. Listen to the voices of others about what God is doing in their lives. This practice is not about gaining information about scripture. Rather, it is about listening to how God is speaking, calling, and sending us to join in Christ’s mission to our communities and the world.
Provide a printed copy of a scriptural text. A printed copy allows participants to hear and see the words for reflection. Read the scriptural text out loud and pause for a few minutes to allow people time to reflect on what they’ve heard.
Read the passage a second time. Ask people to make note of a word, phrase, or image they are drawn to as they hear it read again. After a short pause, form into small groups of no more than four or five people to provide opportunities for each person to share their responses to questions like ones provided below. If someone wishes to remain silent, that is acceptable. It is important to make sure the reflections are personal and do not become an exercise in biblical interpretation.
Here are some questions:
- Is there a place I feel drawn to dwell or explore?
- What words, images, or phrases are speaking to me in this text?
- What is God’s invitation to me in this scripture?
- What is God’s invitation to our congregation in this scripture?
This is a practice of discovery, be expectant that God’s mission in Christ is among you as you gain insights from listening to one another and to God.
Be patient with the practice. Encourage participants to remember it is a spiritual practice that invites scripture to transform our understanding and our way of being and doing. Do not let this become an intellectual exercise which will limit the transformative impact of this practice. Like any practice, this will take time to fully understand.
|PRINT THIS PRACTICE||Return to Top|
For members and friends of the congregation to practice the hospitality of sharing one’s home. “Hospitality is not about impressing others with well-decorated homes and gourmet cooking. It’s not simply for the gifted or those with clean homes. Neither is it just for women. Hospitality is a way of loving our neighbor in the same way God has loved us.” Parker Palmer says in his text, To Know as We Are Known, that hospitality is a way of, “receiving each other, our struggles, our newborn ideas with openness and care.” “It means creating an ethos in which the community of truth can form.” (Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2005, 139)
Pray for the people you invite to your home. Pray for them as you invite them. Pray for them the day they visit. Pray for them as they leave your home.
- After your guests have left ask, “How has sharing my home given me deeper ways to hold my guests before the Lord? Send a note with your prayers to your guests.
- Be spontaneous. Hold a “craving potluck.” Ask everyone to bring something they crave. Don’t try to make it perfect. Focus on the guests.
- Help your children grow in understanding God’s hospitable heart. Help them plan a party for their friends. Encourage them to think about what will make each one feel most welcome.
Have fun thinking of ways to welcome the other. Be patient. It is important to realize that not everyone will be comfortable in practicing this as part of their family practice. It is important to provide people an opportunity to welcome and to be welcomed. Make sure people who “always have guests” will also be invited to experience what it means to be welcomed.
(Ideas for process adapted from Spiritual Disciplines Handbook)
|Honoring and Discovering Your Gifts|
|PRINT THIS PRACTICE||Return to Top|
The purpose of this practice is to review all the current ministries of the congregation, identify the individual gifts that make these ministries possible, and share stories of how you have seen these gifts expressed in one another.
- Make a list of every ministry you can think of that occurs in the congregation. This includes preparing the bulletin, cleaning, cooking, worship settings, and many other ministries the congregation overlooks. Use newsprint paper and write the ministries where the congregation can see them. Leave space around each ministry so you can identify:
- What specific gifts do you see expressed or offered in each ministry?
- Who in the congregation expresses or offers the gifts in each ministry?
- Lead a discussion by asking someone to share a story of a time they saw someone offer their gifts in one of the ministries listed. Continue this practice. Allow time for people to express appreciation for the gifts shared in the congregation. Consider allowing time for this exercise over a few weeks each time the congregation gathers.
It is important to identify a gift and give expression to every person as you move through this practice. Keep a continuing record of all the ministries and gifts for reference as you continue this practice.
|Sharing in the Round|
|PRINT THIS PRACTICE||Return to Top|
Develop and deepen relationships by sharing in the ancient practice of table fellowship. Some of the most important ministries of Jesus occurred around the table of invitation and hospitality. Good food, friends, and conversation lead to deeper relationships and community.
Commit to the practice of sharing in the round every other week by inviting an individual or family in the congregation to have dinner either at your home or a place suitable for good conversation. Since the goal is to deepen relationships, it is important to be intentional in moving the conversation beyond surface level discussion.
Be willing to be vulnerable by sharing some of what is going on in your life. This often opens the pathway of trust for others to share. Balance sharing with listening. Pay attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit in your conversation. The Holy Spirit may be prompting you to pray for a concern expressed or to extend understanding and compassion.
Sharing in the Round can also lead to opportunities for outreach when expanded to include people in your neighborhood. Doctrine and Covenants Section 154 challenges us, “My Spirit is reaching out to numerous souls even now…” Openness to this counsel leads to opportunities to encounter sacred community as we invest in the lives of other people.
|Praying for the Other|
|PRINT THIS PRACTICE||Return to Top|
To enter prayer that is intentional and focused on behalf of another person.
Go to a place that will provide a few moments without distractions or interruptions. Close your eyes. Begin thinking about the person who will be the subject of your prayer. Identify in your mind your concern for the person and their specific needs.
- Enter this prayer time gently, greeting and thanking God for this time together.
- Imagine the Spirit of God as bright, white light surrounding and enfolding the person. Hold the person in the light of God.
- Pray for the specific needs of the other person. Offer that prayer humbly to God while continuing to see the person held in the light of God.
- Present the person to God for a blessing to meet needs only God is aware of.
- Gently leave the person in God’s hands and with the Holy Spirit.
- Thank God for the person you have lifted in prayer.
- Gently and slowly leave this prayer time, taking a moment or two to relax in the Spirit before opening your eyes.
Using your imagination in prayer such as this may seem difficult at first. Don’t become discouraged. As you continue this practice it will get easier.
|Valuing the Other|
|PRINT THIS PRACTICE||Return to Top|
To deepen conversation and understanding by developing active listening skills.
Use an object such as a rain stick or ball that will pass easily from person to person and be visible to the whole group. Outline the following ground rules for group discussion:
- When a topic or question is before the group, the person holding the object has the floor. Set a time limit for speaking such as three minutes unless the questions or sharing need more time. It is the responsibility of each person to listen carefully to the person speaking.
- For a person to speak he or she must receive the object from the person speaking. To receive the object from the person speaking, one must be able to restate what that person just shared in summary fashion to that person’s satisfaction. Note: it is important the person feels heard and understood. This is a critical part of the journey of deepening relationships and creating a safe place.
- This process continues until the group is ready to move on to another question or topic.
- At the end of the meeting provide time for discussion about how people felt about the experience. Some people will feel the process was cumbersome. We often feel that we already listen carefully to others when often we are formulating our own thoughts while someone else is speaking.
The facilitator should be alert to how people are responding both verbally and nonverbally. Be sure participants feel they were truly heard before they pass the object to the next person. Listening with all our senses so we not only hear but feel what the other person said is a practice that takes concentration and time to develop.