Worshipful work meeting outline

In developing the approach to ministerial searches that is rooted in hospitality, I put together a meeting structure that weaves together the elements of discernment and the business that teams must attend to. It builds in intentional spaces and means of attending to the Holy Spirit as teams go about the work at hand. This outline can be utilized for a range of congregational processes. Consider the content below, then, a preview of Searching for the Called as well as a resource with many potential applications.

Preparing to perceive God’s guidance

  • Create an atmosphere for discernment. Prepare the gathering space in a way that is conducive to worshipful work.
  • Set aside distractions. Ask, “What does each of us need to turn over to God before we can focus on the work at hand?”
  • Worship together in your gathering space. Invite everyone to name where they have seen God at work this week.
  • Refine the question for discernment.
    • Ask each team member to give an overview of progress that has been made on agreed-upon actions.
    • Celebrate this progress and build in support for actions that are incomplete.
    • Identify what the team needs to focus on in this meeting. Parse which pieces are matters for discernment and which can appropriately be accomplished through decisions.
    • Clarify the question(s) for discernment that is/are now before the team.
  • Pray for indifference. Pray as Jesus did: “Not my will but Thine be done.”

Listen for the wisdom of God

  • Gather relevant data. Invite team members to share the details of work done since the last meeting.
  • Discuss the data. Encourage each team member to share what they notice from the data presented. Ask clarifying questions. Name what the team doesn’t yet know but needs to know. Listen deeply to one another.
  • Pray for wisdom. Acknowledge that the team has done what it can in terms of collecting and evaluating the data. Ask God to move in that new awareness.
  • Make friends with silence. Wait on the Lord. Use spiritual disciplines to tune into what God might be saying.

Consider and commit to what God is inviting the team to do

  • Identify the resolution that seems (resolutions that seem) to be emerging. Get every concern on the table. Refine every idea that bubbles up.
  • Work toward agreement. Start from points of commonality: “What is it that we all seem to be hearing clearly?” Dig deeper on points of resistance: “Tell me more about your hesitation.” Use your team’s previously agreed-upon means of coming to agreement.
  • Test the agreement. Let the resolution rest. If your team isn’t able to sleep on it, take a break and then discuss how team members are feeling in their heads, hearts, and guts about the proposed way forward.
  • Take action. Make detailed plans for action steps. Who will do what? How, and by when? What support and/or accountability is needed?

Reflect on how God is at work in the process as a whole

  • Before adjourning, check in on how the team felt it worked together today and what adjustments to process need to be made.
  • Wonder aloud, “What is God up to?”

10 ways to strengthen relationships in the new year

It’s a strange world we live in. In some ways, our relationships are stronger than ever, thanks in large part to technology. In other ways, we are more disconnected from each other than we’ve ever been (at least partially due, ironically, to the ways we use technology).

Whatever the state of our relationships, it never hurts to reinforce them. After all, they are the primary means for creating circles of care, affecting change, and ushering joy into the world. I’ve developed a list of ten ways to strengthen relationships in this still-young year. They can be applied to individual bonds, teamwork, and our walk with God.

Deepen trust. Without authentic trust, relationships will always stay at a surface level. What small risk are you willing to take to show the real you? How might you invite others to do the same?

Add a layer of communication. We generally believe we’ve been heard better than we actually have been. How can you relay important information in an additional, different way so that everyone is operating from a shared understanding?

Share stories. Narrative is the root and food of knowing and being known. It prompts people to laugh, mourn, and plot together. What anecdote or arc speaks to where you are or how you’re feeling today? Who needs to hear it? Whose stories do you want to seek out?

Reflect on the relationship. Ok, it’s awkward, but it never hurts to ask for feedback on how the relationship is going. What’s working (and not) for him/her? For you? Disconnects can’t be repaired if they aren’t identified.

Embrace conflict. Conflict is simply a difference of opinion. It doesn’t have to come with all the baggage we tend to load onto it. Being forthright – in respectful ways – about our disagreements allows us to learn, and our openness to one another in moments of dissent breeds trust.

Help one another be fully engaged in the relationship. Everyone’s personality is different. As an extreme introvert, for example, I need lots of alone time to be fully present with people. Know and own your quirks, and support others in theirs.

Examen each day. Engage in some sort of reflection at the end of each day. How was I a good friend? How did I fall short? Utilizing the spiritual practice of examen opens up the possibilities even more. Where did I notice God at work today? How did I aid in or hinder the in-breaking of God’s peace?

Increase your curiosity. Instead of imagining someone’s beliefs or motives, ask: tell me what you were thinking when… What did you hope to accomplish by…? We usually default to assuming the worst, and often the truth is better (or at least more complex) than what we thought.

Start from common values or vision. Consider what all parties can affirm. Even if there are differing ideas about how to approach problems, there can be shared commitments underlying them. That’s a much more promising starting point for connection and for change.

Affirm one another. Name what you appreciate in one another. Be specific, and focus on attitudes and actions rather than appearance. Not only does a genuine compliment provide a serotonin boost, it also helps people identify and navigate from their strengths.

Which of these ideas could you begin implementing today? What would you add to this list?

Creative Commons image “Free Hugs” by Ricardo Moraleida is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.





Building effective teams

Committee 1 gathers monthly – more or less – to maintain one of the church’s ministries. It has a dedicated core group, plus some other participants that drift in and out. The meetings tend to be needlessly long and rehash a lot of the same issues each time. Action items are unevenly distributed, and implementation is hit-or-miss.

Committee 2 gathers monthly to carry out one of the church’s ministries. The members are clear on their task and have spent time agreeing on how to accomplish it. Before beginning their work each time, they revisit the covenant they created that guides how they interact with one another. Sometimes there are differences of opinion during discussion times, but each committee member makes an effort to understand where others are coming from. At the end of each meeting, the chair ensures everyone is on the same page about the action items, point people, and timelines they’ve agreed on.

What’s the difference between the two committees? Committee 1 is a group, a loose collection of individuals who share an orbital pattern. Committee 2, by contrast, is a team. In teams the members share a purpose, a grasp on the process for accomplishing it, and responsibility for seeing it through. Someone has taken up the mantle of leadership (which may be passed among the members) and someone has given this group the authority to move on their plans. There is a cohesiveness among the members that allows them to build on one another’s strengths and hold each other accountable.

There’s nothing wrong with being a group, if that’s what the situation calls for. The people gathered for a class or training, for example, co-exist well as a group. They’re all there for the learning, but there’s no project to require interdependence. However, church leadership teams will be much more effective if they embrace a team identity with all it entails.

To start making the move from being a collection of individuals to a true team, build mutual understanding by discussing together these four questions:

What is our shared purpose?

What is our process for living toward that purpose?

Who will be responsible for which pieces of the process?

How will we know we can trust one another throughout the process?

These aren’t the only considerations for team-building, but they’re a good start.

What groups in your purview need to evolve into teams – or be disbanded and re-formed as teams from the start?

Creative Commons image “Clever Cupcakes” by Our World, Our Home Cupcakes is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Two levels of trust

A friend talks about you behind your back. Your significant other makes decisions that impact you both without your input. Your supposed advocate throws you under the bus to protect her own reputation, position, or livelihood. We’ve all had our trust broken at one time or another. And put simply, if inelegantly: it sucks.

That’s why it is so tempting to frame trust as predictability. When we can anticipate the actions of others, we can exhale. I can let my guard down a bit at a green light because the Department of Transportation has promised me that crossways traffic will be halted by a red light. If I know what you’re going to do, I can trust you.

But is predictability the full measure of trust? Some of the most relationship-deepening moments I’ve experienced were the result of surprise. Unexpected words of affirmation or acts of care. Sharing a hidden piece of one’s soul. Defending another at great risk to self. Anticipated? No. Trust-building? You’d better believe it.

I may trust that oncoming cars will obey the law, but I’m still going to drive defensively. (I hope others will do the same!) But in the world of relationships, people will know and be known only at a surface level if we stay on our side of the double yellow line. The more foundational level of trust, then, involves risk-taking. Being vulnerable and creating space for others to do the same.

What relationships, either with individuals or groups, need to grow roots down into that lower layer of trust? How can you take the first step by sharing something about yourself that lets the other know it’s safe to return in kind?

Creative Commons image “Trust” by Terry Johnston is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The makings of a functional team

It always mystifies people that I once played basketball, since my height has not changed since roughly the third grade. (Even then, I was in the front row for class photos.) Part of the fun for me was being part of a team. We worked out together. We pushed each other. We were united in our goal of having the higher number on the scoreboard when the final buzzer sounded.

Contrast that experience with group work in class. That was often the pinnacle of “ugh” for me during my middle and high school years. Inevitably, some group members put in more time and effort than others. One person was passionate about busting the bell curve, while another was happy simply for a passable project to be turned in.

There’s a difference between being an allied force with a goal and being a collection of individuals with an assignment. In Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators, Patrick Lencioni outlines the process of becoming an honest-to-goodness team.

  • Build trust. Without creating a safe space for vulnerability, conversation will be surface level.
  • Be willing to engage in conflict. When there is trust, participants are willing to put all possibilities on the table.
  • Commit. When it’s clear that every option has been explored, a team can make hard decisions with confidence.
  • Hold each other accountable. When teams have agreed on a course, the members are invested in making sure everyone does his/her part.
  • Pay attention to results. When team members keep one another on track, they are generally able to focus on and meet the objectives they have set.

A significant piece of ministry involves working with committees, boards, and/or task groups. In your work, how many of these groups fulfill the five functions of a team? How might attention to these functions not just make the groups you work with more functional, but also affect a culture change in your faith community? What would it take for your leaders to embrace these functions?

Creative Commons image “2012 Warrior Games” by The U.S. Army is licensed under CC BY 2.0.