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Currency of Relationship – by Eric Law

A church was facing a mid-year $10,000 budget shortfall. This was not because the church had not been doing missional ministries. In fact, they were serving the neighborhood with many innovative projects. During the coffee hour that Sunday, the pastor asked those gathered to bring out their phones, look through their directories and select 5 friends who were not members of the church. The church members were invited to call the 5 people right there, describe the wonderful ministries that the church was doing in the community – how they spoke the truth, built leadership and created wellness.Then, they were to ask them for a donation between $50 and $500. Lets do some math here. If 25 church members got 4 out of 5 people they called to give an average of $100, they would have raised $10,000. And indeed, within half an hour, they accomplished their goal.

Instead of asking how much money they had which then determined what ministries they could do or could not do, they asked how many relationships they have first. Since they were doing ministries that created wellness, spoke the truth and developed leadership in the community, the people with whom they had real relationships gladly contributed financially to support the ministries of the church even though they were not members.

So, money is not the primary issue in most unsustainable churches. When a church is struggling with financial issues and does not seem to be able to solve it, it usually means that their relationship currency is deficient. In the cycle of blessings I proposed in the last article I wrote for TENS, amongst the 6 currencies, I would identify the currency of relationship as the most important to explore and understand if the church is to move toward missional sustainability. If your church has a stewardship program for building relationships, not only will you not have any financial trouble, the network of relationships can become a platform for other essential currencies such as wellness, truth, and leadership.

Currency of relationship is the internal and external networks of mutually respectful connections that leaders and members of the church have. Internal connections include constructive relationships among members, area churches of the same affiliation, area denominational organization and national and international denominational structures. External connections include constructive relationships with non-members, people with resources and people in needs in the community, civic community leaders, ecumenical and interfaith partners, community and civic organizations, and local businesses.

So take an inventory of the relationships you and the members of your church have –internally and externally. You will discover where you are deficient in your relational currency. Develop a stewardship plan to establish new mutually respectful relationships outward in places where you are lacking. Also, develop a stewardship plan to develop your internal relational currency by strengthening existing relationships within your church so that your church community can work together toward creating wellness and speaking the truth inside and outside your church.

Here is an exercise you can do to explore your currency of relationship:

  1. Invite church members to consciously build respectful relationships with 3 peoplein the community this week – for example, get to know the gas station attendant, head librarian, postage worker, school superintendent, fire chief, police chief, corner grocery store owner, janitor at the school, homeless person at your free-lunch program, head of a major corporation in your community, teacher in the local college, etc.
  2. Gather the community to share experiences of attempting to start relationships in the community. Share the community concerns and issues they heard.
  3. Instead of offering just money during church worship, church members are invited to write the names of the people with whom they had established relationships on a piece of paper and put that in the offering plate as well. During prayer time, the community is invited to pray for each one of the persons named.

Our next 5-day intensive training institute on Holy Currencies is August 13-17, 2012 in the Seattle, WA area. Click to get more information.

The Rev. Eric H. F. Law is the founder and executive director of the Kaleidoscope Institute (, which offers resources and training for intercultural competency, congregational development and stewardship. He also writes a weekly blog called The Sustainist –


Currencies Must Flow – by Eric Law

Best Practices, Personal Financial Planning

I grew up with a Chinese saying: Water is Money. I often heard it as a joke, especially when it was raining – the rain became a wish or a symbol of financial abundance. In spoken Cantonese, I also heard people use the word “water” in place of money. Perhaps, we should think of the currency of money like water – it should move and flow. During summertime, I made sure that there were no pools of stagnant water around the house because they would be a breeding environment for mosquitos and other insects that might carry diseases. When water doesn’t flow, it becomes opportunities for destructive things to grow. In other words, it turns rotten. I would say the same thing goes for money: when it is not flowing, or when we hold on to it, it turns rotten.

In recent years, we witnessed not only the stagnation of money, but also the use of money in exchange of destructive and divisive causes. This is an election year. I am always amazed at how much money has been poured into campaigns for the different candidates. For example, in 2010, Meg Whitman, the candidate for the Governor of California, reportedly spent 144 million dollars on her campaign. I live in California and I remembered being bombarded by negative ads from her over and over again in all the major TV channels. We are talking about 144 million dollars; much of it went to buying time on TV for negative divisive ads! Imagine what we can do with 144 million dollars for constructive, life-giving, relationship building, truth-telling efforts! How about helping 1440 families to keep their homes, supporting 144 California schools, empowering 144 sustainable communities, creating 14,400 jobs, job training programs for 14,400 people! I am sure if Ms. Whitman had done any of these constructive things with her money, she might even have gotten the votes she needed to become the Governor of California!

So, we have a choice in using the currency of money. We can choose to hold on to it and let it turn rotten; we can choose to use it for divisive and destructive causes; or we can choose to let it flow in life-giving, truth-telling, relationship-building, community-enhancing ways.

What are your experiences with money as a currency? Has your money moved and flowed in constructive life-giving ways? What has your money been “flowed” into? That is, what blessings has your money transformed into for yourselves, your families and your communities?

Here is a reflection you can invite your community members to do to recapture how money has flowed into blessings for them in the past:
1. Recall an earlier time in your life when money was flowing in a way that gave blessings. It could be a story or experience in which your parents, or relatives, or friends, or elders had used money in a way that develops relationship, tells the truth, creates wellness, builds up the community, etc.

  • Where were you?
  • Who was there?
  • What were you doing?
  • Where did the money come from?
  • What blessings did the money exchange into?
  • Who or what group was enriched?
  • What long-term benefits did this create?

2. What did you learn in this reflection about money?
3. How does this experience impact the way you use money today? Personally and for ministry?

To learn about the concept of how currencies should flow, consider coming to the training course: Holy Currencies – Conversation on Money and Sustainable Ministries (February 27- March 2, 2012, Los Angeles) This course explores the cycle of blessings that involves 6 currencies – money, time/place, gracious leadership, relationship, truth and wellness. Learning how these currencies flow are essential for creating a missional and sustainable ministry. Click  to get more information.

The Rev. Eric H. F. Law is the founder and executive director of the Kaleidoscope Institute, which offers resources and training for intercultural competency, congregational development and stewardship.

Finding the Optimal Level of Conflict – by David R. Brubaker

Every congregation experiences conflict, even though each one does so in unique ways. The sources of conflict may vary from the micro to the macro—from intrapersonal pathologies to personality differences to globalization forces—but over time they are inescapable. Various studies have shown that organizational leaders and managers spend up to 25 percent of their time managing conflict. Experienced pastors know that during times of crisis, conflict management duties can become all-consuming.

Although many members assume that all congregational conflicts emerge from personality differences or communication problems, other significant sources are often at work within the system itself. These include the structure, culture, and leadership of the organization. However, conflict can result not just from changes in the structure, culture, and environment but also from other systemic realities within those three areas.

Conflict can arise out of the congregational structure from one of several causes. First, conflict results when power is overly centralized and those with less power attempt to shift the power imbalance. Second, roles can be so poorly defined that overlapping and thus contested responsibilities lead to tension and conflict. Third, the formal and the informal social structure can be so divergent that conflict emerges from differing perceptions of who really has authority. Leaders who notice patterns in the interpersonal conflicts in their congregation will want to consider these possible structural causes.

An organization’s culture can be another underlying source of conflict, particularly its most visible expression—the worship service. The most common conflict arises when newer congregational members encounter an entrenched organizational culture that they do not share. The conflicts that result tend to be framed by both groups in terms of right and wrong behavior, as culture supplies the values and norms that help us determine what behavior is appropriate or inappropriate. If a pastor or other staff person hired from outside the congregation is perceived to be acting in ways that are counter to the congregation’s cultural values, conflict is particularly likely and tends to be acute. And when an outside leader and an inside culture clash, culture normally wins.

Finally, the multiple environments in which a congregation is nested also provide the potential for multiple sources of conflict. This is the reason why “town/gown” conflicts (between communities and the colleges or universities they host) are so common; academic cultures that value debate and progressive thinking are likely to be in tension with environments that value harmony and traditional values.

Although conflict is inevitable, many scholars and practitioners believe that any organization may have an optimal level of conflict. Some disagreement and conflict provides energy and generates ideas, but too much conflict becomes destructive. When an organization has too little conflict, it may need to be encouraged, and when an organization has too much conflict, it may need to be reduced. In the middle of this curve, however, lies an optimal level of conflict where most organizations seem to thrive. Stirring the conflict pot may be needed in some situations, but when the pot starts to boil over, a conflict reduction strategy may be needed.

Diagnosing the level of conflict and seeking outside assistance at higher levels constitutes the intervention end of the conflict management spectrum. At the prevention end lie opportunities for congregational leaders to create a conflict-healthy system where disagreement is welcomed and destructive conflict doesn’t take root. A conflict-healthy system includes both individual behaviors and congregational mechanisms to manage conflict. It begins with the recognition that leaders set the tone regarding conflict management in their congregations, along with many other behavioral norms.

An organization’s culture matters more than its structure. Therefore, while congregational leaders may be able to create a mediation program or an open-door policy, the greater challenge will likely be changing the conflict culture sufficiently so that congregational members will naturally seek out and use interest-based methods of conflict resolution rather than only choosing flight or fight.

Culture changes when behaviors and assumptions change, and leaders’ behaviors and assumptions matter most of all. Therefore, leaders who learn to know the system, build a supporting coalition, and model the desired changes are affecting the culture of their congregations. The culture may at first resist, but leaders’ persistence in modeling the desired assumptions and behaviors will over time change the conflict culture—the norms and behaviors around conflict in your congregation. Managing conflict starts with managing oneself. Consider the conflict culture that you would like to have in your congregation, then start behaving as if that culture has already arrived. Culture change is never easy, and it is often painful. But it is possible.

A compelling example of leaders’ turning conflict into opportunity for structural and cultural change is found in the first seven verses of Acts 6. The idyllic description of the first Christian community, recorded in Acts 2:42–47 and Acts 4:32–37 is soon marred by incidents of deception in Acts 5:1–11 and internal conflict in Acts 6:1–7. While the sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira—who attempted to deceive the apostles about the extent of their generosity—are shocking, the conflict recorded in Acts 6 sounds more familiar to our ears. One group murmured (or complained) against another group, and leaders intervened to resolve the conflict.

The complaints came from the Hellenistic or Greek-speaking Jews and were directed against the Aramaic-speaking Jews. Most scholars agree that the Aramaic-speaking Jews were in the majority of the early Christian movement and included Jesus’s disciples—now called apostles. The identified issue for the minority group was that their “widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1)—a compelling allegation in a society where care for widows and orphans was part of the Mosaic Law.

The twelve apostles could have ignored these allegations, ordered the minority group to stop griping, or issued a decree that all widows would henceforth be fed equal portions. Instead, they convened a meeting of all the disciples and self-defined by clarifying their primary role in the community. “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2). They then gave the problem back to the group that originally complained, suggesting that they choose seven individuals “full of the Spirit and wisdom” to care for the feeding of widows (v. 3). Fortunately, the proposal “pleased the whole group” (v. 5), and they chose seven men, all of whom had Greek names–and thus were likely from the group that originally brought the complaint.

It is instructive to note that this passage begins and ends with church growth. The first verse of chapter 6 records that “in those days . . . the number of disciples was increasing,” while the last verse of this section concludes that “the word of God spread” and “a large number of [Jewish] priests became obedient to the faith” (v. 7). This is thus a story about a conflict, nested in a story about growth and change. This fascinating, if brief, account of the first recorded church conflict offers at least three significant learnings.

First, leaders need to move toward conflict, not away from it. Leaders who learn to move toward conflict discover that they have opportunities to resolve issues when those issues are small, rather than attempting to fight fires when they are nearly out of control.

Second, the identified issue is almost never the real issue. The allegation from the Greek-speaking minority that their “widows were being overlooked” in the daily food distribution was indeed a compelling one, but it likely was a proxy for a deeper feeling of powerlessness and alienation among the Hellenist members of the early church. All the significant leadership positions (apostles) were held by the Aramaic-speaking majority, and the minority did not know how to exercise their voice other than through “murmuring.”

Third, involve the “complainers” in solving their identified problems. Note that the apostles did not agree to take care of the problem that had been identified. Rather, they recruited members of the murmuring minority to address the problem. This outcome actually created a new role in the church—that of deacon.

Conflict is often a crisis, but it is also an opportunity. Much depends on our attitude toward conflict. If we expect it to be destructive and awful, it probably will be. But if we anticipate that the conflict may instead be an opportunity for genuine change, we may experience transformation. As Ron Kraybill, the founding director of Mennonite Conciliation Service, has said, conflict may be “an arena of revelation,” a time when we hear God’s voice as we never have before.

David Brubaker is a seminar leader with Andover Newton Theological Seminary, Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations.


When the News is Good – by Rev. George Martin


St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, Il (a Chicago suburb) responded to a free offer from Brick House Security, a company making GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) tracking devices. The church installed GPS devices on each of the figures in its outdoor nativity scene, including the Baby Jesus. The story received attention nationally (i.e. CBS and NBC) as well as in the Chicago media.

According to Rev. George Smith, rector of St. Mark’s, it gave him a great opportunity to talk about the significance of Christmas. “I got a chance to get the message out about the true meaning of the birth of Jesus,” he said. He posed to one reporter a question that he was asking himself, “If Jesus was stolen, and presuming the tracking device worked as it’s suppose to, would we find Jesus in a homeless shelter perhaps?”

At the end of Christmas no one had stolen any of the Nativity figures, but the story lingered on. The members of the church enjoyed the attention from the media. They had also been alerted by their rector through an email about the forthcoming media attention.

Not every story about the church in the wider media, of course, is framed in such a positive light. There are plenty of times when a church fight or conflict gets front-page news. Tragic events like a flood, a fire, or a hurricane can also thrust a church into the limelight of the media.

Most of the time, of course, what happens inside our church walls is ignored by the press. Reporters tend to seek sensational and controversial news stories.

“What’s new?” is actually a basic question that also interests reporters. The same question can apply to ministry in general, and in particular to things that may be happening in a church. To ask “What’s new?” is to frame the discussion about the future direction of the church as it looks at its past while starting to wonder about what God wants for them now. It’s also part of the task of interim ministry as a church considers how it should best frame its story or message to the wider community.

Sometimes an interim pastor comes into a church that is in real trouble, perhaps after some conflict or disaster. In other cases the congregation may have simply run out of gas, and now finds itself adrift. No matter what the situation, there is a basic kind of Public Relations (PR) question that must first be asked internally. “What is the message?” It must be asked again and again.

When those planes flew into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 everyone in America was forced to confront a new message about our safety and security. Many churches immediately responded by throwing open the doors of their church, and holding services within hours of that event. One Lutheran pastor said, “The church was full that night as we gathered in candlelight.” There was a strong message that church offered to its community by holding that service.

An interim pastor is in a unique position to help a church look at the way it relates to its wider community and particularly what steps it takes to share its story. Often the first step is to send out a press release.

In one interim pastorate I asked the secretary for a list of the local newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations. I had written a press release about the new educational series that was starting. A blank look came across her face. There was no such list. It was a problem easy to solve. Before long we sent out the press release. Even though it was just the local newspaper that ran the story, the church was back in the news, so to speak.

Sometimes a church has really good news to share with the wider community. I was in a church that thought it’s capital fund raising campaign was dead in the waters. Then, out of the blue, a member of the church said his family was willing to make a one million dollar challenge gift. I checked with the donor about announcing this gift. They would remain anonymous, but we could make a public announcement of the gift.

We alerted all in the parish that some major news was coming, and that we’d be holding a press conference on a particular day. We sent press releases to the local media. Follow-up phone calls assured us that reporters with print, radio, and television would come. A “Fact Sheet” was prepared to hand to the reporters. As the pastor of the church I made the announcement about the gift and along with the lay leader of the congregation answered questions. That evening and the next day it was the featured story in the community. It was the story that helped change a great many things about that church, and its visibility in the wider community.

There are also good issues that the media wants to talk about which a church can respond to in a positive way. There were a number of churches, for example, which offered classes discussing the controversy stirred up by the movie The Davinci Code. Another church found itself engaged in a controversy regarding a stone tablet featuring the Ten Commandments located in a public park. The response of the church was its offer to have the monument on its church property.

One of the basic rules in the world of public relations is that you want the members of the organization to know what’s happening as well as your boss. A basic practice rule is to first alert the members of the church about the news story that is being sent out to the media.

The second rule, especially in denominational churches is to inform the synod or diocesan office. Once a story is out in the media, whether it is a good or bad story, we have no control on who might be interviewed. A reporter might call a member of the church or go directly to the Bishop. Whoever gets called ought to be able to say, “I knew about this story.”

In the final analysis the question is “Who tells the story?” The Christian proclamation from day one is that we have a story to tell about the way God is working through our lives. We’ve always needed to use the right words and to frame the story in a way that accomplishes the most good. Many an interim pastor can help a church with this part of its ministry.


Prepping for Growth – by Ideas of Alice Mann

by Ideas of Alice Mann

In her book Raising the Roof and in her recent IMN workshop, keynoter Alice Mann presents a complete program to guide congregations when they are transitioning from a Pastoral (50-150 weekly attendance) church to a Program (150-400) church. This article only deals with her ideas on one aspect of that complex change. That is the creation of the learning team.

For an interim pastor, a year-long commitment to establishing the mechanism of change fits with the visioning work of the interim time. However, growth is not always the answer. For an individual congregation, “growth” means material and psychological commitment to significant change and the willing acceptance of considerable risk. It is possible that a study of the issue will produce a wait-and-see attitude rather than momentum for growth.

A growth plan means taking an advanced risk that increased attendance will provide sufficient additional revenue to cover increased expenditures. The mortgage is due monthly even if the new parking lot is empty. It may mean a cultural shift – if a second service is to be offered, is it the same as or different from the first service? It often means seeking and occupying a different place in the surrounding community. These are issues worthy of respectful attention.

Growth plans contain issues that may be studied in advance of a major financial commitment. Managing the study period should be the assignment for the Learning Team. They will want to ask these types of questions in order to discern if the congregation has a “call to growth.”

Will this church benefit from changing?
There are six key issues to consider:

  • The average weekly attendance at all Sunday services has hit a plateau somewhere between 150-250 people.
  • The church is located in an area that is growing. The surrounding communities are creating greater need but the area churches are not offering expanded services.
  • The congregation regularly attracts first-time visitors.
  • Both the pastor and the lay opinion leaders believe that the church may be “called to growth.”
  • There is basic trust between the minister, lay leaders and the congregation.
  • A small team of leaders can be found with the skills and motivation to guide a learning experience.

Is there sufficient trust?
If these proceeding six issues have favorable answers, the interim pastor should then make an assessment of the trust levels of the governing board.

Some key evaluations are:

  • Do people seem relaxed at meetings?
  • Do they greet each other warmly and take time to catch up with each other?
  • Do the attendees speak up, ask for clarification and offer their thoughts about the agenda and procedures?
  • Does everyone participate?
  • Are people at ease disagreeing with other’s opinions?
  • Do people keep their comments focused on issues and avoid personal attacks?
  • If you were on the board, would you be eager to attend the next session?

If the answer is yes to these seven questions, the interim pastor can proceed to form a learning agreement with the Board. If the answer is no or doubtful, more time will be required to answer questions, provide background, clarify motivations and address concerns about participating in a substantial financial investment in the future.

A Covenant for Learning
The first step is not to form a learning team but to gain the support of the entire board for such a team. To do this, the whole board should be encouraged to do preparatory reading and engage in thought and prayer, assess the readiness of the congregation to engage in a serious discernment process and formally and informally endorse the learning effort. At this point, the congregation should want to learn more but does not yet have to do more.

Including the pastor, the learning team can be made up of 5-7 people. They should be people who:

  • Can listen openly
  • Are familiar with the ups and downs of members, newcomers and visitorsUnderstand the political realities of this particular church
  • Work well with the pastor
  • Have a voice (constituency) in the congregation
  • Are calm and do not project an anxious presence

There is also a list of who the nominees should not be. It will prove best not to invite people who are:

  • Unwilling to learn new things or think new thoughts
  • Unable to consider potential consequences
  • Unwilling to change themselves or the church to
  • accommodate the needs of others
  • Carrying around axes about the church or pastor
  • Too busy to be an effective participant
  • Prone to overreact

The learning team can be selected by the board at a meeting that discusses the role of the team and the criteria for selection. After discussion, the group receives blank index cards. They are told to nominate three people who fit the criteria and the cards are passed in. The group then takes a break while the pastor and board chair evaluate the cards and look for balance. A slate of six is then presented to the board. With their approval, potential team members are asked to participate in supervising the learning process.

Content Delivery
Over the course of perhaps 5-6 months, the learning team will present to a larger circle of leaders accurate information they will need to guide future discernments. The studies should include:

  • A 30-year attendance chart – at least the last 10 years reported by week
  • A current accurate pin map of households – new members, old members, former members
  • Demographic information about the pin map clusters
  • A study that addresses the history of the church as it has operated in the context of the community of its time
  • A summary report on faith and context today
  • An assessment of barriers to growth
  • A report on trends in the wider culture
  • Findings from current community leader interviews

A transitioning church will become over-whelmed if it tries to do everything at once. The congregation will have to wrestle with issues they have been avoiding. One of the great rewards of gathering all this data is to identify the core of the ministry. Jean Morris Trumbauer diagnoses the mainline church this way:

The congregation has no programs or processes to assist members to discover and develop their gifts, to discern their purpose and mission in life, or to learn how to apply their faith to their daily life.A plan for growth cannot successfully be driven solely by a desire for greater revenue. A small focused church living within its means may be far more significant than a larger church preoccupied by debt. The church is not there for itself. “It is there to help all souls sort out their purpose and direction in life,” Trumbauer continues,“to wrestle with issues of self-confidence, meaning and change and to make choices about work, school and volunteer service.”

Preparatory Tasks
While we understand and appreciate the limits on an interim pastorate, there are four preparatory tasks that can lay the foundation for transition. They are:

  • Excavating the religious culture(s) of the congregation
  • Creating a foundation for change from that culture
  • Enriching the congregation’s experience with discernment
  • Assessing the congregation’s ability to experience system changes

Progress in these areas will expand institutional capacity to meet opportunities and needs.

Faithful Commitment
For the particular congregation, “growth” is an abstract good. Its gains have to be balanced against a real commitment of resources today. The practical questions are down to earth considerations:

  • Should we hold a second Sunday morning worship service and should it be the same as or different from the current main service? Can it be done with the same resources or are new ones required?
  • Should (or can) we expand the parking space? Should we hire more or better qualified professional staff? (li)Are we landlocked? Should we sell and move? Should we offer an Internet ministry? Should we develop a satellite campus? Affiliate?

Whatever is decided, the interim pastor has a great experience to teach – discernment is not just decision-making it is an experience in audacious hope.

What does God call us to do now?


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