Terry Shue is director of Leadership Development for Mennonite Church USA.
Recently I attended an event which Everence puts on every other year for development staff of organizations, large and small. It was an excellent event where the role of development staff was validated and celebrated as a vital connection between the mission of the organization and the passion of the donors. Some of the participants were well seasoned veterans of the trade, annually pulling in millions of dollars to sustain their various ministries. Others were new to the calling, seeking to secure viability for a small start-up ministry.
Attending the event as a representative of Mennonite Church USA, I have long had interest and respect for this niche calling of persons who do this work of development. Though development staff are at times referred to with a bit of humor and mockery, my time of watching the real professionals has demonstrated to me the high calling of those in this ministry.
In fact when it is done well, there are great similarities between development work and pastoring.
Reflecting on and summarizing what I learned those several days, I believe there are lessons from the world of faith based development staff for pastors of our churches in Mennonite Church USA. Consider these points of my learning.
Know your people.
I often say to pastors that the seal of a call to a congregation is the love the pastor is given by God for the people they serve. It is impossible to pastor without this love for the people. And much like any other expressions of love, this agape love is expressed in time spent with your people. Beyond greeting them on Sunday morning; getting to know them in their homes, places of work and where they play. When we know our people in these ways, it allows us to better understand them when they speak up in business meetings or when they disagree with us on a point of a sermon. It also allows us to have a window into the passions of their heart, things they really care about because of their faith, areas in which they want to make a difference.
Not everyone in the congregation will want to help fund a new video projector for worship services just like not everyone will want to help the local homeless shelter, or teach the junior high youth. What I learn from development professionals, that I as a pastor did not always do so well, is to know my people deeply enough to know what drives them to get involved in particular ministries. Too often I assumed that any good program that the leadership team dreamt up was sufficient to bring along all good church members to full involvement. Development staff know that different initiatives spark the interest and involvement of different people.
Know the story of your church.
Every one of us have our own unique story of God at work in our lives. The same is true about each of our congregations! The chapters and seasons of the life of a congregation have all shaped an identity and understanding of why your congregation exists which is as unique as our fingerprints. As a pastor, I didn’t always understand this or appreciate why this was vitally important information for me to know. Why is this church different from that church, even ones from the same denomination and conference? Each particular story not only shapes the identity of the organization, but the path God has for it into the future.
Good development officers for any organization first become students of that organization, not just to understand what they do, but to be able to truly get into and feel the deeper reality of why they do it. Understanding the “why” of an organization rather than just the “what” becomes a powerful tool for leaders to grasp. Why is one congregation so invested in the work of relief for the needy and another one evangelism; one local prison ministry and another Bible translations?
As a pastor, knowing the story of a congregation is to know where they have been as you help discern where and to what God is calling you to become together.
Articulate the vision of your congregation.
Persons doing development work must not only know what the organization does and why they do it, but they must also give constant articulation to that vision. Indeed a major part of their work with constituents, other than listening, is to share the vision of how their organization is set on making a difference in the world. Development staff tell the story of what the organization sees God doing in the world and feels called to join in on.
Given the reality of our culture becoming increasingly post Christian, assumptions which could be made decades ago are no longer fair to make. Articulating the vision of a congregation is not done with a church sign or a line in the church bulletin, but through the clear message of proclaiming and representing the Kingdom of God at work in our world. I drastically underestimated my role as the pastor to this important task. Oh that I would have understood and focused on giving a compelling and winsome snapshot of the vision of the congregations I have pastored.
Invite people to participate.
There is one more thing which good development people do which I believe I could have done better at as a pastor, and that is to invite people to get on board with the collectively discerned vision for the future. All too often I fell into the passive role thinking, “if they want to join in these efforts they will.” For the development folk the “ask” grows out of a relationship over time and is the most formal way to invite persons to participate in the shared vision. For those who function at a high level of development work, they have a sense for when the right time is for an “ask” and for amounts that are appropriate with each donor. Out of an attitude of abundance, always exuding hope for the future, the invitation is to join in in doing something meaningful!
For us as pastors there many ways to invite persons to join in the vision of a congregation and many ways for them to respond to our invitations. When do we invite persons to take that first step in following Jesus? When do we challenge them with concrete markers to move up in commitment to what that means? When is appropriate for these invitations to be issued publically, when is it the holy conversation between the pastor and member? And when and where do we celebrate and thank those individuals’ commitments in ways which inspire others to join in the vision too.
Thanks those of you who have answered the call to do development work for the many ministries of the church I value. And thanks Everence for pulling this important event together and teaching me a thing or two of being a better pastor.