Monday, November 19, 2007

Giving Permission

Here's one of my favorite parts of Bishop Schnase's book:

First, congregations should give ready permission to those who have the energy for and interest in new initiatives. They ought to reduce the number of hurdles, the layers of organizational reporting and approval seeking, especially by persons who have no particular interest in volunteering themselves. Leadership, vision, planning, soliciting help, and participation must come from those who feel called and eager. Cultivating a permission-giving, rather than an approval-seeking, environment in a congregation has huge implications not just for the planning of missions but for beginning new Bible studies, support groups, and other ministries.

(Emphasis added)

How is the congregation where you hang out a permission-giving rather than an approval-seeking environment? I'm running a poll to that effect - vote today!

We are trying here in Northtown to become more permission-giving, but not everybody agrees as to what exactly that means, especially when it comes to communication and accountability. I sometimes find myself speaking what seems almost like a completely different lanugage than some in the congregation. I want to convey the idea that a lot of what happens in our congregation may not be known by everyone, and that's okay. As long as what is happening is accountable to the mission of the congregation, it's all good. That's a hard thing to understand for some people.

When a small group of a half a dozen people wants to do some ministry project, and they put it together, organize it, implement it, and generally make it happen, we want to celebrate it and give God thanks for the energy and initiative this little team has taken on behalf of Christ. What we don't want to do is add so many layers of reporting and approval that it bogs the whole thing down and it loses effectiveness, fruitfulness, and impetus.

And it may require that I admit I don't know exactly what's going on, too! I have often heard myself answering inquiries with, "I don't know" when someone asks, "Hey, what are So-and-So doing with the This-and-That?"

"I don't know," I'll say, "But I know So-and-So, and I trust that whatever they're doing, it's going to be pretty cool!" The key, as with so many things, is the development of loving, grace-filled, trusting relationships among fellow disciples. Minus the development of those relationships, you really can't do much.

But when we are truly seeking a relationship grounded in the love and grace of Jesus Christ, when we live in that love and grow closer to one another and to God all the time, when we put aside our need to know and control what's going on and release ourselvews from that paralyzing tendency, God will truly amaze you at what might just happen.

So I'm interested - vote in my little poll and then leave a comment about your faith community. How is your spiritual home a "permission-givining" congregation?


TN Rambler said...

I'm working to change the culture at the church where I serve. Seems that previously the pastor was heavily involved in all aspects of the chain of approval, so much so that you'd almost think that we were Baptist.

My attitude is "As long as you don't expect me to be in charge, go for it!" Slowly, but surely, they're beginning to come around.

gavin richardson said...

as i was reading thoughts. so even in a permission giving culture, we trust and love one another that there will be times that we seek approval before just going off and doing something.

Stephen Taylor said...

A permission culture is not the same as everyone doing what they feel motivated to do. That can lead to a church with multiple personalities and major fights down the road on the allocation of resources. A permission culture can grow when there is a clearly defined mission statement, one that doesn't try to say (or do) everything, but sets out what that particular church is to focus on. Yes, cut through all the approval barriers, but make sure new ministries/events are allowed on a "trial" basis. They still have to show to the Council how this ministry helps the church fulfill its mission.

One thing that helps change the culture is to get some "Research and Development" money put in the budget - a few thousand dolllars in a New Ministry line, from which the Pastor and Council Chair can make grants so inspired members can try out their ideas. And finally, it this really gets going, have your key leaders meet once a month for an information sharing session. Leave any decision making to the official council, but create a time for the leaders to be informed and to bath the new efforts in prayer.

Andy B. said...

Stephen - Actually, we have a fund here that we call the "Warm Embrace Fund" that we use for exactly that purpose. The fund began with a large undesignated bequest, and we have used the interest to grant funding to extra-budgetary ministry efforts.

Martin said...

Good Shepherd does 'bubble up' ministries, where if you feel called to something, have prayed about it, and can find 2 or 3 others with the same feeling/vision, pursuit is encouraged. Obviously, if you can't find anyone else willing to participate in your vision, then maybe it is only your vision, as opposed to being part of God's vision. Being a "permission" culture is a mind-shift; whereas in the past everything that was done was "owned" by a committee, in the "new" model, more and more things are owned by groups that have no connection whatsoever up the chain. Having said that, I still think people need some accountablility and someone to be able to go to when they do have questions, or want to post something, email something out, fund-raise, etc.

Anonymous said...

"I know so-and-so and I know whatever he/she does will be good." What if you knw another so-and-so and you are pretty sure that whatever they do will be inappropriate and go counter to the mission of your church? How do you give permission to one and deny the other without being accused of playing favorites? cb

Donna said...

When I first arrived at the church I serve, the atmosphere was thick with distrust. New ventures were greeted with suspicion and even downright hostility. Yeah, we even had a big blowup about new carpet for the sanctuary (which we never did get).

I tried to get a handle on it all by setting up some clear procedures for people to follow when they wanted to do something. That didn't work. I tried reconstituting some of the committees that had gone defunct when the size of the church got down to forty or so. That just made things worse, because we got conflicts between the "Program Ministry Council" and the church council.

I finally realized that the problem wasn't procedural. It was some really dysfunctional behavior which needed to be named as such. We didn't need new procedures, we needed a new way of relating to one another, one a little closer to the way Jesus asked us to relate, and the way the Acts church chose to relate. We started meeting all the time, one big group. We read Acts 2:43-48 until people knew it by heart. We discerned ourselves blue in the face. And we got on the same page. A couple of members left. They didn't want to belong to a church where Jesus was in charge. I miss them, but we wouldn't have made it with them.

We're not perfect yet. But things are so much better I sometimes can't believe it. I look forward to council meetings and congregational meetings (still held quarterly). If we needed carpet, I daresay we'd just get some.

Mark Winter said...

I think it was Sr. Pastor John Ed Mathison of Frazer UMC who said that if he knew everything that was going on in his church, then his church wasn't doing enough.

DannyG said...

Committee after committee after committee. And to top it off, nobody wants to do anything that might offend the sensibilities of the more delicate members.

Dave Wood said...

Well said Donna. Any 'process' is only as good as the people doing it. There are really only two kinds of failure, a process failure or a people failure. Sounds like you learned the hard way you had a people failure. Those are the toughest but your relization that they were indeed the problem is obviously better for everyone.
I feel accountability is a natural by-product of permission. To paraphrase Mr. Taylor above, if you give blanket permission to everyone without expecting accountability, things could run amok and you will have duplication of efforts and most definitely a depletion of resources. I also agree with Mr. Taylor on his second point that the leadership should be kept informed. They don't have to 'do' anything but just having the knowledge of things that are going on can better equip them to spread the word and/or offer assitance and encouragement. As he said, it will prevent many 'mini' personal churches. It's like some one being sick in the hospital and they get out and go to church and ask why no one visited them while they were in the hospital. No one knew! You get the picture. We are trying to do many of these things at Northtown and Andy is right... it's tough sometimes. We really only want two things, meet the mission statement and/or one of the 5 practices. Easier said than done. But I feel like we are getting better every day! We can do all things in Christ!

Song of Deborah said...

Our pastors can set the tone for a permission giving environment, and eventually, the congregation will follow their lead. It takes a lot of prayer and daily determination to risk shaking up what may have been the church's cultural norm for years and begin afresh with a new attitude of service in Christ, through Christ, and for Christ alone. We need to retrain our brains to give willingly, laying aside any self-serving motivations.