Archive for November, 2011

Stakeholders – Part III

Stakeholders – Part III

Another thing you’ve probably seen is when a divisive issue and contentious decision that the community is not really ready to make yet is suddenly forced to a vote. Tragically, the community votes 51% to 49% on it and moves forward on that vote.  That, brothers and sisters, is cultural nonsense.  Part of the community walks away smug and another part walks away angry and disillusioned and invalidated.  Most of the community ends up confused and hurt and unsure in the decision. A decision ends up being made that people don’t have their souls behind and it goes forward without power and without conviction. A faction always ends up trying their best to see it fail…praying to have it fail.  Stakeholders in our community have no interest in seeing this kind of thing happen.  Many of them have seen it happen in our history and have learned important lessons from it.  As such, stakeholders in our community have a vote, but oddly enough, we don’t vote…at least not to find a majority.  Decisions are made by consensus.  We vote to see whether or not we have achieved one.  And we don’t act until we do achieve one.  I can hear it now, and I have heard it from dying communities more times than I can name, “Oh, that will never work.”  It works.  It works efficiently.  And it works with an integrity that simple majority rule does not and cannot.

Stakeholders vote.  They voice their opinions.  Sometimes they do so very strongly.  And they do so with reverence for all that is at stake.  But they also listen.  Remember, stakeholders are learners and growers, not “know-it-alls”.  They speak and they listen and they learn.  They are willing to have their minds changed, and they do not see changing one’s mind as a weakness.  They see it as part of what it means to be both gifted and limited.  They know that sometimes bad decisions will be made.  But they also know that the only good decisions are ones that the community can get behind and support and invest in.  How long does it take? It takes however long it takes.  Remember, not every decision is a community-wide decision.  Most are not. But the ones that are, take however long they take.

Consensus decision-making requires spiritual maturity.  If even one person is masking a hidden motive or agenda, it can do damage.  Stakeholders enter into decisions seeking God’s will for the community, and they know that God’s will is best known when it emerges from the collective wisdom of the community.  It might, and usually does, get voiced by an individual who has reshaped and restated what is being voiced by many.  But it comes from the whole of the community and is affirmed by the community, not by 51% of the community.  It is hard work.  It requires deep personal humility and vulnerability.  Those are two things that our culture is not good at aspiring to.  They are Christ-like qualities, however.

Most often, a proposal is offered.  Stakeholders prayerfully consider it.  They take it in, rather than being oppositional or adversarial out of hand.  They think about it.  They put it back out.  They reshape it.  They discuss it, sometimes heatedly, but always with respect and reverence.  If they can get behind it, they do.  Even if they can’t get behind it, if they see that most of the community is getting behind it, they give their permission for it to move forward.  If it moves forward, they DO NOT WORK TO UNDO IT.  They strive to find a way to participate in its success because it is the consensus of the community that they are invested in to see it succeed and bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.  Some decisions go our way.  Some don’t.  Sometimes funds get wasted. But they aren’t our funds, they are God’s, and God can deal with that.

Stakeholders do not get their feelings hurt easily if someone disagrees with them.  They see it as simply part of the process. It is a rare proposal that isn’t reshaped in some way before it gains consensus.  Stakeholders do not look for reasons to disagree, but rather look for reasons to agree.  Stakeholders don’t easily get their nose out of joint and take their ball and go home.  It happens, but it rarely happens.  We take votes along the way to see where we are.  If someone is blocking, they usually get called on it.  But we don’t go forward until we are ready to go forward.  And we aren’t ready to go forward until consensus is given to go forward.  That is the sign that we are ready to make the decision.

Patience is required, and patience is a fruit of the Spirit.  The process is messy…kind of like making sausage.  You don’t always want to look too closely at how it is done.  Anyone who says that community is anything but messy should be highly suspect to us.  Life is messy.  Decisions are hard sometimes.  They are messy.  Consensus is just a better way for our community to respect the reality of messiness.  Stakeholders have patience.  Stakeholders respect one another.  Stakeholders listen and speak and learn and grow and reshape and pray and change their minds.  Stakeholders have a vote…but we don’t really vote…at least not in search of a simple majority.  Majority does not rule.  Jesus Christ rules.  And last we checked, none of us are Jesus Christ.

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Stakeholders – Part II

Stakeholders – Part II

We are a community in mission together.  It is the mission that drives our community.  And it is a commitment to that mission that holds our community together.  Stakeholders are people who have something at stake in that mission.  They have been tested by the trials and hardships of the mission.  And they have paid a price.  And they know that many have come before them who have paid a price for them to have the opportunity to serve.  They are people who understand the mission and are personally INVESTED in it.  Most importantly, they are people who actively participate in it. Every person who has a vote in the community is actively involved in a mission that reaches outside of our doors.  They give their time and their talent in hands-on ways in labor in the mission.  We don’t have anyone whose role is simply to tell other people what to do.  All leadership is leadership from the front, by example, or it is not leadership at all. Participation means participating at the cutting edge of the mission itself.  It does not simply mean Sunday morning attendance.

We are a community that shares the burden of mission.  It requires funding to carry out the mission.  Stakeholders are mature enough believers to understand that reality. Stakeholders understand how the community is connected to the mission, and how the mission is connected to the life of the community.  If one ceases to be, so does the other. They understand that it is not magic that keeps the lights on. They are financially invested.   But there are aspects to their giving that sets them apart.  Stakeholders understand that whatever they give (and it doesn’t matter how much) belongs to God.  It belonged to God before they gave it.  So, they aren’t giving THEIR money.  They are giving back to God what was God’s to begin with.  Stakeholders do not leverage their generosity to further their own interests or agenda.  They don’t vote with their checkbook. They understand that even generosity itself is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Giving is always between the stakeholder and God, but there are characteristics of giving that stakeholders have in common.  Stakeholders know that the life of the mission and the community is sustained because others besides themselves have sacrificed from their families to keep them alive. They are careful with the community because the community has cost others much and they respect the sacrifice of others as well as their own sacrifices. Knowing what the community and its mission has cost others, stakeholders have a reverence about them.   Stakeholders consider their giving a part of their personal budget.  They give in a scheduled way.  They give out of the first fruits rather than what’s left after they have purchased what they want to purchase.  Their giving isn’t the first thing cut in tough times.  It is among the last things cut in tough times.  For stakeholders, giving is an act of faith.

We do not, and will not ever, publish giving.  Publishing giving is manipulative and not Biblical, and we do not give in to that temptation no matter how effective it might be.  In fact, the people who know what was pledged do not know what was actually given.  Financial trustees who know what was given, do not know what was pledged.  In fact, pledges are anonymous.  We do everything in our power to keep giving private.  But stakeholders give.  They give generously and in a spiritually mature way.  It would not be fair in the least bit to have a person who gives nothing have the same vote as someone who has sacrificed much.  We are all in this together.  And that togetherness is evidenced in shared burden and shared sacrifice.  We must all be both the object AND the subject of the mission.  Rich and poor.  We all give back to God what was God’s to begin with.

Stakeholders know the people in the community.  They pray for them by name regularly.  They know the events of their lives.  They know what brings them joy and what haunts their dreams.  They live life together.  Stakeholders make it their business to know what is going on on the calendar.  They know because they make it their business to know.  They know what missions are happening and when they are happening because they are committed to praying for them.  Things happen too fast in the mission for our community to always be flawless in our communication.  We don’t always have time to publish things seven different ways to make sure everyone knows everything.  Stakeholders know people and they know events because they know it is their responsibility to be connected enough to find out.  One excellent way to do that is to attend worship on a fairly regular basis.  That’s where prayer concerns and mission opportunities are announced.  It’s where we check in with each other.  It’s where we meet.  It’s where the body comes to together.  Stakeholders may not be found in worship every Sunday.  But they are there enough to stay deeply connected to the larger community, to one another, and to the mission and vision of the community. Stakeholders do not neglect the assembly.

Stakeholders are learners and growers.  Part of being invested means that we do not know everything, and that a part of what we are called to do is to grow TOGETHER. “Know-it-alls” tear communities apart.  They create an unsafe environment.  Our community has to be a place where it is safe to not have it all figured out.  Our community will not be a place where what you know gives you power.  We try very hard to make it a place where power is reserved for Christ alone.  We are all both broken and gifted.  We are all both competent and still learning.  Stakeholders seek personal and spiritual growth.  They are hungry for it.  They attend Bible studies and prayer groups.  They see every learning opportunity as a gift from God.  And they share what they learn without ever leveraging it for position or personal gain or status.  We all have the same status – disciple, learner, novice, student.  No matter how old; no matter how experienced; we are all growing.  God is not finished with us yet.  We grow and learn together.  Stakeholders – people who are INVESTED in the vision and mission of the community – are actively involved in personal and spiritual growth activities and opportunities on a regular basis.

If a person is involved in the life and mission of the community in these ways, it is safe to say that if the community ceased to be, it would impact their lives significantly.  As such, they should have a vote. They should have a say.  And they do.  Who gets to say whether a person is living this way? They do. The individual does. Wonderful, generous, compassionate, and mature followers of Christ do so for themselves.  And we trust the Holy Spirit to guide them in their decision. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom ruled by conscience or it is petty dictatorship, and of no value at all.

Stakeholders – Part I

Stakeholders – Part I

Many of you have already seen this happen in your churches. A divisive issue arises…something like who can and can’t be a “member”, what kind of music your church is going to play on Sunday morning, etc…and all of the sudden, everyone who is on your membership roles shows up to cast a vote even if they haven’t darkened your doors in years save the occasional Christmas and Easter service.  If they split the church, or even outright kill the church, they really have nothing to lose.  The closing wouldn’t affect their lives in the least bit.  The only thing that even makes them a member is that their name is still on the roles because no one has had the heart or the character to take them off.  The most divisive in your midst even go so far as to fill up several vans with angry and half-informed relatives who grew up in the church and don’t even live in the area any more so that they can swing a vote their way.  Those folks, God bless them, have no stake if your church ceases to be.  It won’t affect their lives or calendars or hearts in even close to the same way it will those who labor every week in your missions and take food off their children’s tables to financially support the community and what it does to further the Kingdom.  They do nothing.  Risk nothing. They take and give nothing…or give just enough of a pittance to keep their names on the list.  And they lose nothing if your community disappears from the earth.  They will throw bricks and behave without restraint because they care nothing about how fragile the threads are that hold your community together. They have no context for understanding how one issue or another fits into the fabric of your community, vision, or mission. They have no idea who their vote will affect because they have no idea who actually is invested in, or impacted by, your mission. For them, it’s about pure political power or family loyalty…getting their way, no matter the cost…to someone else.  They cast their vote and walk away smug and self-righteous, and you don’t see them again until the next divisive vote…if your community and its mission are lucky enough to survive that long.

That is no way to live out the Kingdom of God.  Membership in the Church writ large is one thing.  I have no doubt that those van loads of relatives are going to heaven one day. That Church – Christ’s Church – is not a democracy.  That is a Kingdom, and the King can handle people’s nonsense. But very often, your church cannot.  Belonging to a fragile community of faith has to mean having something at stake in the accomplishment of its mission.  A community of faith has to be driven by those who are invested in it, who pray daily for its participants, who give to it until it hurts, and sweat and tremble in its mission. They study Scripture together and live life together. They laugh together, and they cry together. Their kids play together and serve in the mission together. They know the events of each others’ lives and share each others’ burdens and sorrows and hardships.  Those who have a vote have to be risking something.  Having a vote must have something to do with investment and behavior.  People have to know what is at stake.

People who are invested do not throw bricks because they know how fragile the community is.  They know that if they do damage, the damage they do will be to their lives and will be paid for with their own investment.  People who are invested have to look into their children’s eyes every day and know that they did everything in their power to ensure that the time and treasure that they invested in the mission at the expense of those children is serving a greater goodness and is not wasted on unimportant things. People who are invested are not playing games with their community.  In short, they have to know that if their words or behavior cuts someone else, it will also cut them in an equally devastating way.  They know they can’t just behave any old way.  There is far too much at stake for that.  In our community, people who have a vote are no longer even called “members”.  We call them stakeholders because the name alone helps us to remember that these are people who are deeply invested and have a lot at stake in the community.  The name shapes how we make decisions and gives us a sense of accountability that gets lost when our roles are made up of people who have nothing on the table. It isn’t that we have it all figured out. We don’t. We still fight over stuff.  We just don’t fight the same way anymore.

Churches that pad their membership roles with the names of people who are not invested in their mission in order to make themselves look/feel big and important end up undoing themselves.  That falseness comes back to haunt them. A couple hundred on the roles and twenty-five or thirty in worship? Really? Nobody even knows each other or cares about anyone else’s feelings.  A couple hundred on the roles, and five or six who sweat and toil in the mission outside the walls striving to reach the lost, and hungry and afflicted? Really?  No one even knows who gets hurt if the mission fails. That’s crazy!!  That’s like the aging debutante trying to dress herself up to look pretty for people who aren’t going to come to her party or come to her aid anyway.  It’s like sticking a BMW hood ornament on a broken down jalopy as if the hood ornament will make the car run better.  Who in the world are we trying to impress?

Whoever is impressed by that kind of foolishness has nothing at stake in your community either.  If that impresses your denomination, then your denomination doesn’t really care about your community.  You can bank on that.  They are living the same aging debutante illusion, except that their cotillion is bigger than yours and your community isn’t even invited to it.  We need to come to terms with that. That kind of falseness always comes with a price tag.  In the end, the delusion takes us far away from what we are really called to do and be.  And in the end, that kind of  community splits and dwindles and dies alone and forgotten and wondering what happened to their family and friends. They wonder why the car no longer runs when it has such a nice hood ornament on it.  Jesus said, “My brothers and sisters are those who hear the Word of God and do it.”  What kills those churches is misunderstanding who their “family” is.  The church family is that group of people who sweat the same, and suffer the same, and invest the same.  The church family – the real one -prays for and cares about one another deeply while they actually DO what the Word of God calls them do.

Before we talk about how stakeholding works in the context of a missional community, the reality and importance of investment must be deeply understood.  Ask yourself: “If my faith community ceased to be and its mission disappeared from the earth, in what tangible ways would it affect my life and my family? What is at stake for me?”