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The catalyst group should go through the following exercises before sharing them with the rest of the congregation. They will begin with their own inner work, some of that work on behalf of the church; their outer work will be towards the congregation.
The catalyst group begins by defining the nature of the church? As the members of this church leadership class have done in this document, the catalyst group should ask themselves what is the ideal of “church”. This work can be as simple as writing a few sentences, or as elaborate as describing the past and present that lead up to this ideal. It should be a working definition, or a work-in-process, as it will be revisited again in the future. Each time this discussion occurs, in the efforts to include more and more of the congregation, this vision of the “ideal church” will undergo refinement. Below are some questions to help catalyst groups discuss what church means to them:
- What is the role of the church in the life of its congregation? Its community? The world at large?
- How do you define the Great Commission? How do you apply that biblical passage in your context today?
- How does the church relate to the Great Commandments?
- How does the church honor the Sabbath?
- How does the church celebrate its sacraments? What are they?
- What is the church’s relationship with its neighbors and community?
In the discussion of what is church, pay attention to assumptions that may be uncovered. Various presumptions, many cloaked in ambiguous or even unconscious language, will come to light in these discussions. These will many times be deemed positive, while some may have negative connotations. Initially it is imperative that the catalyst group has the courage to examine presuppositions without judgment, simply to unearth the underlying characteristics of their organization.
Some assumptions that emerge might be, “we will always be an all-white (or all-black, or all-something) church,” or “we always have to function by committee,” or “church growth means saving ourselves and getting more children.” Do we assume that people will come regardless of what the place looks like, or how they are treated, or what kind of cars are in the parking lot? These may be unspoken or voiced, but will influence the outcome in remarkable ways. Also expect to experience new understandings of diversity in how people respond to these questions. The goal is to identify beliefs and engage in discussion; it is not to create uniformity in faith concepts among the group.
At this point, is it possible to craft a statement that reflects as many of the final ideals stated by the members of the group? This sentence or two may be somewhat unwieldy, but the exercise’s worth is in incorporating a variety of ideas into a broad definition of church.
The next step in the process is determining the presumptions that exist within the group with regard to church growth. In many ways, this is the most crucial step in the process because it is fraught with deeply rooted assumptions and the possibility for emotional outbursts and divisiveness. It would not be unusual that long held notions of a healthy church, or expectations of growth, would be incompatible with the definition(s) crafted in the previous step. Therefore, the discovery must focus on purpose rather than process.
Ultimately, the task is to define a theology of church and church growth that encompasses the ideas proffered, discussed and accepted in the group discussion(s). To assist in achieving this delicate task, the MTSO class used a variety of tools and exercises that guided the discussions. Since these or other exercises could similarly guide the catalyst group and congregation through meaningful dialogue and decision-making, they are included throughout the following sections.
The writings of Søren Kierkegaard offer one assessment tool. In this exercise, three primary roles in the church – namely Performer, Prompter, and Audience – are assigned to the congregation, the pastor, and God. The exercise is simply discussing who plays which role. Draw lines between the entity and its role in the church (they are not necessarily intended to go horizontally).
Think about how the roles play out on Sunday morning. Consider the deeper consequences of assigning specific roles. If the pastor is assigned the performer role, the congregation the audience and God the prompter task, what are the theological assumptions that follow? If the congregation is audience, are they just passive participants? Think about how Sunday worship might differ from other worship services, if you have them. Think about how the roles play out in other settings or at other times. It is healthy or unhealthy to have the roles fixed the same way all the time. Particularly unhealthy is when the congregation is always the audience and ventures no further than being spectators in the pews. Likewise detrimental is when God is always the audience and never acts in the life of the community. If a church is stuck in a rut, this tool may help in understanding the nature of the rut, and assist in beginning the process of extricating the church from its stasis.
Another assessment that the catalyst group could take is a faith audit, which is a narrative account of the quality of a church’s life. The faith audit proposed by Mark A. Olson is based on praise, righteousness, and compassion. Olson’s books, listed in the bibliography, are recommended reading at this point in the process, but a brief explanation of the concepts is included here.
Praise is recognizing God as the source of our existence and our hope. Righteousness explores our relationship to God. Our lives should reflect our source of being. Compassion discerns how we treat others outside our community. The audit is in narrative form to reflect the qualitative, rather than quantitative, changes this process aims to affect. The catalyst group should do the audit before starting to work with the full congregation, and then regularly as a “mile-marker” checkup. Below are the questions to be asked in the audit:
- How does the congregation gather?
- What is the character of the congregation’s gathering?
- What is the congregation’s meal life like?
- What stories are told around the table?
- What is the nature of the conversation as the people gather for communion?
- What is the nature of scriptural teaching and reflection in the congregation?
- How essential is our visitation to those of the congregation who are in need?
- What is the nature of our congregational and individual prayer life?
- Who do we invite into our community through prayer?
- What is the nature of our offerings to orphans, widows, and strangers: briefly, to all who are in need?
The catalyst group has delved deeper into theological reflection of the church and its purposes than many people may be used to. While it may be a little uncomfortable, the group should be ready to examine its own organization more thoroughly and evaluate it on the basis of the concepts defined thus far. In the process so far the group has arrived at some level of consensus, or agreement to disagree, about the ideal nature and theology of church and church growth, as well as an audit of the church as it currently exists. Lively discussion could ensue about the contradictions that exist, as well those characteristics that line up well.
The catalyst group should now prepare itself to work with a larger segment of the congregation. While the group still has more work to do, it would be edifying to both the group and some of the larger bodies to have other people begin the process. Thus begins the “outer work” of the catalyst group – calling the congregation into “inner work”. As mentioned earlier, depending on the size of the congregation, this may encompass several cycles.
A Suggested Model for Leading Change
Leading through change can be difficult at best. Resistance, as any experienced leader knows, is a common reaction to proposed alterations, especially in churches. For assistance in managing change, the catalyst group may want to consult a reference on change in the congregation, such as Gilbert Rendle’s Leading Change in the Congregation. Another model for this leadership work can utilize the following roles: prophet, artist/teacher, celebrator/exhorter, and evangelist.
The Prophetic leader describes reality as it is, proclaiming the disconnection between “what is” and “what ought to be” in the church. She or he identifies problems or needs, such as a church wide identity crisis or a lack of spiritual depth, and discerns a solution to bring about correction. The prophetic voice may lead the other roles, but they work best together. When the prophetic role begins its outer work with the congregation, there will likely be resistance to what is being proclaimed.
The Artist/Teacher interprets the message of the prophetic voice and captures the imagination of the audience, showing it in a different way. He or she actively deals with the reluctance caused by the prophetic voice, addressing issues in artistic, creative ways. The artistic/teaching voice might be thought of as presenting the benefits of a solution or, in this case, a process.
The Celebrator/Exhorter motivates and energizes people to make change happen. She or he deals with the resistance caused by the prophetic voice in a psychological and emotional way. The celebrating/exhorting voice might be thought of as pointing out the features of the solution.
The Evangelist is a doer, trendsetter and accompanier. He or she pushes past the resistance to bring others through the barrier as well. The evangelical voice might be thought of as demonstrating the solution.
These four roles are not hard and fast positions, but can be helpful in establishing a working leadership within a congregation. As will be discussed in the section on spiritual gifts, each person is endowed with talents and abilities that are to be used in the world to bring about transformation. Leadership can be characterized in several ways, and these roles are adaptable to fit the needs of the situation. As the catalyst group begins to work directly with other members of the congregation, it will need creativity and flexibility to fully engage their hearts, minds and spirits. Having already gone through the foundational work beforehand, and utilizing other tools as needed, it can act effectively to accomplish its purpose.
With the statement of church and the theology of church growth defined by the catalyst group, they then declare a mission/purpose for themselves. The following simple mission statement for a church growth catalyst group provides a starting point: “to increase the opportunity and foster the potential for personal and societal transformation in the church.” This statement should be specific to the unique situation in the church, and will be informed by the statement of church, composed earlier. This will provide the focus, motivation and vision for the catalyst group, and this group must “lead by motivation.” It will work within the congregation, stimulating it from the inside out.
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 Olson (1989)43-48.