Another transition is afoot. It’s time. Been a while since we had one. I never did take the “i*" away from my “iProgram director” job title. (*interim) Even in the best times of leading the program team (and there’s been lots) I always felt it wasn’t my final destination. So next week the foreshadowing “i" comes to fruition. I will take some form of a “co-executive pastor” role with Ronda. I’m not sure whether to put an “i" on that title or not. In August I will have been here ten years—longer than any job I’ve held before. In those ten years I’ve been: assimilation dir., admin dir., youth minister and program director. It’s transition time.
The challenge of leading programming was leaving the fun and relationally rewarding task of leading the youth programming/leadership team. Scott and Sarah, Micah, Mark, and Sarah. Meetings were weeknights. Usually from 6pm to 10 or 11pm and we didn't mind the late night. It was often hard but was always fun. Challenging. Prayerful. Real. Leading the youth was taking in a stray dog that had tags---only a matter of time before the true owner returned. And the mutt got its hooks in me---it was hard to give back. Part of giving it back was saying good-bye to those working relationships that existed only in that unique way and context.
It was leaving that relationally rewarding team and adopting the Sunday morning programming team. They met in the room in our old Park Rd office slum. That room was open so everyone could always easily get a sense of what was happening in it. That programming team had a vibe of “grinding it out.” It wasn’t characterized by laughter as much as concentration, frustration, serious work to do and “who knows when this will end.” To leave the old team for this one was not attractive. Individually I loved the people in the Sunday morning team. But collectively the team had a different persona.
For me to look forward to my new job my number one priority was to change the team. Not in personnel, but in attitude. The old adage, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is totally appropriate to teams. If they can’t play in the midst of the meeting, the process will be life-taking instead of life-giving. And if people who meet regularly don’t have the freedom to be real with other and to trust each other, the interaction will be superficial and void of anything meaningful or profound. And there’s very little that’s life-giving in the superficial.
Number one priority for the program team: learn to have fun and learn to be real. If I didn’t achieve that goal I wouldn’t look forward to coming to work. And neither would they. I remember one of the first meetings in the “dungeon” of the “swanky” Park Rd office. I was forcing us to start the meeting by playing a game. Up to this point program meetings were known to be long, easily lasting past noon. My belief was that playing a game sharpens the team and prepares their minds and souls to be more effective. It lightens everyone’s spirits. Makes them forget how much is on their plate at home or later in the day or week. It helps people “let go” of all the junk that mires their thoughts and keeps them from being their true self. Games bring out the child in us and minimizes the responsible adult in us. Kids are fun by nature, adults--not necessarily.
Jeremy was very resistant to it to the point of stating that he and we had lots to do and this would only set us back and create more of a workload later. So at the outset of my new leadership position I had a challenge. I thought about what he said for a half second. I wouldn’t back down. This was important. I told them so and told them this was a new day and a new way. Nothing quite as awkward as telling people in essence, “Look, we will have fun damnit!” That moment wasn’t easy. Jeremy didn’t gleefully jump on board. But in a very short time we all got to the point of looking forward to days we got to play games. We all learned to have fun. And to not stop laughing just because the game was back in the box. Laughter became one of the signature traits of our meetings.
One day I brought in a box of crayons and colored pencils. I put on some classical music low in the background and gave everyone a big sheet of white paper. I told them to draw. I said that most of us hadn’t just sat and drawn anything since we were kids in school. No direction other than, “Draw. Color. Create.” When we were done we had to explain our picture to the rest of the team—a kind of show and tell. Every picture revealed something deeper about each person. What we valued. Whom we loved. Something significant from the past. Something aspiring about the future. Explaining the pictures revealed a layer or two normally kept below the surface. Learning about what’s important to people and not laughing is how trust is formed and strengthened. I pinned the pictures up on the wall like a proud elementary school teacher. They reminded us that we were funny and profound.
We did creative exercises like that from time to time. Things that made us think about the parts of life that are most important to us or simply the parts of life we’re too busy to talk about. We always had to share what we did---we always had “show and tell.” These seemingly silly excursions into distraction made us more real with each other—more trusting with other. If you want people to be creative or to interact honestly without editing their thoughts, you must first get them to trust each other. (And ironically you can't simply say, "I want you to be open & honest." We have to be led into openness and honesty.) The more I trust, the less I edit what I'm thinking—and the more I allow the real myself to be me in front of you.
Transition is afoot. It’s time to restructure the staff. “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting,” wrote Stephen Covey. Our church has plateaued. It’s time to take more risk. Time to free up a layer of staff that “works on it” instead of constantly “working in it.” I am leaving the program team to “work on it” and to work with more staff. Jason, one of our newer staff guys is taking the programming reigns and will ultimately usher in a new and different program team. The dynamic and personnel of that team will change. The time is right for it to change.
Some on the program team are struggling with the idea to some degree. This is the downside to building healthy teams that you don’t see or hear much about. When it’s time to change the team you effect relationships. The more a team has grown together, learned to laugh and learned to trust, the harder it is to dismantle it. I know—it was very hard to leave the youth team several years ago. It didn’t feel good emotionally, relationally. I knew it was good mentally. It’s just that this is the kind of scenario where your emotions tend to trump your brain---because in essence you’re talking about relationships. If you build a team well it will care about each other as much as the task it serves. And the process of how the team functions cannot be viewed apart from that unique way those relationships play in that particular arena.
Perhaps the only reason I’m not mired in the emotion of this change is that I’ve already navigated this same kind of transition. In time—not instantly--I found God in it. Found fulfillment. Saw the bigger picture of how God orchestrates change. Found that changing times are personal growth times. But again, I only know that because I’ve already done one of these transitions. When I left the youth ministry I was more reluctant and had more questions than I do today.
Today I’m fine with the unknowns of this transition because God grew my faith in the first several months of leading the program team. Simply put, transitions are about faith. Is God really big enough to keep this from sucking for me? Am I willing to take all my nervousness, questions and doubt to God rather then wrestling with it alone or just with my spouse? Is this one of those damned “desert” times with God? Does God really work in all things for my good? Does He care enough about me to really be my peace in the time of unkowns? Transitions times in a church staff are gut check times of faith. Times to take all the advice we easily give others and appropriate for ourselves. And it’s not always easy. But it is a time of faith, patience, and to allow God to grow us a little bit. We transition out of comfort zones...into faith zones...until we can see the future more clearly.
Ministry is a weird thing. It’s like being a toddler and ministry is your shirt. Once it’s on, you can’t seem to take it off—you’re stuck in it until that big person comes along and takes it off. And in ministry there are always times when you feel like all you’re doing is falling down, getting up and bumping into people and things.
I just survived the infamous Xmas run as the program director of a big program-driven church—(not for the faint of heart.) In January my thoughts most often swirl around catching my spiritual breath. Maybe that’s the nature of the beast or maybe I haven’t yet learned to weather the season better. Regardless of why, this is where I am. It’s been almost a month since I’ve gotten away to my Fri. sanctuary here at Starbucks. I picked up “Soul Cravings” by Erwin McManus last night in expectation of this morning; I literally parked the car at the curb and ran in the bookstore last night in their final minute of operation to snag it.
Only through a few pages and I saw my friend Bruce come in. This is the place that we happen to run into each other. I ran into him originally when I was still a pagen in high school. Then, my best friend, Ray, worked at the radio station Bruce worked at. We called him “Mr. Intensity,” but never within earshot of him. Now we talk ministry stuff as he lay pastors a small church in Greentown (in addition to having a full-time sales job for a local radio station) and I work at Oakbrook; which in the context of Kokomo, is a mega-church.
When he sees me he always comes over to where I’m sitting to chat, always sensitive to not take away from my refueling activity. I tell him he’s not a bother but he usually doesn’t believe me. Today I noticed he went right to the little round top table eight feet from my big comfy chair and got straight to work. No interruption.
I read a page or two but couldn’t ignore our lack of conversation. I wondered if I was way overdue to engage him. I felt somewhat like the guy who always gets invited to dinner by his neighbor but never invites his neighbor over for dinner. “How was Christmas, Bruce?” I said over our eight foot invisible barricade. We made small talk. Finally he mentioned something vague about feeling tired in lay pasturing his small church.
I couldn’t really stay in my big comfy chair after that. I grabbed my venti Yukon and joined him at his round top. He was less upbeat than the normal Bruce, (which is still more positive than most people on a good day.) I started nosing around his emotions about his pastoring situation. Early on he said he only had a few minutes. He lied. We talked and the more we did, the more he let things out, the more engaged the conversation became. Turns out he’d only talked about this with his wife, Jane. (I seriously appreciate how hard it can be to find objective and safe counsel when one is in ministry.) This conversation seemed to be on God’s to-do list for today. By the last five minutes of our talk Bruce seemed lighter. Smiled more easily. Felt clarity, encouraged, peaceful. (Not because I’m anything more than a toddler bumping into things at Starbucks, but simply because God is real and working.) It seemed like Bruce left Starbucks feeling closer to where God wants him to be.
I’d envisioned just reading for a while; just trying to water my soul. I’d envisioned writing about my spiritual guts. One of the random thoughts I had before Bruce came in was that my busy ministry pace hasn’t allowed enough time to really minister to people. In December I’m so busy on the task it can feel more like a job than like ministry. Fish, fish, got my wish…
Something about being used to help a guy like Bruce waters my soul as much as Bruce’s. It’s one of the tricks of ministry; you think it is in essence “work.” Turns out that with friends, either side of the round top table is equally replenishing.