Friday, May 21, 2010

Getting it Right

During the season of Lent, Mount Vernon Place was privileged to be one of five congregations to pilot a new program for the Fund for Theological Education. Based in Atlanta, the FTE works to ignite a sense of excitement and provide opportunities to exceptional young people who might be interested in pursuing a call to ministry, individuals who are already in seminary, and African American doctoral candidates.

The work on this particular program of empowering congregations to notice, name and nurture people in our congregations through creating space for storytelling began last summer. At that time, a wide range of pastors and church leaders were invited to Atlanta to share thoughts on the ideas being presented and to talk about how to broaden the reach of the FTE on this and other programs. In November, each of the five congregations was invited to travel to Atlanta for an extensive training on the program and an opportunity to experience the power of storytelling. We then returned home, started to publicize the program in our congregations, and carefully followed the training manuals given to us for five weeks during Lent.

The program worked on some levels and failed on other levels. There are some things about the program that we loved and other things that continue to puzzle us. Some of the congregations attracted a large number of people to the program and other congregations, like the one I serve, could not keep people interested. I learned about how the program worked in other places this past week when representatives from our five congregations again gathered in Atlanta to talk about what had been done.

For 30 hours this week, we went through a deliberate time of reviewing the process. Using post-it notes of all shapes, sizes and colors, we were all given an opportunity to comment on what worked and what failed - on the things we loved and the things we would leave behind - on the pieces that were effective and the pieces that were ineffective - all in an effort to assist the people at the FTE with developing a program that will be user-friendly, accessible and really assist congregations and campus ministries in this important work of providing space to discuss vocation - to notice, name and nurture the gifts of each person so we can all discover that place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep needs. The FTE will now take our learnings and continue to tweak the program until it is right.

As I think about this process - each step of planning, training, creating, offering, and evaluating, I realize how often we settle on the way things are instead of the way things could be. So often in the church we discern that it is better not to rock the boat and so we keep on doing things whether we like them or not. A ministry starts and even if it is attracting only a couple of faithful participants, we don't want to offend anyone by suggesting that we let it go. A new worship experience is offered and no one new really comes but we sometimes determine to keep doing it instead of moving a different direction. A system of committees and ministry teams that once worked starts to become ineffective but instead of doing something different, we determine that it's easier to continue to do what we have always done.

What if our churches worked hard to intentionally get the thoughts of a wide range of people inside our churches and outside our churches on how the church can better serve the needs of the community? What if we searched high and low to discover what people really need to enable them to experience more of God's presence and use the unique gifts God has given to them while serving the needs of our community at the same time? What if we then took all of these thoughts and carefully proceeded - not duplicating things that are already done, not starting things for which there is limited passion or people to assist, not doing things that we want to do over things that we need to do - but doing things that lead to life - abundant life for all involved? What if we focused our efforts on really getting it right and then asked people to evaluate what we are doing regularly - inviting people to offer their thoughts and then not being afraid or offended to step back and see that we might be missing a mark or two? What if we kept on working - long and hard - until we got it right?

I look at how much the FTE has invested in time and money in an effort to get something right that they have determined is important. Doing something once was not enough. They had to do it again and again. They had to let go of some things and embrace other things - all in an effort to further awaken God's call. They had to put their own feelings aside in order to listen to others. They had to let go in order to embrace something new.

I'm ready to order to sticky notes - post-it notes of all shapes and sizes.


Jerry Roberson said...

I wish I could have joined the event at MVP, but during that time, Monday night was my only free night each week. I needed the down time. If we do it again, I'd like to make it a priority.

Steve Matthews said...

Thanks for the reflection Donna... Elizabeth nudged me in your direction and I am grateful for your experience and what it is teaching me.