Friday, May 05, 2006

Discussing "Quality" with Your Pastor

Today's Topic: Questions & Answers

I haven't received any specific questions this week, so I'm going to answer a question that Anthony Coppedge posed on his blog Thursday. Here's the entry. He humbly asked for other's thoughts before making his own suggestions. Go check it out, and read the responses on his pages' comments section.

One of Anthony Coppedge's readers posed this question:
"I've been trying to discuss the issue of 'quality' within the church, and I seem to be getting a bunch of blank stares from my pastor every time I talk to him about the issue. What do I do?"
Here's my stab at an answer.

When someone looks at me blankly, that’s probably because I’m somehow speaking a language they don’t understand. Maybe I’m talking too much about impedance mismatches, beam width, and Foot-Lamberts. Or maybe we just don’t have the same definition of a more common term, in this case “quality.”

If my team and I were in this situation, these would be the steps I would have us take to get us all on the same page, and hopefully moving forward toward improved quality.
  1. Pray. Enough said.
  2. Prepare ourselves for a long conversation. It sounds like this person has already attempted several times to have a discussion with their pastor. This is a blessing! At least he has his pastor's ear. Remember that God is very patient with us as we learn new things. 1 Timothy 1:15-16 says, "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life." We need to be ready to follow Christ's example of patience with us (the worst of sinners) by preparing for a multiple-step conversation with our pastor. Every time we don't make the amount of progress we like, we should remember how many sins we've been forgiven, and ask God to give us his patience.
  3. Biblically define our motives for quality. Remember the church is about God more than meeting the standards of the world. We need to find a passage in Scripture that really does call us to quality for the glory of God and help us define what that looks like. Colossians 3 is an example. It goes like this: "Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." Here is a clear call for quality, and it helps us define it as well. Quality is working heartily, sincerely doing everything you do as well as you can because God is watching, not because of what others see (or don't notice). There are other similar passages. The good part of this is that we get to test our own motives as well as show our pastor that we want to bring God glory, not just get our preferences.
  4. Recommend one or two ways to improve quality. I think there are three things that will likely shut down the conversation: our pastor gets overwhelmed with all our ideas, or he thinks they are too expensive and time-consuming. The way to alleviate these is to lay down our own preferences for the sake of the church. Even though we have a long list of ways to improve, we should only offer one or two suggestions to start. This will alleviate the overwhelmed sense he may get.
  5. Recommend inexpensive ways to improve quality. Let's admit it, we all need new equipment somewhere. But there are inexpensive (even free) ways to improve. Recommend those first, even if they aren't the most glaring issues in your mind. This will make sure we have our pastors confidence that it's not just about new gear. After a few rounds of free or inexpensive improvements, he'll probably be ready to receive ideas that will affect the budget.
  6. Recommend quality improvements that we can implement. The apostles in Acts waren't called to serve tables over preaching the word and prayer, and our pastor isn't called to solder cables either. We need to be 100% ready to offer our time and services to implement the great ideas we have. We will more likely walk away with our pastor's blessing on a project if it can be done without a lot of his time. Obviously, that's not always possible. But start with ones that he doesn't need to invest much into but he will still see the results.
  7. Review the results. Watch carefully to see if quality is improved. Ask others if it's making a difference and how much. Make sure that he knows and sees how things are going on the project and that he is aware of the impact it's having. But also be honest with him. Don't use this as a moment of manipulation to just get your next project underway.
  8. Be faithful. Go back to step 4 (or 3 or 2 or 1) and start again. If we make incremental improvements over the long haul, we'll start to notice quality differences. Hopefully we'll be able to help our pastor gain a desire to glorify God with excellence in the process.

More Posts on Questions & Answers

5 comments:

Ryan said...

David, thanks so much for your thoughts. They all make perfect sense.

One thing that Anthony didn't mention (probably because he wanted to broaden the scope of the question, which is great) is that a large part of the issue that I'm dealing with (and many people deal with) is that a pastor will talk about how important it is to get people involved in the church, unfortunately to the point of involving anybody, especially when it comes to music/tech issues. He'll say, even though he has no training in these areas, "Well, I think this person sounds great" when they really aren't competent at all.

My struggle is how to reconcile hearts that want to be involved, but aren't competent in what their involved with enough as to not be a distraction from keeping all eyes on Jesus.

Would the pastor let someone preach who has little to no training? Would the pastor let someone teach Sunday school who knows nothing about the Bible? Probably not, but yet he lets volunteers play music or do tech things who have very limited knowledge of what they're doing, just because they want to be involved.

I know that first and foremost the purpose of the church is to communicate the message of Jesus to those who don't know Him, but doesn't it become a problem when a lack of quality distracts people from Jesus?

David Wilcox said...

Ahh... so the issue really seems like a combination of two missing items: identifying gifting and equipping saints for ministry.

Here's the trick, as I'm sure you are aware: a person's desire to serve in music or tech does not necessarily constitute an actual call from God to serve in that way. The responsibility of pastoral leadership is to help people understand their desires and to give them one more step to discern if what they desire is something that God is actually calling them to.

Do you have a process for identifying God's gifts in people and then equipping them?

I really respect the way our music department handles this. Here is my understanding of their process:

1. A person express a desire to serve to the music department.
2. That person undergoes a brief audition to evaluate their skill level.

3. That person is given some initial feedback, but isn't given any promises.

4. Later, the music department identifies which serving opportunities for which that person may qualify. Luckily, we have many opportunities for musicians (children's ministry, small groups, services other than Sunday mornings). There is almost always somewhere to serve that is less "critical" (this is another discussion, but I just don't think you can hold every church service and context to the highest quality level. No one would ever have the chance to learn.)

5. Finally, some of them are told to continue to practice and given some resources to learn, yet not given any official role.

The reason this works so well is that it is a clear process that encourages all musicians to continue growing and helps people identify how their gifting can best serve the church. And their desires are submitted to responsible leadership.

So, all that to say that, if I were in your position, I might approach the discussion from the perspective of the pastor's responsibility to equip people for ministry.

Can you come up with a process to identify gifting, encourage growth for everyone, and provide learning/training opportunities? How could you participate in making that happen?

If that's in place, you'll be assisting your pastor in his role of equipping the saints for the work of ministry. Also, I think it would be easier to tell people "The best place you can serve the Lord is by singing in such-and-such a context." Save the very best for Sunday morning!

Does that answer your question more directly?

Ryan said...

Hi David, and thanks for your response:

"Save the very best for Sunday morning" is a statement I completely agree with, but I think this is the very problem I'm facing. We're not a small church, but we're not a huge church either, and I have been faced with the challenge of someone coming to me who wants to be involved in music but clearly wasn't ready. When I explained to them why, they complained to the chairman of the congregation, who then talked to the pastor, who then talked to me about it (are you seeing a bigger issue here as well?)

So, when I tried to implement the idea of "saving the best for Sunday morning" I was reprimanded for not letting someone be involved.

I really don't want this to turn into gossip or slander, because I'm not trying to put down my leadership, I just really want to know how to deal with the situation.

Your idea of plugging people into smaller, "less critical" places is a good one as well, except that we don't have a children's service at the moment, we don't have a youth service at the moment, we really don't have other places to involve people.

Thanks for your thoughts, though, this really helps me out.

Ernie Stevenson said...

David, Great thoughts on striving for excellence. You are on target.
If I may also offer a suggestion...no one on my team serves as an operator of equipment until they have completed training which for us is about 6 hours total for audio and right now 2 hours for video. Video team is just projection. You will quickly separate those that just have an interest and those that are serious about learning and serving. Give me someone with a servant's heart and trainable over someone just with technical aptitude any day.
Now it took some convincing in a committee driven church that this was the best avenue to take. Of course poor "quality" service after service helped in making training mandatory.

David Wilcox said...

Ryan,

Thanks for wanting to avoid gossip, which is -- as I understand it -- speaking of another person's sin to a third party who is not involved in the solution.

I don't want to assume that I'm a part of the solution. However, the challenges that you are facing are fairly serious (though not uncommon), and I'd love to discuss it with you further if you think it would serve the situation. Please feel no pressure.

Feel free to email me at dwilcox@covlife.org if you'd like to continue the conversation offline.